[1] The word fortune describes the most ancient and fundamental experience in politics—the politician’s consciousness that men and happenings are recalcitrant to purposeful guidance, that the results of political action never square with intention, that he never can have command of all the relevant material.


International Politics Political Role Greek Tragedy Historical Writing Political Writing 
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  1. 1.
    Il Principe, ed. Arthur Burd, introduction by Lord Acton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1891), chapter 25, p. 358.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    [Elsewhere, Machiavelli’s sentence has a slightly different appreciation: “A quaint quantitative estimate of the role of decision within the framework of necessity”; Martin Wight, Four Seminal Thinkers in International Theory. Machiavelli, Grotius, Kant & Mazzini, ed. Gabriele Wight and Brian Porter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 22–3. “We may take this careful statement … as earliest attempt at experientially based philosophy of I(nternational) P(olitics)”; Martin Wight, “Fortune and Irony in International Politics,” Chicago, March 13, 1957, MWP 3.]Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Albert Sorel, La Question d’Orient au XVIIIe Siècle (Paris: Plon 1889), 2nd. ed., p. 99. Cf. p. 77 and note. [“The more one gets older, he often said, the more one is persuaded that His Majesty the Chance makes three-quarters of the work of this miserable universe.”]Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    De Monarchia, II. 10, as translated by Donald Nicholl, Monarchy and Three Political Letters (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1954), p. 53.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Donoso Cortes, “Lettres politiques sur la situation de la France en 1851 et 1852”, in Oeuvres (Paris: Vaton, 1858), II. 428. [“Moreover, these forecasts and all those of my previous letters can be deceived: all the calculations can be foiled by one of these coups d’état of Providence that common people call strokes of fortune. Everything I announced must happen, according to the natural order of things; but generally what must happen in this way does not happen. There is always a point of pernicious fever, an armed revolt, a bold stroke by an audacious man, a sudden change of opinion, which suddenly destroys the hopes of some, the fears of other, the wisdom of the wise, the ability of the skilled, the prudence of the prudent, and the calculations of all.”]Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    [The last chapters of Robert Herrera, Donoso Cortes: Cassandra of the Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1995) treat Cortes’s predictions. One of the most famous, and failed, is a forecast of the eventual fusion between socialism and Slavic nationalism. On this figure, see John T. Graham, Donoso Cortes: Utopian Romanticist and Political Realist (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1974).]Google Scholar
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  9. 10.
    Machiavelli’s knowledge of Polybius is a matter of controversy. On the one hand, Machiavelli nowhere mentions Polybius by name; on the other hand, the Discorsi, book I, chapters 1–15, paraphrase Polybius, book VI, and sometimes reproduce it almost verbatim. On the one hand, Machiavelli probably did not read Greek; on the other hand, though the first five books of Polybius had been translated into Latin, no translation of Book VI is known to have existed at the time the Discorsi were written. See The Discourses of Niccolò Machiavelli, ed. Leslie J. Walker (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950), II. 289–91; John H. Hexter, “Seyssel, Machiavelli, and Polybius VI: The Mystery of the Missing Translation,” Studies in the Renaissance 56, no. 3 (1956): 75–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Polybius, book I, chapter 63; book II, chapter 38; book XXXVI, chapter 17; book VI, chapter 2. On Polybius’ concept of Tyche in general see Kurt von Fritz, The Theory of the Mixed Constitution in Antiquity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1954), appendix II. Cf. Frank W. Walbank, A Historical Commentary on Polybius (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), pp. 16–26. [“This confirms the assertion I ventured to make at the outset that the progress of the Romans was not due to chance and was not involuntary, as some among the Greeks choose to think, but that by schooling themselves in such vast and perilous enterprises it was perfectly natural that they not only gained the courage to aim at universal dominion, but executed their purpose”; I. 63.] [“How is it, then, that both these two peoples and the rest of the Peloponnesians have consented to change not only their political institutions for those of the Achaeans, but even their name? It is evident that we should not say it is the result of chance, for that is a poor explanation. We must rather seek for a cause, for every event whether probable or improbable must have some cause. The cause here, I believe to be more or less the following. One could not find a political system and principle so favourable to equality and freedom of speech, in a word so sincerely democratic, as that of the Achaean league”; II. 38.] [“For my part, says Polybius, in finding fault with those who ascribe public events and incidents in private life to Fate and Chance, I now wish to state my opinion on this subject as far as it is admissible to do so in a strictly historical work. Now indeed as regards things the causes of which it is impossible or difficult for a mere man to understand, we may perhaps be justified in getting out of the difficulty by setting them down to the action of a god or chance, I mean such things as exceptionally heavy and continuous rain or snow … But as for matters the efficient and final cause of which it is possible to discover we should not, I think, put them down to divine action … But in cases where it is either impossible or difficult to detect the cause the question is open to doubt”; XXXVI. 17.] [“Now the chief cause of success or the reverse in all matters is the form of a state’s constitution; for springing from this, as from a fountain-head, all designs and plans of action not only originate, but reach their consummation”; VI. 2.]Google Scholar
  11. 20.
