According to Machiavelli, what roles do fate and fortune play in life?

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Machiavelli makes a distinction between those who rise to become princes through their own abilities and those who are merely fortunate, admiring the former more and remarking that their positions are more stable. Fortune is fickle. In chapter VII, he remarks:

Those who solely by good fortune become princes from...

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Machiavelli makes a distinction between those who rise to become princes through their own abilities and those who are merely fortunate, admiring the former more and remarking that their positions are more stable. Fortune is fickle. In chapter VII, he remarks:

Those who solely by good fortune become princes from being private citizens have little trouble in rising, but have much trouble in staying at the top. They do not have any difficulties on the way up, because they fly, but they have many when they reach the top.

Machiavelli's favorite example of such a prince is Cesare Borgia, who gained his power by good fortune and quickly lost it again.

There are many references in The Prince to the capricious nature of fate and fortune—particularly in chapter XXV, which is devoted to the subject. Here, Machiavelli expands on the observation he frequently makes: that the advantages and disadvantages conferred by fortune are comparatively short-lived. Fortune may sweep a fool into a position of power or may bring down a wise and careful ruler, but neither effect will be durable. The fool will quickly lose and the wise man will gain back his power. People are also disposed to give credit to fortune for victories which are actually attributable to lack of wisdom or courage on the other side. Like a river in flood, fortune, according to Machiavelli,

shows her power where courage has not made preparations to resist her. She turns her forces where she knows that walls have not been raised to constrain her.

Throughout the text, Machiavelli yokes fortune together with some more personal and less capricious quality: wisdom, bravery, genius, or even, in chapter VIII, the capacity for wickedness. He always makes it clear that, while fortune make bring the prince in question to power, it is the other, more durable quality that keeps him there.

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Of course, Machiavelli is primarily interested in public life, the life of the state, so his conception of fortune is essentially defined as all of the terrible things that can befall a state, or the leader of the state. Machiavelli famously portrayed fortune as a woman, a common trope in Renaissance Italy. "Fortuna" was invested with all of the negative characteristics contemporary men associated with women. "She" was fickle, capricious, and deceitful. In a passage of The Prince that is infamous for its misogyny, he wrote:

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 . . . she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is . . . woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her.

In another passage he compares Fortuna to a flood, a force of nature that can be contained but never completely stopped. Fortuna would always eventually destroy a state whose leaders were not willing to act in decisive ways in response to it. Machiavelli characterized virtú as a leader's ability to respond to the misfortunes that would inevitably be thrown their way. As the passage from The Prince suggests, the only way to escape the effects of Fortuna was for a leader to behave ruthlessly and decisively. Machiavelli was less interested in fate than in showing how leaders could exercise virtú in facing down the random and arbitrary disasters that befell them.

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Machiavelli, best known for the quote "The ends justify the means," is of a more free-willed disposition when it comes to fate and fortune. In The Prince, Machiavelli asserts a clear belief in fate and fortune, but he disagrees with most about their role in human affairs.

Machiavelli believes that man is his own master, and it is therefore up to him to create and accomplish. His justification is that we alone can control what happens in our lives, so it is up to us to get it accomplished. If fate or fortune play a role, we can't rely on them to play a beneficial role toward us, so instead of waiting for them to come to our aid, we need to accomplish what we set out to do.

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Machiavelli discusses fortune in particular in Chapter 25, though his reading of it is connected closely with the larger viewpoints expressed in The Prince. For Machiavelli, there are things outside human control. Calamities will strike any nation, wars or natural disasters are just two examples, and this is a basic political fact. However, one of Machiavelli's critical themes is the need for active and ruthless leadership. This same theme arises here. Ultimately, he holds that fate only controls "one half of our actions." For every calamity or disaster, it is up to human beings to make appropriate preparations ahead of time, just as it is up to human beings to respond to those calamities in a constructive and active manner. Having the ability to enforce one's will in times of turmoil is one of the key qualities which defines Machiavelli's image of the ideal Prince.

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This is a good question. If you read the Prince, you will immediately realize that Machiavelli favors people taking risks, making wise decisions, and acting with conviction and resolute determination. These themes run right through his work.

In light of this, Machiavelli's thoughts on fortune are pretty clear. First, he believe that there is something called fate and fortune, but he does not think that these things should dictate a person's life. Man is responsible. Good rulers will take fate into their own hands and if fate throws something unfavorable, then a good ruler must be ready to resist fate and fight.

In chapter twenty-five, he offers his most pointed words on this topic. He writes: "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 her and strike her down."

Of course, these words are offensive, but Machiavelli's words are clear. Take risks and overcome fate and make your own future.

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