A prince also wins prestige for being a true friend or a true enemy, that is, for revealing himself without any reservation in favor of one side against another. This policy is always more advantageous than neutrality.”Niccolo Machiavelli
Machiavelli has been credited with wisdom, after a modern fashion. In the passage quoted above, the Florentine sage claimed that being a true friend or a true enemy is always more advantageous. But there is a problem with this advice: How would Machiavelli explain the success of Swiss neutrality through two world wars? Of course, he cannot. The fact is, Machiavelli’s writings are full of maxims that do not prove to be true. So why is he celebrated as an important figure? My own answer is that Machiavelli became important because his cynicism was so incredibly naïve, and he dared to immortalize it in prose. It is not that he wrote the truth; rather, he told us how “cynical people think.” And this is a valuable corrective to naive idealism.
To underscore my point: Machiavelli’s maxims are not to be studied because they are true, but because a certain class of persons think they are true. This may seem a bit confusing, but political generalizations are not generally true at all. Yet they are a true measure of the man who formulates and follows them. Let us take, for example, two simple English maxims: “He who hesitates is lost” and “Look before you leap.” These maxims cancel each other out. Why, then, do they exist? Because they reflect two opposing temperaments: the quick and the slow.
In my own analysis, Machiavelli’s works are not philosophical or scientific. They are temperamental. Therefore, the Machiavellian outlook is the function of a political type. In other words, Machiavelli is teaching us about Machiavelli and all those who think like Machiavelli. Having noted all this, we are now blessed with a little book about Machiavelli by the Brazilian philosopher Olavo de Carvalho. The book has been beautifully translated by Anthony Doyle and is available on Amazon. Its title is Machiavelli or the Demonic Confusion.
The English-speaking world has yet to discover Olavo de Carvalho. In Brazil he is an “event,” and his influence will inevitably be felt beyond Brazil; for Olavo is one who has cut through the “obscurity of modern philosophy” with the clarity of the ancients. He is one who sees, who thinks, and who writes; that is to say, he is a rarity. How unexpected that such a person has arrived to us from Brazil, out of the Portuguese language – a language in which he is a master.
Olavo recognizes that Machiavelli – as the acclaimed father of modern political science – is not really a political scientist. He is not really a philosopher, or a liberal, or a patriot, or even an artist. Machiavelli is none of the things alleged by the various students of Machiavelli down through the last five centuries. Olavo finds Machiavelli to be “a riddle.” Olavo wrote, “I certainly do not hope to enjoy any more success in my endeavor than these illustrious thinkers.” Socratic irony peeks out at us; for Machiavelli did not have a consistent theme or message. His generalizations do not form a system. He was unclear, contradictory, and sometimes sloppy. Did all these “illustrious writers” bother to notice that Machiavelli was unintelligible?
They did not.
Machiavelli was groping and struggling through the labyrinth of history and politics. If he had been philosophically oriented, or theologically oriented, he would have had a moral compass and the strategic sense that comes with a proper point of departure; for morality and strategy are interrelated even as statesmanship and moral law are interrelated. Had Machiavelli’s advice been based on a creditable world view, he would have had solid ground to stand on. But he had no such view, and there was never any solid ground beneath him. In fact, Olavo tells us that Machiavelli was a pagan; and that is clearly evident for those who have read Machiavelli’s works. But here, paganism is mere “temperament” and not a real religion or worldview; for Machiavelli was not a believer in Jupiter Optimus Maximus, neither could he read the future in the entrails of animals or the flight of birds. Therefore, Machiavelli’s paganism was mere nostalgia for something long dead.
This takes us to one of Olavo’s most interesting arguments. It is widely accepted that Machiavelli was a realist. If we turn to James Burnham’s book, The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, we find Machiavelli praised as someone who swept away political fantasy and delusion in favor of “political truth.” Burnham credited Machiavelli as an enemy of “wishful thinking.” The idea here is that politics should be scientific instead of idealistic. Burnham insisted that, to be “scientific,” a work “must be non-transcendental,” by which he meant “something formulated in terms of the actual world of space and time and history.” Burnham added that Machiavelli’s “chief immediate practical goal” was the unification of Italy. What good are “glittering ideals” if they cannot be realized?