    [In the twenty-first century, an anthology gathered together for the first time Machiavelli’s writings on international politics; see Machiavelli on International Relations, ed. Marco Cesa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).]Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    John Dryden, The Twenty-ninth Ode of the Third Book of Horace, paraphrased in Pindaric verse, IX, in The Poems of John Dryden, ed. John Sargeaunt (London: Oxford University Press, 1913).Google Scholar
  13. 25.
    [In 2015, Johns Hopkins University researchers have found that “bad luck” plays a major role in determining most types of cancer, rather than genetics or risky lifestyle. Then, there has been much debate against this notion of biological bad luck in cancer etiology; see Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein, “Variation in Cancer Risk among Tissues Can be Explained by the Number of Stem Cell Divisions,” Science 347, no. 6217 (2015): 78–81.]CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli (Glencoe: Free Press, 1958), p. 214. [Strauss’s thoughts present an elaborate reflection: “She is indeed not a creator and she concentrates entirely on the government of men … She certainly is not always malevolent. She certainly is, if not all powerful, at least so powerful that men cannot oppose her designs. The practical consequence is not quietism. As we have seen, the end which Fortuna pursues is unknown, and so are her ways toward that end. Hence, Machiavelli concludes, men ought always to hope, men ought never to give up, no matter what the condition into which Fortuna may have brought them. We need not discuss whether Machiavelli is consistent in drawing this sanguine conclusion from his quasi-theology. His conclusion from his assertion regarding Fortuna is certainly consistent with the conclusion which follows from his assumption regarding the intelligences in the air: man has no reason to fear superhuman beings … Fortuna is a part, and not the ruling part, of the whole. The whole is ruled by heaven … Heaven leaves room for human causation, for action, for prudence and for art. Fortuna belongs to the same domain to which art and prudence belong. Fortuna is thought to be the cause of men’s good or ill fortunes. But if one looks more closely, one sees that in the most important cases ‘the cause of (good) fortune’ is not Fortuna but human virtue and good institutions, i.e., the work of prudence or art”; pp. 214–17.]Google Scholar
  16. 37.
    See Georgi V. Plekhanov, The Role of the Individual in History (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1940), p. 43; Selected Essays of J. B. Bury, ed. William H. Temperley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930), p. 61; John B. Bury, The Idea of Progress (London: Macmillan, 1920), pp. 303–4. Bury’s argument is criticised by Michael Oakeshott, Modes of Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933), pp. 133–41.Google Scholar
  17. 38.
    Francesco Guicciardini, Storia d’Italia. book VI, chapter 4. [“But alas. How vain and fallacious are the projects of men. The Pope, in the eight of his aspiring hopes, is unexpectedly carried home for dead to the pontifical palace, from vineyard near the Vatican, where he had been at supper, to regale himself in the time of the Summer heats; and immediately after him his son brought a long in the same expiring condition. The day following, which was the 18th of August, the Pope’s corps, according to pontifical custom, is carried into St. Peter’s Church, all swelled, black, and monstrously frightful, sure marks of poison.”] William H. Woodward, Cesare Borgia (London: Chapman Hall, 1913), pp. 323–4, 330–2.Google Scholar
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    William H. Lecky, History of England in the Eighteenth Century, new impression (London: Longmans, 1907), I. 202, no. 3; Correspondence of Jonathan Swift. ed. Francis E. Ball (London: G. Bell, 1910–14), II. 214. Cf. George M. Trevelyan, The Peace and the Protestant Succession (London: Longmans, 1934).Google Scholar
  19. 42.
    Saburov Memoirs, or Bismarck and Russia. Being Fresh Lighton the League of the Three Emperors, 1881, ed. James Y. Simpson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929), p. 136. [Ambassador Holbrooke wrote about the “distorting effect of perfect hindsight,” after the Dayton agreement (1995): “My own government experiences over the last thirty-five years have led me to conclude that most accounts of major historical events, including memories, do not convey how the process felt at the time to those participating in it. This derives, in part, from historian’s need to compress immensely complicated and often contradictory events into a coherent narrative whose outcome reader (unlike the participants at the time) already knows”; Richard Holbrooke, To End a War (New York: Modern Library, 1998), p. xvi.]Google Scholar
  20. 43.
