KoMoL Book 1, Chapters 12 and 13
The next several chapters continue to examine the question of what religion does in a polity. Many of these chapters break cleanly into an examination of how Rome treated religion, followed by Machiavelli’s examination of the Christianity/Catholicism of his day, dominated by Rome. The division is so pronounced that for my own commentary purposes they are effectively two separate chapters.
In the previous commentary, I generalized the question of religion out to all the structures that hold a society together, including secular mythos and general cultural habits. Machiavelli in this chapter discusses the importance of maintaining it as a strong institution, and not abusing it:
But, afterwards, when these oracles began to shape their answers to suit the interests of powerful men, and their impostures to be seen through by the multitude, men grew incredulous and ready to overturn every sacred institution. For which reason, the rulers of kingdoms and commonwealths should maintain the foundations of the faith which they hold; since thus it will be easy for them to keep their country religious, and, consequently, virtuous and united.
Or, channeling the more famous Machiavelli of The Prince, the rulers should at least not allow their impostures to be visible. Though in the long term, it is unavoidable that more and more of the population will notice the convenience of their religious sources always happening to say exactly what the rulers like, with all the attendant consequences.
While the “religion” that probably controls our culture is most properly Satanism, it pleases the Powers and Principalities to maintain in the West the religion of Academia, most notably through Science and its attendant Experts. Today it is Science that echo and justify what the rulers desire, Science experts that justify their policies, Science that promises inevitable victory in battles, etc.
Or, as I prefer to call it, SCIENCE!1 Think of a mad scientists shouting it as the explanation for how he brought his monster to life and you’ve got the tone I’m going for. It is enlightening to read Chapter 12 and substitute every religious word with a scientific equivalent. If you have any doubts about me calling SCIENCE! our culture’s official religion, that will dispel them.
And, this one will sting my target audience a bit, because of this abuse of science, the real kind, it is our subculture that has become “incredulous and ready to overturn every [scientific] institution”. I choose not to argue too much with people who throw out the science baby with the SCIENCE! bathwater, because I find it hard to blame them. But I would say that true science belongs to Christians, who developed it, refined it, and in whose absence it is slowly but surely collapsing, and thus Christians should be in less of a hurry to throw it out. In your understandable zeal to throw away the SCIENCE! of this world, you are throwing away a lot of our real and hard-earned real science as well.
I also think that Christians give far too much credence to claims that this or that are entirely made up. I am not saying I believe every last detail about the moon landing, or microbiology and viruses, or climatology, or any other scientific theory, but it is giving evil too much credit to believe they have the capability to make those things up from whole cloth, and indeed, it is giving evil far too much credit to believe it can make all of those things up from whole cloth simultaneously. Some Christians appear to operate on the belief that literally everything in the world is a conspiracy to deceive them in every detail, that Descartes’s demon all but truly exists, but somehow the Bible got through even so. The situation is far more complicated than that, and evil has far less power than that. Evil works very hard to falsely project that level of power.
But I digress from the original material a bit father than I mean to. What this chapter generally reminded me of is the way I like to apply the concept of “capital” to things like social institutions. To honor a religious practice visible, despite some cost to the ruler, deposits capital into that social institution. To use a religion to simply parrot the desires of the ruler is to withdraw capital from an institution. While it is impossible to track the precise balance sheet of any institution with the same precision one might track its monetary balance sheet, there is nevertheless a certain balance of credibility and power it has in the world. Once that account is drawn down, the institution, and whatever place it may have in holding society together, will fail.
One of the ways that evil has a hard time holding all of its many factions together is that once an evil being has its hands on some sort of social capital, it is almost incapable of resisting the temptation to spend it. After all, if the evil currently in possession of it doesn’t spend it now, whatever evil steals it from them certainly will. Evil has a very hard time building capital up in the long term. Be in money, credibility of an institution, soft power, hard power, whatever form of capital it comes by, it spends it freely and with abandon.
I believe this is one of the fundamental reasons why evil can not win in the long run, and even in the real world we have seen massively evil institutions fail in history. I’m sure God helps it along, and orchestrates and coordinates such events to His maximum advantage, but I’m also sure it would happen anyhow. Evil is fundamentally unstable in the long term because it fundamentally will draw all capital it has down to zero, if not beyond.
I believe the only reason evil is as strong as it is in this world is that the Powers and Principalities as discussed by Paul are effectively still drawing down on accounts that God gave them from their creation. I believe, though I can not prove, that were we humans left on our own, while we would certainly get up to some evil, that we could never hold together these large and evil institutions, like the WEF, UN, Satanism as a whole, etc. No purely human institution could ever build up that degree of capital, or even steal it from the good guys, as humans on their own probably couldn’t get too far on the good side of the balance sheet, either.
… but again I digress from my main point that you can think of institutions as having capital, and wise rulers must always be seeking to deposit into these institutions, not constantly spending, or worse, simply tearing down. Just like with personal savings, if you have a sudden need, you’d best have some capital lying around to deal with it.