But many of us, on reading Burnham, neglected to ask whether Machiavelli’s “immediate goal” was actually practicable? Any student of Italian history must admit that the unification of Italy in the sixteenth century was highly unlikely. As Machiavelli explained in his own writings, the Papacy effectively prevented unification from occurring in Italy. And, as Olavo pointed out, Machiavelli’s suggestion that a Prince might “rise to power on the strength of his allies and then dispatch them,” is worse than unrealistic as a unification strategy. Anticipating Stalin by four centuries, a national consolidation by murdering one’s allies and colleagues could not lead to anything remotely desirable, especially for Machiavelli who would have been among the tyrant’s victims. What kind of fool advocates a bloody national tyranny as a “realistic” measure? According to Olavo, Machiavelli is unable “to examine his brainchild from the perspective of his own real position in existence.”[i]
Machiavelli, said Olavo, is not merely confused about reality. He is demonically confused. Here we find an important concept which applies to modernity as a whole. Machiavelli and his epigones – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler – were not mere adventurers or theorists. They exemplified modernity’s demonic tendency. As Olavo pointed out, “Machiavelli’s ideas do not stay on the page, nor are they content simply to father other ideas: they transmogrify into ambitions and acts, inspire coups d’etat and revolutions, found nations and political regimes, but still we don’t comprehend them.”[ii] Indeed! Nothing in these Machiavellians is coherent except the drive for power, or as Burnham calls it, “the science of power.”
Olavo shows us that Machiavelli’s scientific “suggestions,” unconcerned as they are with moral values, inevitably backfire on the practitioner. There is a blindness, a want of discernment, which belongs to Machiavelli’s “scientific” orientation. Machiavelli might point to tyrants who enjoyed a ripe old age. On the other hand, a tyrant is a very special kind of moral idiot who produces idiotic results in a deeper, more damaging sense than a drooling idiot. What good thing can be built on a wicked foundation? In point of fact, Burnham has Machiavelli erecting his shining city – not on a hill, but on a slippery slope to Hell.
This is the same misunderstanding that led to Max Weber’s “Science as a Vocation.”[iii] Weber affirmed, as Burnham did, that science must be non-transcendental. He admitted, in this context, that science was about “progress” and therefore would be superseded in 25 years. In laying this out, Weber undermined his own argument inasmuch as science is a thing ultimately untrue, transient, and ever-changing. The late Professor Harry Eckstein of Princeton and UC Irvine, a great champion of Weber, once told a group of graduate students, “Weber was a groper.” This is exactly what Machiavelli was, too. This admission was honest, but not entirely edifying. Groping in the darkness of a contingent world holds little promise. Of course, Weber freely admitted much more than this when he mocked the idea that science, as a technique of mastering life, was a path to happiness. “Who believes in this?” he asked – “aside from a few big children in university chairs or editorial offices.” Science, he suggested, is without ultimate meaning. So where is science going if it has no meaning? Weber, with Machiavelli, offered up a value-neutral recipe for “progress.” But what would we then be progressing toward? The hydrogen bomb? COVID-19? A vaccine that is not a vaccine?
How could this approach ever be justified? Weber wrote, “’Scientific’ pleading is meaningless in principle because the various value spheres of the world stand in irreconcilable conflict with each other.”[iv] Weber was suggesting that science must not take sides in a conflict over values. The scientists must be, in the world of thought, the equivalent of Switzerland. The implication is that values are not objectively real. The consequences of adopting certain values, therefore, are not objective consequences. But then, Weber knew better than that. After all, he wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Actually, science cannot be neutral when it comes to transcendental values; for isn’t truth such a value? And isn’t science about truth? – which is humorous, because Machiavelli (as previously noted) argued against neutrality.
Why should Machiavelli’s truth-seeking succumb to a demonic confusion? Because truth, for Machiavelli as well as for Weber and Burnham, is ever anchored to matter and nothing more. These thinkers are living in Plato’s Cave, denying the relevance of everything outside that cave. With this inverted orientation – which is neither Christian nor pagan – the Machiavellians present us with efficient means to even more efficient means; and all this, to no end except that of blind acceleration. If these men had been truly wise, their trajectory would have been toward a transcendental bullseye. Yet they refused to even look for one. And so, the modernity they helped fashion is doomed to self-destruction through an out-of-control acceleration. Olavo calls this cognitive parallax, which is elsewhere defined as “the dislocation of the axis of the theoretical construction of a thinker and the axis of his lived experience….”[v]
I bring Weber into this discussion of Machiavelli to demonstrate that even our best modern thinkers are, in fact, subsumed under Machiavelli; so that when Olavo criticizes Machiavelli, he is actually offering us an insight that has a much wider application. Machiavelli the immoralist, Machiavelli the democrat, Machiavelli the scientist. All of these Machiavellis are entirely or partly akin to Weber and Burnham and all those other “great” political thinkers who shaped our latter-day misconceptions. Therefore, we should not be surprised to find that none are patriots; none are building up their respective nations. In fact, they are pulling everything down whether anyone has realized it or not.
