Only the expenditure of one’s own resources is harmful; and, indeed, nothing feeds upon itself as liberality does. The more it is indulged, the fewer are the means to indulge it further. As a consequence, a prince becomes poor and contemptible or, to escape poverty, becomes rapacious and hateful. Of all the things he must guard against, hatred and contempt come first, and liberality leads to both. Therefore it is better to have a name for miserliness, which breeds disgrace without hatred, than, in pursuing a name for liberality, to resort to rapacity, which breeds both disgrace and hatred.
This passage from Chapter XVI illustrates Machiavelli’s attitude toward virtue and statecraft. Machiavelli advises the prince to disregard the principles of virtue when acting on behalf of his state. Instead, while it is desirable for a prince to act virtuously when he can, he should never let perceptions of virtue interfere with statecraft. Even though generosity seems admirable, it is ultimately detrimental to the state, and therefore should be avoided. A prince will never be hated for lack of virtue, he will be hated only if he fails in his duty to maintain the state. Virtuous action, in that it often promotes self-sacrifice, often conflicts with that duty.