Professor Maurizio Virolli of Princeton has an interesting thesis: The Prince is not an essay in political philosophy. It is an exhortation.
It is not an essay that seeks to teach how to do politics or explain the nature of politics, but rather a speech that wants to move the reader to go and pursue a great undertaking.
There is a part in The Prince that proves Virolli has a point: the image of fortune as if she were a woman.
Machiavelli says in chapter 25:
“… I consider that it is preferable to be impetuous and not cautious, because fortune is a woman and it is necessary, if you want to keep her submissive, to hit her and taunt her. And it is seen that he allows himself to be dominated by them rather than by those who act lukewarmly. And, as a woman, she is a friend of the young, because they are less cautious and fierier and impose themselves more boldly”.
The sexist image he uses is efficient because it makes the reader feel that fortune is like a woman: beautiful and desirable. If fortune is female, then Machiavelli wants the reader to feel that victory is like the sexual act. The act that young people yearn the most, the act that their mind and body most impel them to carry out despite the confusions, misunderstandings, ambiguities that we have all suffered at some point. An act that has little to do with objectives, goals, programs…
This image is brilliant. Brilliant because it captures the imagination of the reader, it moves him to have a very clear image of what success is like. In fact, the image is much more efficient with the ignorant reader than with the experienced one.
But this image is full of consequences that must be explored.
The sexual experience is a reward in itself. Success or triumph, no. Success is something very much mediated. If a boxer wins a fight, and they give him an award, does it mean that he will use the award well, does it mean that the great prize they gave him will be used for his benefit?
The image of success as the seduction of a woman moves the reader. But it does not clarify anything for him, it does not teach him anything and, in many ways, it is a deception or at least a way to confuse the reader.
If Machiavelli does this in The Prince, he gives Vitolli a point. The Prince is not an essay: it is rather a stupendous piece of rhetoric made for men to take action.
I just published “Do the impossible: Machiavelli on Luck”, an essay to discuss a new idea of luck proposed by the author of The Prince.
Buy it out on amazon!