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Book Review by Justin Shubow

T H E P R I N C E AND T H E D A N D Y
The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men's Style, by Nicholas Antongiavanni. Collins, 240 pages, $18.95

ignorance, or perhaps dismissing the subject as effeminate, few American men are willing to give much thought to their attire. T h e result? All too often, no matter who wears the pants in a relationship, it is the woman who chooses the trousers. To help fix this deplorable situation. The Suit aims to provide the right kind of man with the knowledge and confidence to dress himself sharply. Written by Nicholas Antongiavannithe nom de plumage of a former speechwriter for George W Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Rudolph Giulianithe book is a close imitation of Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince in both structure and style. Whereas Machiavelli penned his notorious handbook in the hopes of becoming an advisor to Lorenzo ^fiil? de' Medici, Antongiavanni writes to offer his sartorial expertise to '^^^^ John Elkann, heir apparent to the Fiat dynasty and grandson of the Italian merchant prince Gianni Agnelli. Elkann has quite a legacy to uphold, since Agnelli was a famous coxcomb known for wearing his watch over his shirt cuff and pairing suits with (casual) buttondown collar shirtswith the collar points unbuttoned, no less. Just as Machiavelli boldly set forth the qualities a prince needed to obtain and maintain power, Antongiavanni recommends "dandification" as the virtu required at the highest reaches of business and politics, where it is survival of the best fitted. To those who would rule in these competitive worlds, Antongiavanni s first and foremost counsel is to don a suit and tie, the timeless combination that reached its apogee in the 1930s. A triumph of design that harmoniously balances modesty and sexuality, conforrtiity and individuality, simplicity in the whole with ornament in the details, the business suit is the perfect uniform for those who see their work as civilized combat. Indeed, long before anyone spoke of the "power suit," bankers and lawyers on the streets of London could be seen going about like knights ready for battle, outfitted with armor (three-piece suit), helmet (bowler hat), sword (umbrella, never unfurled), and shield (copy of the Times), W i t h this in mind, one should notice that the chief effect

EWILDERED AND INTIMIDATED OUT OF

of business casual has been to strip men of the most aggressively masculine item in the Western wardrobe: the necktie. Antongiavanni's thorough advice, which includes specific recommendations for various body types, is largely spot on as a guide to looking like a captain, and not an ensign, of industryat least for the pre-dot-com era. Ever the realist, his discerning judgments rise above partisan politics: George H . W Bush was "ruined" by having dressed too preppily patrician in the White House, whereas Willie Brown, the former Democratic mayor of San Francisco, won "glory" with his double-breasted panache.

politely but firmly steers customers away from any gaucheries.

The Suit pays considerable attention to bespoke tailoring, which it esteems far above the less expensive options of made-to-measure (which merely alters pre-existing patterns) and ready-to-wear. N o t only does a pilgrimage to Savile Row or its Neapolitan counterpart permit the greatest personalization and hence the best possible fit, it affords the pleasures of patronizing highly skilled Old World artisans, complete with their antiquated diction ("linen" for shirt cuff, "scye" for armhole) and formality ("Sir, would you kindly step through?"). It is curious that although custom tailoring would appear to permit the greatest individuality and risk-takingto the point of outlandishnessit has in fact been a bulwark of sartorial conservatism. Though this can be attributed partly to self-selection by the clientele, one must not forget the salutary role of the dutiful tailor, who

horse himself, the sort of man who can get a contact high from caressing a yard of vicuna, helps to explain the most distinctive and daring aspect of his book: holding up the dandy as its ideal. In fact, it was originally titled The Dandy, but the publisher thought better of it. N o t only has that word been tainted in America ever since the first taunt of "Yankee Doodle," but in the minds of most people the dandy is an aristocratic figure, an idle, frivolous aesthete who lords his exquisite taste over others. Ostentation might be acceptable for singular figures in solitary pursuitsthink, fijr instance, of writers, such as Max Beerbohm and Tom Wolfe, who have been dandies in person and in print ("prosehorses" one might call them). But as Benjamin Franklin could have advised, men of enterprise need to project an image of thrift, industry, and self-restraint. T h e author is aware, of course, that many of the great historical dandies. Beau Brummell included, ended up disgraced, dissolute, and exiled due to unpaid debts. Sobriety was never their strong suit. In the face of all of this, Antongiavanni does his best to rehabilitate both the word and the ideal: "[T]he dandy is the enemy of the splendiferous and effeminate. He...favors simple clothes, pristine in cut, immaculate in fit,... ,never ostentatious, always manly...." While the conceit of this book is a clever one, it perhaps goes too far in treating its original not just as a source of inspiration but as a pattern book. Hewing closely to Harvey C. Mansfield's translation of Tfce Prince, The Suit imitates many of Machiavelli's puzzling stylistic idiosyncrasies, including his brazen grammatical transgressions. Antongiavanni is to be commended for defending classic men's wear against the whims of fashion and the ravages of business casual, but his book in praise of elegance might have achieved even greater refinement had its prose been bespoke rather than made-to-measure. Justin Shubow is a student at Yale Law School.

