THE BLOG
12/13/2013 11:02 am ET Updated Feb 12, 2014

Machiavelli Needed in The White House

2013-12-13-466px_Portrait_of_Niccolo__Machiavelli_by_Santi_di_Tito.jpg

As we approach the 500th anniversary of Machiavelli's death (in June of 2027), we can rest assured that his influence is alive and well and that he's remembered not simply for being the root of a well worn adjective. And his insights certainly live on in the advocates of realpolitik like Robert D. Kaplan, the noted political analyst, commentator and author of Balkan Ghosts, who wrote an essay entitled, "What Machiavelli Can Teach Us Today." Is for instance "The Trolley Problem," originally proposed by Phillipa Foot, in l967 and something which is usually associated with philosophy, really an insight that finds its root in Machiavelli? Making the decision to murder one person to spare the lives of others is an insight Machiavelli would undoubtedly have endorsed. In an article in The New Criterion ("Machiavelli's Enterprise," October 2013) Harvey Mansfield, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard, for instance, remarks on one of Machiavelli's

"own excuses, such as that the murder of your inconvenient brother may be for the common good."

In summarizing Machiavelli's achievement Mansfield goes on to underscore his modernity thusly:

"To create the modern world Machiavelli initiated a two-fold transformation of politics and philosophy that would bring them together: politics with the elevation of philosophy and philosophy brought down to earth. These two motions come together in the prince, now understood not merely as a ruler, but also as a thinker devoted to improving the prospect of princes and incidentally, or not incidentally, their peoples--so that princes become knowers of 'the world.'"

Roosevelt, Johnson and Clinton were all great Machiavellians, statesmen who brought philosophy "down to earth." President Obama is a visionary leader, but with all the problems he's had with congress and the Republicans, perhaps he needs to re-read The Prince. In a recent Times Op-Ed piece ("Why Machiavelli Still Matters," NYT, 12/9/13), John Scott and Robert Zaretsky argue just that when they remark,

"What would Machiavelli have thought when President Obama apologized for the fiasco of his health care rollout? Far from earning respect, he would say, all he received was contempt."

Portrait of Niccolo Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}