Olavo shows us that the modern world has, to a great degree, followed in Machiavelli’s tracks. Olavo’s characterization of Machiavelli reminds me of how Hanna Arendt famously characterized Adolf Eichmann: “Machiavelli neither believed nor disbelieved what he said. The distinction simply does not apply in his case.” Eichmann, said Arendt, had exactly this same characteristic. He neither believed nor disbelieved, but bluffed his way as circumstances required. He had lost the capacity for moral judgment. He was a mass of contradictions, stupidities, disconnected notions, utterly devoid of interest. He was banal, she famously suggested. Machiavelli merely presents this same banality, with sophistication and style. Yet it is banality. As Olavo noted, “He wandered perfectly at ease among truths and falsehoods, with the freedom of the artist who delights in his creations without the least concern for the effects they may have on the real world, or even needing to understand them in any intellectually relevant way.”[vi]
I know that some readers will ask what I mean by all this. In case it is not clear, I will end this little book review with a philosophical riddle: There are many counterfeits out there, and Machiavelli’s “science” is one such. The “real world” itself, as we falsely homogenize it with erroneous “science,” has been counterfeited many times and in many ways. As a cynic Machiavelli and Adolf Eichmann might say that there is no real world and no authentic science. Everything is counterfeit. The modern mind, it seems, tends to embrace counterfeits and nothing else. Yet doesn’t a counterfeit imply, by its very existence, that something somewhere is real?
For those interested in the intersection of political philosophy and morality, Olavo’s book on Machiavelli is a great read.
Links and Notes
[i] Machiavelli or the Demonic Confusion, p. 43.
[ii] Ibid, p. 15.
[iii] Microsoft Word – Weber, Science Vocation.doc (weizmann.ac.il)
[iv] Weber, p. 15.
[v] Cognitive-parallax Meaning | Best 1 Definitions of Cognitive-parallax (yourdictionary.com)
[vi] Ibid, p. 75.
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56 thoughts on “Olavo’s Machiavelli”
I have read some of his articles / essays on his website over the years. He is great. Does he have any other books in English besides this recent one you are reviewing ?
Sorry if you have mentioned this already maybe but I can,t remember.
With regards to Machiavelli. I think his lack of morality is like lacking a frame of reference in physics. I,ve thought of this analogy when reading the last few essays of yours. This may be totally obvious. But if I can develop this idea a little more I,ll write another comment.
Thanks for the book review. It sounds super interesting.
This is the first book Olavo has had translated into English.
i made the stupid mistake of reading a book about Machiavelli’s The Prince by michael leeds that makes the claim, if i understood correctly, that Machiavelli was a devout Christian who modeled the Prince after the life of Moses. like Keynesian economics, the Prince as sociopath was only ever meant to be an emergency contingency. the good prince is a hard man for hard times.
The special allowance for bad behavior is dangerous. So many of our conservatives practice this.
That’s one reason I don’t consider myself a conservative. I don’t make allowances for bad behaviour. I also see our present economic system is dominated by corporations that act more like socialism than capitalism—the socialism of the Nazis and Mussolini with their integration of big business with big government. The CIA has been a rogue agency, working against what is best for our country since at least the 1950s. True, there have been a few good agents, but the agency as a whole is corrupt. There are more reasons why I don’t consider myself a conservative.
I consider myself a radical. My radicalism is based on a careful study of the Bible in its original languages. As a result, my radicalism has a higher standard than conservatism. I’m willing to stand alone with the Bible. If that’s the hill I die on, I’ll die and be with Christ. I prefer to work with others if possible.
Much of conservatism has the same roots, hence many people will consider that I too am a conservative. But I see conservatism as having been betrayed by shallow thinking, sloganism and identity politics. Being with the group is seen as more important than the truth. Idolizing certain individuals identifies one as a “conservative”. The core values that founded conservatism have been largely lost—truth and justice. Regain those core values, and conservatism would be unstoppable. I would gladly help to regain those values.
But the demonic left hates my radicalism.
As you read ancient languages, what do you think of Robert Eisenman and Bart Ehrman?
I had not heard of Robert Eisenman before your question. Taking a quick look at his bio, it appears that his ideas are based on the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). What I have read of the DSS shows that the consonantal text preserved by the Masoretes preserves an older, more accurate version of the text than the DSS. I have not seen Robert Eisenman mentioned in online discussions concerning Biblical Hebrew language.
