Ed Driscoll

Political Purveyors of Effectual Truthiness, Then and Now

In “Barack Hussein Machiavelli,” Matthew Continetti of the Washington Free Beacon explores the deeply symbiotic relationship between Mr. Obama and Machiavelli’s “effectual truth.”

Something tells me the president is not a regular reader of the New Criterion. But perhaps, in between his regular servings of Jonathan Chait, Ezra Klein, and Josh Barro, he snuck a peek at the October issue of the conservative arts magazine. He might have scanned an essay by Harvey Mansfield, “Machiavelli’s Enterprise,” on the legacy of the first modern philosopher. It’s a legacy that very much includes the president.

In the essay, Mansfield discusses the Machiavellian discovery of “effectual truth.” What is effectual truth? In his 2007 Jefferson lecture, Mansfield put it this way: For Machiavelli, the effectual truth is the “truth shown in the outcome of his thought. The truth of words is in the result they produce or, more likely, fail to produce.” Consequences matter most. “Deeds are sovereign: When confronted by a necessity, Machiavelli advises, do not worry about justice, but act and the words to justify your action will come to you afterward.”

In recent weeks the world has woken up to the fact that President Obama is one of the most committed disciples of effectual truth telling in recent history. Time and again, when confronted by political necessity, he and his administration have told falsehoods in order to achieve their objectives. The fallout from the president’s lie that under Obamacare you can keep your health insurance is just the latest and most glaring example. The false explanation provided for the Benghazi attacks of September 11, 2012, and the misleading and occasionally fictional nature of the president’s memoir and campaign biography, are two more cases of effectual truth telling. The thinker whose teaching influences Barack Obama the most isn’t Frantz Fanon. It’s Niccolò Machiavelli.

Read the whole thing. And then for a look at a whole dysfunctional family who, in between half-gallons of Chivas Regal, drank whole flagons of Machiavelli’s playbook, Do. Not. Miss. P.J. O’Rourke’s 1985 American Spectator review of the David Horowitz and Peter Collier’s biography of the Kennedys as linked to today by Steve Hayward of Power Line. It’s a reminder that O’Rourke sure knows how to hit the keys with brilliant fury, when presented with a huge target as festering as the Kennedy family.

As Hayward writes: “Shorter O’Rourke: The Kennedys are ‘sewer trout.'” But do yourself a favor and read that entire piece as well, which, as Hayward implies above, should be filed under the dictionary definition of the word “scathing.”