Do We Want to Control Fortune?

November 3, 2011

Political Theory


The Prince Cover Page, from Wikipedia

In The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli discusses the balance between free will and Fortune. He writes in Chapter 25 (page 183), “Nevertheless, that our free will be not wholly set aside, I think it may be the case that Fortune is the mistress of one half our actions, and yet leaves the control of the other half, or a little less, to ourselves.” Machiavelli considered Fortune to control a large portion of our lives, but not all of it. We have a say in our futures and actions about half of the time, while Fortune and God control the other half. Therefore, we do need to be conscious of our decisions, and not leave everything up to chance, because “the Prince who rests solely on Fortune is ruined when she changes” (p.185). Machiavelli supports going even a step further than controlling one’s own actions, when he describes Fortune as a lady who “to be kept under must be beaten and roughly handled.” He suggests in this quote that we should not only aim to control our own actions, but to control Fortune whenever we can. He describes Fortune as an entity that can and should be “readily mastered.” But what does it really mean to control Fortune? And would we really want to, even if we could?

At first, it seems like there would be no reason to respond negatively to that question. Why wouldn’t we want to be in control of every aspect of our lives?

Jariden Loukota, from his CaringBridge site

But what about the young boy whose tumor was discovered by accident? While playing golf with his brother, Jairden Loukota got hit in the stomach by his older brother’s golf club. While it should have only been a minor injury, Jairden responded much more severely than expected. In the emergency room, he and his family found out that a large liver tumor had burst from the impact of the golf club. After an agonizingly long surgery, Jairden was alive. If he had not accidentally been hit by the club, Jairden’s tumor would have been discovered much later, perhaps even too late. If we could control Fortune, would we be able to control to keep chance-based events like this occurring?

Robert Thibodaux after winning $1 million, from BayouBuzz.com

Similarly, a Louisiana man, Mr. Robert Thibodaux, bought his usual set of five lottery tickets yesterday, as he has done weekly for the past few years. Instead of getting the type of tickets he requested though, the cashier accidentally gave him a Power Play ticket. Thibodaux paid for the tickets, and was shocked to find out later that he had chosen winning numbers on the Power Play ticket. He won a million dollars on a ticket that he had bought on accident! Fortune played a role in that situation, but would she have played a similar role if we “controlled” her?

So what do you think? What does it really mean to control Fortune? And if it is even possible, would we want to? Would controlling Fortune mean missing out on the positive events she brings as well?

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