Tuesday, January 2, 2018

It's Not Even Past #5: Machiavelli - A Little Bit

Divine Reliance vs. Self-Reliance:

"It is necessary, therefore, if we discuss the matter thoroughly, to inquire whether these innovators can rely on themselves or have to depend on others: that is to say, whether, to consume their enterprise, have they to use prayers or can they use force? In the first instance, they always succeed badly, and never compass anything: but when they can rely on themselves and use force, then they are rarely endangered. Hence it is all armed prophets have conquered, and the unarmed ones have been destroyed. Besides the reasons mentioned, the nature of the people is variable, and whilst it is easy to persuade them, it is difficult to fix them in that persuasion. And thus it is necessary to take such measures that, when they believe no longer, it may be possible to make them believe by force."

When you rebel against something so long entrenched, and nothing in human history was so entrenched as the Medieval Church, you can only rebel by turning the ideas you resent against themselves. When the human mind wasn't advanced enough think of the self apart from being a creation of God, it could only conceive of self-reliance in terms of the most atrocious sinning, and the sins can only committed by the world's most powerful people, who are the nearest human incarnations to God that the people surrounding them can conceive. Humanity was only emerging from the Middle Ages - murder in the name of Crime or the State was a terrible sin, but murder in the name of the Church was to save souls, and what's loss in this world compared to the eternal rewards of Heaven?

Machiavelli was a contemporary of Martin Luther, and greater notions of free will so much beloved of Protestants were beginning to marinate in the human mind. A hundred fifty years later, John Milton would express this notion still much better. Free will would still be couched in sin, but this most religious of poets would make Satan into his most interesting, and beloved character in his famous epic poem - Paradise Lost. So think of these famous lines from Paradise Lost and how they elucidate that concept from Machiavelli:

The mind is its own place, and in itselfCan make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.What matter where, if I be still the same,And what I should be, all but less than heWhom thunder hath made greater? Here at leastWe shall be free; the almighty hath not builtHere for his envy, will not drive us hence:Here we may reign secure, and in my choiceTo reign is worth ambition though in hell:Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.
So this brings us to our second duality:

Virtue vs. Fortune or to use Machiavelli's terminology: Virtu vs. Fortuna

One does not want to traffic in stereotypes, and yet when we're talking about how linguistic meanings have changed, we have to talk about inner lives, about differences not only of historical periods but geographic spaces as well. The Northern European philosophical terminologies with their heavy metaphysics was only beginning at this point in history with Luther - before the individual could be saved by faith alone, the individual's consciousness and the troubles of one's conscience was not nearly as important as the priestly absolution of it. Your ethical actions, your inner experience, belonged to God from birth to death, so the only part which belonged to you was your sensuality - the part that God said was forbidden, but because it was so forbidden, perhaps the urges to sensual pleasure felt that much more powerful. 

And so virtu does not mean Christian virtue, but classical virtue. Every person who ever studied a bit of classical music knows the term 'virtuoso', which means something closer to mastery of dexterity rather than good behavior. And fortuna does not mean Christian fortune, in which all fortune that matters is salvation or perdition, but classical fortune, the wheel of fate, which always shifts and arbitrarily distributes good luck and bad luck. So what matters to Machiavelli is the dexterity to stay abalance in circumstances of fortune that are always shifting. It's as though thinking before Machiavelli was in basic geometric shapes, and with Machiavelli, we're now thinking in fractals.

Not being a mathematician, I'm going to leave the definition of fractals to the internet and some odd website that calls itsel the 'fractal foundation.'

(ahem) "A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos. Geometrically, they exist in between our familiar dimensions. Fractal patterns are extremely familiar, since nature is full of fractals. For instance: trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, hurricanes, etc."

So from a physical standpoint, fractals are the diverse and many, far too many to count, geometric patterns that produce nature. if you take this from a metaphysical standpoint, fractals are literally an order that is so complex that it seems like chaos, and what better definition of nature can there be than that? So in Machiavelli, we are seeing political fractals; those weird cosmological shapes by which the most gifted politicians know exactly when and how to strike and when and how to wait. 

Consider this quote about the four ancients whom Machiavelli considers the greatest men in history, and let's note, as the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper did, that they were all at very least, semi-mythological. 

".In examining their actions and lives one cannot see that they owed anything to fortune beyond opportunity, which brought them the material to mould into the form which seemed best to them. Without that opportunity their powers of mind would have been extinguished, and without those powers the opportunity would have come in vain.
It was necessary, therefore, to Moses that he should find the people of Israel in Egypt enslaved and oppressed by the Egyptians. In order that they should be disposed to follow him so as to be delivered out of bondage. It was necessary that Romulus should not remain in Alba, and that he should be abandoned at his birth, in order that he should become King of Rome and founder of the fatherland. It was necessary that Cyrus should find the Persians discontented with the government of the Medes, and the Medes soft and effeminate through their long peace. Theseus could not have shown his ability had he not found the Athenians dispersed. These opportunities, therefore, made those men fortunate, and their high ability enabled them to recognize the opportunity whereby their country was ennobled and made famous."

Fortune has to favor people in order to become successful, but they need the virtue, or more to the point, the virtuosity, to know exactly how to exploit fortune to their advantage. Consider the mythical leader my generation considers to be our modern Moses or Theseus: Barack Hussein Obama. Conventional wisdom would have dictated that he would lose to Hillary Clinton in 2004, and that he was well-disposed to be a Presidential candidate in 2016 or 2012. But President Obama knew that truth of Democratic presidential candidates from time immemorial. Democrats fall in love, not in line, and you have to run when you're still mysterious and don't have a long track record to pin yourself down upon in the liberal imagination, before which your record can be hairsplit into shreds. This is why Hillary Clinton lost twice. Had she run in 2004 when her political career was new and shiny, who knows, she might have won. John Kerry was considered similarly bright and shiny in 2000, the dream candidate everyone longed for against the too worn and well known Al Gore and Bill Bradley. Al Gore was considered such a candidate in 1992, one of a half-dozen who could have beaten the little known Bill Clinton. But President Clinton, like President Obama, knew that familiarity only works to the favor of conservatives. Among the temperamentally progressive, fortune favors the barely known - the exciting newcomer who can conjure the ideas of untried possibilities. Both Clinton and Obama exploited not just political chaos, but the longing for political chaos, to become the closest thing America has to a prince.

"Those who by various ways become princes, like these men, acquire a principality with difficulty, but they keep it with ease. The difficulties they have in acquiring it arise in part from new rules and methods which they are forced to introduce to establish their government and its security. And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take lead in introduction of the new order of things, because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders under those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe new things until they have long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack, they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly, in such wise that the prince is endangered with them."

Remember the Obamacare debate?

No comments:

Post a Comment