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Article :: Supporting Evidence

Machiavailli Reconsidered


The Prince

by Nicolo Machiavelli


CHAPTER XXV

What Fortune Can Effect In Human Affairs, And How To Withstand Her

IT is not unknown to me how many men have had, and still have, the opinion that the affairs of the world are in such wise governed by fortune and by God that men with their wisdom cannot direct them and that no one can even help them; and because of this they would have us believe that it is not necessary to labour much in affairs, but to let chance govern them. This opinion has been more credited in our times because of the great changes in affairs which have been seen, and may still be seen, every day, beyond all human conjecture. Sometimes pondering over this, I am in some degree inclined to their opinion. Nevertheless, not to extinguish our free will, I hold it to be true that Fortune is the arbiter of one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to direct the other half, or perhaps a little less.[1]

I compare her to one of those raging rivers, which when in flood overflows the plains, sweeping away trees and buildings, bearing away the soil from place to place; everything flies before it, all yield to its violence, without being able in any way to withstand it; and yet, though its nature be such, it does not follow therefore that men, when the weather becomes fair, shall not make provision, both with defences and barriers, in such a manner that, rising again, the waters may pass away by canal, and their force be neither so unrestrained nor so dangerous. So it happens with fortune, who shows her power where valour has not prepared to resist her, and thither she turns her forces where she knows that barriers and defences have not been raised to constrain her.

And if you will consider Italy, which is the seat of these changes, and which has given to them their impulse, you will see it to be an open country without barriers and without any defence. For if it had been defended by proper valour, as are Germany, Spain, and France, either this invasion would not have made the great changes it has made or it would not have come at all. And this I consider enough to say concerning resistance to fortune in general.

But confining myself more to the particular, I say that a prince may be seen happy to-day and ruined to-morrow without having shown any change of disposition or character. This, I believe, arises firstly from causes that have already been discussed at length, namely, that the prince who relies entirely upon fortune is lost when it changes. I believe also that he will be successful who directs his actions according to the spirit of the times, and that he whose actions do not accord with the times will not be successful. Because men are seen, in affairs that lead to the end which every man has before him, namely, glory and riches, to get there by various methods; one with caution, another with haste; one by force, another by skill; one by patience, another by its opposite; and each one succeeds in reaching the goal by a different method. One can also see of two cautious men the one attain his end, the other fail; and similarly, two men by different observances are equally successful, the one being cautious, the other impetuous; all this arises from nothing else than whether or not they conform in their methods to the spirit of the times. This follows from what I have said, that two men working differently bring about the same effect, and of two working similarly, one attains his object and the other does not.

Changes in estate also issue from this, for if, to one who governs himself with caution and patience, times and affairs converge in such a way that his administration is successful, his fortune is made; but if times and affairs change, he is ruined if he does not change his course of action. But a man is not often found sufficiently circumspect to know how to accommodate himself to the change, both because he cannot deviate from what nature inclines him to, and also because, having always prospered by acting in one way, he cannot be persuaded that it is well to leave it; and, therefore, the cautious man, when it is time to turn adventurous, does not know how to do it, hence he is ruined; but had he changed his conduct with the times fortune would not have changed.[2]

Pope Julius II went to work impetuously in all his affairs, and found the times and circumstances conform so well to that line of action that he always met with success. Consider his first enterprise against Bologna, Messer Giovanni Bentivogli being still alive. The Venetians were not agreeable to it, nor was the King of Spain, and he had the enterprise still under discussion with the King of France; nevertheless he personally entered upon the expedition with his accustomed boldness and energy, a move which made Spain and the Venetians stand irresolute and passive, the latter from fear, the former from desire to recover all the kingdom of Naples; on the other hand, he drew after him the King of France, because that king, having observed the movement, and desiring to make the Pope his friend so as to humble the Venetians, found it impossible to refuse him soldiers without manifestly offending him. Therefore Julius with his impetuous action accomplished what no other pontiff with simple human wisdom could have done; for if he had waited in Rome until he could get away, with his plans arranged and everything fixed, as any other pontiff would have done, he would never have succeeded. Because the King of France would have made a thousand excuses, and the others would have raised a thousand fears.

I will leave his other actions alone, as they were all alike, and they all succeeded, for the shortness of his life did not let him experience the contrary; but if circumstances had arisen which required him to go cautiously, his ruin would have followed, because he would never have deviated from those ways to which nature inclined him.

