Machiavelli suggests that any new prince who successfully follows the advice found in The Prince will enjoy the stability of a hereditary prince, since men are more aware of the present than of the past.
A number of Italian princes have lost states through their own military faults. They fled when they should have fought, expecting their subjects to call them back. These princes failed because of their own incompetence and not as a result of a string of bad luck. They took too much comfort in prosperous times, never anticipating danger. When they were conquered, they hoped that the people would revolt and recall them; but it is always folly to depend upon others for security. A prince’s best defense is his own valor.
Although it is often thought that fortune controls human affairs, fortune controls only half of one’s actions, while free will determines the other half. Fortune is like a flooding river: it is only dangerous when men have not built dykes against it beforehand. Italy has not built dykes, and as a result it has experienced tumultuous upheaval. Germany, Spain, and France have taken better care and have reaped the benefits of stability.
As fortune varies, one man may succeed and another fail, even if they both follow the same path. Times and circumstances change, so a prince must adjust to them in order to remain successful; however, men tend to stay on the course that has brought them success in the past. Circumstances allowed Julius II to act impetuously, but if he had lived longer, he would have been ruined when circumstances changed. On the whole, however, impetuosity surpasses caution. Fortune favors energetic youth over cautious age.
Italy’s current disarray favors the emergence of a new prince who will bring happiness to the Italian people. Until recently, there had been a prince who seemed ordained by heaven to redeem Italy. But a string of bad luck has prevented such an outcome.
Lorenzo de’ Medici is Italy’s best hope. If he has learned from the great men named in The Prince, the salvation of Italy will not be difficult. For though those men were great, they were still only men, with no greater opportunities or grace than Lorenzo’s own. Past wars and princes have failed to strengthen Italy because its military system was old and defective.