Jan 212013

An Index of References to Machiavelli’s Works in Leo Strauss’s Thoughts on Machiavelli, by James Douglas Wingate, is an index containing more than 3,400 page number and endnote number entries, covering both direct references to individual chapters and references to chapters by section, range, or position. It is a digital document available for use on Amazon’s Kindle devices, iPads, iPhones, and Apple and Windows PCs.

Dec 152012

On the First Preface to Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy is a 4,000-word study of the preface in the first book of Niccolò Machiavelli’s Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy. As Machiavelli urged his addressees to do, in the dedicatory letter of the Discourses, the author examines the text of the preface almost word by word, “always consider[ing] the intention of the sender more than the qualities of the thing sent.” Although the author is more willing to risk over-interpreting the details of the text than under-interpreting them as he considers every indication of Machiavelli’s meaning that he can find, the author finds that close study of the preface gives the reader motives for close study of the Discourses on Livy as a whole, by raising more questions than it settles. As the first study in the series, On the Dedicatory Letter of Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy provides valuable preparation for reading On the First Preface, which is the second in the series. On the First Preface to Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy is of possible special interest to readers with interests in modernity, political philosophy, and religion.

Dec 152012

On the Dedicatory Letter of Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy is a 2,200-word comment on the dedicatory letter that Niccolò Machiavelli wrote to accompany the Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy. The author, James Douglas Wingate, examines the text of the dedicatory letter almost word by word, accepting Machiavelli’s own request that one take this present and always consider “the intention of the sender more than the qualities of the thing sent.” Always looking for indications of higher meaning in what Machiavelli says to his two friends and patrons to whom he addresses his Discourses on Livy, the author finds a surprising pattern hinting at a coming conflict in “the rest of the history.” On the Dedicatory Letter of Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy is of possible special interest to readers with interests in modernity, political philosophy, and religion.

Jul 072012

Available for the Kindle: Reading Machiavelli, a digital essay by James Douglas Wingate

In Reading Machiavelli, the author notes that Niccolò Machiavelli’s work, The Prince, is still widely read, but he also takes notice of indirect evidence that important information about Machiavelli’s works seems not to have come widely to readers’ attention, even though scholars first began disclosing it publicly, decades ago. When selecting an edition of The Prince to read in English translation, readers still tend to choose among translations in which close, consistent imitation of Machiavelli’s choices of expressions is sacrificed for the sake of a literary style that is beautiful and readable, but too inaccurate for such a precise writer as Machiavelli. For, according to evidence that scholars have brought to light over decades since 1953, Machiavelli wrote his two major works precisely, intricately, allusively, and figuratively. He appears to have written so artfully, that a reader needs a fine eye for detail, intelligence, and good memory, first in order to notice Machiavelli’s message within a message, and then to work out the things he is really trying to say. As a practical matter, the task is beyond most of us, unless we accept help, for even if one happens to have a fine eye for detail, intelligence, and good memory, as well as high interest and persistence, one may not have the time required for learning Italian and making every discovery on one’s own. Fortunately, as the author explains, scholars have published new translations and interpretations of The Prince and the Discourses on Livy that make it possible to understand Machiavelli’s two major works more quickly and easily, although it is still challenging.

Who ought reasonably to be interested in reading Machiavelli’s works? The author mildly and politely discourages readers who hope to read The Prince casually, especially in an ordinary translation, and then adapt it to the conduct of life in society, explaining that although it has practical applications, the conduct of life in society is not among them. As for theoretical use, the author proposes that The Prince, the Discourses on Livy, and the interpretive works he later describes are valuable for a reader who wants to examine one’s own knowledge and its basis in one’s own capacities for persuading and being persuaded. He says readers may be interested in these works, who are aware of themselves as schooled in a particular, modern outlook and who want the challenge of examining the basis of much that has been considered common knowledge over the last few hundred years. He adds that Christians and Jews (and Muslims, for that matter) of an intellectual bent may be interested in these works, who want to consider political and psychological aspects of the faith. Moreover, the author cites Biblical passages that may support Christian liberty for such inquiry. Then, in a brief digression, he directly addresses the readers of Frank Herbert’s Dune series and tells them — well, maybe they can make sense of it.

