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Article of the Year: Mansfield's ‘Machiavelli's Enterprise’

7:40 AM, Oct 16, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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On board the ms Noordam sailing from Italy to Greece, with a break from both sightseeing and panels, it seemed advisable to me 1) to ignore the goings-on in Washington, and 2) to find time for an article I'd set aside to read, Harvey Mansfield's "Machiavelli's enterprise" in the October New Criterion. Mansfield uses the occasion of the 500th anniversary of The Prince to provide an explanation of the famous first paragraph of its fifteenth chapter. In doing so, Mansfield provides an extraordinarily compressed but accessible account of Machiavelli's significance as the founder of modern philosophy and of the modern world. It's my pick for best article of the year.

Article of the Year: Mansfield's ‘Machiavelli's Enterprise’

Mansfield claims that Machiavelli's "importance is almost universally underestimated. The extent of his consequence is not appreciated and the size of his ambition is little known." Mansfield then indicates Machiavelli's consequence through a discussion of the meaning of his phrase, "effectual truth" (verità effettuale), a phrase used only once in all his writings, in the aforementioned first paragraph of Chapter 15, and a phrase Machiavelli seems to have invented. Mansfield suggests the centrality of this phrase not just to modern politics but to modern philosophy (including modern epistemology, as it came to be called), by showing how that phrase leads to the modern notion of "fact." Mansfield's tribute to Machiavelli's philosophic thought concludes with his questioning of Machiavelli's effort to dethrone "the primacy of the good" as the object of human action, or of his claim of the truth of "effectual truth."

Read the whole thing, as they say. Then reread it.  

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