Machiavelli for the Twenty-First Century

“To which thinkers should we turn in a bid to ground a new conceptualization of political agency—or to determine whether such a move has been nullified by the transformations of the last decades? Gopal Balakrishnan on Machiavelli’s parables of innovation and readings of him from Rousseau to Schmitt, Strauss to Gramsci. The Florentine as strategist of beginning anew, in the context of historic defeat.”

From the New Left Review:

For a hundred years after 1848, defeats for the Left typically came in two, tightly intermeshed, forms. Crushing blows—1849, 1871, 1919, 1926, 1939—alternating with unexpected bouts of prosperity, could contain, for a time, the aspirations of those demanding more than the owners of society and their allies were prepared to concede. In the West, the great rebellions of the late sixties broke with this pattern. The unprecedented affluence of the first postwar decades had shaped a generational milieu resistant to an older, middle-class work and leisure ethic, and receptive to insurgencies of the downtrodden. The subsequent sharp upswing in working-class militancy in the core, and setbacks for American imperialism on the periphery, briefly made it seem to some as if distant pre-revolutionary situations were looming in the homelands of capitalism.

In attenuated local forms, various legacies of these overlapping moments have survived the sweeping rounds of capitalist restructuring that followed the world economic downturn of the mid-seventies. Despite this impressive feat of adaptation, such pockets of opposition have had difficulty coming to terms with the formidable staying power of a conservative/neoliberal ascendancy that is now in its third decade. In a parallel perhaps to the legendary failure of the interwar Left to comprehend the advances of fascism, opponents of this passive revolution have been unable to account for its great successes, as so far it seems to possess the historically unique ability to invent the standards by which it is judged. What accounts for the ease of its victories, often scored with sparing doses of coercion—‘democratically’—and yet in a context of declining fortunes for large majorities?

More here.