05 April 2010

The Prince, part 9 (chapter 9)

The Prince chapter 9:  “Of the Civic Principality"

Fortune, Ability, and the Civic Prince
If anyone has thought that it was the aristocratic class of men that Machiavelli admired, rather than the strong individual, this chapter sufficiently dispels that error.    Here his disdain for the aristocracy is displayed plainly; that is, without excess, adornment, excuse or vitriol, but in the most straightforward and off-hand manner.

At the beginning he makes a curious distinction between civic principalities and the more “traditional” principalities he has previously been discussing, when he argues that the civic principality cannot be achieved “either wholly through ability or wholly through fortune, but rather through shrewdness assisted by luck.”*  I take this to mean that because the civic prince depends upon the political support of others, ability alone cannot enable one to  rise to that station, as it’s not simply a matter of will and good decision-making.  But luck—or fortune—alone is also insufficient, because this is not a case of having one good connection (such as a father/pope) who can put you into power; the support of too many is needed to rely on luck alone.  So ability is necessary but