As for Bart Ehrman, I consider him a nobody. I find his arguments specious. He is part of a philosophical school started in the first decade of the 1800s, a philosophical school based on the ancient Greek religious belief of biological and social evolution. That school doesn’t take the Bible literally, rather they reinterpret it to fit their philosophic predispositions. They are not Christians. As a group, I find their historical and linguistic descriptions of the Bible to be poor. I generally ignore them.
You might want to read him, just to know what the other side is saying and why.
I never understood “The Prince.” It seems quite cynical to me.
2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 KJV
7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
9 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
12 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Matthew 24:14-15 kjv
14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
He who letteth is the Holy Spirit, and He will be taken out of the way, with the Rapture of the Church.
Jesus validates Daniel who speaks of the Messiah being cut off.
39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.
44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
Read the Puritans and the old writers… the Ab. of Des. has, like some other prophecies, two fulfilments; the Daniel 9 one is what Matt 24 refers to and was when the Roman army invaded Judea and besieged Jerusalem; the second one (of Daniel 12) happened (IMHO) in 765 when the “Gentles” of Rev 11 aka apostate, so-called Christians, started to tread underfoot western Europe. The time on that runs out in 2025, when the scarlet beast “that was, is not and yet is” (communism) begins a reign of 3.5 years of horrific suffering (the godly + the unconverted elect lying low / hiding, while the reprobate ungodly get hammered by the 7 last plagues), ending in the second half of 2028 when the Lord’s people ascend to power in a major western nation (in my view, the USA), resulting in the prompt execution of the globalist-Marxist elites (Rev 11:13) and the utter routing of the coming Russian-led invasion of Palestine (Ezekiel 38 + 39), a destructive blow which seems to also entail some extraordinary and visible act of God leading to a devastating “fire in the land of Magog” (which is Russia, not Turkey as the Orthodox desperately try to claim).
One thing the old writers did not believe was the notion of a rapture to get the Lord’s people out of the way of this coming distress. For them the sequence is this: the present age, then the spritual reign of Christ that grows to fill the whole world (as per Daniel 2), followed by His literal return + the resurrection of the just, prompting the millinennial binding of Satan for a literal thousand years at the close of which the devil is briefly released and the damned are resurrected, resulting in a final, vainglorious effort on the reprobate party’s part to attack the immortal believers on earth, only to be at once intercepted by the Lord and sent to the Lake of Fire.
Your take on prophecy is futuristic / dispensationalist / Darby-esque and just outright wrong; go back to a time when the Lord’s people were more godly, wiser, more learned and see what you can glean from them. Look at Thomas Goodwin’s work, John Gill, Alexander Hislop among others.
I give weight to the Words in red.
If you did, you wouldn’t be talking nonsense about raptures, etc.
The comment I posted above, quotes Jesus in Matthew 24, where he alludes to Daniel 9.
And this relates to global cooling how?
Jeff, you said:
“To underscore my point: Machiavelli’s maxims are not to be studied because they are true, but because a certain class of persons think they are true. This may seem a bit confusing, but political generalizations are not generally true at all. ”
To which I responded by posting:
2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 KJV & Matthew 24:14-15 kjv
Then others replied with apostate doctrine of demons.
The Coincidence Of The Little Prince
Jeff, not sure if you can comment in regards to the Grand Solar Minimum, Adapt2030 (David DuByne) did a radio show on the weekend warning that next year food availability will be lower next year and due to the bad weather, and by 2023 or 2024, the food situation will be critical:
A very complex but very good article by Prof. Valentina Zharkova on that matter published last year:
Also, the latest images of the Sun showing no dark spots on it’s surface corroborating Prf. Zharkova point:
Here in Melbourne we are experiencing third summer in the row that are the coolest in recorded history.
Unfortunately, our MORONS, both on the state and federal level have embarked on the strategy of destroying Australia’s energy base.
The CRETINS, certainly are going to be sorry.
Regards – Bogdan
They are Cretins.
Also, the website below displays the chart with the current position of big planets. All four of them and together with our own earth are positioned on the same side of the Sun. They all and the Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune are very close to each other in terms of angle with. needless to say that such an alignment exerts a powerful influence of the gravitational dynamics of the entire Solar system and the Earth in particular. I wonder to what degree it influences the current lull in Solar activity.
Regards – Bogdan
This is a good reference for why northern hemisphere summers are experiencing a little more heat than average. The Earth is a little closer to the sun in July.