For readers interested in reading The Prince and the Discourses on Livy for the sake of such inquiry, the author lists and describes translations written by translators who have made the effort to preserve the details of Machiavelli’s texts in translation. He names and describes interpretive works, one of which will introduce readers to a new understanding of Machiavelli’s purposes in writing and what the careful reading of Machiavelli’s works involves. The other two are examples themselves of such careful readings.

Moreover, the author recommends careful translations that a reader can use to follow up with Xenophon and Titus Livy, two writers to whom Machiavelli points. And he recommends careful translations of the political works of Aristotle, perhaps the political philosopher to whom the interpreters most frequently direct their own readers. He concludes by describing problems that can arise as one reads and how one can avoid them or remedy them.

Jan 122012

In Liberty: Rethinking an Imperiled Ideal, Glenn Tinder defends liberty and the liberal, democratic orders by which men presently attempt to establish and maintain it. As part of his defense, he makes a sober and extensive critique of liberty, acknowledging that most men’s use of liberty, much of the time, is mistaken and harmful or, in Tinder’s stronger words, sinful and even evil; however, he describes what he considers to be the chief good resulting from liberty and defends liberty on grounds that its good effects are greater than the bad.

As our mention of his choices of words may already have begun to make apparent, Tinder writes “from a Christian point of view” (xii); in particular, he describes himself as “a Socratic and Kantian Christian” (xii-xiii). His writing shows a steady awareness of a potentially diverse audience of Christians and others who are not Christian. He seems to assume his reading audience is mostly American, or in any case Western and liberal-democratic, and the distinction among potential readers he makes or acknowledges most frequently is one between Christians and humanists. As he makes the distinction, the Christians believe Christian doctrines, of course, and are or can be otherwise open to what is available to unaided human understanding, while the humanists, to speak generally, attempt to rely only on what is available to unaided human understanding. Tinder gives over the seventh of his book’s thirteen chapters to the subject of dialogue, and there he maintains that the goodness of liberty lies most of all in its openness to dialogue. He maintains that the dialogic possibilities regarding the most important human mysteries or problems are inexhaustible; a further reply is always possible. He would have the humanists understand that it is worth their while to engage in listening to and speaking to the Christians and other believers, for they are sources of intuitions that, whatever their divine or human origin, are in some cases not repugnant to the humanists’ own reason. He would have the Christians understand that their liberty includes listening to and speaking to each other and to humanists on all humanly important matters. As part of his defense of such liberty for dialogue, he advises his fellow Christians to be doubtful of the sharp dichotomy they make between believers and unbelievers. They believe that God is love, and therefore, he says, they must beware assuming God has written off any large portion, or even any small portion, of his human creatures. Moreover, among the professed Christian believers may be many who merely subscribe to formulas of belief, while among men who profess no such belief there may be many who earnestly seek right understanding and right action. Under the circumstances, Christians are warranted in listening and speaking to all such earnest inquirers. The Christians’ liberty also includes inquiring into their own doctrines, for although revelation is God’s, doctrines are human, and a human understanding of doctrine can be deepened and improved. In Tinder’s quite interesting formulation, a Christian knows the Christian doctrines only as he actively seeks to understand them. Thus, the Christians have liberty and even responsibility to engage in dialogue in pursuit of understanding the doctrines of the faith.

We have so far read only chapters 1, 2, and 7 of Liberty: Rethinking an Imperiled Ideal, and we hope to return to it at intervals. Already, we recommend it with some confidence to Christians and humanists alike, who think that reason, revelation, and the relationship between them remain a perennial problem.

(We thank Keith Peevy for his kind gift of a copy of Liberty.)

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Jan 042012

We read portions of Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God, during the holidays, and we think Collins shows that the way to belief is still open. His helping everyone move past the dispute over evolution seems to have been a good idea, and he seems to have done well to direct men’s thoughts to the universe’s strange beginning in “the Big Bang” and to the inner urgings he calls the Moral Law as better grounds for belief in God. For defending freedom of the will, his understated use of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle against LaPlace’s extreme determinism seems nicely done. In his defense of the possibility of miracles, he seems to have done well by taking a middle way. He sought to adjust expectations by acknowledging that events are not miraculous just for being rare, wonderful, or both, and by acknowledging that too-frequent divine intervention would create its own problems; however, he also seems to be right in acknowledging that the possibility of miracles has never been refuted. Collins is longwinded, but in his defense, he took up a large task. He could not reasonably be expected to solve all problems to everyone’s satisfaction, yet in general we think he leaves the disputes and the disputants much better than he finds them, and we would recommend Collins’ book for many troubled believers and would-be believers.

