Table of contents

Gattopardo 3

Some notes on the possibility of a new prince

The prince complains about the landscape & the climate of the land. However, Machiavelli teaches that a sterile place will more easily foster unity & prevent idleness. Indeed, Machiavelli suggests that men rather learn from necessity than otherwise; it seems that what they learn is to conquer it. Sicily is a good counterexample: Men are apt not to learn even from harsh necessity. To leave aside for now the incompetence of the king & the princes in acquiring things for themselves, let us notice that a foreign invader conquered Sicily with a thousand men & then failed to destroy the local notables. The only thing stranger, they surrendered without much of a fight. Their spirits had been so enervated that they would not fight for themselves, to defend that which they had, to say nothing of acquiring anything. Whether they did not fear death or their cowardice was more powerful than anything else, Sicilians & their rulers seem to have a vocation for slavery.

The young prince seems to understand better than the old that it is of importance to fight for oneself & to have arms. It is no use to suggest he fought against his own king & therefore against his own country, or that he aided foreign invaders, because it could not be argued seriously that he could have fought for king & country. Lost causes are best left to priests. Further, the young prince understands that political destinies are made & unmade in the North & that he might be best served by ruling the South on the authority of the North. The North is far away & therefore could constrain him much less than the South. Marrying for money is a step in this direction, especially if the alliance with a vain & foolish – but exceptionally wealthy – ignoble family will bring him some political connections. When once he has impugned his honor by marrying money, he can nevertheless control this new family & secure himself as its ruler. Marriage, after all, is one way of acquiring for oneself. But this young prince cannot become a new prince if he does not destroy the class of princes who, like his uncle, are only a burden to the land, the people, & especially the ambitious few who desire change, seeing in it their only likely path to advancement. Fortune is not the death the old prince sees everywhere, but she is not the young beauty the young prince sees. He should see her as a goddess, to be manhandled, for she favors the daring, & few are daring except when they are young. The young prince dares not think daring thoughts; indeed, besides mediocre politicking, his only ambition seems to be that his ignoble wife should make a good impression in high society.

Modernity is not likely to come upon Sicily. Religion is one cause of lack of ambition, for it preaches against crime – but there is no honorable, decent or legal way of conquering. The church cannot prevent – but must even sanction – the sins that the rulers commit in pursuit of their pleasures or privileges. This mollifies the rulers. Luxury is another cause, for it makes men soft who should be harsh & it distracts them from political conquests & brings women, balls, & the pleasures of the table to their attention. The effectual truth is this: The Church cannot make the few as moral as the many, but it shares in their immoral privileges, & thus reveal how morality & necessity connect.

The Sicilian crisis is an opportunity for a new way of ruling the country. No one will seize their state. Wealth is changing hands rapidly, making men wealthy & liquidating ancient estates. Men could make themselves anew, if they so chose. But the new rich only want to assimilate to the degenerate high class that has become too weak & cowardly to reject them. & the old, or formerly, rich only want to perpetuate their degenerate way of life, in which they do not even order & arrange the affairs of their own estates. It seems the ones marry upwards for title & social graces; the others marry downwards for money & the security it buys. The rich lose much more than they gain in the bargain, however, for titles tie them by the necks to the sinking millstone of the aristocracy…

The old prince, just like any of the young ones, is disgusted with the poverty & the weakness of the many. He agrees also with the government official from the North: The way of life of the Sicilians is disgusting & must change. But it is only an image or a consequence of the lack of spiritedness of the few. If the morality of the many is such that they are too complacent & prefer idleness to industry, then another morality must be taught them & that would require reforming the Church. After all, Machiavelli teaches that powerful cities should be built in fertile, not in sterile lands, but that the laws should supply by art the necessity for industry that sterile lands supply spontaneously… Modernity will remake the land if necessary. The real problem seems to be that the young princes trust too much in the old, who are tied to very old ways, always wasteful, damning to the spirit. The difference between the latest exemplar of the old order & his ancient forebears is this: They acquired estates & built palaces; he merely dwells in them. His outspoken alliance with his forebears is tacitly denied by his inability to be like them. The grandeur of the past, which we see throughout the story, must once have been new. The old order was once a new order & those who installed it must have known they were bringing in something new. That is all gone now; what remains of the old order is the passive element, best shown in the Church, whose only use is to keep the people from lawlessness. The active element, that which installed the order, that has disappeared. The young must be like their ancient forebears & ignore the old, or else the land will go to waste. No graver warning can be given than the conventional family visit to the nunnery which one of the female ancient forebears founded: The noble few are not made noble by founding nunneries. Nevertheless, this is the only ancient forebear that the old prince remembers. The young must desire to build their own kingdoms & cannot be satisfied to dwell in others’ kingdoms or to hope for some future kingdom not won by their own arms. Only two things are needed here: First, that the new prince should love his country more than his soul. Secondly, that new princes should first commit all the sins necessary & then make all the penitence necessary – God will always forgive.

The old prince compares himself & his kind to the lion & the gattopardo, but the young princes to the jackal & the hyena; later he adds the sheep, the many, thus confirming tacitly what he denied explicitly: That all princes are alike, being predators; this further suggests that all peoples are alike, because all they want is not to become prey. All these predators have been extirpated in Europe, but endure in Africa. Perhaps Europe is to Africa as soul is to body. Throughout his palace at Donnafugata, the prince has emblems of this wild cat, the gattopardo. But in truth, being a lion is not enough, it is also necessary to be a fox. Whereas a lion is not in himself both lion & fox, perhaps a gattopardo is. But a true lion is a lion precisely because he scares off the jackals; a fox is a fox because he avoids the snares. Perhaps a gattopardo cannot do either…