Michael Anton has written an important and intriguing essay at the American Mind. Anton writes that Machiavelli “sought to liberate philosophy and politics—theory and practice—from a stultifying tradition and corrupt institutions.” Anton and I agree: our institutions are rotten. We may disagree on their preferred form, but share the dedication to a life in imitation of Machiavelli.
The rotten institutions resemble the decadent Church of Machiavelli’s Italy, on the cusp of the great upheavals of the Reformation. The new indulgences are practised daily in our bureaucracies, our universities, our mass media organisations, the whole rotten clerisy who staff the media/theatre state and who have betrayed their true purpose.
The universities are equivalent to Machiavelli’s monasteries—the places where doctrine is formulated, incubated, refined and defended—while the media is their church, the means of dissemination to the masses. The real sovereign is not any elected official or anyone formally and visibly moving the levers of power; it is the doctrine (neoliberal capitalism, “expert” managerialism, socially corrosive libertinism, anti-whiteness) and the people and institutions pushing it.
Michael Anton, “The Art of Spiritual War” American Mind
Anton points me to my own dilemma of not knowing in the face of the arrival of the post-democratic society whether to look back and restore some form of democratic, republican or even liberal-progressive virtue, or rather to dare to plunge my thought into a whole new order. He writes of America that its constitutional order is dead for 50 years now, perhaps, and yet “the constitutional order that operated admirably within the living memory of so many feels, to some, still within reach. Should those of us who cherish that order try to go back or forward?”
He urges not renunciation of the world, not idolatry of the newly false idols of any kind, not just getting along but the search for something “both life-affirming and grounded, that can serve as a real support to real life in the real world.” He finds a strategy variously in Machiavelli’s Discourses on the History of Livy (especially Book III, chapters 35-49), which I have studied since my 20s, Leo Strauss’s writing between the lines, and fifth generation warfare.
Intriguing and timely since I decided this week to practise my own form of long game in the art of spiritual warfare against the those rotten institutions.
The historian , David Starkey, has established his own YouTube channel – David Starkey Talks – that aspires to articulate a better ways of being with the past than the cavalier denigration of progressives. Rootedness. He evokes Chaucer:
For out of old fields, as men saith,
Cometh all this new corn from year to year;
And out of old books, in good faith,
Cometh all this new science that men learn.
And during the week, a fragment of a counter-faith came to mind, that steeled me against worldly success and doubts on fame, the Dalai Lama at some unknown time was reported to say:
“The plant does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”
I have been meditating on the second rules from Jordan B Peterson’s collections of 12 rules of life this week:
- Imagine who you could be and then aim single-mindedly at that; and
- Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping
There was a strange resonance in the texts with the essay by Anton that I only read this morning. Peterson describes the soul willing to transform as the most potent opponent of the “demonic serpents of ideology and totalitarianism.” The old beliefs, the rotten institutions, the sickening corruption around the wounds can be burned away; so freeing the soul and the worldly actor, however unworldly, for renewal.
“A voluntary death-and-rebirth transformation – the change necessary to adapt when terrible things emerge – is therefore a solution to the potentially fatal rigidity of erroneous certainty, excessive order and stultification.”J.B. Peterson, Beyond Order
One of my notebooks in 2016 was named The fearless walk through the flames.
Two large, life-affirming dreams this week, and the fragment from one of Zbigniew Herbert’s poems – Report from a Besieged City – “only our dreams have not been humiliated.”
Image: Stefano Ussi (1822–1901), “Niccolò Machiavelli nel suo studio”, 1894