"Centuries of wildly differing interpretations of Machiavelli – tyrant or republican, revolutionary or fascist – fractured his thought from his life. His early biographers, Roberto Ridolfi most wonderfully, as well as feminist political theorists like Hanna Fenichel Pitkin, put the two back together again. (This revisionism hasn’t quite entered the popular imagination: trolls in the more nihilistic corners of the internet still debate whether Machiavelli was, in fact, an incel.) Today, Machiavelli’s ruthlessness and cynicism are mostly embraced by those at the contemptible end of the political spectrum: members of the Trump administration have adopted him as a patron saint; in the UK, we have Dominic Cummings, ‘the Machiavel in Downing Street’. But the Succession fans and trolls who revere Machiavellian shrewdness mistake his cynicism for insensitivity to the world, when in fact it reflected precisely the opposite. His cynicism developed from an almost unbearable clarity of insight (it is true that, more often than not, he was disgusted with what he saw). He obviously wasn’t a feminist – Fortuna, remember, was a woman to be mauled – but his ruthless self-inquiry is bracing to read at a time when the right has claimed a monopoly on political realism and popular feminism confuses the cheap pang of emotional recognition for thought."
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