KoMoL Book 1, Chapter 25 and 26

The subtitle for chapter 25 in the translation Castalia uses is

Whoever wishes to reform an existing government in a free state should at least preserve the semblance of the old forms.

This is one lesson our elites have taken to heart.

The National Myth goes that the United States is one unified polity extending back to 1776. But it isn’t that hard to find distinct points in time where the nature of the country was radically changed; the Civil War raised the Federal state distinctly above the states, the New Deal distinctly rewrote the economic power wielded by the central government, and you can argue sensibly about other events as well. Not to mention the 1776 government itself was a second try from the same people.

A study of monetary history is instructive as well. The United States Dollar has always been the United States dollar, but what it is backed by, which despite how many layers of financial abstraction it is buried under is still arguably the distinctive characteristic of a currency, has changed many times.

Both politically and monetarily (which are clearly not entirely unrelated), we are clearly heading into another season of the United States and its Dollar being rewritten again, whether by dissolution of the unified polity or some other less forseeable outcome.

Chapter 26 says that if one conquers a country, it should be completely changed, right down to where the cities are located and who lives in them. Machiavelli conditionalizes which you should do on the “freedom” status of the country in question.

I’m going to out-cynic Machivelli on this point and suggest that in the intervening centuries we can see that rather than that being the determinative factor, what matters is what impression the conquerors wish to convey. The United States has been effectively conquered relative to its founding stock, but using the semblance of as many old forms as possible. The conquerors did not wish to be seen as conquerors.

Discourses on Livy - Chapter 25

Whoever takes upon him to reform the government of a city, must, if his measures are to be well received and carried out with general approval, preserve at least the semblance of existing methods, so as not to appear to the people to have made any change in the old order of things; although, in truth, the new ordinances differ altogether from those which they replace. For when this is attended to, the mass of mankind accept what seems as what is; nay, are often touched more nearly by appearances than by realities.

This tendency being recognized by the Romans at the very outset of their civil freedom, when they appointed two consuls in place of a single king, they would not permit the consuls to have more than twelve lictors, in order that the old number of the king’s attendants might not be exceeded. Again, there being solemnized every year in Rome a sacrificial rite which could only be performed by the king in person, that the people might not be led by the absence of the king to remark the want of any ancient observance, a priest was appointed for the due celebration of this rite, to whom was given the name of Rex sacrificulus, and who was placed under the orders of the chief priest. In this way the people were contented, and had no occasion from any defect in the solemnities to desire the return of their kings. Like precautions should be used by all who would put an end to the old government of a city and substitute new and free institutions. For since novelty disturbs men’s minds, we should seek in the changes we make to preserve as far as possible what is ancient, so that if the new magistrates differ from the old in number, in authority, or in the duration of their office, they shall at least retain the old names.

This, I say, should be seen to by him who would establish a constitutional government, whether in the form of a commonwealth or of a kingdom. But he who would create an absolute government of the kind which political writers term a tyranny, must renew everything, as shall be explained in the following Chapter.

KoMoL Book 1, Chapter 20-24 The Why Of Quote Posts