- Not Even a God Can Save Us Now: Reading Machiavelli after Heidegger by Brian Harding
Brian Harding offers a novel interpretation of Niccolò Machiavelli by putting him into conversation with three continental philosophers: Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, and René Girard. Harding chooses Derrida and Girard because their "ongoing confrontation" with Heidegger reflects Machiavellian themes, especially the concept of sacrifice. Harding believes that Machiavelli shares Girard's definition of sacrifice: the distinction drawn between legitimate and illegitimate uses of violence, the deployment of this distinction to benefit the political community, and the production of enemies against whom this good from violence can be directed. Over six ambitious chapters, which draw on everything from expositions on Boethius to using symbolic logic – and while attempting to unify rhetorical, philosophical, and historical interpretations of Machiavelli – Harding posits that Machiavelli's recommendations rest on a non-theological "sacrificial" structure.
Harding begins by demonstrating that Machiavelli ascribed to the thesis that the world is eternal. While ruminating on the world's eternality, Harding contends, Machiavelli comes "frustratingly close" to endorsing a non-theological definition of sacrificial violence. Harding argues that Machiavelli rejects the heavens and, like Heidegger and Derrida, starts with the world as a given. In doing so, Machiavelli distances himself from Christian virtue and adopts the sacrificial distinction between legitimate and illegitimate uses of violence. Harding, turning to the relationship between truth and sacrifice, argues that Machiavelli's emphasis on "la verità effettuale della cosa" and his rejection of imagined republics effectively expels the transcendent. Disallowing any subordination of individuals to the imagination, Machiavelli thus understands truth with respect to its deployment to effect action. This understanding of truth, Harding insists, is reminiscent of Heidegger's rejection of truth as orthotes ("correctness of the proposition"), which leads to a metaphysics of presence, and his definition of truth as alethea ("unveiling"). Furthermore, with its double movement of expulsion and constitution, Machiavelli's understanding also mirrors Girard's concept of "scapegoating."
Pivoting to the relationship between truth, nature, and the building of dwellings or cities, Harding asserts that, for both Machiavelli and Heidegger, there is a close connection between how one conceives of truth and nature. The discussion of nature allows Harding to explore the need to build cities [End Page 233] or "dwellings," which again accentuates Heideggerean themes and outlines Machiavelli's theory of religion. Harding re-emphasizes that Machiavelli's "homeland" is not found in heaven but, rather, in the eternal world, thus re-introducing a non-theological notion of sacrifice. Harding closes by focusing on the end of the world. This chapter is unique as Harding has to choose whether to agree with Machiavelli or Heidegger with respect to the kind of violence needed for the (re-)founding of states. Harding opts for Machiavelli and argues that Heidegger under-appreciates the idea that the founding of new modes and orders will not occur through reflections on structural violence and "some metaphysical source"; rather, what is required is "studying how the act of founding itself manufactures metaphysics." Harding notes, however, that there are greater affinities between Jacques Derrida's work and Girard's critique of Heidegger to Machiavelli with respect to this point.
Harding states that his book is "undoubtedly eccentric," but it is not clear why this is the case given that continental philosophers have regularly turned to Machiavelli. Indeed, outside conventionally post-Heideggerian philosophy, both French and Italian continental traditions have engaged with Machiavelli. Furthermore, while one appreciates Harding's emphasis on reading Derrida as post-Heideggerian, it is surprising how neatly Derrida is extracted from the French continental tradition's reception of Machiavelli. Furthermore, Harding often asserts his arguments without sufficient textual or logical evidence. Thus, while I am sympathetic to his argument that Machiavelli shares with Heidegger and Derrida a concern with the world as given, it is not clear how this grounds Machiavelli's adoption of the distinction within sacrificial violence. Finally, Harding posits that he is staging a conversation between Machiavelli and Heidegger, but, too often, the argument devolves into...