Friday, May 22, 2015

Not Machiavellian At All

Res Publica
Not Machiavellian At All
by David Trumbull -- May 15, 2015

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (May 3, 1469 – June, 21 1527) was an Italian historian, politician, diplomat and philosopher. He was a high official in the government of the Republic of Florence during the times when the Medici family governed the republic.

He wrote several books and it is from the content of one of his books, The Prince, that we get the adjective Machiavellian, which describes as "characterized by subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency, or dishonesty." For example --

In Chapter 5, he advises the conquering prince that a conquered republic must be utterly reduced, because history shows that more clement treatment fails to hold the territory.

In Chapter 7, rather than condemning, he cites the notorious Cesare Borgia as one to be imitated.

In Chapter 8 he says that a prince who rises through wickedness may, nevertheless, hold his principality securely if injuries are inflicted all together and not spread out over time.

In Chapter 15 Machiavelli advices the prince to follow vice if so doing brings security and virtue would bring ruin.

In Chapter 17 he says it is better to be clement than cruel, however, some cruelty is necessary and justified to maintain order and to withstand the violence that will break forth when there is not firm leadership.

In Chapter 20 he says that sometimes it's a good idea to pick a fight with another prince, just so you can look good when you defeat him.

If the only thing from Machiavelli you read is The Prince, then you might well conclude that his political philosophy is diabolical. That would be unfortunate, for Machiavelli's writings in support of republics and of freedom are much more extensive than his one, thin volume on how a prince may conquer and hold territory.

The key to understanding Machiavelli's The Prince is in the final chapter. It's a call for a reunited Italy, free of oppression by foreign occupiers. Italy was cut up into several city-states that were constantly at war with each other. The French and the Spaniards seeing opportunity invaded and ruled extensive tracks of the peninsula. Machiavelli dedicated the book to Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici (September 12, 1492 – May 4, 1519) the ruler of Florence, and exhorted Lorenzo to raise an army, drive out the foreigners, even if that meant crushing some of the independent republics and principalities. To Machiavelli, the choice was clear, either the nominally independent states would be forever in peril from each other and from foreign invaders, or they could lose their independence but gain freedom. Lorenzo did not take up Machiavelli's cause of a united Italy, and Italian reunification had to wait until the 19th century.

Charter of Liberty

Res Publica
Charter of Liberty
by David Trumbull -- May 8, 2015

"We hold here that the right to a speedy trial is as fundamental as any of the rights secured by the Sixth Amendment. That right has its roots at the very foundation of our English law heritage. Its first articulation in modern jurisprudence appears to have been made in Magna Carta..." -- Chief Justice Earl Warren delivering the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter of Klopper v. North Carolina, March 13, 1967.

Magna Carta (or, in English, "the Great Charter") was signed by King John (best remembered in the popular mind as "Bad King John" of the Robin Hood tales) on June 15, 1215. The document, which marks its 800th anniversary next month, is, in important ways, the foundation of the liberties of English and American law. The origin was a dispute between the king and the barons, and neither was wholly satisfied with the compromises contained in the Charter. At the request of John, Pope Innocent III annulled it. But the genie of liberty was out of the bottle and the Charter was amended and reaffirmed through the next few yeas and, in 1225, took the final form that makes it a foundational document in the English system of government and in every nation whose legal system owes something to English law.

Magna Carta did not create trial by jury, but it did enshrine it as a right, as well as the concept of due process.

"No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land."

Even though England, to this day, has a State Church, Magna Carta laid down the law that even the king must respect certain ancient liberties of the Church. In America this became the religious establishment and free exercise clauses of the Constitution.

"The English Church shall be free, and that men in our kingdom shall have and keep all these liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably in their fullness and entirety for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all things and all places for ever."

President Ronald Reagan summed it up well in his April 16, 1986, Law Day Proclamation --

"The foundations of freedom upon which our Nation was built included the Magna Carta of 1215, English common law, the Mayflower Compact, the Act of Parliament abolishing the Court of the Star Chamber, and numerous colonial charters."