A few years ago, I read, I don’t remember where, that the climate during the Little Ice Age, around 1700, was typified in the northern hemisphere by short, hot summers, sometimes too short for crops to ripen, followed by long, very cold winters. Bogdan, you’re right, Jupiter and Saturn are the brightest things in the night sky after the moon and Venus, and they are close together. David Dubyne says that the other two gas giants, Neptune and Uranus, are also on the same side of the sun. The earth’s orbit is much faster than any of the gas giants, so for the next few years the earth will be on the same side of the sun as the gas giants during the northern hemisphere winter, and on the opposite side during the northern hemisphere summers. Bogdan, if your theory is right, that the gas giants’ gravitation pull distorts the earth’s orbit, that will explain the short, hot summers and long, cold winters.
My question is: does that same lopsided gravitation pull cause the sun’s internal plumbing to get out of whack, thereby accounting for the dearth of sunspots?
I do not recall any speculations regarding that.
I am about to post a new discussion between myself and a David DuByne, in which we cover the looming food crisis, colder weather, flooding and more.
Is it in a video format?
Great! Looking forward to watching it.
You should do another discussion with mike adams, that is where i was introduced to your blog/page. Some of your other posted chats have been good as well.
A general comment on the global warming / cooling discussion. I have found the following book very helpful for arguing against catastrophic man made global warming : Unstoppable Global Warming : Every 1,500 Years. by S. Fred Singer and Dennis Avery. Very understandable. Gets more technical as you go along.
Also the guy who started the Weather Channel and the soft commodities expert Evelyn Garris are not too convinced by the global warming scare.
I mention this because occasionally there are some commenters who are still followers of global warming.
The earth has warmed, but it was entirely within climate norms. Warming stopped over 20 years ago and it has been cooling for at least the last 5 years. It was much cooler in the mountains of NC this last summer and crop yields are already being affected around the world.
The prophecies about a food shortage towards the end are beginning to be fulfilled.
This description of Machiavelli reminds me of a 20th century amoral operator, namely Saul Alinsky. Years ago I read his “Rules for Radicals” and realized that I couldn’t follow them, as they are evil. While some of his tactics may have temporary effect, I could see that they unnecessarily made enemies of those with whom they could have cooperated for long term benefit.
Does anyone else see the similarity, or do I just see a mirage?
Douglas Wilson wrote a Christian response to Rules for Radicals titled “Rules for Reformers”.
If there is a single sentence that describes our modern technocrat (I construe technocrat as a hybrid bureaucrat/”expert”), it is that he neither believes nor disbelieves what he says. In fact, I believe that he neither believes nor disbelieves his own conscious thoughts, and considers it a virtue. The consummate modern professional is above attachments to what is true.
I see what you’re saying about Weber but he’s also been an incisive observer. I still think about the street car metaphor – it’s as true now as it ever was as far as describing the modern mindset as compared to an “enchanted” worldview. In fact, I think he’s acknowledging precisely the materialism you’re talking about. Modern man no longer believes in mystery, transcendence, anything other than, or beyond, the material world. So, as a practical matter we know far *less* than our ancestors did about the conditions in which we live (our ancestors probably could fix a wagon, but what do we know about a streetcar?) — and yet at the same time, we believe that *everything* is at least in principle knowable. When I read the essay I had a different take on his thesis about science, I took him to be saying the scientific method is about discovering empirical realities, which is by definition incremental (builds on itself) and provisional, in that what we learn tomorrow may render moot what we learned today. I actually still bring up this message from “Science as Vocation” as pushback on ideological science, or “scientism” — point being that science isn’t science when it’s co-opted into an agenda.
That said, I definitely can see that the essay is infused with the mindset of progressive materialism, which makes for immature or naive notions on the possibility of a sort of “pure” science or politics that are the engines of progress if only left uninfected by such things like “primitive” beliefs (e.g. religion). But I appreciated some of the insights nevertheless. I took him to be saying the scientific method, properly applied, creates knowledge about the material world; that knowledge is not transcendent or immutable, but provisional, ie, subject to further discovery via future application of the scientific method; in a way, Weber is just reminding us, the scientific method does not make us God. Weber may discount the transcendent or immutable or the existence of God – but this view of science is still compatible with a notion of revelatory truth, ie, the idea that we will not think or reason our way into ultimate knowledge but that by God’s grace one day the full truth may be revealed to us. Weber doesn’t think so. But I take his point to be he doesn’t want to live in a world where a scientist purports to have a monopoly on ultimate truth, or to extrapolate social policy or politics from his interpretation of results in his lab. I don’t want to live in that world either.
Anyway, you may have the correct read on Weber, or at least a deeper read. I agree with your points even if I had gotten something different from that essay.
“The “real world” itself, as we falsely homogenize it with erroneous “science,” has been counterfeited many times and in many ways.”
