03 December 2016

Prof. Samuel Bowles: Machiavelli's Mistake

Samuel Bowles, Research Professor at the Santa Fe Institute and Professor of Economics at the University of Siena, gives this interesting lecture on Machiavelli, where he posits that, in brief, that material incentives cannot replace civic virtues in creating social cohesion:

28 November 2016

Blogging the Discourses: Book One, Chapter Five (Part 2 of 2)

Whether the Guard of Freedom May Be Settled More Securely, in the People or in the Great; and Which Has Greater Cause for Tumult, He Who Wishes to Acquire or He Who Wishes to Maintain

Chapter Five of Book One also reveals an interesting theory about the connection between a state’s domestic policies and institutions and its foreign policy.

After a lengthy discussion of the topic in the title—should the state trust the “guard of liberty” in the ambitious but smaller upper class, or in the masses, who due to lack of power or lack of drive seek only to be left alone?—Machiavelli ultimately decides that it depends on the state’s foreign affairs.  Does the state, Machiavelli asks, wish to become “a Republic which wants to create an Empire, as Rome”?  Or would it prefer to simply “maintain itself” and stay within its present borders?

Moreover, it is interesting that Machiavelli implicitly connects the concept of empire with a republican government.  The choice he gives us is not just between an imperial state and a more tranquil one that stays within its borders, but between a republican state with imperial ambitions and a tranquil nation ruled by nobility. 

This discourse first implies that republican governments in which the masses play a significant role tend naturally towards empire.  In other words, there is something inherent in such a republic that tends towards expansion and annexation of other territories and other peoples.  Moreover, since such imperial states are largely ethnically and politically heterogeneous as more territory is added to the empire, they would seem to erode the underpinnings of the republican government that created the empire in the first place, as in the Roman example.

Second, this suggests that a government where the nobility is the “guard of liberty” will not tend towards expansion.  This is ironic, since in the same text Machiavelli indicates that the nobility is actually ambitious, aggressive, and covetous compared to the masses.  So why would a government led by them be less inclined to expand abroad?  Would we not expect the very opposite from the ambitious few?

19 March 2009

Willie Brown's SF Chronicle Column is a Must Read

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Jr. has been writing a column about politics in the San Francisco Chronicle for the past year or so.

It's called "Willie's World." And it's superlative.

If you want to learn how both to schmooze and to play hardball, Willie is your man. Consider this excerpt from a recent column, commenting on how, when he was Speaker of the California Assembly (the lower house of the state legislature), he leaned on recalcitrant colleagues to support him:
When I was speaker, I had staffers assigned to read the hometown papers of every member I was having trouble with.

I'd come up to them and start talking about what was going on with their local PTA head, their local mayors, their hospitals. They couldn't figure out if I was just really interested in them or collecting intelligence in order to run someone against them. Either way, they paid attention.
The deliberate ambiguity his message conveyed a veiled threat that any politico could appreciate -- Willie's knowledge, coupled with his authority in the state Democratic party, projected power without ever giving the poor legislator on the receiving end something to cry foul about. Talk about being feared but not hated....

The Chronicle keeps an archive of his columns; I highly recommend them.

12 March 2009

Lecture: Machiavelli and Third World Poverty

I found this lecture entitled "Machiavelli and Third World Poverty," given by Professor James Manor of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in Brighton, particularly interesting. (For any Yalies out there, Professor Manor is a Yale alum.)

Discussions on "development" and Third World poverty issues often focus on technocratic or sociological solutions, and not on political forces. Professor Manor, however, takes an unusual and potentially useful approach to this topic by focusing on political actors "at the very apex of power," whom he says exert a far greater influence on the success or failure of anti-poverty programs.

Along with two collaborators from Brazil and Kenya, Professor Manor studied the anti-poverty initiatives of former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (or FHC, to any Brazilians out there), current President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda, and Chief Minister of the Indian State Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh. Their results are thought-provoking, and the talk is well-delivered.

08 March 2009

Lecture: The Prince-as-Satire

Ian Johnston, a research associate (and retired instructor) at Vancouver Island University (located in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada), gave a lecture about Machiavelli in 2002 that presents the The Prince-as-satire argument. Although I very much disagree with his conclusions, he has been kind enough to transcribe and post his argument for public consumption, and so I am happy to present it for your consideration.

Mr. Johnston's website also hosts links to a large number of classic texts, as well as study materials.

(Finally, for those who would like to know where Nanaimo is, behold.)

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07 March 2009

Salman Rushdie -- Machiavelli was "a bit of a party animal"

Continuing the thread on Machiavelli lectures, here's an excellent discussion by Sir Salman Rushdie on June 18, 2008, at the City Arts & Lectures in San Francisco, CA. Mr. Rushdie contends that Machiavelli is not "Machiavellian," identifies the Florentine as "a bit of a party animal," and says that he feels some kinship with the man after spending so much time in virtual exile himself:

06 March 2009

Machiavelli Lecture from Allan Bloom (audio only)

Allan Bloom delivered this talk in 1983 at Boston College, as part of a series called "Philosophic Perspectives". The series concerned the perceived decline of liberal pedagogy in higher education. Bloom's lecture focuses on The Prince, going chapter-by-chapter, and also teaches students how to approach Machiavelli as a writer.

(NB: The audio streaming does not appear to work in Firefox browsers; Firefox users, you will unfortunately have to use Internet Explorer to listen in.)

Part 1 of 5:

Part 2 of 5:

Part 3 of 5:

Part 4 of 5:

Part 5 of 5:

(Hat tip to shrink2one.com and the Internet Archive for linking to and posting this public-domain content.)

05 March 2009

Machiavelli lectures by Prof. Steven B. Smith of Yale University

I am starting to gather links to transcripts, videorecordings, and audiorecordings of lectures on Machiavelli. They will be presented individually, but I will also be compiling them in a place where they can be accessed all at once.

To the extent reasonably possible, I will attempt to determine whether these items may be linked to from here, but if anyone knows of potential copyright problems with something posted here, please let me know.

Today I begin with two lectures given by Yale professor Steven B. Smith.

Lecture #1 concerns Chapters 1-12 of The Prince:

Lecture #2 concerns Chapters 13-26 of the same book:


03 March 2009

Guinea-Bissau: Praetorians can be useful

A recent AP article on the assassination of Guinea-Bissau's president, Joao Bernardo "Nino" Viera, made me think of the uses and misuses of an executive bodyguard.

Apparently, when gunmen made an unsuccsesful attempt against Viera life four months ago, the army -- many of whose members belong to a tribe hostile to the president's tribe -- failed to protect him. Had it not been for Viera's private bodyguard, he almost certainly would have perished in the assault.

28 February 2009

Timo Laine's Machiavelli "webliography"

A university student in Finland, Timo Laine, has posted an excellent Machiavelli "webliography," complete with links to online libraries containing his works in both Italian and English. I highly recommend it to those looking for an easy way to find Machiavelli's works online in a searchable-text format.

Aside from this impressive resource, Mr. Laine has also posted some of his own writing on Machiavelli. Although I have not yet had the chance to explore further, I am looking forward to the opportunity.