28 May 2010

The Death of Positive Liberty Redux

Positive Liberty has died again, and this time I believe it's for good.  We've been having some technical difficulties that repeatedly make our site inaccessible, and no one can figure out what the problem is.  However we're sticking together and planning to regroup under a completely new name.  I'll keep you posted.

24 May 2010

The Prince, Chapter 11: Ecclesiastical Principalities

The Prince chapter 11: "Concerning Ecclesiastical Principalities"*

This chapter concludes Machiavelli's discussion of different types of states, and from the modern perspective it is a curiously mixed affair, in equal parts thoroughly medieval and wholly modern, while simultaneously being as clear a statement of Machiavelli's adoration of strong leadership.

Substantively the chapter is about the recent rise of the Church to real political power, through the talents of the Borgian Pope, Alexander VI, (discussed in chapter 7), and how enthralling and admirable Machiavelli finds him.  There's nothing new there, so substantively this chapter contributes almost nothing to the book.

Medievalism in Machiavelli
But the medievalism of Machiavelli's thought comes in his opening remarks on ecclesiastical states, which--astonishingly--are the only ones which "can be maintained without either" good fortune or leadership ability,

17 May 2010

The Prince, chapter 10: How the Strength of States Should Be Measured

The Prince chapter 10: "How the Strength of all States Should Be Measured"

In this very short chapter, Machiavelli makes a single claim, that the strength of a state should be measured solely by its ability to defend itself.  There is no doubt that were tBill and Ted to go back in time and bring Machiavelli to the present day, that he would be a staunch realist in foreign policy.  And I’m enough of one that I largely agree with his claim.

There are, of course, other ways to measure power.  One of the best definitions of power is the ability to get others to want to do what you want them to do.*  And in recent years the issue of “soft power.”  But ultimately, the most crucial ability, which relates directly to what may be the only definitively legitimate justification for the state, is the ability to defend your state and society from invasion.  Everything else is nice, but not crucial, and primarily matters only to the extent it helps defend your own state. 

Next Week: Chapter 11: "Ecclesiastical Principalities."

* Unfortunately I can’t remember the source, but it might have been Richard Neustadt’s Presidential Power.