Old Fashioned News: The fashionability of suicidal political fashions
I made the mistake this morning of turning on the radio – local talk radio & NPR, and I couldn’t help noticing – and really, I couldn’t help it, I tried not to, but I couldn’t help noticing, how much today’s ‘news’, reminded me of what I was just reading last week when researching a report for our History 6-12 HB1490 curriculum workgroup. For that report (I’ll post it later, maybe [Here it is]), I was re-reading John Adams’ “Defense of the Constitutions” vol II, where he’s commenting, mostly, upon Machiavelli’s “The Florentine History“
If your first thought is “How could NPR possibly remind you of something so old and outdated?“, well, my ahistorical virtual friend, even with names and cities you don’t recognize, you’d be surprised (though sadly, I won’t, as I’ll have to endure your repeating the lessons you never learned from history) you needn’t let those trifles worry you, after all, who it is that the names are actually naming are of little or no importance, you could even substitute at random names you are somewhat familiar with, like Clinton, Bush, Kerry, Nixon, Buckley, Democrats, Republicans, 99%, 1%, Blacks and Gays, Bakeries, Ferguson and Baltimore, and still be that much more the wiser, as I assure you, it will retain the utmost relevance to your daily news.
For those of you who can’t be bothered to steel yourselves to sit still long enough to read more than a paragraph, run along and be damned. For those of you who can… it certainly won’t cheer you up, so… maybe you ought to run along as well.
After all, this is the cheery portion. Pick it back up at the last link, and you’ll find the more fashionable death & destruction waiting for us in tomorrow’s ‘news’.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to the voice of two centuries ago, reporting live from the grave, on today and tomorrow’s Headline News, from
: John Adams, A DEFENCE OF THE CONSTITUTIONS OF GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Volume II
CHAPTER FIRST.: ITALIAN REPUBLICS OF THE MIDDLE AGE. FLORENCE. (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 5
[Adams in standard font, the works he’s quoting from in italic]
************************************************************************ “…The factions between the nobility and the commons, which ended in the utter ruin of the former, have been already related; but peace was not obtained. All authority was in one centre, the commons; and there were other orders of citizens who were not satisfied; the same contest therefore continued under a new form and new names. They now happened between the commons and plebeians, which were only new names in reality for a new nobility and commons; the commons now took the place of the nobility, and the plebeians that of the commons. Machiavel is as clear and full for a mixed government as any writer; but the noble invention of the negative of an executive upon a legislature in two branches, which is the only remedy in contests between nobles and commons, seems never to have entered his thoughts; and nothing is more entertaining than that mist which is perpetually before eyes so piercing, so capable of looking far through the hearts and deeds of men as his, for want of that thought.
“There seemed to be no seeds of future dissensions left in Florence.”
No seeds! Not one seed had been eradicated; all the seeds that ever existed remained in full vigor. The seeds were in the human heart, and were as ready to shoot in commons and plebeians as they had been in nobles.
“But the evil destiny of our city and want of good conduct occasioned a new emulation between the families of the Albizzi and the Ricci,* which produced as fatal divisions as those between the Edition: current; Page:  Buondelmonti and Uberti, and the other between the Cerchi and Donati had done before.”
It was no evil destiny peculiar to Florence; it is common to every city, nation, village, and club. The evil destiny is in human nature. And if the plebeians had prevailed over the commons as these had done over the nobility, some two plebeian families would have appeared upon the stage with all the emulation of the Albizzi and Ricci, to occasion divisions and dissensions, seditions and rebellions, confiscations and banishments, assassinations, conflagrations, and massacres, and all other such good things as appear forever to recommend a simple government in every form.1 When it is found in experience, and appears probable in theory, that so simple an invention as a separate executive, with power to defend itself, is a full remedy against the fatal effects of dissensions between nobles and commons, why should we still finally hope that simple governments, or mixtures of two ingredients only, will produce effects which they never did and we know never can? Why should the people be still deceived with insinuations that those evils arose from the destiny of a particular city, when we know that destiny is common to all mankind?
Let me interrupt Mr. Adams here with an even more relevant quote from Mr. Adams about us today, rather than us then,
“…But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays  in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
“Betwixt the two families of Albizzi and Ricci there was a mortal hatred, each conspiring the destruction of the other in order to engross the sole management of the commonwealth with less difficulty.* However, they had not as yet taken up Edition: current; Page:  arms or proceeded to open violence on either side, but only thwarted each other in council and the execution of their offices.”
