Birth of the Modern

"Birth of the Modern," Wall Street Journal, 23 June 2013.


For this grand role, the mind of Machiavelli must have been capable of acting on its own, informed but not dictated by the events of the time. Machiavelli had much to say on this issue himself. The prince, he said, must act “according to the times,” but in such a way as to change those times. To be successful a prince must be a new prince, one who doesn’t accept the status quo. Even an established prince must take account of his rivals and enemies and not wait for them to displace him but move ahead of them “proactively,” as we would say, virtuously, as he said. The new prince must strive to set the trend and make everyone else depend on him, so that he doesn’t merely follow the trend.

Is this piece of Machiavelli’s mind beginning to feel familiar to our modern eye and ear? Here, in the constant need for novelty and acquisition—our freedom in combat with our necessity—we have the germ of our modern politics, our business, our intellectuals, our arts, our morals.

Wall Street Journal