Man, is this ever true. I’ve hesitated mentioning Derrida, because his LitCrit stuff from the 80s is downright cringeworthy, but some of his later work (mid to late 90s) is extremely interesting – Given Time: Counterfeit Money; On the Name; and Gift of Death (last two chapters think through Fear and Trembling). Even if you chafe at some of the assumptions – it is right on point with this theme of counterfeit and the status of truth in post-post-modernity. (If you check them out and hate it — pretend I never mentioned it! :))
Richard Feynman made a statement many years ago, “Religion is a culture of certainty. Science is a culture of doubt.” The covidiots think they are dealing with science, but all they have is a deeply warped religion.
Science as practiced by ideologists has become the most irrational religion of all.
Strannik: you wrote, “The first full moderns like Thomas Jefferson assumed (or pretended that they assumed) that ” the People ” were a class of classical educated and philosophical trained landowners of sufficient leisure and means to take part in a new and “enlightened ” politics.” This definition of “modern” sounds like a throwback to first century Athens, where the citizens were described as having nothing better to do than to sit around discussing what’s new. So what’s your definition?
Maybe we should strike “modern” from discussions, because everyone seems to have a different definition for the term.
TO MR. VISITOR: Yes, Weber was an incisive observer and I was steeped in Weber during graduate school — and studied him under Professor Eckstein at Irvine. I studied Weber’s “Economy and Society,” soaked up his methodology, contemplated “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” attended Eckstein’s lectures on Weber’s two famous essays, “Science as a Vocation” and “Politics as a Vocation” I was troubled by the missing moral center of these essays at the time, though I understood the value of Weber’s reasoning by ideal types (which, by the way, is not strictly empirical). What I realized then, and hold to now, is that scientific knowledge, based on induction, is always incomplete, always limited, always missing the contextual key for the simple reason that mortal consciousness is not omniscient. We might have the right context, but even our context is only correct from our limited worm’s-eye-view. I completely agree with what Weber objects to regarding ideologically infused “political science.” It is the essence of pseudoscience. I concur with Weber’s contempt for the “big children” who occupy academic chairs. I have sat through their lectures, and listened to their faulty conceptions, perplexed that they were such blockheads. Marxism is the halfway house of social science in this regard, partly attempting to do real science regarding the science of power and societal manipulation/revolution, part materialist cosmology, part Christianity without Christ, part psychological disease. Nietzsche made his own joke on this, saying there were no “immaculate conceptions.” Here we find ourselves in the curious territory of Richard M. Weaver’s “intuition of a situation,” where the root error lies in our nominalism, in the idea that universals are not real. Ergo, transcendentals are not real, ergo, only physical objects are real. It sounds reasonable, but it really is an error. However absurd Weaver’s case against nominalism appears, it is our own materialist preconceptions, our own ontological literalism, that leads us to cling to the world of appearances. If the physical world was created, or derived from mind, then the physical world is the nominal while the real world (of mind) is not; and therefore we have inverted the very manner of our thinking and seeing. If the idea came before the thing, then mind and spirit are primary. Spirit is eternal even as matter continually and cyclically changes. Positivism does not allow that such insights have practical value. Such insights are thought to be the root of all political evils (religious wars, ideological conflict, superstition, etc.). And these are evils, we must admit. But with such reasoning we enter a kind of interior desert, with only external fixtures and a great void opening within. Weber was quite aware that disenchantment was a core symptom of our modern sickness. Scientific knowledge, as Weber championed it, will not satisfy the chronically disenchanted. They want an ultimate answer, given their materialist orientation (which they take to be scientific and therefore “immaculate”) the disenchanted often turn rebel and apply themselves to Karl Marx and his epigones. Weber would be a corrective insofar as he warned against this kind of pseudoscience; yet Weber is not offering an enchantment of his own design. Merely, he is offering another path into the abyss of disenchantment. Science as such cannot offer anything further, given Weber’s methodology. Yet, as Olavo maintains, Plato and Aristotle — and other ancient philosophers — took a different approach. Was Aristotle “unscientific”? No. He merely had a more comprehensive outlook, which took account of so much more. One might say he was more practical and unafraid than Weber. We have, as well, Plato’s allegory of the Cave. Indeed, this is part of the answer. Surely, we must connect our science with questions of ultimate meaning (and we must not duck those questions). If enchantment is the one needful thing, denouncing metaphysics as “unscientific” may be misguided. Metaphysics (in the Aristotelian sense) may be the only rational footing our science is likely to have, however imperfect. Ask yourself the following question: What kind of sage is only interested in material facts? We call that a newspaperman — not