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Chapter 25

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.

[*] Frederick the Great was accustomed to say: "The older one gets the
more convinced one becomes that his Majesty King Chance does
three-quarters of the business of this miserable universe."
Sorel's "Eastern Question."

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 on 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 do, 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.

Pope Julius the Second 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 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. 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.

Niccolo Machiavelli

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