A private quarrel happened in the market, and a rumor was instantly spread, nobody knew by whom, that the Ricci were going to attack the Albizzi; and by others it was said that the Albizzi were preparing to fall upon the Ricci. These stories were carried to both parties, and occasioned such an uproar throughout the whole city that the magistrates found it very difficult to keep the two families and their friends from coming to a battle in earnest, though neither side had intended any such thing as was maliciously reported. This disturbance, though accidental, inflamed the former animosities, and determined both sides to strengthen their parties and be upon their guard; and since the citizens were reduced to such a degree of equality by the suppression of the nobility that the magistrates were held in greater reverence than ever they had been before, each family resolved to avail itself rather of public and ordinary means than of private violence.”
The intrigues of these two families to supplant each other are very curious; but as the detail of them is long, we shall leave the reader to amuse himself with them at his leisure, and come to a speech made to the signori by an eminent citizen, when affairs were become so critical and dangerous as to alarm all impartial men. “The common disease,” says he,
“magnificent signors, of the other cities in Italy has invaded ours, and is continually eating deeper and deeper into its vitals. All our towns for want of due restraint have run into extremes, and from liberty degenerated into downright licentiousness, making such laws and instituting such governments as were rather calculated to foment and support factions than maintain freedom. From this source are derived all the defects and disorders we labor under; no friendship or union is to be found among the citizens except betwixt such as are accomplices in some wicked design either against their neighbors or their country. All religion and fear of God are utterly extinguished; promises and oaths are no further binding than they serve to promote some private advantage, and they are resorted to not with any design to observe them, but as necessary means to facilitate the perpetration of fraud, which is even honored and applauded in proportion to its Edition: current; Page:  success. From hence it comes to pass that the most wicked and abandoned wretches are admired as able, enterprising men; while the innocent and conscientious are laughed at and despised as fools.
“The young men are indolent and effeminate; the old, lascivious and contemptible; without regard to age or sex every place is full of the most licentious brutality, for which the laws themselves, though good and wholesome, are yet so partially executed that they do not afford any remedy. This is the real cause of that selfish spirit which now so generally prevails, and of that ambition, not for true glory, but for places, which dishonors the possessors; hence proceed those fatal animosities, those seeds of envy, revenge, and faction, with their usual attendants, executions, banishments, depression of good men, and exaltation of the wicked.
“ The ringleaders of parties varnish over their pernicious designs with some sacred title; for, being in reality enemies to all liberty, they more effectually destroy it by pretending to defend the rights, sometimes of the nobility, sometimes of the commons; since the fruit which they expect from a victory is not the glory of having delivered their country, but the satisfaction of having conquered the opposite party and secured the government of the state to themselves; and when once they have obtained that, there is no sort of cruelty, injustice, or rapine, that they are not guilty of. From thenceforward laws are enacted, not for the common good, but for private ends. War and peace are made, and alliances concluded, not for the honor of the public, but to gratify the humors of particular men. Our laws, our statutes and civil ordinances are made to indulge the caprice or serve the ambition of the conqueror, not to promote the true interest of a free people; so that one faction is no sooner extinguished than another is lighted up.
“A city that endeavors to support itself by parties instead of laws can never be at peace; for when one prevails and is left without opposition, it necessarily divides again. When the Ghibellines were depressed, every one thought the Guelphs would then have lived in peace and security; and yet it was not long before they divided into the factions of the Neri and Bianchi. When the Bianchi were reduced, new commotions arose, sometimes in favor of the exiles, sometimes betwixt the Edition: current; Page:  nobility and people; and to give that away to others, which we could not or would not possess quietly ourselves, we first committed our liberties into the hands of King Robert, then of his brother, next of his son, and last of all to the mercy of the Duke of Athens, never settling or reposing under any government, as people that could neither be satisfied with being free nor submit to live in slavery. Nay, so much was our state inclined to division, that rather than acquiesce under the government of a king, it meanly prostituted itself to the tyranny of a vile and pitiful Agobbian. The Duke of Athens was no sooner expelled but we took up arms again, and fought against each other with more rancor and inveteracy than ever, till the ancient nobility were entirely subdued, and lay at the mercy of the people. It was then the general opinion there would be no more factions or troubles in Florence, since those were humbled whose insupportable pride and ambition had been the chief occasion of them; but we now see that pride and ambition, which was thought to be utterly extinguished by the fall of the nobility, now springs up again among the people, who begin to be equally impatient for authority, and aspire with the same vehemence to the first offices in the commonwealth.