(We thank Keith Peevy for his kind gift of a copy of Collins’ The Language of God.)

Cover Image The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief

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Dec 012011

Here is the publisher’s synopsis of Seth Benardete’s Sacred Transgressions: a Reading of Sophocles’ Antigone in its entirety.

This detailed commentary on the action and argument of Sophocles’ Antigone is meant to be a reflection on and response to Hegel’s interpretation in the Phenomenology (VI.A.a-b). It thus moves within the principles Hegel discovers in the play but reinserts them into the play as they show themselves across the eccentricities of its plot. Wherever plot and principles do not match, there is a glimmer of the argument: Haemon speaks up for the city and Tiresias for the divine law but neither for Antigone. The guard who reports the burial and presents Antigone to Creon is as important as Antigone or Creon for understanding Antigone. The Chorus too in their inconsistent thoughtfulness have to be taken into account, and in particular how their understanding of the canniness of man reveals Antigone in their very failure to count her as a sign of man’s uncanniness: She who is below the horizon of their awareness is at the heart of their speech. Megareus, the older son of Creon, who sacrificed his life for the city, looms as large as Eurydice, whose suicide has nothing in common with Antigone’s. She is “all-mother”; Antigone is anti-generation.

We presently remember little of this play and know little as yet of Seth Benardete’s commentary, but we will venture remarks, right or wrong: Among those who love their family, it is more canny and more holy to see to the family’s ongoing generation than to see to its sacred rites, and attention to sacred matters to the detriment of one’s very capacity to go on generating is not clearly canny or holy. And for a king to work strife and destruction in his kingdom, in the service of his kingship, is ultimately destructive of the very possibility of his kingship. We hope a reader who discovers how much or how little we have anticipated will let us know. And as always, we invite readers to offer short reviews suitable for publication on the web site.

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Nov 132011

The Hoover Institution Press published Varieties of Progressivism in America, edited by Peter Berkowitz, with a publication date of December 1, 2004. As one can see from reading Franklin Foer’s contribution, at the time the contributors wrote the included essays, the Americans had not yet held their elections of 2004, so the future of the “New Democrats” was still uncertain. However, the “New Democrats” had noticeably faltered, in Foer’s estimation, and in light of the elections of 2008, it seems to be to his credit that he foresaw further recovery for the Democrats’ “progressives,” their old “New Left.” Here is a list of the contributors to the collection.

  1. Ruy Teixeira, “Old Democrats and the Shock of the New”
  2. Thomas Byrne Edsall, “The Old and New Democratic Parties”
  3. William Galston, “Incomplete Victory: The Rise of the New Democrats”
  4. Franklin Foer, “Center Forward? The Fate of the New Democrats”
  5. David Cole, “What’s a Progressive to Do? Strategies for Social Reform in a Hostile Political Climate”
  6. Jeffrey Isaac, “The Poverty of Progressivism and the Tragedy of Civil Society”

We offer a link below to Marsili.us Books (and ultimately, Amazon), as we usually do. However, the Hoover Institution now offers Varieties of Progressivism in America as a set of PDF documents, so if you are interested in reading the essays, but not fully intent on having the book on your shelves, then follow the preceding text link.

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Nov 122011

Peter Berkowitz edited Varieties of Conservatism in America, a collection of six essays published by the Hoover Institution Press in 2004. The six contributors analyze American conservatism into three broad varieties, traditionalist or social conservatism, libertarianism, and neoconservatism. Here is a list of the contributors and their essays.

  1. Mark C. Henrie, “Understanding traditionalist conservatism”
  2. Joseph Bottum, “Social conservatism and the new fusionism”
  3. Randy E. Barnett, “The moral foundations of modern libertarianism”
  4. Richard A. Epstein, “Libertarianism and character”
  5. Jacob Heilbrunn, “The neoconservative journey”
  6. Tod Lindberg, “Neoconservatism’s liberal legacy”
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