As I write this, there have been many news stories about the difficulties that the US Military is having recruiting. Having spent the cultural credibility of the military, their biggest recruit pools are now uninterested in joining voluntarily. I do wonder if this is factoring in to the seeming reluctance some of our leadership is exhibiting in escalating the situation in the Ukraine. The truth is, you really can’t even draft people fully against their will; the draft may pull some reluctant, but ultimately willing people, but you can’t draft people who have come to see you as their enemy, and who will only become more convinced you are their enemy if they are forced to spend time with you and get Diversity Training, forced to wear high heels, forced to respect transgenderism and such, etc. At what point is it safe to give such people weapons?
Our glorious elite have drawn down this account quite frivolously in the past 10-20 years, in the pursuit of unnecessary power consolidation and indulgence in corruption, and now that they have what may very be a real and existential to their way of life, this social capital account may well be coming up dry, along with so many others. Only time will tell but perhaps this is an important aspect of the way God seems to have paused evil’s plans by four years with Trump. We may well be underestimating the difference between the 2018 in which Hillary won and the 2022 we live in now, with Hillary armed with institutions still carrying some more residual social capital than they have today.
On the Christian side, Machiavelli has harsh words about the Roman Catholics. I’ll admit to being a “protestant” (though I don’t really consider myself such as I am “protesting” nothing, I simply don’t think about Catholicism at all), but I think even a Catholic must look back over the history of Roman Catholicism and agree that the discussion about spending down accumulated capital certainly has a great deal of relevance to their history.
Chapter 13 continues to provide examples of how SCIENCE! is standing in as a religion, as far as Machiavelli is concerned.
Discourses on Livy - Chapter 12
Princes and commonwealths that would save themselves from growing corrupted, should before all things keep uncorrupted the rites and ceremonies of religion, and always hold them in reverence; since we can have no surer sign of the decay of a province than to see Divine worship held therein in contempt. This is easily understood when it is seen on what foundation that religion rests in which a man is born. For every religion has its root in certain fundamental ordinances peculiar to itself.
The religion of the Gentiles had its beginning in the responses of the oracles and in the prognostics of the augurs and soothsayers. All their other ceremonies and observances depended upon these; because men naturally believed that the God who could forecast their future weal or woe, could also bring them to pass. Wherefore the temples, the prayers, the sacrifices, and all the other rites of their worship, had their origin in this, that the oracles of Delos, of Dodona, and others celebrated in antiquity, held the world admiring and devout. But, afterwards, when these oracles began to shape their answers to suit the interests of powerful men, and their impostures to be seen through by the multitude, men grew incredulous and ready to overturn every sacred institution. For which reason, the rulers of kingdoms and commonwealths should maintain the foundations of the faith which they hold; since thus it will be easy for them to keep their country religious, and, consequently, virtuous and united. To which end they should countenance and further whatsoever tells in favour of religion, even should they think it untrue; and the wiser they are, and the better they are acquainted with natural causes, the more ought they to do so. It is from this course having been followed by the wise, that the miracles celebrated even in false religions, have come to be held in repute; for from whatever source they spring, discreet men will extol them, whose authority afterwards gives them currency everywhere.
These miracles were common enough in Rome, and among others this was believed, that when the Roman soldiers were sacking the city of Veii, certain of them entered the temple of Juno and spoke to the statue of the goddess, saying, “Wilt thou come with us to Rome?” when to some it seemed that she inclined her head in assent, and to others that they heard her answer, “Yea.” For these men being filled with religious awe (which Titus Livius shows us by the circumstance that, in entering the temple, they entered devoutly, reverently, and without tumult), persuaded themselves they heard that answer to their question, which, perhaps, they had formed beforehand in their minds. But their faith and belief were wholly approved of and confirmed by Camillus and by the other chief men of the city.
Had religion been maintained among the princes of Christendom on the footing on which it was established by its Founder, the Christian States and republics had been far more united and far more prosperous than they now are; nor can we have surer proof of its decay than in witnessing how those countries which are the nearest neighbours of the Roman Church, the head of our faith, have less devoutness than any others; so that any one who considers its earliest beginnings and observes how widely different is its present practice, might well believe its ruin or its chastisement to be close at hand.
But since some are of opinion that the welfare of Italy depends upon the Church of Rome, I desire to put forward certain arguments which occur to me against that view, and shall adduce two very strong ones, which, to my mind, admit of no answer. The first is, that, through the ill example of the Roman Court, the country has lost all religious feeling and devoutness, a loss which draws after it infinite mischiefs and disorders; for as the presence of religion implies every excellence, so the contrary is involved in its absence. To the Church, therefore, and to the priests, we Italians owe this first debt, that through them we have become wicked and irreligious. And a still greater debt we owe them for what is the immediate cause of our ruin, namely, that by the Church our country is kept divided. For no country was ever united or prosperous which did not yield obedience to some one prince or commonwealth, as has been the case with France and Spain. And the Church is the sole cause why Italy stands on a different footing, and is subject to no one king or commonwealth. For though she holds here her seat, and exerts her temporal authority, she has never yet gained strength and courage to seize upon the entire country, or make herself supreme; yet never has been so weak that when in fear of losing her temporal dominion, she could not call in some foreign potentate to aid her against any Italian State by which she was overmatched. Of which we find many instances, both in early times, as when by the intervention of Charles the Great she drove the Lombards, who had made themselves masters of nearly the whole country, out of Italy; and also in recent times, as when, with the help of France, she first stripped the Venetians of their territories, and then, with the help of the Swiss, expelled the French.
