A Further Word on Political Rhetoric

A very thoughtful Power Line reader, Marco V. Fabbri, writes from Rome with this reaction to my post this morning on political rhetoric at the GOP convention:

I am an Italian reader of PowerLine blog, which I appreciate very much. I am a conservative and a Roman Catholic, and I am very interested in US politics.

I wish to share some thoughts with Steven Hayward, so that you can freely use them, if you consider them useful.

I noticed, just as you did, the verbal contrast between the “love” theme in Ann Romney’s speech and the “respect vs. love” them in Christie’s speech. When I read how you gave form to my thoughts, I wondered why I had approved of both concepts, while listening to the speeches. The persona delivering the speech had certainly part in this, as you suggest.

However, I suggest that there is no formal contradiction between the two ideas. That is so, as Ann Romney talked about loving, in the active sense.

Christie talked about the desire to be loved, in the passive sense. When a person tries to attract love by behaving in such a way as to please others, he shows that he is not sure there other people whose love he is sure about. He may go as far as to forfeit his freedom in his search of approval. This is what Chris Christie talked about.

On the contrary, when a person is sure that there people that love him (his parents, his wife, his children, his friends, and, why not, God), when he is not strving for love, he is free to get out of his way to love others. I remember finding here on Powerline the reference that pointed to articles about Mitt Romney and the hornet’s nest, the house for a family in need, and other things that I appreciated very much. This is what Ann Romney was about.

I agree with our Italian friend that the two need not be contradictory, and direct everyone’s attention to Michael Barone’s commentary on exactly this point this morning:

Ann Romney talked about the power of love. Chris Christie told us that we (America? Politicians?) should be “respected” rather than loved. Liberals pounced on an apparent contradiction. Perhaps, but one that can easily be resolved. A leader motivated by love can prefer to be feared rather than be loved, as taught by the great teacher Machiavelli (not a Sicilian, like Christie’s mother—and she sounds a lot like what I’ve heard about my Sicilian great-grandmother). A leader should be feared rather than loved, said Machiavelli, thinking of the leader of a new republic, if he and his republic are to accomplish great things. And a second thing they need, if I have not read my Machiavelli amiss, is that citizens embody a certain virtù, a certain public spiritedness and bravery. I have not mastered the scholar J. G. A. Pocock’s Machiavellian Moment, and I doubt that Christie has either, but I think we are moving in the same direction.

I’ll add in passing that I am not a fan of Pocock’s Machiavellian Moment (“It’s a big, big moment,” Yale’s Jack Hexter wrote in a famously sarcastic review of Pocock’s doorstop of a book), but that’s a subject for another time, and no doubt an argument with Paul Rahe, who I believes likes Pocock more than I do.

P.S. I hope Mr. Fabbri, and everyone else interested in Italian civic life, knows of the Bruno Leoni Institute, who battle for the truth and the good.  Tell Carlo Stagnaro there that I sent you.

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