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Beneath the Southern Cross
or The Demonic Confusion –Part 1
by Olavo de Carvalho
Olavo de Carvalho is a Brazilian philosopher and an exponent of Aristotle and Eric Voegelin. We present here in six parts his latest study, Maquiavel, ou a Confusão Demoníaca (Machiavelli, or a Demonic Confusion), in a special English translation made available to VoegelinView.
This study was once a chapter of a work in progress I have called The Revolutionary Mind. The chapter grew too much and acquired an independent life. The same happened to several other chapters, which have impiously slashed the body of the mother-cell and, as a punishment, will be published in separate volumes, among which are Descartes and the Psychology of Doubt and Cognitive Paralaxis.
This Machiavelli began with the notes I prepared for three classes of a course on Political Philosophy delivered to the students of Public Administration at the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná, Brazil, in 2004.
After giving the notes final touches in 2009, I had the occasion to read the essay of Sir Isaiah Berlin, The Originality of Machiavelli, and to verify that the idea of searching the meaning of Machiavelli’s work through a historical review of its successive interpretations had an illustrious predecessor.
Nevertheless, it didn’t seem necessary to add anything to my conclusions after this reading, so profitable in other aspects, as the goal of the study carried out by Sir Isaiah was totally different from mine. What he sought to uncover was the meaning of Machiavelli’s legacy “for us”; not what Machiavelli represented to himself, in his life and in his time, but the importance he had to other lives and other times.
Yet, what had drawn my interest was precisely the opposite: to disentangle the various layers of interpretation, often mutually contradictory, and to discover the original Machiavelli, relieved from the pomp and shame with which History had covered him. Sir Isaiah had offered an accumulation of opinions, while what I strove for was, before all else, a subtraction.
Through his method, the author of The Originality of Machiavelli came to discover in the Florentine secretary a forerunner of liberal and democratic ideas so dear to himself. He recognized, however, that this legacy was entirely foreign to Machiavelli’s intentions and amounted to a “happy irony of history.”
By all evidence, this was not the flesh and bones Machiavelli I was looking for: it was a Machiavelli made of reflected images and attributed intentions, built by his admirers and detractors not only through erudite interpretations, but through practical applications which they took from his work to guide their own actions.