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Chapters 24, 25, and 26

Chapter XXIV: Why the Princes of Italy Have Lost Their States

If a new prince follows all of the advice in this book, Machiavelli claims that he will not only seem like the ancient ruler of a state, but will actually be more secure than an ancient ruler would have been. This is because more people have their eyes on a new prince, expecting him to make mistakes. If a new prince is a good ruler, he will actually impress many more people than a hereditary prince would. He will also have what Machiavelli calls a "double glory:" the glory of founding a kingdom and the glory of governing it well. In contrast, a prince who is born into power and loses his state earns a "double shame."

Why have princes (such as the King of Naples, the Duke of Milan, etc.) lost their thrones? Either they lacked military strength, did not have the good will of the people, or did not have a loyal nobility. Machiavelli insists that men should never blame fortune for their loss of power. Fortune is never an adequate explanation; princes lose power not because they have bad luck, but because they did not have enough skill to deal with the circumstances that fortune presented.

Chapter XXV: How Much Fortune Can Do in Human Affairs, and How it May Be Opposed

Machiavelli ended the previous chapter by declaring that princes must never blame "fortune" for the loss of political power. He begins this chapter by acknowledging how many people believe in a universal fortune that rules all things (or in an all-powerful God, a belief which he says amounts to pretty much the same thing - once again, Machiavelli comes close to an atheistic position!). While admitting that circumstances do change frequently in ways that are outside human control, Machiavelli does not see this as a reason to reject free will. Fortune, he says, rules half our actions - and the other half is determined by our skill and ability.

After making this statement, Machiavelli offers some metaphoric descriptions of fortune. Fortune, he says, is like a mighty river - when it is at its fullest, no one can cross it or stop it from flooding. When the river is calm and the water is low, however, men can do things like build bridges and dams which will make the floods easier to deal with. This is how we should regard fortune: although we cannot control it, we can use our ingenuity to better handle what it brings. In terms of princes, Machiavelli argues that it is foolish for a ruler to base his power entirely on fortune; such a man cannot hold power once fortune changes. The man who skillfully handles fortune, however, will prosper. This is Machiavelli's crucial point: the prince must be willing to adapt to fortune, altering his behavior with skill in order to exploit circumstances. This means that an action that is successful on one day will be unsuccessful on another day - it all depends on the circumstances.

This is why Machiavelli is so reluctant to give strict rules for the prince's behavior; what matters is not following the rules, but being willing to break them when necessary. He counsels the prince to resist caution, since the cautious man is often reluctant to deviate from the safe path, even when his fortune requires it. Better to act swiftly and suddenly, according to the moment. An example of a prince who acted in this way is Pope Julius II. Julius always succeeded in his endeavors because he always acted quickly and boldly. By making war when others were not ready either to assist him or to oppose him, Julius ended up extremely powerful. Had he waited until his friends and enemies were ready to fight, Machiavelli points out, Julius would have either lost his war, or else had to share his victory with allies. Machiavelli concludes, in one of the most often quoted passages of the book, that fortune is like a woman (the word fortuna, in Italian, is a feminine noun, so this makes a little more sense in the original); if you wish to master her, you must conquer her by force. Moreover, she is more "willing" to be conquered by forceful men of ability than by timid cowards (remember that the word virtý means, literally, "manliness").

Chapter XXVI: Exhortation to Liberate Italy from the Barbarians

Nearly all of the previous chapters have concentrated on advising the "new prince" who has recently come into power in a territory. This is no accident. In the final chapter of the book, Machiavelli addresses his reader, presumably Prince Lorenzo de' Medici, urging him to wage war against the "barbarians" (the forces of Islam), and to reclaim Italy as his own. Machiavelli assures Lorenzo that Italy is ready to follow a new leader, if only one would appear who is bold enough to seize power. He tells Lorenzo to bear in mind the examples he has just read about, and to follow the counsel given in The Prince, so that he might acquire and maintain power in Italy. Lorenzo should raise troops (his own men, not mercenaries or auxiliaries, of course), and strike swiftly against the barbarian rule that "stinks in the nostrils of every one." In the end, The Prince has a very practical, and very specific, goal in mind.

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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