Machiavelli asserts that the "main foundations" of every state are "good laws and good arms," meaning that a ruler must anchor his state to sound legal and military codes if he wishes to maintain his power. But the emphasis should be more on martial strength as one cannot have "good laws without good arms" and that "good laws inevitably follow" from good arms. Machiavelli advises a ruler to study warfare in times of peace, so that he may "reap the profit" when war inevitably comes.
With the term "fortune," Machiavelli refers to the unpredictability of fate, meaning the ways in which chance, opportunity, and pure luck often influence the course of life. In opposition to fortune, Machiavelli places the idea of "prowess," referencing the skills and abilities that men possess and use to exert control over their circumstances. A leader cannot maintain his hold on a state without a certain degree of skill and prowess. We must take precautions!
According to Machiavelli, a wise prince may be better served by focusing on the distinction between goodwill and hatred. Above all else, a ruler "must only endeavor to escape being hated," for the "best fortress that exists is to avoid being hated by the people." Of only slightly lesser importance, the prince must cultivate the goodwill and respect of the people. But some situations demand cruelty, such as disciplining the army to instill order which can result in the people's fear and respect.
Machiavelli blurs the line between virtue and vice, arguing that, for a leader, the value of an action rests solely on the context and end result of its performance. Virtue and vice are not fixed terms, they must change according to the goal. The leaders "must be prepared not to be virtuous," since the performance of certain vices is "necessary for safeguarding the state." A leader must know "how to do evil, if that is necessary," but must also strive to maintain the appearance of virtue.
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