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Issue 09 – Lent 2022


New Model Statecraft

On Machiavelli.


On his deathbed in Paris in December 1642, Cardinal Richelieu was asked by the curé of Saint-Eustache, his confessor, whether he forgave his enemies. “I have had no enemies,” the cardinal is alleged to have replied, “except those of the state.” Although the anecdote may not be entirely factual—it was widely circulated by the cardinal’s critics—it points to an entire school of Catholic political thought that has fallen from favor. Richelieu occupies no place in our curriculum except as an example of cunning and ruthless statecraft. Most people associate his manner with that of Machiavelli.

It is a mistake to do so. Richelieu belongs to the ragion di stato (reason of state) tradition, which was born as a counter-Machiavellian response to “Old Nick.” But the confusion is unsurprising: reason of state emphasizes the use of state power to ensure the common good. And this clashes with the conceit popular among many Anglo-American conservatives that the wise statesman restrains the state within careful boundaries, enabling traditional culture to flourish. It’s doubly unfortunate for Catholics in American politics, who, fearing the use of state power, limit themselves to vying within the modern Republican Party’s uneasy coalition of hawks, traditionalists, and free marketeers. They have been cut off—often unknowingly—from the specific tradition of political thought by which modern Catholic strategists have understood statecraft. And they labor under an illusion. Government spending as a share of GDP has consistently inched higher since the 1960s, and that trend shows no signs of reversal. Yet outside Central Europe, conservatives seem unable to practice statecraft to harness or direct an ever-growing state.

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About the author

Gladden Pappin

Gladden Pappin is a visiting senior fellow at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest, on leave from the University of Dallas. He is a cofounder of both American Affairs and Postliberal Order.