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Selfness is a virtue of humanity and generosity is an offshot of selfness. It is the virtue of bringing a smile onto other peoples faces. For the most part, it is good to be generous. In the Prince, Machiavelli argues that there are boundaries on when and to what extend a prince should be generous before his people take advantage of him or are no longer satisfied with his generosity and expect more from him. Through his text and my understanding of Machiavelli perspective on generosity you will be able to understand its meaning, how it works and when to use it.
In Machiavelli’s point of view being generous is a good quality but you must keep in mind that you are going to have to know how to distinguish how generous you are going to be. In order to be considered a generous ruler you must have a lavish public display. In order for that to happen a prince must raise taxes and squeeze money from his subjects This kind of generosity benefits few oppose to benefiting many. Therefore the real questions the prince should ask himself are who should he be generous to since he cannot be generous to everyone at the same time?
Or should he be generous at all? If he considers being generous and squeezes out money from his subjects then his subjects will not be happy about this and will start despising him and looking at him like a poor king. Now if he is generous to the people, then he has to ask himself how generous can he be to his people before they start demanding more? In Machiavelli’s view if he is a wise king he will not mind being called stingy or a miser because stinginess is a vice that allows him to have power.
If a prince is giving other peoples properties away then he can afford to be generous if he is using his own property and resources to be generous then he is not a wise king at all and will become hated, poor, or despised. An important distinction that Machiavelli brings up is that generosity will not get a prince a reputation for being generous because no one would notice it. In the prince it is said that “generosity leads to poverty and disgrace or if you try to escape that, to rapacity and hostility”.
(Selected Political Writing pg50) Machiavelli views generosity as a down fall to a ruler. “It is better to be considered a miser and be feared than be generous and be critized for rapacity”. (Selected Political Writing pg 49) In other words Machiavelli prefers the people to fear the prince and respect him oppose to the prince being generous which would lead him nowhere but to his own downfall. By the prince developing a public image as a generous man the lavish end up making a poor prince. This does real harm to everyone.
Which might lead the prince to consider that the suppose virtue of generosity is no virtue at all. Makavelli would then argue back that generosity is a virtue; it all depends on how you use it. Now you may be thinking whether generosity is a virtue at all. Someone might argue that there has been kings who have been successful by being generous and they will bring up the following example” But Ceasar rose to power thanks to his generosity, and many others have made their way to the highest position of authority because they have both been and have been thought to be generous”.
(Selected Political Writing, pg 50) Machiavelli would argue back that if you are in the process of becoming a ruler then it is okay to be viewed as generous but if you already are a ruler it’s a big mistake. Caesar was one of those who wanted to establish it and if he would’ve remained alive he most likely would have fallen from power over time. Another example that applies to Machiavelli point is “The present king of Spain could not have aspired to, or achieved, so many conquests if he had a reputation for generosity”.
(Selected Political Writing, pg 50) In other words the king of Spain could not have been able to achieve as much as he did by being generous to everyone. You must keep in mind though that the ruler has to be open handed to his soldiers due to the soldiers life of pillaging, sacking, and extortion. The ruler has to be somewhat generous to the soldiers otherwise the soldiers will refuse to follow him. A Christian Church might argue that the correct way of living and expecting to go to the afterlife is by being honest and generous.
You should always be generous to those who surround you that way you can expect the same thing back. If that was the case then why did” Pope Julius II take advantage of a reputation for generosity in order to win election, but once elected he made no effort to keep his reputation, for he wanted to go to war”. (Selected Political Writing, pg 50) Now look at this very carefully if the own pope took advantage of his people by appearing to be generous then is generosity really a virtue? Virtue is categorized is a character trait or quality valued as being good.
Is the pope being good? Not at all. He is using generosity for his own purpose. Which is what should be done, but in the way Pope Julius II used it, it goes on the total contrary of what the church intended it to mean. In order to be a successful ruler you must need to know when and how to use generosity just like you know when to be bad or good. Machiavelli argues that generosity is what will bring a ruler to his downfall. He believes generosity is a virtue; you just have to be able to know how to use it. It can be your upcoming glory or your short term downfall.