“It seems the will of Heaven that certain families should spring up in all commonwealths to be the pest and ruin of them. Our city owes its miseries and distractions not merely to one or two, but to several of those families; first to the Buondelmonti and Uberti, next to the Donati and Cerchi, and now, to our shame be it spoken, to the Ricci and Albizzi. Why may not this commonwealth, in spite of former examples to the contrary, not only be united, but reformed and improved by new laws and constitutions? You must not impute the factions of our ancestors to the nature of the men, but to the iniquity of the times, which being now altered, afford this city fair hopes of better fortune; and our disorders may be corrected by the institution of wholesome laws, by a prudent restraint of ambition, by prohibiting such customs as tend to nourish and propagate faction, and by substituting others, that may conduce to maintain liberty and good civil government.”
This speech, although upon the whole it is excellent, has several essential mistakes. That certain families will spring up in every simple government, and in every injudicious mixture of Edition: current; Page:  aristocracy and democracy, to be the pest and ruin of them, is most certain. It is the will of Heaven that the happiness of nations, as well as that of individuals, should depend upon the use of their reason; they must therefore provide for themselves constitutions which will restrain the ambition of families. Without the restraint, the ambition cannot be prevented; nature has planted it in every human heart. The factions of their ancestors ought not to have been imputed to the iniquity of the times, for all times and places are so iniquitous. Those factions grew out of the nature of men under such forms of government; and the new form ought to have been so contrived as to produce a remedy for the evil. This might have been done; for there is a way of making the laws more powerful than any particular persons or families.
“As this advice was conformable to the sentiments of the signori, they appointed fifty-six citizens* to provide for the safety of the commonwealth; but as most people are fitter to preserve good order than to restore it when lost, these citizens took more pains to extinguish the present factions than to provide against new ones, which was the reason that they succeeded in neither; for they not only did not take away the occasion of fresh ones, but made one of those that were then subsisting so much more powerful than the other, that the commonwealth was in great danger.
“They deprived three of the family of Albizzi, and as many of the Ricci, of all share in the magistracy for three years, except in such branches of it as were particularly appropriated to the Guelph party; of which number Piero de gli Albizzi and Uguccione de’Ricci were two. These provisions bore much harder upon the Ricci than the Albizzi; for, though they were equally stigmatized, yet the Ricci were the greatest sufferers. Pietro, indeed, was excluded from the palace of the signori, but he had free admittance into that of the Guelphs, where his authority was very great; and though he and his associates were forward enough in their ‘admonitions’1 before, they became much more Edition: current; Page:  forward after this mark of disgrace, and new accidents occurred, which still more inflamed their resentment.
“Gregory XI. was pope at that time; and residing, as his late predecessors had done, at Avignon, he governed Italy by legates, who, being haughty and rapacious, had grievously oppressed several of the cities. One of these legates being then at Bologna, took advantage of a scarcity, and resolved to make himself master of Tuscany. This occasioned the war with the pope.* The Florentines entered into a confederacy with Galeazzo and all the other states that were at variance with the church; after which they appointed eight citizens for the management of it, whom they invested with an absolute power of proceeding, and disbursing money without control or account. This war gave fresh courage to the Ricci, who, in opposition to the Albizzi, had upon all occasions favored Galeazzo and appeared against the church, and especially because all the eight were enemies to the Guelphs; but though they made a vigorous war against the pope, they could not defend themselves against the captains and their adherents. The envy and indignation with which the Guelphs looked upon the eight, made them grow so bold and insolent, that they often affronted and abused them, as well as the rest of the principal citizens. The captains were no less arrogant; they were even more dreaded than the signori, and men went with greater awe and reverence to their houses than to the palace; so that all the ambassadors who came to Florence were instructed to address themselves to them.
“After the death of the pope, the city had no war abroad, but was in great confusion at home; for, on one hand, the Guelphs were become so audacious, that they were no longer supportable; and, on the other, there was no visible way to suppress them; it was necessary, therefore, to take up arms, and leave the event to fortune. On the side of the Guelphs were all the ancient nobility and the greater part of the more powerful citizens; on the other were all the inferior sort of people, headed by the eight, and joined by George Scali, Strozzi, the Ricci, the Alberti, and the Edition: current; Page:  Medici. The rest of the multitude, as it almost always happened, joined with the discontented party. The power of their adversaries seemed to the heads of the Guelphs to be formidable, and their danger great, if at any time a signory that was not on their side should attempt to depress them. They found the number of persons who had been ‘admonished’ was so great, that they had disobliged most of the citizens, and made them their enemies. They thought there was no other remedy, now they had deprived them of their honors, but to banish them out of the city, seize upon the palace of the signori, and put the government of the state wholly into the hands of their own creatures, according to the example of the Guelphs, their predecessors, whose quiet and security were entirely owing to the total expulsion of their enemies.
