On Campus

Prof suspended for using rape metaphor

Lecture on Machiavelli leads to accusations of rape advocacy

A United States Naval War College professor was placed on paid leave after he used a rape metaphor in a lecture given in May. A portion of the talk was posted on You Tube, under the heading, “US Naval War College Professor Advocates Rape.” The 3:40 min clip shows Karl Walling, at one point, adopting Machiavelli’s voice to describe how the 16th Century philosopher argued that political leaders with courage and cunning, or virtu (personified as male) should force the unpredictability of life, or Fortuna (personified as female) to their will.

Here’s the part that likely led to Walling’s suspension:

“What does a leader do when the b**** won’t put out? I do not mean to be vulgar, but rather to get to the heart of the matter from Machiavelli. If Fortuna will not cooperate, then make her do so. Real men, real leaders do not take no for an answer. Fortuna, said Machiavelli, is a woman, and when it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her down, moreover, she will like it.”

Walling, who was forced to apologize for the comments that form part of a 17 page essay says that the clip was taken out of context. For instance, towards the end of the paper, Walling criticizes colleagues who have been seduced by Machiavelli’s realpolitik approach to government: “Blinded by the Jedi master’s insights into the necessities of power, far too many members of my own union have failed to see the obvious: Machiavelli’s political logic was the logic of gangsters, the logic of Don Corleone.”

In a statement released to Inside Higher Ed, on online magazine, the College defended the suspension:

“The president of the college determined that portions of the lecture, which included degrading language about women, were inappropriate and entirely unacceptable . . . The college has policies in place prohibiting the use of inappropriate language, viewed this as a serious matter and took appropriate corrective action. The professor apologized to the college community, was placed on administrative leave, and removed from the lecture schedule for the remainder of the academic year. He also received a letter of caution, which he has publicly made known. College leadership met with students and faculty to reiterate that the language was inappropriate. The Naval War College, like the Navy, values the contributions of its diverse community and expects all members of our organization to adhere to the highest standards of professionalism.”

However, as Inside Higher Ed helpfully points out, even the more controversial comments in the essay, the ones posted on You Tube, represent a pretty standard interpretation of The Prince. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Machiavelli reinforces the association of Fortuna with the blind strength of nature by explaining that political success depends upon appreciation of the operational principles of Fortuna. His own experience has taught him that ‘it is better to be impetuous than cautious, because Fortuna is a woman and it is necessary, in order to keep her under, to beat and maul her.’ In other words, Fortuna demands a violent response of those who would control her. ‘She more often lets herself be overcome by men using such methods than by those who proceed coldly,’ Machiavelli continues, ‘therefore always, like a woman, she is the friend of young men, because they are less cautious, more spirited, and with more boldness master her.’ The wanton behavior of Fortuna demands an aggressive, even violent response, lest she take advantage of those men who are too retiring or ‘effeminate’ to dominate her.”

Walling did not fabricate the rape metaphor. Machiavelli did. Still, Walling’s use of the B-word, at least from the College’s perspective, might have been pushing it.