House of Cards and a Machiavelli renaissance?

Unless you have been in a media blackout, you’ve no doubt seen the adverts for Netflix-produced House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey. I’m holding off on seeing it until I’ve subjected Andy to watching all of the original BBC series from the early 1990s. I shall, of course, watch it as a junkie of politics and television, and in part because I have been in love with Kevin Spacey since Glengarry Glen Ross. I also have high hopes that the series might help people actually understand what a “whip” is and does. Do you understand how sad it makes me to hold out hope that Americans will learn about their government from a remake of an English series?

Anyway, it does promise to be good. The original, with the incomparable Ian Richardson, is really wonderful, as is the novel upon which the original is based. Has anybody dipped into the US version yet?

The tagline for the US series is “Bad, for a greater good.” Perhaps the US version attempts to make the main character somewhat more sympathetic.The reviews keep referring to Spacey’s Underwood (Urquhart in the Beeb’s original) as “Machiavellian”, which get us to the point of today’s ramblings about Machiavelli and his largely misunderstood attempts at political philosophy.

My favorite book on Machiavelli is from the late Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield, called Machiavelli’s Virtue. I say my “favorite” in that I still don’t understand large portions of Mansfield’s thought here, nor Machiavelli’s. Mansfield’s is not an easy book, but Machiavelli is not an easy subject–certainly not along the lines of what people get from their “intro to political science” courses. Machiavelli wrote a good deal more than the Prince. Jeremy Wadron’s excellent review of Mansfield’s book in the London Review of Books (unfortunate paywall) gives us a great deal of food for thought, in particular highlighting how Mansfield’s read of Machiavelli as a modern political liberal.