“But as they differed in opinion about the time of putting their project in execution, the eight, aware of the trick intended, deferred the imborsation, and Sylvestro, the son of Alamanno de’ Medici, was appointed gonfalonier.* As he was born of one of the most considerable families of the commoners, he could not bear to see the people oppressed by a few grandees. With Alberti, Strozzi, and Scali, he secretly prepared a decree, by which the laws against the nobility1 were to be revived, the authority of the captains retrenched, and those who had been admonished admitted into the magistracy. Sylvestro being president, and consequently prince of the city for a time, caused both a college and council to be called the same morning; but his decree was thrown out as an innovation. He went away to the council, and pretended to resign his office, and leave the people to choose another person, who might either have more virtue or better fortune than himself; upon this, such of the council as were in the secret, and others who wished for a Edition: current; Page:  change, raised a tumult in 1378,* at which the signori and the colleges immediately came together; seeing their gonfalonier retiring, they obliged him, partly by their authority, and partly by their entreaties, to return to the council, which was in great confusion. Many of the principal citizens were threatened, and treated with the utmost insolence; among the rest, Carlo Strozzi was collared by an artificer, and would have been knocked on the head, if some of the bystanders had not rescued him. But the person who made the greatest disturbance was Benedetto de gli Alberti, who got into one of the windows of the palace, and called out to the people to arm; upon which, the piazza was instantly full of armed men, and the colleges were obliged to do that by fear, which they would not come into when they were petitioned.
“But whoever intends to make any alteration in a commonwealth, and to effect it by raising the multitude, will find himself deceived, if he thinks he can stop where he will, and conduct it as he pleases. The design of Sylvestro was to quiet and secure the city, but the thing took a very different turn; for the people were in such a ferment, that the shops were shut up, the houses barricaded, and many removed their goods for security into churches and convents. All the companies of the arts assembled, and each of them appointed a syndic. The signori called the colleges together, and were a whole day in consultation with the syndies, how to compose the disorders to the satisfaction of all parties; but they could not agree. The council, then, to hold out some hopes of satisfaction to the arts and the rest of the people, gave a full power, which the Florentines called a balia, to the signori, the colleges, the eight, the captains of the party, and the syndics of the arts, to reform the state. But while they were employed in this, some of the inferior companies of the arts, at the instigation of certain persons, who wanted to revenge the late injuries they had received from the Guelphs, detached themselves from the rest, and went to plundering and burning houses. They broke open the jails, set the prisoners at liberty, and plundered the monasteries and convents.
“The next morning the balìa proceeded to requalify the ammoniti, Edition: current; Page:  the admonished, though with an injunction not to exercise any function in the magistracy for three years; they repealed such laws as had been made by the Guelphs to the prejudice of the other citizens, and proclaimed rebels many who had incurred the hatred of the public; after which the names of the new signori were published, and Luigi Guicciardini was declared their gonfalonier.* If those who were admonished, the ammoniti, could have been content, the city was in a fair way of being quieted; but they thought it hard to wait three years longer, before they could enjoy any share in the magistracy. The arts assembled again to obtain satisfaction for them, and demanded of the signori, that, for the good and quiet of the city, it should be decreed, that no citizen for the future should be admonished as a Ghibelline, who had ever been one of the signori, or the college, or the captains of the companies, or the consuls or syndies of any of the arts; and further, that a new imborsation should be made of the Guelph party, and the old one burnt. It seldom happens that men who covet the property of others, and long for revenge, are satisfied with a bare restitution of their own. Accordingly some, who expected to advance their fortunes by exciting commotions,† endeavored to persuade the artificers, that they could never be safe, except many of their enemies were either banished or cut off.”