I conclude therefore that, fortune being changeful and mankind steadfast in their ways, so long as the two are in agreement men are successful, but unsuccessful when they fall out. For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her.[3]


    Synopsis:
  • Fortune is arbiter of half our actions and she leaves the other half for us to govern.
  • Princes who rely entirely on fortune will come to ruin.
  • When fortune varies and men remain obstinate in their modes, men are happy while they are in accord, and as they come into discord, unhappy.
  • Fortune is the friend of the young because she is a woman and because the young are more impetuous, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity.
  • It is better to be impetuous than cautious because Fortune is a woman and "it is necessary, if one wants to hold her down, to beat andstrike her down."
  • Fortune is also won more by those who are impetuous than those who are cautious.


[1] Machiavailli ponders the crucial question of the degree of the fate of individuals being a consequence of self-determination (their own choices), serendipidy or, divine intervention.
  • He correctly states the consequence of assuming that serendipity or divine intervention determines consequences is that people will believe they are powerless to rule their own affairs and not even bother trying. Clearly, it is in the interests of rulers whom exist by exercising the power of others over others (servitude) to foster this belief, so people do not exercise their own power, creating a power vacuum for rulers to step into. Further, when things go wrong, rulers can state "crap happens" and escape the people holding them to account for the harm that rulers cause by exercising power in the lives and affairs of their prey. Clearly, Machiavailli knew this, but, out of fear of organized religious powers chose to imply, but not make this point explicitly.
  • Machiavailli notes, in his lifetime rapid changes were afoot and attributes many of them to chance. Historical hindsight tells us that these changes are a consequence of power re-balancing away from dogmatic religious control and "divine rights of kings" as a consequence of the Gutenberg Press, printed bibles becoming widely available, proving church hypocracy regarding what they claimed the bible (god) stated (for personal gain, negating their "gig" as agents of goodness, forgiveness, kindness and charity) and what the bible actually stated. The Gutenburg press was innudating monopoly church "knowlege" with secular knowlege, proven by fact and scientific method. It is a wonder that the church, as an organized force survived being so thoroughly proven liars, on so many fronts.

    Today, we have information freedom enforced by the nature of the internet informing us of the real, as opposed to dogma that organized education, professions or ruler interests in general allege to be "truth" when evidence for the converse is everywhere, free for the taking in a scientifically literate civilization. This does not bode well for rulers and, the change (adaptations, power rebalancing) this fact has is and will spawn are incredibly profound. To state "we live in interesting times", pregnant with opportunity and peril is a gross understatement.

    Another factor arguing the scope of current change will be far more profound is that church predations were ancient and, for the most part, people were economically adapted to this tribute. Today we have rulers not only being proven dangerous manipulators and hyprocrites, but their planetary control gambit has failed, causing widespread social / economic collapse, which has negatively affected collective survival, attracting collective scrutiny that rulers cannot bear, nor defend from. A dark age born of monopoly control of information is ending, as it was in Machiavailli's time.
  • Machiavailli does not discuss the consequence of NOT believing in serendipity or divine intervention (presumably, again out of fear of organized religion). That leaves belief in self-determination, that YOUR actions / inactions results in YOUR consequences. Every question would be assumed to have a real answer and, the intelligent would seek answers. Ruler "crap happens" excuses would not be believed, nor accepted. Rulers would be held accountable for their own actions and the church, ignored. This must and did in the subsequent "age of reason" result in the values of personal responsibility, freedom and equality under the "rule of law". Clearly, rulers, whom exist by profiting by actions while others pay the consequences cannot be tolerated, nor exist under this state of affairs.
  • Machiavailli, contrary to his implied belief, by all of his works that action / consequence reality determines everything concedes: outcome is determined by 50% self-determination, the rest by "mystical", out of mankind's comprehension factors. This appears to be a concession to organized mystics, exercising power in the real world, to avoid being treated as a heretec and smited by public opinion or these "powers".

[2] Machiavailli reiterates that success / failure requires being in tune with and not opposing the "spirit of the times". By this, he can only mean, "adapt to circumstance" and, do not generate the perception of being contrary to current public dogmatic beliefs, religion and "divine rights of kings" in his time, fallacious "groupthink" and lack of respect for individuals and historically proven Rule of Law in ours.

[3] Machaivalli concludes fortune (environment) is ever changing, while men, being creatures of habit, that so long as fortune and men are in alignment (adapted), men will be successful. When not, unsuccessful.

Because of the fact that fortune is ever changing, Machivailli concludes it is far better to be adventurous (open to, able to sieze change) than to be fixed in nature (habitual choices), to be left in the dust as fortune changes. The author totally agrees, in fact and by disposition, disinclination to be bored and irrelevant in the great game of life. Or, as they say: "fortune favors the bold". Apparently, according to Machiavailli, the adventurous also get the women, but, abusing them probably is "unnecessary". In fact, a woman who tolerates "abuse" is not fit company for the adventurous.



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