Harvey Mansfield
Political Theorist; Author; Professor, Harvard

What are history's most interesting mistakes?

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The same thinking that led to the Nazi and Communist revolutions also led to the American Revolution.

Harvey Mansfield

Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a defensible liberalism and in favor of a Constitutional American political science. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power, and has translated three books of Machiavelli’s and (with the aid of his wife) Tocqueville's Democracy in America. His book on manliness has just been published. He was Chairman of the Government Department from 1973-1977, has held Guggenheim and NEH Fellowships, and has been a Fellow at the National Humanities Center. He won the Joseph R. Levenson award for his teaching at Harvard, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award from the National Association of Scholars, and in 2004 accepted a National Humanities Medal from the President.  He has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949, and has been on the faculty since 1962.


Question: What are history's most interesting mistakes?

Harvey Mansfield: Well one is that the best regime can be made actual. This has led to world revolutions in the 20th century both on the right and on the left – the Nazis and the Communists. It also led to the American Revolution. Perhaps even a good thing but a very moderate revolution that substituted the rule of enlightened Americans for the rule of moderate British imperialists. So that was not as … as nasty and bloody a revolution as the others. We live in our time and in our country, so it makes no sense to condemn everything that we do or the main things I would do as historically mistaken. We need to have a sense of confidence that what we are about is worth it and … and … and so I don’t think we should be overcome by mistakes. Which I think as a country are fewer than you might find in say France or Britain or Germany, also very intelligent peoples.

Recorded on: 6/13/07