    Il Principe, chapter 25, ed. Burd, p. 365. [“For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her.” Chabod wrote a transparent comment on Machiavelli’s method and style: “So we have the plastic imagine of the woman beaten into submission, and the powerful climax that dispels all doubts—by forceful imagery, however, and not by logic. When the author’s enthusiasm runs high the dilemmatic method, the method of syllogism and disputation gives way, even in the matter of style, to a violent upsurging of emotion in which logic is replaced by imagery”; Machiavelli and the Renaissance, pp. 146–7. The image has probably reached its apogee of brutality in Oriani’s version (1908): “Fortune and history are women and they love only the vigorous man capable of raping them, who accepts the risks of the adventure to reach to the domination of love”; Andrea Oriani, La Rivolta Ideale (Bologna: Cappelli, 1943), p. 276.]Google Scholar
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    [In twenty-first century, this attitude has become part of mainstream social science: “Policy makers create history, and history unfolds in directions that scholars discover and debate.” Henry R. Nau, “Scholarship and Policy-Making: Who Speaks Truth to Whom?,” in Christian Reus-Smit and Duncan Snidal eds., The Oxford Handbook of International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 640.]Google Scholar
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    [Castro’s dictum “La historia me absolverá” is one of the most striking examples of this process of self-confidence. It is the concluding sentence of the famous speech which he made at the trial for the failed attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba, July 26, 1953; Fidel Castro, History Will Absolve Me (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1975).]Google Scholar
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    Speech of 16 April 1869, in Die Politischen Reden des Fürsten Bismarck (Cotta: Stuttgart, 1892–1905) IV. 192. [Translation from German by Martin Wight. According to Butterfield, Bismarck “was more emphatic on this subject than possibly any other statesman in modern history. He would say: ‘The statesman cannot create the stream of time, he can only navigate upon it’. When people urged him to hasten the unification of Germany he would argue: ‘We can advance the clock but time itself does not move any more quickly for that’. The year before Germany’s unification, he said: ‘An arbitrary and merely wilful interference with the course of history has always resulted only in beating off fruits that were not ripe.’” Butterfield concludes, “Yet in spite of his consistency in this kind of philosophy we should still hold, I think, that even Bismarck did not go far enough in this view—even he tried too hard on occasion to force the hands of Providence”; Herbert Butterfield, Christianity and History (London: G. Bell, 1949), pp. 100–1.]Google Scholar
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    [This quotation is without any reference in Wight’s papers. Yet it seems true to say that it is the central part of Eliot’s Gerontion, a dramatic monologue first published in 1920, which presents the reflections of an elderly man after World War I; Thomas Eliot, Poems (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1920), pp. 35–45. According to Cleanth Brooks, from which Wight has extracted his definition of irony, “Gerontion has made no commitments, for he has not been willing to limit the complete freedom that he demands for himself; he keeps all options open until death puts an end to options”; see his “The Waste Land: A Prophetic Document,” in Cleanth Brooks, Community, Religion, and Literature: Essays (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1995), p. 104.]Google Scholar
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    William Morris, A Dream of John Ball, chapter IV. [The words are from Morris’s narrative voice. He is hearing the speech by the rebel priest John Ball in Kent during the Peasants’ Revolt across England in 1381, which culminated in the march on London, the suppression of revolt, and the execution of the rebel leaders. Ball’s reported preaching should be valued “for the unique insight they provide into the radical Christian egalitarianism that constituted much of the ideology of the rebels”; Andrew Prescott, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, digital ed. According to Boos, “A Dream of John Ball asked the obvious painful question: Can there be any hope for future attempts to effect social change, when so many heroic efforts have failed?”; “Alternative Victorian Futures: ‘Historicism,’ Past and Present, and A Dream of John Ball,” in History and Community: Essays in Victorian Medievalism, ed. Florence S. Boos (New York: Garland Publishing, 1992), p. 26. For Bulla, “the subject of freedom, dignity and equality, and more specifically of the class struggle, is to Morris the standard by which to assess and evaluate human history above all else”; Guido Bulla, “Introduzione,” in William Morris, Un Sogno di John Ball (Cosenza: Lerici, 1980), p. 9. Morris published this prose writing in serial format in the socialist weekly The Commonweal in 1886–7, then in a book (London: Reeves and Turner, 1888). Llewellyn Woodward (1890–1972), quoted by Wight, was a historian and professor of International Relations at Oxford (1944–47). His main project (apart from editing the Documents on British Foreign Policy series) was to write a multivolume work, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War, based on unpublished documents in the Foreign and Cabinet offices. Official objections delayed the project; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, digital ed.]Google Scholar

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© Michele Chiaruzzi 2016

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  • Martin Wight

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