a sage. Thus, in my view, our political scientists are microscopists who do exactly what newspapermen do — only they do it with much greater attention to detail and nuance. Weber attempted to give us concepts with which to reason about politics (as ideal types). It seems to me that Weber’s big toe was nonetheless submerged in a vestige of metaphysics. Imagine where that leaves us? Weber is worthwhile, and here my view of Weber coincides with Voegelin’s. We must allow values into our political calculus. Universals and transcendentals are real. Those who wish to deconstruct everything as a power play have understood life only in the Machiavellian sense. And yes, in this context Derrida was cringe-worthy. Sitting through one of Derrida’s lectures, I was so benumbed it took a couple hours to shake off the feeling that I had been contaminated. All that being said, newspapermen and political scientists and cynics have their place. But we should not allow that they are sages, or serviceable as god-emperors. As they are in Plato’s Cave, they are much too absorbed with the false light. And here is a given condition of mortal existence: WE ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE CERTAIN ANSWERS. Here is a key point that Eric Voegelin bases his political science upon. None of us have the Truth in all its exactness, or with a perfection attending omniscience. We get folks quoting Bible verses on this site continuously, as if these represent positive scientific or historical knowledge in the literal sense, as if the material questions of politics, strategy and war that we grapple with here, are somehow solved by a particular reading from scripture. What they fail to realize is that they have changed the subject altogether and have presented us with a non sequitur. And they do not even realize how disorienting this is for the other readers. God knows and we do not, and those who pretend to speak for God — the would-be ventriloquists of God — do not know. Weber is one of those honest gropers, yet his rejection of metaphysics was part of the problem. We have to find our way back somehow, without descending into a world of “religious maniacs” shooting at one another from bell towers. There are answers, and a path back to enchantment, in metaphysics and in religion. There is war and destruction if we cling to positivism and its mirror image in those whose idolatry is centered on “the word” even as they have lost the real meaning.
It is an irony that the materialists cannot grasp even so much as an understanding of matter, with their rejection of transcendent truths. It shows those like Machiavelli, Balthazar Gracian, and Montaigne, to be a special class of imbecile. And if the modern age is built upon a foundation of such as these, how can it be built upon a real foundation at all?
Not that societies built upon the likes of Plato and Aristotle’s political philosophies alone would fare much better. There is far too much that is put to the question in the modern world: that which binds a real society must be beyond dispute. The first full moderns like Thomas Jefferson assumed (or pretended that they assumed) that ” the People ” were a class of classical educated and philosophical trained landowners of sufficient leisure and means to take part in a new and “enlightened ” politics. He was very wrong, of course. All that rubbish is just a screen for Oligarchical rule. Only a strong Monarch above them, representing the people’s good and chastising the Oligarchs when they harry the people or aspire to rule the Monarchy, can turn an Oligarchy into an Aristocracy.
Now, this very far from Machiavelli and his Prince, who I am thinking is a collective symbol for the Oligarchy, and who resembles more the ” Prince of this World ” that Christ spoke of in John the Theologian’s Gospel.
“We get folks quoting Bible verses on this site continuously, as if these represent positive scientific or historical knowledge in the literal sense, as if the material questions of politics, strategy and war that we grapple with here, are somehow solved by a particular reading from scripture.”
I too cringe when I see those quotes. All too often those quotes are taken out of context and/or given interpretations that don’t make sense. The quotes are often posted to push certain sectarian dogmas. On top of it all, they usually don’t address the subject of the essay.
Well, I won’t mention Machiavelli in this comment, because others have already done a better job of what I would say than I, both in the original essay and in the comments.
I suspect that many of these quotations are intended to make Christian’s appear ignorant.
For now we see through a glass, darkly
Blind, out-of-control acceleration indeed!
And whether it’s primarily collective madness on autopilot or wilful diabolical destruction thought out with mathematical precision that have led the world to this point of agony and apocalyptic collapse, or a combination of the two (the latter certainly having pushed forward the former), the deeper reasons for our miserable state of affairs lie in any case in our total loss, INDEED, of any firm and irrevocable values!
Fixed, unchangeable, ETERNAL Truth, having been denounced meanwhile for centuries as “absolutist”, “bigoted” and “dangerously totalitarian”, has given us what: TOTALITARIANISM!
Well done, o ye prophets of “Reason” and “Human Emancipation”…
The rejection of eternal truth is an expression of that cynicism to which the Machiavellian temperament adheres.
Not intending to get in any way sectarian, I must think of this beautifully timeless maxim that the Carthusian Order has in its emblem: “STAT CRUX DUM VOLVITUR ORBIS.” (The Cross stands while the world revolves.)
