Niccolo Machiavell is a much maligned author. |
It is worth bearing in mind, that, like
Machiavelli is frequently cited as the epitome of political and moral depravity, but seldom read.
This is to say that most who speak of him, as with most who speak of de Sade,
know little or nothing of the what he actually wrote, or the circumstances
and times that, ah, assisted the writings. Unfortunately this is the fate of
those who become "cultural icons," those who come to represent what we feel
they ought to represent rather than what they on the basis of their works
represented themselves as.
Be that as it may. below this, you will find the complete text of book XXV of
I AM not unaware that many have held and hold the opinion that events Me controlled by fortune and by God in such a way that the prudence of men cannot modify them, indeed, that men have no influence whatsoever.
How far human affairs are governed by fortune,
and how fortune can be opposed.
Because of this, they would conclude that there is no point in sweating over things, but that one should submit to the rulings of chance.
This opinion has been more widely held in our own times, because of the great changes and variations, beyond human imagining, which we have experienced and experience every day.
Sometimes, when thinking of this, I have myself inclined to this same opinion.
Nonetheless, so as not to rule out our free will, I believe that it is probably true that fortune is the arbiter of half the things we do, leaving the other half or so to be controlled by ourselves.
I compare fortune to one of those violent rivers which, when they are enraged, flood the plains, tear down trees and buildings, wash soil from one place to deposit it in another.
Everyone flees before them, everybody yields to their impetus, there is no possibility of resistance. Yet although such is their nature, it does not follow that when they are flowing quietly one cannot take precautions, constructing dykes and embankments so that when the river is in flood they would keep to one channel or their impetus be less wild and dangerous.
So it is with fortune.
She shows her potency where there is no well regulated power to resist her, and her impetus is felt where she knows there are no embankments and dykes built to restrain her.
If you consider Italy, the theatre of those changes and variations I mentioned, which first appeared here, you will see that she is a country without embankments and without dykes: for if Italy had been adequately reinforced, like Germany, Spain, and France, either this flood would not have caused the great changes it has, or it would not have swept in at all.
I want what I have said to suffice, in general terms, on the question of how to oppose fortune.
But, confining myself now to particular circumstances, I say that we see that some princes flourish one day and come to grief the next, without appearing to have changed in character tit any other way. This I believe aches, first, for the reasons discussed at length collier on, namely, that those princes who are utterly dependent on fortune come to grief when their fortune changes. I also believe that the one who adapts his policy to the times prospers, and likewise that the one whose policy clashes with the demands of the times does not. It can be observed that men use various methods in pursuing their own personal objectives, that is glory and riches. One ma proceeds with circumspection, another impetuously ; one uses violence, another stratagem; one man goes about things patiently, another does the opposite; and yet everyone, for all this diversity of method, can reach his objective. It can also be observed that with two circumspect men, one will achieve his end, the other not; and likewise two men succeed equally well with different methods, one of them being circumspect and the other impetuous. This results are nothing else except the extent to which their methods are or are not suited to the nature of the times. Thus it happens that, as I have said, two men, working in different ways, can achieve the same end, and of two men working in the same way one gets what he wants and the other does not. This also explains why prosperity is ephemeral ; because if a man behaves with patience and circumspection and the time and circumstances are such that this method is called for, he will prosper ; but if time and circumstances change he will be ruined because he does not change his policy. Not do we find any man shrewd enough to know how to adapt his policy in this way ; either because he cannot do otherwise than what is in character or because, having always prospered by proceeding one way, he cannot persuade himself to change. Thus a man who is circumspect, when circumstances demand impetuous behaviour, is unequal to the task, and so he comes to grief. if he changed his character according to the time and circumstances, then his fortune would not change.
Pope Julius II was impetuous in everything; and he found the time and circumstances so favourable to his way of proceeding that he always met with success. consider his first campaign, against Bologna, when messer Giovanni Bentivogli was still living. The Venetians mistrusted it: so did the king of Spain; and Julius was still arguing about the enterprise with France. Nonetheless,' with typical forcefulness and impetuosity, he launched
the expedition in person. This move disconcerted and arrested Spain and the Venetians, the latter because they were afraid and the former because of the king's ambition to reconquer all the kingdom of Naples. on the other
hand, he drew the king of France after him. This was bc- cause the king, seeing Julius go into action, and anxious for his support in subduing the Venetians, decided he
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I conclude, therefore, that as fortune is changeable whereas men are obstinate in their ways, men prosper as long as fortune and policy are in accord, and when there is a dash they fail. I hold strongly to this : that it is better to bc impetuous than circumspect; bemuse fortune is a woman and if she is to be submissive it is necessary to beat and coerce her. Experience shows that she is more often subdued by men who do this than by those who act coldly. Always, being a woman, she favours young men, because they are less circumspect and more ardent, and because they command her with greater audacity.