Jun 21 2016

Valleys & Mountains: from Nixon, Goethe, Machiavelli, & Ta-Nehisi Coates

IMAG0187sm

Valleys & Mountains: from Nixon, Goethe, Machiavelli, & Ta-Nehisi Coates

Machiavelli once penned a maxim about adjusting one’s point of view when trying to gain the understanding of a situation:

In the same way that landscape painters station themselves in the valleys in order to draw mountains or high ground, and ascend an eminence in order to get a good view of the plains, so it is necessary to be a prince to know thoroughly the nature of the people, and one of the populace to know the nature of princes.[1]

Compare Goethe:

Everything massive makes a peculiar impression, as being both sublime and comprehensible, and in going round such objects I drew as it were an unsurveyable summa summarum [sum of all sums] of my whole residence. [2]

Compare Richard Nixon’s “Farewell Address,” August 9, 1974:

We think that when someone dear to us dies, we think that when we lose an election, we think that when we suffer a defeat that all is ended. We think, as T.R. said, that the light had left his life forever. Not true.

It is only a beginning, always. The young must know it; the old must know it. It must always sustain us, because the greatness comes not when things go always good for you, but the greatness comes and you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes, because only if you have been in the deepest valley can you highest mountain.

Compare Ta-Nehisi Coates:

And there it is—the right to break the black body as the meaning of their sacred equality. And that right has always given them meaning, has always meant that there was someone down in the valley because a mountain is not a mountain if there is nothing below.[3]

NOTES

wood-h-small

[1] Machiavelli, Il Principe. (The Prince.) “Dedication.” The line–“it is necessary to be a prince to know thoroughly the nature of the people, and one of the populace to know the nature of princes“–is particularly relevant when considering Gramsci’s great question:

One may therefore suppose that Machiavelli had in mind “those who are not in the know”, and that it was they whom he intended to educate politically. This was no negative political education—of tyrant-haters—as Foscolo seems to have understood it; but a positive education—of those who have to recognize certain means as necessary, even if they are the means of tyrants, because they desire certain ends. Anyone born into the traditional governing stratum acquires almost automatically the characteristics of the political realist, as a result of the entire educational complex which he absorbs from his family milieu, in which dynastic or patrimonial interests predominate. Who therefore is “not in the know”?

(Gramsci, Antonio. Quaderni del carcere. 1929–1935. (Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci.) Edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. NY: International Publishers. 1971. “The Modern Prince” 135)

[2] Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Italienische Reise. 1816–17. From Goethe’s Travels in Italy: Together with his Second Residence in Rome and Fragments on Italy. Translated by A. J. W. Morrison and Charles Nisbet. London, UK: G. Bell and Sons. 1892.  “Rome, April 14, 1788” 546.

[3] Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. NY: Spiegel & Grau. 2015. p. 105 citing Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage. Cambridge UP. 2008.