Books become classics because they contain ageless truths.  Of such, perhaps none is more a classic than Il Principe (The Prince) by Niccolò Machiavelli.  Though written for Giuliano di` Medici in early 16th century Florence, it nonetheless survives five centuries later for the insights into the uses and misuses of power it contains even today.

A true leader must be both lion and fox.  A fox to detect and avoid the snares and a lion to overawe his opponents.

The final chapter, XXVI, is entitled: “Exhortation to Liberate Italy from the Barbarians”.  Up to this point, Machiavelli has only occasionally referred to barbarians.  But he also does so in a much-neglected work (unlike The Prince, not meant as a job application) Discourses on Livy.  These references disclose that he viewed barbarians singularly and as entities.

The hordes of barbarians are generally foreign, that is outside Florentine Italy, attacking the much better educated and cultivated ruling classes of Italian republics of the day.  Similarly, the singular barbarian is uncultured, uncouth, lacking in civic virtue, having little sense of the commonwealth, and certainly corrupt and corrupting.

For Machiavelli, the Roman Empire offered the enduring example of barbarian hordes, capped off by the invading Vandals bearing swords and lances, unlike their Russian counterparts some sixteen centuries later trolling voter lists with their computers.

What are 21st century citizens of the American Republic to make of warnings being heard to liberate America from the barbarians?

Circumstances today require noting, once again, Machiavelli’s exhortation against a foreign barbarian horde and individual barbarians in our midst.

Let’s consider state-sponsored Russian hackers blatantly and systematically seeking to disrupt our democratic elections, described by the President as the “Russian hoax” but by his administration’s top security officials as an existential threat.

It seems pretty obvious to those with eyes to see that the present-day Russian Government represents barbarians every bit as much as those political powers threatening Florentine Italy in Machiavelli’s day.  The new weapons of invasion are computers, not arrows and lances, and are aimed at our political structures more than our economic ones, though the latter, made up of corporate owners of critical infrastructure, are soon to feel the cross-hairs on them.

Perhaps a modern-day Machiavelli might wish to direct an “Exhortation to Liberate America from the Barbarians” to our President.  If he were to read it, that would be a first.

But any objective viewer, and particularly a patriotic one, would also have to conclude that there are home-grown barbarians amongst us.  Some are racists of varying stripes.  Almost all have been taught to hate the First Amendment free press, with one or two propaganda exceptions, many have been encouraged to violent action by top “leaders”, and all are united against the “other” in the form of refugees and asylum seeker.

Machiavelli favored a quasi-republican principality, at least when seeking appointment by the Medici, but he also revived the largely forgotten notion of the classic republic based on civic virtue, participation, the notion of a commonwealth, and resistance to corruption.  It is that classic republic now threatened in America by domestic barbarians opposed to all these qualities.

When we finally find a leader who appreciates the threat from foreign barbarians, we will have both the means and the will to defeat them.  Of much more immediate and long-term concern, however, are the barbarians in our midst who wish to dismantle the structures of humanism, progress, civility, and community formed with many struggles over more than two centuries.

All men and women of good will, and that includes the vast majority of Americans, will not permit this Republic, to which so many have dedicated their lives, to be lost to posterity.  That is a tragedy that must be avoided at all cost.

4 Responses to “An Exhortation Concerning the New Barbarians”

  1. Paul G Says:



    “Barbarians at a republic’s gates
    Are nothing new for such ingrates
    Uncultured and uncivil is their ever-brew
    Clever like a fox with the hate they spew

    Barbarians at our republic’s gates
    Were met by Guardians who did declare
    The rule of law trumps the lion’s ingrates
    But the fox says war is peace and all is fair

    Barbarians today come in all styles
    Waving the flag while saluting injustice
    Ignorant or smart while all full of smiles
    Makes even a shepherd pine for a Brutus

    Barbarians in pinstripes at our TV gates
    Breathlessly breaking our seeming demise
    Like lions and foxes in a sheep’s disguise
    Got no solutions but our lamb on their plates

    Barbarians are we if our Guardians we ignore
    Who gave us their lives to leave not to fates
    That God’s work be our own – our republic to restore
    So let not our live shepherd remain on their plates.”

  2. Dave Prakash Says:

    Mr. Hart, I too am concerned about the barbarians at the republic’s gates. I recently watched your testimony with Col John Boyd before the HASC in 1991 regarding military reform. I am a veteran and current graduate student inspired by the personnel reforms you championed decades ago. Your advice would be appreciated as I seek to solve those same problems today.

  3. Steven Says:

    Two sentences in, I expected your reflection to take a different direction. I have spent only limited time with Machiavelli and know little of the Medici beyond their remarkable influence on contemporary Rome through the conduit of statuary and painting. I am, however, a student of Ancient Rome, to which Machiavelli appealed, and once wrote a brief paper on the depictions of the Dacians, Sarmatians, and other “barbarians” in relief on the column. I later found similar depictions of black men and women at the Voortrekker Monument outside of Pretoria in South Africa. In both cases, it was the treatment of those depicted as “barbaric” that actually reflected the barbarism of the victors. We have seen this recently as the administration has fomented an absurd narrative about migrants from the South, who contribute to our economy far more than the detract, and we have seen barbaric behavior toward our neighbors. I take your point that Russia represents a serious, perhaps existential, threat to our democracy, a threat Mr. Trump denies and/or does not understand. I finally agree with your assessment that the barbarians in our midst, those who do not practice virtue and have no regard for human dignity, who seek self-advancement and the advancement of their enclave, are of a far greater threat – those outside will cease knocking at the gates if we have eaten our own. Thank you for your reflection.

  4. Brian McCarthy Says:

    Senator, it is hard to watch news these days without thinking ALL the players are barbarians. NY Governor Cuomo made a comment yesterday that “America was never all that great” and I know what he’s intending to say, though I’d have phrased it differently. That the history of the country is one of oppression of one group or another and that we have never lived up to the ideal of “all men are created equal”. But of course this quote will be taken out of context and may doom whatever chance he had of attaining national high office. Strange that some of Mr Trump’s well documented quotes didn’t sink him (“grab em by the ?&$7@“ to say the least) but he is somehow protected by his meaningless “make America great again” slogan. Are Americans really that easily fooled and, if they are, do they deserve any better? You said in 1987 “I tremble for my country when i think, in fact, we may get the leaders we deserve”. I’m sorry to quote you back to yourself because I hate when anyone does that to me, but recently I have looked back a few times to that speech of yours and wondered what crystal ball you had. We really have degenerated, politically, to a very low point since then and we truly now have the leaders we deserve. An ignorant, selfish electorate will put in power a selfish, ignorant leader. I wish I could expect that in 2020 he’d be sacked, but as of now I’m not sure who’d run against him and win. What’s my point? It’s that we DO now have the leaders we deserve, and you were right, and for once I wish you were not right. What do we, the hated, despised liberals, do in the face of such illiberal, anti-intellectual, anti-fact, anti-science madness, when even former Republican administration officials are at a loss to explain the randomness and lack of focus of the current administration?

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