The Other Prince
Recently I picked up Philip Bobbitt’s The Garments Of Court And Palace: Machiavelli And The World That He Made after hearing the author interviewed on the John Batchelor Show.
I’ve written sympathetically of Machiavelli elsewhere but I’ve only explored the topic superficially.
Bobbitt’s book has been, to put it mildly, a revelation. Unfortunately, this revelation has been mainly due to the fact that the Florentine has been so badly framed to begin with. Bobbitt sets out to correct the record in his succinct little work.
Machiavelli had a vision for Florence and Italy, a new order, but as he articulates this vision in The Discourses and The Prince he does so from a unique standpoint: “I shall depart,” he writes, “from the practices of other writers who depict an imaginary world and shall instead describe the ways princes actually behave and how the world reacts.” Out with utopias, in with experience and history (35)! Realism (dealing with the world as it is) trounces idealism (dealing with the world as it should be).
But to what end does he seek to ascertain lessons from the past? Continue reading
“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
A friend and I have been discussing what presently holds America together. It’s a grandiose question full of dire import (the end of the Republic, the death of America) and the potential for overwrought hand-wringing and silly wishful thinking (if only we had a George Washington!).
Both Left and Right and had staked out their territory on their respective positions and demographics. As of 2016 we seemed heading towards a turning point: would the Left finally triumph in a definitive sense? Was this the Flight 93 election? The tribes were well-established, the battle lines drawn, but then along came Trump who not only rewrote the political playbook, but re-framed American politics and national identity. What has he done?
Whither Have We Come? Whither Shall We Go?
From the start, America was a pragmatic and propositional nation. The early colonies didn’t exactly get along with each other. The constitutional convention was called for out of necessity, and the resulting constitution bears the marks of compromise. To call the American founding purely pragmatic, though, would be to miss the significance the Founders and their compatriots placed on ideals (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) and the importance of sound character (Never tell a lie. Early to bed, early to rise…etc.). Bereft of these propositions, Americans feared a descent into tyranny. The Founders were optimistic, though wary of human failings. The Constitution itself was designed to keep human ambitions and passions in check but was not sufficient to curb abuse. Men must be self-governing. As Lincoln put it some years later, “If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher.” The American experiment could work if Americans remained good citizens. Continue reading
Say what you will about Clinton, at least she has the sense to pay heed to the demon Kissinger. I may like Bernie’s non-interventionist ways (and that’s about the only thing I like other than the fact that he channels the crazy uncle), but his hating on Nixon’s right hand man is sophomoric at best (Bernie: “Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country.”). It is rather amusing: a socialist Jew hating on a socialist-killing Jew. Blood doesn’t run thicker than water, apparently. Continue reading
The other day Trump gave a speech outlining his foreign policy at the National Interest. Short on details, it was strong on instinct. Predictably, the hawks and moralists have gotten into a tizzy. Their monopoly is being challenged by the Republican front-runner and they are panicking that the blustery child that is Trump will convince the mob that the emperor is wearing no clothes. Trillions of dollars, tens of thousands of lives, millions of refugees, and a multitude of wrecked countries: after three decades the war party’s record of liberal internationalism and regime change has not only left the world more unstable and innocents dead, but wasted American blood and treasure. Good intentions indeed. Continue reading
American napalm, that was so four decades ago.
The left loves to excoriate America’s strategic, altruistic, and ultimately flawed foray into Southeast Asia as cynical corporate imperialism. Noam Chomsky is particularly fond of this interpretation. But LBJ’s escalation of America’s participation in Vietnam’s civil war goes hand-in-hand with his beliefs about the ability of government to remake society and the world. The Great Society and Vietnam War were flip sides of the same coin. Champions of the left such as FDR, LBJ, and Obama in recent years, have characteristically opted to ally with corporations to advance their altruistic goals, which creates dissonance within the left driven by a misunderstanding of cause and effect. Corporations become the boogeymen that drive war, when in fact well-meaning, left-wing pipe dreams animate conflicts that corporations then more than willingly accommodate. Conservatives, supposedly so pro-corporate, have made less use of them than liberals.
I digress. Back to Southeast Asia. While the Vietnam War is a favorite topic of American-haters, Vietnam doesn’t share their obsession with getting stuck in the past. The other day The Diplomat published an excellent article that explored both Vietnam’s strategic considerations and its historical consciousness. America’s massive crime of getting involved in that far off land appears to be little more than a blip.
There are few things more marvelously entertaining than watching a Party implode. And this year we might just get a twofer! The Democrats aside, Trump is unprecedented, so I frankly don’t blame members of the Establishment for losing their collective mind. I do suspect, though, they are already coming to terms with their grief and anger and ready to accept the inevitable. Continue reading
The junior senator from Florida keeps rising in the polls, but despite his shot in the spotlight, the boy wonder still has yet to strike a reverberating chord when it comes to foreign policy. Posturing from the Rubio camp has inflated a makeshift foreign policy puppet that masquerades as Reagan-ology, back to reclaim American exceptionalism. In reality, the “Rubio Doctrine” is little more than a pedagogical turn on the heels of American exasperation in the face of seemingly endless pomp and circumstance. An unhealthy ignorance, inherent in Rubio’s and other Republicans’ campaigns, festers under the assumption that American greatness can be dredged up with old slogans and party playbooks. While seeking to emulate the prowess of Reagan, Rubio has embraced the lucrative narrative of exponential military growth as the end-all, be-all for international qualms and conflicts.
Toot the horn, bang the drum – Pope Francis is in town, and he’s got something to say. Because, like any self-styled intellectual you meet at your friend’s weekend party, Papa Frank has an opinion about everything. It seems like he even has opinions about his opinions – and everyone else loves to dissect his opinions. All of this, to him, seems like it’s worth a chuckle and a shrug. But to his critics, he’s an arbiter of destruction, a loose cannon, an anti-pope. He’s a socialist, a Marxist, a liberal. Or, from his followers and admirers, Frankie is a model of charity, a friend of the down-trodden, a breath of fresh air after almost eight years of stuffiness and Emperor Palpatine-esque brows under Benedict XVI. For some, Pope Francis’ ascent to the Seat of Peter wasn’t just announced with white smoke and a hearty “Habemus Papam!” but with Flyin’ Padre Pio and the Blue Angels sonic-booming over the Vatican, sprinkling the ecstatic throng with confetti and free Fit-Bits.
Jeb Bush has distanced himself from his brother’s decision to invade Iraq, and the Republican presidential candidates have joined him in this. Nevertheless, the Republican field still excoriates Obama for “not finishing the job” and pulling the troops out. Now there is talk of sending troops back in, of getting tougher on Assad, on re-instituting sanctions on Iran, and sending weapons to Ukraine. As much as this is “not the party of GWB” the bluster about existential threats emanating from different corners of the world and charges of human rights abuses are strikingly similar to the tone preceding our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. After a decade of grave misadventures abroad, you would think that the Republican Party would take a step back to reevaluate but not much seems to have changed. The party can’t seem to buck their George W cowboy.