Conversations with Bill Kristol: Harvey Mansfield XIV

Harvey Mansfield (Interview 14), Conversations with Bill Kristol, Released: December 17, 2017.

In this Conversation, Mansfield explains the connection between the thought of Alexis de Tocqueville and Machiavelli.

In this Conversation, Harvey Mansfield considers the connection between the thought of Alexis de Tocqueville and Niccolò Machiavelli. In Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, there is just one reference to Machiavelli. Yet, according to Mansfield’s illuminating interpretation, Tocqueville draws significantly on Machiavelli’s thought—and ambition. Even while opposing the effects of Machiavelli’s teaching, Tocqueville learns from Machiavelli in his effort to develop and advance a “new political science” for democratic citizens that preserves honor and political liberty.

This Conversation reflects on the essay “Tocqueville’s Machiavellianism” by Harvey Mansfield and Delba Winthrop. Mansfield and Winthrop: “Machiavelli’s mistake was to surrender the defense of liberty to the satisfaction of worldly necessities. In wishing to dispense with rule by the invisible and to concentrate on the visible, he endangered the free will liberty requires and thereby undermined the very virtue he wanted to support. With his emphasis on the unintelligibility of nature and the malleability of human nature, he opened the way to the materialism of modern science. For Tocqueville, by contrast, liberty requires the strength and pride of a free soul more easily found in aristocracy than democracy, and his ‘new political science’ consists in bringing democrats to associate so that they can imitate the vigor and responsibility of aristocratic nobles when defending their own liberties.”

Conversations with Bill Kristol