The city continued in the utmost confusion between the two new parties of commons and plebeians. But waving a particular detail, the essence of several years’ miseries may be collected from two speeches. One is of Luigi Guicciardini, a standard-bearer to the plebeians:—“The more we grant,” says he,
“the more shameless and arrogant are your demands. If we speak thus to you, we do so, not to offend, but to lead you to reform; to which end we are willing that others may say to you what will please, whilst our province remains to say that which may do you good. Tell us, on your honor, what is there, that you can reasonably ask more of us? You desired to have the Edition: current; Page:  captains of the party deprived of their authority; they have been deprived. You insisted that the old imborsation should be burnt, and a new one made; we consented. You wanted to have those reinstated in the magistracy, that had been admonished; it has been granted. At your intercession we pardoned such as had been guilty of burning houses, and robbing churches, and we banished many of our principal citizens at your instigation. To gratify you, the grandees are bridled with new laws, and every thing done that might give you content; where, then, can we expect your demands will stop; or how long will you thus abuse your liberty? Why will ye suffer your own discords to bring the city into slavery? What else can ye expect from your divisions? what, from the goods ye have already taken, or may hereafter take from your fellow-citizens, but servitude and poverty? The persons you plunder are those whose fortunes and abilities are the defence of the state, and if they fail, how must it be supported? Whatever is got that way cannot last long; and then ye have nothing to look for but remediless famine and distress.”
“These expostulations made some impression, and they promised to be good citizens and obedient; but a fresh tumult soon arose, more dangerous than the former. The greater part of the late robberies and other mischiefs, had been committed by the rabble and dregs of the people; and those of them who had been the most audacious apprehended, that when the most material differences were composed, they should be called to an account for their crimes, and deserted, as it always happens, by those very persons at whose instigation they had committed them. Besides which, the inferior sort of people had conceived a hatred against the richer citizens and principals of the arts, upon a pretence that they had not been rewarded for their past services in proportion to what they deserved.”
To show how divisions grow wherever human nature is without a check, it is worth while to be particular here.
“When the city was first divided into arts, in the time of Charles I., there was a proper head or governor appointed over each of them, to whose jurisdiction, in civil cases, every person in the several arts was to be subject. These arts or companies, as we have said, were at first but twelve, but afterwards they were increased to twenty-one, and arrived at such power and authority, that in a Edition: current; Page:  few years they wholly engrossed the government of the city; and because some were more, and others less honorable among them, they came by degrees to be distinguished, and seven of them were called the greater arts, and fourteen the less. From this division proceeded the arrogance of the captains of the party; for the citizens who had formerly been Guelphs,….”
(Sorry, me butting back in again, honestly, even I tire of its relevance… why not just turn on the news?)
************************************************************************ … The meaner sort of people, therefore, both of this company and the others, were, for the causes assigned, highly enraged; and being also terrified at the apprehension of being punished for their late outrages, they had frequent meetings in the night; where, considering what had happened, they represented to each other the danger they were in; and to animate and unite them all, one of the boldest and most experienced of them harangued his companions in this manner:— ************************************************************************
(Me again. Here, we’ll just cut to the chase, with Signori Sharpton:
************************************************************************““ ‘If it was now to be debated whether we should take arms to plunder and burn the houses of our fellow-citizens and rob the churches, I should be one of those who would think it worthy of great consideration, and perhaps be induced to prefer secure poverty to hazardous gain. But since arms have been already taken up and much mischief done, the first points to be considered are, in what manner we may retain them and ward off the penalties we have incurred. The whole city is full of  rage and complaints against us, the citizens are daily in council, and the magistrates frequently assembled. Assure yourselves they are either preparing snares for us or contriving how to raise forces to destroy us. It behoves us, therefore, to have two objects chiefly in view at these consultations,—first, how to avoid the punishment for our late actions; and, in the next place, to devise the means of living in a greater degree of liberty and with more satisfaction for the future than we have done hitherto. To come off with impunity for our past offences, it is necessary to add still more to them, to redouble our outrages, our robberies and burnings, and to do our best to associate numbers for our protection; for where many are guilty none are chastised. Small crimes are punished, great ones rewarded; and where many suffer, few seek revenge; a general calamity being always borne with more patience than a particular one. To multiply evils is the surest way to procure us a pardon for what has been already done, and to obtain the liberty we desire. Nor is there any difficulty to discourage us. The enterprise is easy, and the success not to be doubted. Those who could oppose us are opulent indeed, but divided; their disunion will give us the victory, and their riches when we have got them will maintain it. “
I’m sure you can figure it out from there. If not, simply turn on the NEWS, you surely won’t miss many details.