Jame MacGregor Burns

by danielvogt2014

James MacGregor Burns, a political scientist and historian, died last Tuesday, July 15, 2014, at the age of ninety five.  He was the author of numerous books, but the one I remember is the two volume biography of FDR:  Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (1956) and Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom (1970).  He won a Pulitzer Prize for the latter work.  He admired Roosevelt but was also critical of him.  (At the time of his death, his two dogs were named Roosevelt and Jefferson.)

His nuanced view of FDR is made clear by the subtitle of the first volume and the fact that excerpts from The Prince by Machiavelli (1469-1527) are quoted at the beginning of both books.  In the Lion and the Fox, Burns quotes the following from chapter XVIII of The Prince, “In What Way Princes Must Keep Faith”.

“A prince … must imitate the fox and lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves.  One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.   Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this.  Therefore, a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist.  If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them.”

I suppose that if we committed that passage to memory, news stories and world and national events would neither surprise nor shock us, although we might be more prone to being depressed.