HAT ANTONGIAVANNI IS A CLOTHES-

Claremont Review of Books Fall 2006

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Book Review by Benjamin Balint

SPINNING SPINOZA
Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity, by Rebecca Goldstein. Schocken, 304 pages, $19.95

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Design of Spinoza's signet ring (enlarged). His initials, BDS (Benedict de Spinoza), appear abdve a rose and the latin word caute (caution). In Portuguese, espinhosa means "from a thorny place," an illusion to the rose, which is also a heraldic symbol of discretion.

Jewish community took the extraordinary step of excommunicating a young man, then 23 years old, whose parents were refii' gees driven from Portugal by the Inquisition. H e stood accused of "abominable heresies" and "monstrous deeds." Accordingly, it was decreed that he be "banned, cut off, cursed, and anath' ematized." Baruch Spinoza neither protested the edict nor tried to reverse it. Unbowed, he abjured both the God of Israel and the people of Israel, and replaced his old religion with an audacious faith in the supreme power of human reason. In the two decades remaining to him, Spinoza lifted himself as Goethe said, "to the summits of thought." Somehow, this ex-Orthodox Jew in Calvinist Hollandschooled in Hebrew (he composed a Hebrew grammar), speaking Portuguese, and writing in Latinfashioned himself into one of the most radical philosophers who ever lived. Three hundred and fifty years later, Rebecca Goldstein, a novelist and visiting professor of philosophy at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, tries in her new book. Betraying Spinoza, to bring the heretic back into the fold. She is not the first to make the attempt. The Israeli statesman David Ben-Gurion, for instance, proposed

N THE SUMMER OF 1656, THE AMSTERDAM

that the 300th anniversary of the ban serve as the occasion for an official revocation. But the latest shot at reclaiming Spinoza as a Jewish thinker reveals less about Spinoza than about the fascinating ways he has been imagined.

believe in Spinoza's God.") H e also famously posits a God who is identical with the totality of nature. This God-or-Nature, this infinite substance outside of which nothing exists, is eternal, necessary, self-caused, self-sufficient, perfect, and perfectly indifferent to us. Yet Spinoza's particular genius consists in PINOZA'S RADICALISM BEGINS I N H I S critique of religion. In the anonymously bringing not only God, but also man, under published Theological-Political Treatise, hethe universal rule of nature. H e does this in insists on the distinction between philosophy, his masterpiece, the posthumously published which aims at truth, and theology, which aims, Ethics. A strange thicket of definitions, axioms, he says, at obedience. H e revolts against revela- postulates, demonstrations, corollaries, and tion as a source of truth, and rejects fundamen- scholia, the Ethics deploys what Spinoza called tal doctrines like divine providence, free will, a "geometrical order" (inspired by Euclid and reward and punishment, election, the possibil- Descartes) to treat human desires and emoity of miracles, and the immortality of the soul. tions "in exactly the same manner as though I Although Hobbes, in his Leviathan, had already were concerned with lines, planes, and solids." taken a swipe at the Mosaic authorship of the Considered in this impersonal light, man's "Five Books of Moses," Spinoza more or less fa- highest good, accessible only to an elite few, is thers biblical criticism by rejecting the Bible's shown to be the knowledge of God, which itself divine authorship. Though he stops well short yields to an exalted, unrequited loveamor dei of endorsing a religion-free polity, and though intellectualis. he cautions against expressing such an opinion Finally, if Spinoza's radicalism naturalizes to the masses, Spinoza deems adherents to or- God and man, it also secularizes politics. T h e ganized religion slavish and superstitious. H e Treatise is the first and perhaps the most eloarticulates a radical determinism that banishes quent defense of toleration and liberal democpurpose and contingency and chance, and al- racyand the freedom of thought and speech it lows into the world no arbitrary or spontaneous securesin the history of political philosophy. events. (It is in this sense that Einstein said, "I In a sense, Spinoza founded liberal democracy.

Claremont Review of Books Fall 2006

Page 67

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