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Chapter 6

Chapter VI: Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired by One's Own Arms and Ability

Machiavelli asks his reader to forgive his frequent use of examples from history - in matters of politics, he asserts, men usually follow the examples of earlier men, whether they realize it or not. The key, then, is to learn from precedent, imitating successful examples while avoiding unsuccessful ones. If a prince attempts to follow examples that are "excellent," Machiavelli reasons, even if he fails he will certainly achieve some tinge of greatness.

After discussing the need to aspire to greatness, Machiavelli suggests that men who achieve dominion over states through skill and ability (the famous Machiavellian concept of virtý, meaning literally something like "manliness" and not to be confused with "virtue") have a greater chance of successfully governing than do men who simply luck into their power (relying on fortuna, which is the opposite of virtý) . Those who rely on fortuna the least, he argues, tend to govern best - examples of this are Moses in Israel, Cyrus in Persia, Romulus in Rome, and Theseus in Athens. These men did not simply rely on fortune. Instead, they used fortune to find opportunities to come to power (this notion of using fortune rather than accepting fate passively is key to Machiavelli). For instance, Moses had the fortune of finding the Israelites enslaved by Egypt. Because they were oppressed, they were easily persuaded to follow him as he led them out of servitude. Cyrus had the fortune of finding the Persians discontented with the government of the Medes, and had the additional fortune of finding the Medes weakened through laziness. Given these circumstances, he was able to intervene and become the new, powerful ruler of Persia.

All of these men - Moses, Theseus, Romulus, and Cyrus - had difficulty obtaining their kingdoms, but were able to maintain them easily. Why? Because, Machiavelli says, they were innovators. Innovators establish an entirely new order of things, establishing laws, customs and ways of governing. Because they wish to make so many changes, they are inevitably feared and mistrusted at first. . . but once they succeed in their plans, they have made themselves entirely secure. To achieve this success, a would-be innovator must have not only a powerful vision, but also the practical ability to compel obedience to his new order - this is Machiavelli's figure of the "armed prophet."

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Important Persons
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Summary of the Argument
Prefatory Letter
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapter 3
Chapters 4 and 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapters 9 and 10
Chapters 11 and 12
Chapters 13 and 14
Chapters 15 and 16
Chapters 17 and 18
Chapters 19 and 20
Chapters 21, 22, and 23
Chapters 24, 25, and 26


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