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This month's letters and comments.


Gladden Pappin’s brilliant exposition of Cardinal Richelieu’s reason of state shows how much there is to be learned from the French statesman’s anti-Machiavellian domestic policy for a politics of the common good, in which state power is used to ensure that private interests do not harm the common wellbeing. Pappin is notably silent, however, on Richelieu’s foreign policy. Strengthening the French state meant not only limiting the factional power of the French elites at home, it also meant weakening the power of France’s great continental rival: the Holy Roman Empire. Richelieu broke the remains of Protestant power in France, but he tragically supported Protestant power in Europe as a means to weakening the Habsburgs. Thus, while securing the unity of France, Richelieu helped bring the unity of Western Christendom out of reach. Had Richelieu allied with the Empire against the Protestants, it is quite possible that the Counter-Reformation could have been completed, and Germany, England, and Sweden restored to the true Faith. That he did not, shows that, at least in foreign policy, he was not quite as anti-Machiavellian as we would like.

Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist.

To Matthew Walther’s expansive reflection on the New England Patriots’ dynasty, “Berj Najarian’s Tongue,” (Christmas 2021) I wanted to add one point:

Forty-seven to seventeen.

Dr. Paul Gutacker

I think everything in Matthew Walther’s life has built to this moment, writing about Bill Belichick with references to classical music. Some would, at first blush, say he is the George Will of the N.F.L., but that is an ugly putdown, and I want to praise him.

Chris Arnade

The editor replies:

Thirty-six to eight (2000-?).

I kid. It was only for reasons of space—in an essay already running to nearly six thousand words—that I neglected to compose for Dr. Gutacker’s enjoyment (and that of divers others) a dithyramb on the subject of Josh Allen’s right arm, of which I have been in awe since he was drafted in 2018. Friends mocked me for calling Allen the next Elway, high praise from someone whose A.O.L. password c. 2001 was still broncos7. And I would dearly like to have given more consideration to the Bills generally, to their varying fortunes during the hard years of the dynasty and their delightful fans, and to the newly verdant landscape of the A.F.C. East, the former waste land that, until the firing of Brian Flores, was home to three of the best coaches in the National Football League.

I read Dr. Pappin’s scintillating piece on reason of state with undissimulated pleasure. It is important to note that though the reason of state tradition flourished in response to Machiavelli, it began before the Florentine. Diomede Carafa (1406/08-1487), among the first to eschew the mirror-of-princes model in favor of the advice book genre popular with the anti-Machiavellians, encouraged the heir to the Neapolitan throne in 1467 to “submit himself to the sovereignty of reason” in all things in order to preserve the common good via, as Dr. Pappin says, “orienting each part of society toward the whole.” The common people, the nobility, and the army all had to be won over towards virtuous behavior via, in Carafa’s words, “ragioni di stato.” Carafa recommended, for example, that the prince order the spirits of the people through frequent acts of charity and public piety, including daily mass attendance. Botero drew on Carafa’s thought extensively in his chapter on dissimulation.

The Renaissance idea of “the use of state power,” formed by Christian prudence, “to ensure the common good,” was more than a reaction to Machiavelli. In his 1501 De Prudentia and unfinished 1502 De Sermone, Neapolitan secretary of state Giovanni Pontano reached the same conclusion as Dr. Pappin, that it was the duty of all men and women of good will, not just princes, to participate in the common project of forming a virtuous res publica oriented towards God. One of the ways they could work towards the bonum commune was through dissimulation, defined simply as acting in a way which does not accord with reality. Plato, Machiavelli, and Botero all held that only heads of state should dissimulate, as widespread deception could lead to a breakdown in social relations. Pontano, however, like some of the Church fathers, distinguished between vicious deception and dissimulation undertaken prudently “for the sake of public utility and instructing the human race.” 

In a nutshell, Pontano argued that if we act virtuously to help others, even when we do not entirely possess that virtue, or when we act humorously or ironically as Socrates or St. Francis did to point towards a deeper truth, we inspire those around us to virtue too. The creation of a virtuous populace occurs mimetically. “Faking it” will help those around us “make it.” Likewise, the gap in our own actions between seeming virtuous and being virtuous will eventually shrink into nonexistence. Politics leads to perfection of self and others. 

I thank both Dr. Pappin and The Lamp for providing such light in the darkness.

John-Paul Heil

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