Chapters 25

What Role Fortune Plays In Human Affairs And How To Resist Her Icon

September 20, 2021

Many people still think that:

  • human affairs are governed by fortune and by God
  • humans with their wisdom cannot direct them
  • no one can even help them.

Because of this, they make us believe that it is unnecessary to labour much in affairs, but to let chance govern them.

This opinion has gained more credit in our times because of the great changes in affairs which cannot have been predicted. I sometimes agree to it. Nevertheless, in order not to destroy our free will, I believe that fortune decides half of our actions, but that she still leaves the other half, or perhaps a little less, for us to direct.

Fortune is like a great river sweeps away trees and buildings during a flood. But it does not mean that people cannot make canals and defenses against floods.

Similarly, fortune shows her power if courage is unprepared to resist her. She turns her forces where she knows that walls have not been raised to constrain her.

Italy is the centre of these changes. It has no walls or defences.

If it had been defended with proper courage, as are Germany, Spain, and France, this invasion would not have made such great changes or it would not have come at all.

A prince may be seen to be happy today and ruined tomorrow without having shown any change of attitude or character. This arises firstly from the fact that the prince who relies entirely on fortune is lost when it changes.

Men achieve glory and riches 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 that one attains his end, and the other fails. Similarly, two men seem to be equally successful, one by being cautious, the other by taking risks. All these differences arise from nothing else except 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 personal estate also issue from this. If someone governs himself with caution and patience, and times and affairs come together in the right way, then his administration is successful and 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 clever to know how to accommodate himself to the change.

This is because he cannot deviate from what nature inclines him to do, and also because, having always been successful by acting in one way, he cannot be persuaded that it is well to leave it. Therefore, the cautious man, when it is time to turn adventurous, does not know how to do it, hence he is ruined. If he had changed his conduct with the times, fortune would not have changed.

Pope Julius 2nd went to work boldly and energetically 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 campaign against Bologna, when Giovanni Bentivogli was still alive. The Venetians were not agreeable to it, nor was the King of Spain, and he had the campaign still under discussion with the King of France.

Nevertheless he personally entered into it with his accustomed boldness and energy, a move which made 40Spain and the Venetians stand undecided and passive, the latter from fear, the former from desire to recover the kingdom of Naples. On the other hand, he managed to involve the King of France, because that king, having observed the movement, and wanting to make the Pope his friend so as to humble the Venetians, found it impossible to refuse him.

Therefore Julius with his bold action achieved what no other pope with simple human wisdom could have done. If he had waited in Rome until he could get away, with his plans arranged and everything fixed as any other pope 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 similar, and they all succeeded, because the shortness of his life did not let him experience the contrary. However, 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 changeable and mankind fixed in their ways, so long as the two are in agreement men are successful, but they are unsuccessful when they fall out. For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman. If you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and treat her badly. She allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, like a woman, a lover of young men because they are less cautious, more violent, and command her with more boldness.

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