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Baldassare Castiglione: Leaders must prepare their people for peace, not war


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Italian writers on war and militarism

Baldassare Castiglione: Sabine peace


Baldassare Castiglione
From The Book of the Courtier
Translated by Leonard Eckstein Opdyke

“Therefore it is also the good prince’s office so to establish his people, and under such laws and ordinances, that they may live at ease and peace, without danger and with dignity, and may worthily enjoy this end of their actions, which ought to be tranquillity. For many republics and princes are often found that have been very prosperous and great in war, and as soon as they have had peace they have gone to ruin and lost their greatness and splendour, like iron laid aside. And this has come about from nothing else but from their not having been well established for living at peace, and from their not knowing how to enjoy the blessing of ease. And to be always at war, without seeking to arrive at the end of peace, is not permitted: albeit some princes think that their chief aim ought to be to lord it over their neighbours; and therefore they train their people to a warlike ferocity for spoil, killing and the like, and give rewards to excite it, and call it virtue.

“Thus it was once a custom among the Scythians that whoever had not slain an enemy might not drink from the bowl which was handed about to the company at solemn feasts. In other places they used to set up, around a tomb, as many obelisks as he who was buried there had slain enemies; and all these things were done to make men warlike, solely in order to lord it over others: which was almost impossible, because the undertaking was endless (until the whole world should be subjugated) and far from reasonable according to the law of nature, which will not have us pleased with that in others which is displeasing to us in ourselves.

“Therefore princes ought not to make their people warlike for lust of rule, but for the sake of being able to defend themselves and their people against him who would reduce them to bondage or do them wrong in any wise; or to drive out tyrants and govern those people well who were ill used, or to reduce to bondage those who are by nature such as to deserve being made slaves, with the object of governing them well and giving them ease and rest and peace. To this end also the laws and all the ordinances of justice ought to be directed, by punishing the wicked, not from hatred, but in order that they may not be wicked and to the end that they may not disturb the tranquillity of the good. For in truth it is a monstrous thing and worthy of blame for men to show themselves valiant and wise in war (which is bad in itself) and in peace and quiet (which are good) to show themselves ignorant and of so little worth that they know not how to enjoy their happiness.

“Hence, just as in war men ought to apply themselves to the qualities that are useful and necessary to attain its end, which is peace, – so in peace, to attain its end also, which is tranquillity, they ought to apply themselves to the righteous qualities that are the end of the useful. And thus subjects will be good, and the prince will have much more to praise and reward than to punish; and dominion will be very happy for the subjects and for the prince -not imperious, like that of master over slave, but sweet and gentle, like that of a good father over a good son.”

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