Machiavelli on the Mercenary | Harper's Magazine

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Machiavelli on the Mercenary

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The Mercenary, Considered. Does history not tell us that once there were many soldiers in Italy, who, failing for pay because the wars had at length come to an end, formed themselves into Companies and extorted money from the city-states, plundered the countryside, and were a plague upon the nation? . . . Such outrages do not come from anything other than the fact that these men were skilled in the arts of arms, and turned this into a profession. Do we not have a proverb that reasons as I just have, saying: “War makes thieves, and peace hangs them?” Because those who do not know how to live by any other occupation and who do not find anybody who will support them in soldiering, and who are possessed of such limited skills otherwise that they cannot join together in pursuit of an honest trade or living–these men become mercenaries, they turn to rob on the highways. And in the end, justice has no recourse: it must extinguish them all.

Niccolò Machiavelli, Dell’arte della guerra, bk i, sec ix (1519-20)(S.H. transl.) also in: Machiavelli: Chief Works and Others, vol. ii, pp. 574-75 (A. Gilbert transl. 1989).

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