The Church, therefore, never being powerful enough herself to take possession of the entire country, while, at the same time, preventing any one else from doing so, has made it impossible to bring Italy under one head; and has been the cause of her always living subject to many princes or rulers, by whom she has been brought to such division and weakness as to have become a prey, not to Barbarian kings only, but to any who have thought fit to attack her. For this, I say, we Italians have none to thank but the Church. And were any man powerful enough to transplant the Court of Rome, with all the authority it now wields over the rest of Italy, into the territories of the Swiss (the only people who at this day, both as regards religion and military discipline, live like the ancients,) he would have clear proof of the truth of what I affirm, and would find that the corrupt manners of that Court had, in a little while, wrought greater mischief in these territories than any other disaster which could ever befall them.
Discourses on Livy, Chapter 13
Here it seems to me not out of place to cite instances of the Romans seeking assistance from religion in reforming their institutions and in carrying out their warlike designs. And although many such are related by Titus Livius, I content myself with mentioning the following only: The Romans having appointed tribunes with consular powers, all of them, save one, plebeians, it so chanced that in that very year they were visited by plague and famine, accompanied by many strange portents. Taking occasion from this, the nobles, at the next creation of tribunes, gave out that the gods were angry with Rome for lowering the majesty of her government, nor could be appeased but by the choice of tribunes being restored to a fair footing. Whereupon the people, smitten with religious awe, chose all the tribunes from the nobles. Again, at the siege of Veii, we find the Roman commanders making use of religion to keep the minds of their men well disposed towards that enterprise. For when, in the last year of the siege, the soldiers, disgusted with their protracted service, began to clamour to be led back to Rome, on the Alban lake suddenly rising to an uncommon height, it was found that the oracles at Delphi and elsewhere had foretold that Veii should fall that year in which the Alban lake overflowed. The hope of near victory thus excited in the minds of the soldiers, led them to put up with the weariness of the war, and to continue in arms; until, on Camillus being named dictator, Veii was taken after a ten years’ siege. In these cases, therefore, we see religion, wisely used, assist in the reduction of this city, and in restoring the tribuneship to the nobles; neither of which ends could well have been effected without it.
One other example bearing on the same subject I must not omit. Constant disturbances were occasioned in Rome by the tribune Terentillus, who, for reasons to be noticed in their place, sought to pass a certain law. The nobles, in their efforts to baffle him, had recourse to religion, which they sought to turn to account in two ways. For first they caused the Sibylline books to be searched, and a feigned answer returned, that in that year the city ran great risk of losing its freedom through civil discord; which fraud, although exposed by the tribunes, nevertheless aroused such alarm in the minds of the commons that they slackened in their support of their leaders. Their other contrivance was as follows: A certain Appius Herdonius, at the head of a band of slaves and outlaws, to the number of four thousand, having seized the Capitol by night, an alarm was spread that were the Equians and Volscians, those perpetual enemies of the Roman name, then to attack the city, they might succeed in taking it. And when, in spite of this, the tribunes stubbornly persisted in their efforts to pass the law, declaring the act of Herdonius to be a device of the nobles and no real danger. Publius Rubetius, a citizen of weight and authority, came forth from the Senate House, and in words partly friendly and partly menacing, showed them the peril in which the city stood, and that their demands were unseasonable; and spoke to such effect that the commons bound themselves by oath to stand by the consul; in fulfilment of which engagement they aided the consul, Publius Valerius, to carry the Capitol by assault. But Valerius being slain in the attack, Titus Quintius was at once appointed in his place, who, to leave the people no breathing time, nor suffer their thoughts to revert to the Terentillian law, ordered them to quit Rome and march against the Volscians; declaring them bound to follow him by virtue of the oath they had sworn not to desert the consul. And though the tribunes withstood him, contending that the oath had been sworn to the dead consul and not to Quintius, yet the people under the influence of religious awe, chose rather to obey the consul than believe the tribunes. And Titus Livius commends their behaviour when he says: “That neglect of the gods which now prevails, had not then made its way nor was it then the practice for every man to interpret his oath, or the laws, to suit his private ends.” The tribunes accordingly, fearing to lose their entire ascendency, consented to obey the consul, and to refrain for a year from moving in the matter of the Terentillian law; while the consuls, on their part, undertook that for a year the commons should not be called forth to war. And thus, with the help of religion, the senate were able to overcome a difficulty which they never could have overcome without it.
I acknoledge Vox’s scientody/scientage/scientistry/sciensophy terminology, but it doesn’t seem to have stuck very well even in our community. It would work much better as a spoken word, though; science versus SCIENCE! is fun the first few times you ham the latter up, but it gets old in serious discussion. ↩︎
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