To my new president

Sir: We welcome you to our house, the white one, and to our most capital position. Yes, lead us. And, yes, let there be change.

Since political attitudes and practices in this country have become more than a little Machiavellian, I beg change at the root, sir, in the principles with which our governors govern us: reject the counsels of that 16th century statesman, Niccolo Machiavelli, and honor rather the counsel of an Israelite adviser to kings and presidents born 2,500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah.

For Machiavelli taught (and we have witnessed) a cold, amoral pragmatism. His ideal ruler lacked ideals, except as a show of ideals might achieve practical ends, say, the maintenance of state by the maintenance of the prince’s power and reputation.

Nor was truth a supreme good. Rather, it was a tool. Deceit, too, was a tool. And a ruler might use either one with equal ease—though he must always seem to be truthful. Hypocrisy wasn’t a fault. Transparency was.

Conversely Isaiah taught that the ruler’s purpose was to honor and apply universal ideals throughout the state. His king served peace and truth, and was anointed to prosecute justice by truth for the sake of peace. Deceit was a parasite in the public body, and false seeming outraged the order of the universe.

These two concepts of governance, therefore, are absolutely opposed. You can’t mix them. Even a little Machiavelli is an alchemy to transmute Isaiah’s gold to lead since it uses such pieties for its own ends and nothing it says thereafter (however humbly it speaks) can be trusted.

Machiavelli’s prince must be a shrewd judge of human nature (spiritual, emotional, psychological and brutal) to manipulate the population. Even so does he campaign for office. Even so does he retain and rule it.

But Isaiah’s king must be shrewd in knowledge of those eternal laws which, when they are well-established and obeyed, maintain the security not of his office but of his state.

And exactly here, is the contradiction  that shall make so difficult your choosing between Machiavelli and Isaiah: America does not mix them.

Most of us truly believe that we believe in Isaiah’s ideals as immutable laws wherewith to govern. We think ourselves good and devoted to The Good. With Isaiah we loudly require (do you remember?) personal virtue in our leaders, sexual righteousness, sincere candor and no collusions twixt them and convert organizations …

But at the very bottom, in the rough-and-tumble of real politics here and abroad, we want a flinty Machiavelli fighting for us. We fear sentiment. The milk of human kindness curdles on our tongues and too much virtue makes us nervous.

Oh, but how we pledge a public allegiance to the principles you campaigned upon: that all (of any gender, race or sexual proclivity) are equal under the law; that all deserve health and a healthy economy; that justice must be for all or else it is for none; and that by such unchanging lights a ruler should rule (nay, “serve” is your own word). Altruism, sir! It plays well among us.

But at the actual fact of rulership, we mistrust it. We scorn “soft” rulers.

Not so much of past heroes nor of future candidates, but of the present prince we demand a realpolitik. When personal interests are involved, real morality feels wimpish, dangerous. Give us fighters! Those who “get things done.” We are pragmatists, after all, for whom virtues are valueless and goodness is useless—unless they work on our behalf.

Therefore, to choose Isaiah shall be to choose both for your country and against it at once: against its harder,  prevailing doctrine—but for its sake. ‘Tain’t easy.

Machiavelli: A prince should seem merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright; and should even be so; but he should, when the occasion requires, know how to change to the opposite … to resort to evil when necessary. Everybody sees what you seem to be. Few really feel what you are.

This is justified because it works. But it knows no eternal good. And the national consequence is that it may neglect both justice and mercy when these are deemed impractical.

Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

Here is the awareness that universal laws are supreme, not the ruler; here is required moral might, genuine humility and a patient human insight. And here is the national consequence: With righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek; his verdicts will strike down ruthless people, and injustice will die by his decrees.

Choose, sir, Isaiah’s counsel—faithfulness both to that above and to them below you—and righteousness shall adorn our land. For if you break faith, you place at the core of your rulership a devouring worm, and three things shall then die in slow succession: trust, righteousness and the nation.

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