I made a resolution to raise the Castalia Library books higher on my book pile, and after a second swing through Awake in the Night Land, I picked as my second book to be Discourses on Livy by Machiavelli.
Unlike most blogs, this tags page displays pages in forward order, as many of the posts that I make are cumulative and it is better to start at the beginning.
The Prelude opens with an observation that many of the institutions we have are the manifestation of accreted wisdom from the past, but few people are willing to examine and learn from that past.
Immediately my theme on the differences between Machiavelli’s world and ours takes center stage. There are two major themes in this chapter, a discussion of how a city is founded and how that affects the likelihood of greatness, and what amounts to the virtues of having easy local supply lines in to a city or difficult ones.
This is an example of a place where I’m going to riff off of Machiavelli, and it’s (mostly) not a criticism of his work. In this chapter, Machiavelli mentions that “many” have created a division of types of government into three types: Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy.
These chapters consist on several ruminations of the power the people of Rome had, especially against their nobility, and the utility of that to the Republic.
In Chapter 7, Machiavelli discusses the utility of the ability to do what both translations call “accuse”; I think in modern terms that might be better rendered as “bring a lawsuit”.
Machiavelli gives his chapter 9 the subtitle “That to give new Institutions to a Commonwealth, or to reconstruct old Institutions on an entirely new basis, must be the work of one Man.
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.
I’m just going to quote this chapter, because I find it amusing, and I’ve said what I have to say on the topic of Roman religion.
Chapters 16 through 18 deal with the question of corruption within a state, and whether a people can maintain freedom or regain it, especially in light of their own corruption.
Chapter 19’s précis is: After a strong Prince a weak Prince may maintain himself: but after one weak Prince no Kingdom can stand a second.
A series of chapters that I can dispose of in some quick notes: Chapter 20 observes that as few as two virtuous princes in a row can produce a lot of capital.
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.