Notes on The Prince Themes

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The Prince Topic Tracking: Fortune


Fortune 1: In the dedication, Machiavelli expresses two main objectives. The first is straightforward-he wants Lorenzo de' Medici to read and consider his work because it will bring the prince honor and glory. The other message is subtle-he wants the prince to know how much he is suffering because of his unfortunate circumstances. There is a strong sense of irony in Machiavelli's mention of fortune. He believes that the prince can achieve greatness because of his fortune and abilities. On the other hand, fortune has reduced Machiavelli from a once significant political official to a poor day laborer. Perhaps Machiavelli was appealing to Lorenzo de' Medici in hopes that he would be offered a position in the Medici government. Nonetheless, for Machiavelli, fortune is a force to be utilized if favorable and overcome if not.

Chapter 1

Fortune 2: In defining principalities, Machiavelli identifies two main ways a prince can gain power-through fortune or ability. These two factors are the keys to a prince's success. Hereditary principalities are easier to acquire through fortune than new principalities are.

Chapter 3

Fortune 3: When a prince conquers a new territory that shares a common language and culture as his original domain, all he needs to do to maintain control is to extinguish the former ruling line. However, if the language and culture are different, a prince must have both ability and fortune because the new territory must be properly assimilated. The best strategy is for the prince to reside in the new territory, which requires risk and is dependent upon favorable circumstances.

Chapter 4

Fortune 4: Machiavelli identifies two main types of governing a principality. One is by the absolute rule of a single prince like the Kingdom of the Turks. The other is by a primary ruler with other independent nobles who maintain their own estates, like feudal France. A principality with an absolute ruler is easy to control once it is conquered. But a principality like feudal France is difficult to control. The likelihood that a prince can hold a territory is determined as much by the principality's previous government as his abilities. Machiavelli uses the idea of fortune indirectly by stating that political and civic structures matter as much as a prince's abilities. This is in line with Machiavelli's general conclusion: fortune and ability must be aligned for a prince to succeed.

Chapter 7

Fortune 5: Machiavelli considers several ways a prince may acquire new principalities: through his own abilities, through other people's arms, or through fortune. Those who obtain their dominions through fortune will face problems holding onto power if they do not have abilities as well. Machiavelli examines the case of Cesare Borgia and concludes that a prince can have great abilities and still be ruined by fortune. Machiavelli acknowledges that for all the sure-fire political strategies, methods and advice, fortune remains the unknowable factor. Fortune is powerful and unpredictable. Even though Borgia had great abilities and did everything right, in the end, he had to succumb to the malice of fortune.

Chapter 14

Fortune 6: Machiavelli states that a prince should never rest from military thought. Especially in times of peace, a prince must engage in honing his skills and in studying military strategies. Preparation is necessary because fortune is unpredictable. Machiavelli seems to suggest that fortune does change and only those prepared will be able to resist it.

Chapter 18

Fortune 7: Machiavelli advises that a prince should be only as good as circumstances allow. By this, Machiavelli means that when things are going well, a prince should take advantage of favorable times to be good-but not overly so. When circumstances change, a prince must be willing to resort to evil if that is what it takes to overcome the change in fortune.

Chapter 24

Fortune 8: Machiavelli blames the recent Italian princes for the demise of Italy because of their use of mercenary and auxiliary armies. Although Italy could be said to have undergone misfortune, for Machiavelli, there are clear reasons that cannot be attributed to fortune.

Chapter 25

Fortune 9: Machiavelli gives the fullest treatment of fortune in this chapter. In Machiavelli's view, fortune accounts for half of human affairs. Since humans are responsible for the other half, when fortune is favorable, the wise prince should do all he can to prepare so that when fortune turns on him, he can withstand it. Machiavelli compares fortune to a flood-although it cannot be stopped, its impact can be lessened by dams and levees. Machiavelli also compares fortune to a woman; it can be mastered by aggressive tactics. Thus, he believes that in most instances, it is better to be impetuous than cautious.

Chapter 26

Fortune 10: Machiavelli tries to convince Lorenzo de' Medici that the stage is set for the young prince to make his mark by uniting Italy and driving out the barbarians. Cesare Borgia was thought to be destined for that role but fortune denied him. Machiavelli urges the young prince to finish what Borgia had started, for fortune seems to be on his side.

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