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Secrets of the Discourses - Page 4

post #46 of 63

Hi Michael, there's a Machiavelli conference taking place at Columbia University this December 6-7.  I thought you might be interested, since Harvey Mansfield will be there, along with other major scholars, like Quentin Skinner and Maurizo Viroli. It's free and open to the public.  Here's the announcement:


You can RSVP here:

post #47 of 63

that right,Multiples of 13 have to be counted from the beginning of the work and from the beginning of each book. They will have a different significance depending on where the count starts. Hence II 5 (the 65th chapter) is important by one reckoning while III 39 is important by another.thanks for your sharing,


post #48 of 63
Thread Starter 
I went to the Columbia conference (and hung out a great deal with Mansfield, which was awesome). But this post is about Rahe.

Paul Rahe gave an interesting talk on Prince 11, which yielded some extraordinary insights. Some of what I am going to say came from him, some I added on my own.

P 11 is "Of Ecclesiastical Principalities," i.e., above all the papacy. Now, this much I had noticed before. In 19, Nick explicitly compares the Sultanates of the Ottoman Empire and the Mameluke order in Egypt to the "Christian pontificate." The similarity is that they are both elective monarchies. The last time Nick had discussed "the Turk" (as opposed to "Turks") had been a lengthy discussion in 4. The key distinction there had been between princes placed amidst many barons (e.g., the king of France) or princes who are absolute monarchs with all obeying their commands (the Turk).

The distinction at first appears to be feudalism v. absolutism. But that becomes problematic when Nick uses ancient Greece as analogous to France. Ancient Greece was, to say the least, not a feudal monarchy. So, then it seems that the true distinction is between regions or “provinces” governed by a single lord v. those with many different states, whether principalities or republics.

But then if you dig a little deeper, there appears to be a metaphorical meaning, viz., paganism v. monotheism. The Turk is God, an eastern absolute One-God, the barons of France are the pagan gods with the king as their Zeus.

All right, so we get to 19 and he makes the explicit comparison between the Sultan and the pope. This is meant to drive home the nail: the Church is an eastern despotism, fundamentally antithetical to Western principles. It’s a nasty import that the host body should, and would, have rejected—had not the Romans turned the Med (formerly a province like France) into a province like the Ottoman Empire—a despotism that obeyed only one ruler. The Roman physical conquest preceded and was necessary for the Christian spiritual conquest.

By making this much explicit, Nick is inviting us to look for other parallels. Ch. 19 contains by far the highest usage of the world “soldiers.” The surface point seems to be the following. In Ch. 9 and thereafter, NM says that there are the people and the great, and the prince must choose one on which to base his rule, and Nick recommends the people. But this is modified in 19, where in the long digression on the Roman emperors, he shows that the “bad” emperors (above all Severus) ruled without the people or the great, but through the soldiers. Then he makes the following explicit comparison: “since the kingdom of the Sultan is in the hands of the soldiers, he also is required to keep them his friends.”

One is then invited to wonder, if the papacy = the sultanate, what is the parallel for the soldiers? And answer must be the priests. The priests are the soldiers of the church. It is they who enable it to rule, through whom it rules—and more fundamentally, through whom the faith itself rules, Christ Himself rules. This is confirmed when one counts instances of “soldati” and variants in the book and comes up with 44.

Rule through the soldiers, NM makes clear, is what enables bad rulers to ignore the extremely modest wishes of the common people. He says this explicitly about Severus and the Turk, implicitly about the Church.

Moreover, in 9, he describes the people and great as two “humors” or fundamental facts of nature. (He uses identical language in D I 4.) This is repeated in 19, twice, the first time straight, the second with a twist. The second time he lists THREE—the people, the great, and the soldiers and refers to “their humor.” In other words, the soldiers by this passage are said to HAVE a humor, whereas in the two earlier passages (and in the Discourses) the people and the great are said to BE humors. The people and the great are fundamental. The soldiers appear not to be. This suggests the possibility of victory, of doing away with them.

Be this as it may, Machiavelli seems to recognize the existence of a soldierly, and by extension, a priestly humor. The distinction between the people and the great is that the former want neither to be commanded nor oppressed whereas the latter want to command and oppress the people. The soldiers of the Turk are intermediaries. They command and oppress the people, ostensibly on behalf of the Turk. But really? For NM makes clear that the Turk must fear and satisfy them. So who is really in charge?

