Prudence and the Prince

Prudence and the Prince

Mini Teaser: Carnes Lord Takes the gloves back off Machiavelli and gives us something we can use.

by Author(s): Fred E. Baumann

The very power of Lord's case, rising as it does to an almost despairing conclusion, suggests the obvious Madisonian counter-argument. Since Lord, like Machiavelli, depends on what Madison called "enlightened statesmen", and since they are even more likely to be lacking now than in 1790, maybe, for all its weaknesses, there is much to be said for the tamed, institutionalized prince, the nonentity facilitator, where the true authority of the regime lies in the faith in due process, in the outcome, whatever it may be, of the factional disputes among, mainly, the elites. Temperamentally, I tend to that view, the true slogan of which may be "God looks out for children, drunks and the United States of America", and which thus confesses its poltroonery by Machiavellian standards of self-help. Still, I remember that it was Caligula who banned the poets from Rome, thinking that he was thus exemplifying the statecraft of Plato's Republic, and I wouldn't much like to see, for instance, the principle of academic freedom subjected to political necessity as interpreted by, say, Howard Dean.

The proper degree of tameness for the prince is, however, not an abstract matter, separate from context. The current drift towards the power of deeply irresponsible elites, who do not even know what there is to be responsible to, reminds of Leo Strauss's response to the charge that he had compared American social scientists to Nero fiddling while Rome burned: He hadn't, because they didn't know that they were fiddling or that Rome was burning. Along with the current concomitant and essentially sub-political elite discourse, compounded of technique and utopian fantasy and not moored to regime questions, it makes Lord's call to the memory of what political leadership really involves extremely timely. If the book falls into the hands of the next president, all the better. But its greatest benefit is likely to be bestowed on the very elites it castigates. If the older, fuller understanding of politics that Machiavelli largely shared with Aristotle--even as he began the process of undermining it through the forgetfulness that can-do thinking produces--can be revived in the minds of serious students of politics, future practitioners will find it easier to understand what the nature of their activity already suggests to them.

Essay Types: Book Review