Talking With Machiavelli | The New Republic

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Talking With Machiavelli | The New Republic


“I have nothing but time where I abide, and you have, I think, summoned me for a weighty reason: The world’s leading democratic republic is threatened with dissolution.” “Indeed it is,” I agreed. “We have had a string of very bad luck. Fortuna—fortune, or luck, in English—seemed to have turned against us. We had George W. Bush become president because of a misleading ballot in one part of Florida, and he gave us the disaster of the Iraq War. Then we experienced the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and then Donald Trump got elected president because the director of our national law enforcement agency reopened an investigation just before Election Day, suggesting in people’s minds that his opponent might have committed a crime. Then we were hit with a raging health crisis Trump was incompetent to handle—many thousands of Americans died unnecessarily. And finally, before his successor took office, Trump tried to overturn the election. We have a decent and competent president now, but Fortuna has barely given us a break.”

Machiavelli replied: “As I’m sure you know, since you’ve read professor Quentin Skinner’s excellent little book, there are two sources of my knowledge about politics. The first is the experiences I had as an envoy from republican Florence to various diplomatic outposts as a naïve and impressionable young man. It was on these forays that I saw the depths of depravity that the conduct of political leaders could reach. It was such experiences that informed my infamous tract The Prince, which, few people realize, is an exercise in satire. The other source was the history of the Roman republic, as recounted by the historian Livy, which resulted in my Discourses on Livy.”

“And what,” I asked, “was the aim of you work on Livy exactly?”

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