Machiavelli, the Prince, and the Tradition of Liberty

Machiavelli’s succinct and semi-diabolical advice to the prince is one of the most enduring works of political philosophy in the world. This man, writing in a time roughly contemporaneous with the Reformation, was less concerned with seeking the will of God than with winning at all costs. I wrote about him in my book The End of Secularism.

He is famous for advising the prince that it is important to appear honest, humane, religious, faithful, and charitable, but that it is equally important the prince be ready to abandon any of those attributes when opportunity presents itself. The prince should not worry about whether he will gain a bad reputation for deception, because, as Machiavelli suggests, there are always ordinary people willing to be deceived and the world is FULL of ordinary people.

The primary thrust of the book is advice about how to gain principalities and to maintain control of them. Many things work to a prince’s advantage, such as traditions of servitude and customs that reinforce the reign of a prince. But there is one thing that puts sand in the princely engine and grinds things to a halt. That thing is a tradition of liberty. If a people are accustomed to liberty, Machiavelli writes, then they will never stop trying to regain it. Even if they haven’t had it for a hundred years, the ancestral memory of liberty will be overpoweringly strong. It may be so strong that no manipulative device of the prince will be able to defeat it and he may have no other option than to destroy such a city.

Might I suggest to you that on Tuesday night we saw Americans in New Jersey and Virginia issue notice that they are not prepared to trade their liberty for hyper-statism and that they are not ready to become Europeans, always more subservient to the state than we have been, instead of free citizens of a great republic? The tradition of liberty is one of the greatest weapons we have in this struggle.

When William F. Buckley thought about the possible triumph of the United States in the Cold War, he imagined that American children would someday be thankful that “the blood of their fathers ran strong.” Let our blood, too, run strong with the cherished memory of our past and present liberty.


One thought on “Machiavelli, the Prince, and the Tradition of Liberty

  1. The mutually competitive pattern of existing nation-states is rooted in the nation-based will to dominate. The competition for world-domination is the primal and only “game” of tribalized nation-states. That “game of tribes” has now achieved its inevitable end-of-game status. Therefore if the existing nation-states are allowed to continue playing the “game” of competition for world-domination, they will, inevitably, destroy all of human culture, even human life itself, and, indeed, even the Earth-world itself—as they have, to a large extent, already done.

    Tribalistic nation-states are collective consuming-entities seeking to luxuriate absolutely in their potential to consume, and intending to dominate and enslave all others in order to generate and acquire the things that they desire to consume.

    The global culture of humankind–which has, for a long time, universally embraced the Western-originated non-unitive and mutually competitive ideal of individuated personal and collective consumerism—is now destroying itself, because it is based on an intrinsically false and inevitably self-destructive philosophy.

    To persist in that pattern will, eventually and inevitably, destroy, or self-destruct, humankind and the Earth-world.

    Altogether the present-time, and future-threatening, global and collective human situation is both dark and insane—a global madhouse of mutual threats, and whole nations in clans of “tribalized” power, competing with one another like rival street gangs, always “protecting” nothing more than their will to unlimited self-indulgence and unlimited self-glorification.


    The happening of Truth is not through the mind (even the “religious” mind)–it is at the feeling heart. Truth is not a proposition argued over against other propositions. Truth is self-evident, because the feeling-heart authenticates it in the moment of reception.

    Truth is an embrace, just as love is. You do not get argued into love. It is self-evidently right.

    One responds to truth as one does to love, simply through recognizing it. It is not about argument, not about the domain of mind, and its always power and control seeking opposites.

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