Friday, May 3, 2013

Mac without Cheese

My absolute favorite quote by any political theorist has to be this one from Machiavelli:
"It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them."  The Prince from here*
* Because I am too lazy to go to school and get my Machiavelli and re-type the passage.

Exactly 600 years ago, Machiavelli diagnosed the essential dilemma of politics.  If you want to change anything, the fans of change will generally be uncertain and unenthusiastic and opposed strongly by those who benefit from the status quo.  This explains so much of today's politics and provides much of the stickiness of path dependence.  It is why I found punctuated equilibria to be an interesting idea (thanks to Stephen Krasner). 

This is why, although I claim to be Liberal, in the sense that history can be progressive rather than just a cycle, I still tend to be surprised when there is change, when progress does occur.  Sure, I can get cocky and claim that some event or politician is now on the right side of history, but that old Machiavelli quote is always bouncing around my head.  Change is really, really, really hard.  Yet it happens.  Which is why politics can be so very interesting albeit frustrating.

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