I’m of the opinion that man, like the fallen angels, is ruled by his pursuit of self-gratification whether it be simple survival or his desire to become like the gods. Yet, where those who struggle to survive might be excused for their indiscretions, the same cannot be said for the unbridled mass of humanity in general. We have it in our power, on a limited basis, to right the wrongs of society if motivated to do so – except that we are neither so motivated nor inclined to be just if we were. The sad fact of the matter is that we are on a collision course with destiny. The sides are drawn; and were the one side of a mind to make a stand against evil the ensuing chaos would be no different from the other side forcing us to submit. Pity those who simply want to be left alone because they have nothing more than mouths to feed devoid of sustenance. It is unfortunate that any effort to combat the ills of society must place man in the precarious position of playing God. It might be possible to exercise wisdom if not for human nature. As it is, that nature is now playing God, and repressing Him in the process. That is why there will be no alternative but to wipe the slate clean as happened in the flood.
R.O., in reply to your comment on a useful alternative to the word ” Modern” which may now be over used as a descriptive, I admit to being hard pressed to find an alternative. “Pagan” or “Hellenic ” might come closer, capturing part of modernity’s essence, but maybe “Gentile ” or ” Apostate” are even better than “Modern”? We all seem to see a good part of the problem, but based on our personal understanding, differ as to when civilization began to deviate. But perhaps civilization is a big part of the problem itself?
Livy used the term “modernus” which means “just now” in Latin, which is where our word comes from. It is a perfectly good word referring to recent history (as opposed to ancient or medieval history). If you let fools determine your use of language you will be without workable language — since all words are abused by fools. Do not start cutting words out because people are unable to use them properly.
If one intends “modernism” to be merely a time reference, while ignoring the philosophic contradictions and even the direct opposites within that time period, then there’s no problem.
The problem in this blog is that “modern” is used by different people to refer to different, even opposite, social and philosophic concepts, sometimes by the same person in the same message in a self-contradictory manner. As such, it’s being used as an undefined term. Because it’s being used as an undefined term, its use is no longer descriptive, rather obfuscates communication.
An example is when I asked Strannik for his description of “modernism” because I recognized that his description of Thomas Jefferson’s “modern” mirrors first century Athen’s “modern” which timewise is ancient.
The reason I intend not to use “modern” or “modernism” is because I want to communicate, not leave people guessing.
To follow up on replies made in reference to what I said before about the use of the word ” modern”, by R.O. and mr. Nyquist, your points are both well taken. For R.O., my use of the term modern denotes a qualitative leap of changes around 1492 AD which gradually characterizes life from that time until now. The Medicis of Florence were Modern: Savonorola was not. And I’d say Athens had a great deal to do with Modernity, for it was the rebirth of the pagan spirit which emanated from Athens which makes the Modern world what it is.
Tsar Peter ” the Great” was an excellent example of the literal paganism of the early part of the era: he created a genuine cult dedicated to Bacchus and Prometheus complete with hymns and satanic liturgies, which terrorized st. Petersburg for many years, a revival of the Dionysian which was quite serious and displayed all the usual hallmarks of a revolution.
I do agree with mr Nyquist that we shouldn’t allow fools to change and dictate language, but fact is, we condescend to do so all the time, do we not?
I’ve already read enough from Bart Ehrman to recognize from where he comes, and why. He’s just the latest in a line of people with the same meme that the Bible is not to be taken literally. That the Bible was written long after the events narrated took place, if they took place at all. The Bible was written long enough after the events portrayed that those events had become mythologized. The Bible is merely a disparate collection of myths, legends and folk memories that were cobbled together. But we, the modern enlightened ones, can divine out the different sources to show what the Bible really says.
As for Jesus, he was just a man. Just as the ancestor-worshipping Scandinavians elevated Odin to be a god, so the pagan Greeks and Romans, who worshipped numerous gods and demi-gods, elevated Jesus to be a god. Even the Jews didn’t come to monotheism until the last centuries BC.
The problem with Bart Ehrman’s teachings is that they are totally and absolutely bereft of any historical evidence to back them up. Furthermore, they are not scientific. Basically, it comes down to “Because your religion is not the same as mine, it is wrong.”
This is a very bare-bones, brief criticism of Bart Ehrman’s teachings. Much more can be said to flesh out what is written above, but I don’t want my response to become an essay in its own right, so I’ll stop here.
As you read the ancient languages, I thought you might have read Ehrman in detail and given me a more technical answer, as I am ignorant of ancient Hebrew and Greek, the whole thing was quite technical (though intriguing). As you never heard of him until I asked, you must be a quick study. Some of his points were troubling.
Just stumbled upon this quite interesting clip:
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