Turning to the priests, for light we may turn to a passage in D III 1. There Machiavelli describes the priests as “doing the worst they can, for the do not fear the punishment which they do not see and do not believe.” Perhaps, then, the priestly humor is one which wishes to command without being commanded. Its surface status is as an intermediary, just like the Turk’s soldiers, but is that status real or feigned? The priests, NM says explicitly, do not fear punishment from above. Hence are they not really in charge?

And then there is a deeper level, involving “the high places” and Machiavelli’s replacement of their soldiers with his soldiers.
post #49 of 63

Subbed for later reading.

post #50 of 63
Seldom have I seen a thread that is so Manton-dominated.
post #51 of 63
Thread Starter 
In Prince 22, Machiavelli famously delineates three kinds of brains: one that understands by itself, one that understands what others understand, and the one that understands nothing. These may be analogized to the philosopher, the "intellectual" and the masses. In the contest of P 22, Nick is talking about his own enterprise. He understands without help from others. Those who understand with help are the subsequent thinker-writers whom he will train and whom will always be dependent on him.

He builds out this thought through an elaborate analogy in the Discourses, Book II, and principally Chs. 16-18 (the center of the work). There he discusses the "fundamental triad" of the modern army: infantry, artillery, cavalry. He does not discuss this theme in The Prince however in the same terms (artillery is mentioned only once, cavalry or horse 10x, for a total of 11). just as he does not discuss the three kinds of brains in the Discourses.

However each theme is in each book under a different guise. "Infantry" in the Discourses = reason, i.e., man stands alone on the ground and must rely only on himself and his own arms (a key theme of The Prince). "Cavalry" = authority, i.e., the reliance on another. "Artillery" = propaganda, THE modern innovation of spiritual war.

The philosopher, who has a brain that can understand by itself, is of course infantry. The monk or theologian is cavalry; Scripture is his horse. The same may be said for derivative intellectuals who rely on the works of the great philosophers. These people are not dumb but are reliant on others in order to understand. The masses understand nothing and are susceptible to propaganda.
post #52 of 63
Have you ever considered writing a book on The Prince?
post #53 of 63
Thread Starter 
I have, and I may actually do it some day. The problem is, it will not be original. But on the other hand, Strauss and Mansfield are so hard to understand that simply explicating them is a service.
post #54 of 63
I was wondering if your findings were original, or self-found, or some combination of the two. I think a much simpler text would be beneficial to many.
post #55 of 63
Thread Starter 
Well. my approach is Straussian. I have found many things myself, but Strauss (in Mansfield's words) also leaves things to be found. That is, he makes puzzling references that you don't know why he said them. Then, years later, you figure it out or trip over something that triggers understanding.
post #56 of 63
Interesting. You have been mentioning Strauss for years in different contexts. I have always wanted to dive into him more, but I fear without proper education he would be over my head.
post #57 of 63
Thread Starter 
If you want to start, the best book is called "Intro to Pol Phil: 10 Essays"
post #58 of 63
Noted. I have always wanted to get into philosophy, but the amount of works out there by various people is so daunting.
post #59 of 63
Originally Posted by Manton View Post

I have, and I may actually do it some day. The problem is, it will not be original.

You already have and I thought it was extremely original.

And I am impressed that you thought to return to this thread after almost three years with new thoughts. In a world dominated by 140 character drive-bys, I find that somehow reassuring.
Originally Posted by patrickBOOTH View Post

Interesting. You have been mentioning Strauss for years in different contexts. I have always wanted to dive into him more, but I fear without proper education he would be over my head.

I think you might be looking at it the wrong way. Everyone (not necessarily you) seems to want intellectual achievement handed to them. If there isn't a "for Dummies" book on it, they aren't interested. That seems, to me, exactly backwards.

All you really need to study this stuff is in interest in thinking. If you want to think, just dive in. Of course, you aren't going to understand it at first. You're going to have to back track and read up on new concepts you don't understand, etc. But that's the fun part. Studying these things is really a game. Taking a deep dive into something like Machiavelli is of no earthly use at all. But putting the pieces together can be an incredible rush. Of course, it can also make you extremely boring at dinner parties, so you have to be careful.
post #60 of 63
Thread Starter 
I gave papers on Nick in both 2015 and 2016. At the most recent one, I gave my remarks, listened to the discussants and then in the Q&A someone said something and I thought "Aha! Now I know what that means!"
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