Acton Institute Powerblog

Machiavelli, the Prince, and the Tradition of Liberty

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Machiavelli’s succinct and semi-diabolical advice to the prince is one of the most enduring works of political philosophy in the world. This man, writing in a time roughly contemporaneous with the Reformation, was less concerned with seeking the will of God than with winning at all costs. I wrote about him in my book The End of Secularism.

He is famous for advising the prince that it is important to appear honest, humane, religious, faithful, and charitable, but that it is equally important the prince be ready to abandon any of those attributes when opportunity presents itself. The prince should not worry about whether he will gain a bad reputation for deception, because, as Machiavelli suggests, there are always ordinary people willing to be deceived and the world is FULL of ordinary people.

The primary thrust of the book is advice about how to gain principalities and to maintain control of them. Many things work to a prince’s advantage, such as traditions of servitude and customs that reinforce the reign of a prince. But there is one thing that puts sand in the princely engine and grinds things to a halt. That thing is a tradition of liberty. If a people are accustomed to liberty, Machiavelli writes, then they will never stop trying to regain it. Even if they haven’t had it for a hundred years, the ancestral memory of liberty will be overpoweringly strong. It may be so strong that no manipulative device of the prince will be able to defeat it and he may have no other option than to destroy such a city.

Might I suggest to you that on Tuesday night we saw Americans in New Jersey and Virginia issue notice that they are not prepared to trade their liberty for hyper-statism and that they are not ready to become Europeans, always more subservient to the state than we have been, instead of free citizens of a great republic? The tradition of liberty is one of the greatest weapons we have in this struggle.

When William F. Buckley thought about the possible triumph of the United States in the Cold War, he imagined that American children would someday be thankful that “the blood of their fathers ran strong.” Let our blood, too, run strong with the cherished memory of our past and present liberty.

Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. serves as contributing editor to The City and to Salvo Magazine. In addition, he has written for The American Spectator, American Outlook, National Review Online, Christianity Today, Human Events.com, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and a number of other outlets. His scholarly work has appeared in the Journal of Law and Religion (“Competing Orthodoxies in the Public Square: Postmodernism’s Effect on Church-State Separation”), the Regent University Law Review (“Storming the Gates of a Massive Cultural Investment: Reconsidering Roe in Light of its Flawed Foundation and Undesirable Consequences”), and the Journal of Church and State. In 2007, he contributed a chapter “The Struggle for Baylor’s Soul” to the edited collection The Baylor Project, published by St. Augustine’s Press. He has also been a guest on a variety of television and radio programs, including Prime Time America and Kresta in the Afternoon. As a law student in the late 1990s, Hunter Baker worked for The Rutherford Institute and Prison Fellowship Ministries where he focused primarily on defending the constitutional principle of religious liberty. Prior to beginning doctoral studies in religion and politics at Baylor University in 2003, he served as director of public policy for the Georgia Family Council. While at Baylor, Baker served as a graduate assistant to the philosopher Francis Beckwith and the historian Barry Hankins. He assisted Beckwith in the editing of his landmark book Defending Life which has now been published by Cambridge University Press. He also provided research assistance to Hankins in his forthcoming biography of Francis Schaeffer. Baker currently serves on the political science faculty at Union University and is an associate dean in the college of arts and sciences. He is married to Ruth Elaine Baker, M.D. They have a son, Andrew, and a daughter, Grace.

Comments

  • Here-Here!

    But to get the notion of Liberty’s importance embedded in the voting youth who folks like Michael Barone informs us stayed home last Tuesday; we’ve got to change their HomePage and move them off the latest social media craze and onto a new brouser. Doubt me on that? Look around when you go outside today. How many within glance are glancing at their ipod, cell or Bradberry. Yeah, everyone.

    “Let our blood, too, run strong with the cherished memory of our past and present liberty” is a glorious phrase to proceed “CHARGE” but those memory inboxes are full of stuff other than American Civics Education. Look at ISI.org’s survey results if you doubt me.

    “Miles to go before [we] sleep.”