Machiavelli on luck and opportunity

I’m currently reading a book by Jonathan Powell, who was Tony Blair’s chief of staff, and remarkably, the first ever chief of staff to a British Prime Minister. In The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World, Powell takes the lessons he learnt from his time working for Blair, and looks at them through the lens of Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Discourses. It’s a fantastic read, and I’ve already got a stack of passages from the book I want to share. Here is the first:

In examining the lives of Moses, Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus, Machiavelli concludes that ‘we shall see that they were debtors to Fortune for nothing beyond the opportunity which enabled them to shape things as they pleased, without which the force of their spirit would have been spent in vain; as on the other hand, opportunity would have offered itself in vain, had the capacity for turning into account been without wanting’. He believed that the great leaders had both luck and the capacity to seize an opportunity when it presented itself without thinking twice, and that is what Tony had done when John Smith died.