The Quotable Machiavelli is a wry title for Maurizio Viroli’s new collection. Machiavelli’s The Prince (1532) immediately became one of the most widely quoted handbooks on political prudence in Western history. The Prince’s twenty-six chapters organize pithy sayings and short lessons under titles such as “What a Prince Should Do Regarding the Military” and “Of Avoiding Contempt and Hatred.” The busy prince faces no more than one hundred pages of text in the typical edition of The Prince. Every reader of Machiavelli’s signal volume keeps memorable verses in mind, or can find them after a brief perusal of the volume.
Reading through John Adams’ Defence of the Constitutions, (I am currently preparing an edition for Liberty Fund), several passages have brought me up short, as they shed much light upon our current circumstances. Adams was among those who believed that, human nature being constant, history was a source of humane wisdom. His “Discourses on Davila,” which Adams often called the fourth volume of the Defence begins with an epigraph from Aesop that translates roughly as “happy are those who can learn wisdom from the misfortunes of others.”
On Monday Senator Harry Reid introduced an amendment, which would permit both Congress and state legislatures to prohibit the use of resources for political speech at election time. The Republicans did not vote to filibuster it but instead by a substantial majority agreed to open debate. Senator Reid then complained that Republicans were trying to “stall” the Senate from getting to other items on his agenda. Washington has reached a new high in legislative hypocrisy: criticizing the opposition for wanting to debate an amendment that you brought to the floor!
The debate is scheduled to last the week. And nothing is more important than having a debate that brings us back to the consideration of first principles. Political theorists since Machiavelli have been absorbed by the problem of preventing the decay and corruption of the republic as its founding principles gradually recede from public view. The most important safeguard against such decline is the creation of mechanisms that naturally ventilate deep disagreements and renew the citizens’ appreciation of their republic’s first principles. Floor time for divisive constitutional amendments is such a mechanism and this one illustrates three first principles on which our two major political parties disagree.
February's Liberty Law Forum engages the questions of what is American liberty and what is required to support it. Lead essay by Ted McAllister with responses from Bradley Thompson, (and upcoming) Steven Grosby, Bill Dennis, and Hans Eicholz. Getting from aid to enterprise: The next Liberty Law Talk discusses with Michael Miller, director of the Acton Institute's PovertyCure documentary, the conditions that should guide any approach to assist human flourishing in the poor regions of the world. Frequently missing, Miller highlights, in current interventions is an understanding of how crucial the rule of law, property rights, and markets are in the…
Having risen to a record of 3-1 in my fantasy football league on the strength of an opponent who forgot to set his lineup, I have repudiated last season’s view that this is a child’s diversion that does not matter to serious people. I will, however, reserve the right to advert to that perspective when I play our league’s commissioner next week given the fact that he obviously rigged our autodraft, which I am quite certain he did, since there is no way he just happened to wind up with Peyton Manning and the Seattle defense on the same roster, but I digress. The point of these reflections is that fantasy football is not merely unjust—if, that is, I lose—but also destructive of the legitimate ends of the polity: It entails the erosion of particular ties of kinsmanship and loyalty in favor of an egoistic and anonymous individualism freed from bonds of patrie and blood.
President Obama lost the US-Syria war of 2013 before firing a shot. He did it by leaving no doubt that he had not thought through what he meant to accomplish by attacking Syria, nor what effect the attack would have, nor what the consequences of the attack would be, nor how he planned to deal with those consequences. His departure from the common sense of war and peace was so stark, so unmistakable, that it forced the American people to confront that common sense as they had not done for a hundred years.
Our Books section this week features an incredibly insightful review from Alex Pollock on Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's collection of speeches entitled The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis. Pollock notes the size and potential legacies of Bernanke's big bet: How future histories characterize the author will reflect something they will know, which we cannot: what the outcome of the Bernanke Fed’s massive manipulation of the government debt and mortgage markets will have been. This is something that we, and the Federal Reserve itself, now can only guess about. We do know that this has taken the Bernanke Fed’s assets to…