Mercenaries are to soldiers as whores are to wives. There’s a notable mercenary outfit called “Executive Outcomes”—and, yet, couldn’t that also be a name for an escort agency? “Executive Outcomes - discreet service - satisfaction guaranteed - enquire Las Vegas, NV 89110-2920”. And, of course, “escort agency” and “private military contractor” are both euphemisms—and we use euphemisms for that which we find distasteful.
Indeed, in ancient Rome, a “Lupanar” was a brothel—where you could find a “lupa”, or “a prostitute”; and a lupa derived from “lupus”—a female she-wolf. Now, as it happens, Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf and so founded Rome—but that was a miracle because it was an exception, the usual situation with a she-wolf was that she would devour you.
Hence, perhaps, Shakira’s lyric “there’s a she-wolf in your closet…let her out so she can breathe [pant, pant]”—a popular singer being, like a mercenary, a type of whore; not dedicated to the muses but to the paying masses.
So a mercenary, like a whore, will devour you. Yet the mercenary, like the gangster, has a certain glamour and appeal—in the contemporary West there are endless films and Netflix series about gangsters, to be a gangster is an ideal; and the mercenary and the whore have the same appeal. It’s a world without limits, a world with mirrored tables from which you can ingest cocaine—automatic pistol on one side and lingerie-clad whore on the other…
The knight rarely, if ever, appears in modern mass entertainment—because, just like the mob at the Circus Maximus, there is less interest in the knight’s life. The difference is that the knight’s life involves restraint, self-sacrifice, and submission to that which is higher, whereas the mob lives by hedonistic self-indulgence—and so have no interest in the knight as a figure to aspire towards. The knight is connected to kingship, magic, and religion—the gangster, the whore (singer), and mercenary have glamour (which is an enchantment).
Gangsters are also replaceable—the gangster organisation is an inverted elite, where “the foot soldiers” are expendable and only look after themselves (gangsters betray each other, with the proverbial spray from a tommy-gun—not being loyal to anything higher, they cannot be loyal to each other either; and the left shades into gangsterism, if you think about its constant splits and figures like Stalin).
The dream for the man in the audience is to be “mobbed up” and to be involved in a cartel or patronage network that exists not to seek the truth but to protect “the racket”—even university professors, even the doctor Faucis of this world, operate in the same way today.
Machiavelli made a few curt observations about mercenaries that Vladimir Putin would have been wise to heed:
“Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither ﬁrm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor ﬁdelity to men, and [one’s own] destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”
Well, there you have it: Machiavelli might have been incorrect insofar as Wagner seems to have fought very well for the Russians, better than the Russian army—yet the final outcome has been as Machiavelli said back in the 1500s. Prigozhin proved to be unfaithful, ambitious, and without discipline—and valiant before the Russian army, whose soldiers he killed with alacrity.
As Machiavelli said, “one’s own destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is,” so that when there was a lull, when Wagner had finished at Bakhmut, their forces were turned on Putin. The meta-context for the war was disaster—Russia was shown to be disunited in wartime, on the verge of civil war; it was an act that caused Russian demoralisation and disorder—it was treason, yet it went unpunished because Putin, in relying on mercenaries, has lost the ability to control his “she-wolves”.
What Prigozhin did was selfish and short-termist—his complaints about his limited ammunition supplies may have been justified, but he damaged the Russian nation in the worst way possible. The correct punishment for Prigozhin is, in fact, execution—for treason. He has not been executed because he is now the de facto Tsar—he can kill Russians with impunity and receive a slap on the wrist for it. It is as Machiavelli said—Putin relied on mercenaries, weakened his own rule, and, in the end, “his own destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is”.
So Machiavelli continues:
“The mercenary captains are either capable men or they are not; if they are, you cannot trust them, because they always aspire to their own greatness, either by oppressing you, who are their master, or others contrary to your intentions; but if the captain [i.e., the leader of the mercenaries] is not skillful, you are ruined in the usual way [i.e., you will lose the war].”
So Prigozhin is capable—we know that; and we also know that he “aspires to his own greatness” (livestreamed speeches)—and that he has support within the Russian military. And so a catastrophe unfolded for Putin. Machiavelli goes on to say that it was reliance on mercenaries that heralded the first stage of problems for the Roman Empire—and that only the captain who leads from the front, displays courage, can be sure that his rule is secure; and his soldiers should be, like the Swiss, a citizen militia (as has been known since ancient times).
Well, Putin is, after all, a spy—so he tried to manipulate it all from behind the scenes; even the way he fights wars is designed to be like an illusion in spycraft—there is no “actual war”, just “Little Green Men” or a “Special Military Operation”. A war that isn’t a war—because, I presume, he doesn’t have the courage and confidence to lead from the front and, further, does not possess free men to command. He cannot risk full commitment (like marriage—so he has to rely on whores).
Americans often mock the Russians as a “slave state” bound to lose due to relative low morale when compared to the “free” Ukrainians—yet the Americans are no more free than the Russians, the 2nd Amendment is not defended so as Americans can participate in militias to defend their country (as every Swiss man keeps his rifle after national service); it is defended on grounds of self-defence or recreation—Americans were long ago dragooned into “Pharaoh’s army”. And, indeed, America used mercenaries, such as “Blackwater”, as was, throughout their war with Islam—a sign, just like the Romans, that their empire is in decline.
Putin committed an error identified by another classical Italian, Dante—he was lukewarm, he should have committed all the way from the first (a point made, correctly, by Prigozhin); but he would not launch an actual war—he used mercenaries and prisoners to protect his legitimacy at home, and yet in the end this stand-off lukewarm “operation” undermined his own rule (he could not arrest and execute Prigozhin—perhaps because he is too effective and has too much support in the military; and so Putin is a “paper Tsar”, not powerless but without full executive authority—his legitimacy is gone).
That might be because a spy is not so different from a gangster and a mercenary—the spy works in “the wilderness of mirrors” (cocaine-stained) and, in fact, he is familiar with gangsters and whores (ready sources of “information” and blackmail material, for a price). In this sense, Putin is not so different to Prigozhin—and Russia’s problem is that she still lacks a virtuous leader, the king-priest or warrior-priest. Hence her position remains precarious, because there are now two power centres in the country and there is the risk, especially if she fails in the Ukraine, that civil war will follow.
A small consolation for V. V. Putin might be that although Machiavelli warned various Florentine princes not to use mercenaries, nobody heeded his advice—and instead he was marginalised and exiled. So men refuse to learn from history as much as ever—even though all Machiavelli did was to remind them of what the ancients always said.