Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Thoughts On Machiavelli, Leo Strauss

 In my continued attempt to having a wider education in this age of specialization, I dive into works that mainly show that I have a long way to go. Leo Strauss is particularly good at showing how little I know. 

First, although I have seen many quotes from "The Prince", and even a decent amount of analysis in "Ten Books That Screwed Up the World", I was totally unaware of "Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy", which to vastly oversimplify is Machiavelli's coverage of Republics, while "The Prince" is his coverage of Monarchy (Princes). 

On page 40, Strauss does a nice meta summary of what Machiavelli is about:

"If it is true that every complete society necessarily recognizes something that about which it is absolutely forbidden to laugh, we may say that the determination to transgress that prohibition is of the essence of Machiavelli's intention."

My first thought on reading that was that Western society is no longer complete by that definition, but Islam is. The statement strikes me as imagining that in order to be complete, a society must have some foundation which is transcendently true e.g. "All men are created equal, endowed by their creator with unalienable rights." To deride that foundational belief would be "absolutely forbidden" in that people and even the government would sanction you. The "N word" is probably as close as we have today, but it is not a transcendent foundation, merely a "secular heresy". 

Perhaps denying Climate Change or "misgendering" are on that same secular/statist path to an Orwellian rather than a Machiavellian existence. 

Our founding statement requires a transcendent creator that endows our unalienable rights. No transcendent creator, no rights. We can look to thinkers like Machiavelli and those listed in the next paragraph which attempt to pull our "rights" out of the subhuman -- raw, unrestrained animalistic power. 

P78 "Machiavelli is our most important witness to the truth that humanism is not enough. Since man must understand himself in the light of the whole, or of the origin of the whole which is not human, or since man is the being which must try to transcend humanity in the direction of the subhuman if he does not transcend it in the direction of the superhuman, We may look forward from Machiavelli to Swift whose greatest work culminates in the recommendation that man should imitate the horses, to Rosseau who demanded the return to the state of nature, to Nietzche who suggested the Truth is not God, but a woman. As for Machiavelli, one may say with at least equal right that he replaces the imitation of the God-Man Christ with the imitation of the Beast-Man Chiron."

Our soul reaches higher, our flesh reaches lower. As we look at our society today, we see the urge to the primitive, to the Beast-Man rather than the God-Man (Christ).

And what of the woman? Without the protection and honor bestowed by the honor of Christianity for the "weaker vessel", she is ultimately at the mercy of the modern Beast-Man as a society based on beast morality truly subjugates her. The imagined degradation of the "Handmaidens Tale" would be heaven for women compared to the ruthless subjugation by the rule of the Beast-Man.

On page 282, Strauss states; "Since the many can never require the eternal glory which the great individuals can achieve, they must be induced to bring the greatest sacrifices by the judiciously fostered belief in eternity of another kind."

I'm reminded of the epithet "If Machiavelli is so smart, why is he dead"?  

There certainly is SOME sort of eternity. To Machiavelli, his faith lies in it being total physical extinction for each spiritless human. Certainly, he is being read and remembered, but our "eternity" is just the small speck of time (relative to actual eternity) before the big crunch or universal thermal death, what does it really matter? 

Machiavelli lived from 1469 to 1527. The Reformation began in 1517, and Luther is better remembered than Machiavelli, who is largely remembered when we say "Machiavellian", meaning amoral trickery and ruthlessness.

I'll close with a quote from Harvey Mansfield who studied Machiavelli extensively. 

Machiavelli is the first philosopher not merely to lack respect for the just, the noble, and the sacred or even to show his lack of respect—but actually to advise all others to act without respect.

When someone recommends acting without respect, it seems we ought to take their advice and not respect them. 

No comments:

Post a Comment