Machiavelli's Conception of Virtu and Fortuna

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Machiavelli's conception of virtu and fortuna

Niccolo Machiavelli is considered the father of modern political science. Living in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth-century's, Machiavelli was a citizen of the city-state of Florence where he served as a secretary to the city council and as a diplomatic envoy for 14 years. The Prince was published five years after his death and is regarded as his most famous work. The Prince is an articulate and precise explanation of the way to use the lesson of history in politics as an example to learn and build ideas from. The Prince can be broken up into four parts. Firstly, Machiavelli explains how a prince gets a state. Secondly, he explains how a prince holds on to a state. Thirdly, he explains how a prince deals with friends and foes. Lastly, Machiavelli applies all of his points to Italy. The two main themes of The Prince are virtue and fortune. Machiavelli uses these two themes throughout the book to explain his four main points stated earlier. Machiavelli believes that virtue and fortune are the two most influential forces in politics and he shows how, throughout history, they have affected different people in powerful positions. Using the lessons learned by previous people of great political power, Machiavelli points out virtues and fortunes present in the particular cases and then he explains his beliefs and solutions to the examples from the past. By looking at Machiavelli's The Prince, the two common themes which can be extracted are virtue and fortune and Machiavelli's conception of those two themes are presented and integrated with all of his main arguments in The Prince.

"Virtue", in Machiavelli's conception, can be defined as courage, efficacy, talent, strength, ability and, what might be most important, intelligence. Therefore, the opposite of virtue would be uncertainty and hesitation. Machiavelli examines the successes of Moses, Romulus, Cyrus and Theseus and states that, "These opportunities, therefore, made these men successful, and their outstanding ingenuity made that opportunity known to them, whereby their nations were ennobled and became prosperous." In other words, Machiavelli is saying that virtue is the ability to take advantage of the opportunities which are presented by fortune. So, though it is sometimes capable of suppressing fortune; virtue is the fundamental quality required of a prince if he is to be successful. Virtue also not only exploits favourable conditions but also discovers and sometimes creates them. Virtue acts upon fortune. Machiavelli's interpretation of virtue is important because it is one of the main themes in The Prince and he applies his understanding of virtue to almost every example he takes from political history.

Machiavelli describes his definition of "Fortune" in The Prince as he states, "I judge it to be true that fortune is the arbiter of one half of our action, but that she still leaves the control of the other half, or almost that, to us." What is important to note is that Machiavelli refers to "fortune" as female and he also adds to his concept of fortune as female as he states, …fortune is a woman, and it is necessary, in order to keep her down, to beat her and to struggle with her. And it is seen that she more often allows herself to be taken over by men who are impetuous than by those who make cold advances; and then, being a woman, she is always the friend of young men, for they are less cautious, more aggressive, and they command her with more audacity.

What is important about this is that it shows directly of how Machiavelli viewed fortune and how he thought of solutions to deal with it. By comparing fortune to a woman Machiavelli believes that it can be dealt with the same way he believes a woman can be dealt with. Machiavelli also explains that fortune can be taken over, like a woman, but only if one is aggressive with her and knows what they are doing. Furthermore, Machiavelli also compares...
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