Archive for September, 2009

Love Me or Fear Me?

Machiavelli has stated multiple times throughout “The Prince” that if given a choice, a leader should prefer to be feared over loved. This method of thinking makes perfect sense, if the nation at hand is one governed by a leader who takes power by force rather than by election. While reading an article online about President Obama’s and how much he was adored in many urban communities, I thought to myself “being loved worked out for him, because he was elected”. I continued to question whether or not Americans would elect someone that they fear over someone that they love. I think in America, you need to be loved in order to gain power. Then I thought of the benefits of being feared. Could being feared be an advantage on an international stage? When it came to that point, I thought of Iranian leader Mahmoud  Ahmadinejad. Many people believe that The United States has yet to try to disarm this unstable political leader because they fear him, they fear the fact that Ahmadinejad has nuclear weapons, and is within striking distance of Israel, which is one of the United States’ greatest allies? In this sense, is it seems that it has been beneficial to Ahmadinejad to be feared, is that always the case? I just wanted to hear everyone else’s thoughts about this.

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            Abiding by most rules, regulations, and restrictions is often times easier said than done. Upholding the most righteous and high-minded of principles sounds good in theory but often times proves difficult in practice. Throughout its history, the United States has been an unfortunate paradigm of this truth, consistently disappointing that which we stand for as we bend our own rules, stomp on our own ideals and act hypocritically while our every move is both guided and excused by our unofficially adopted rationalization, “might makes right”. At our very core, from our past of oppression and our philosophy rooted in the enlightenment, we have declared ourselves the world’s great experiment; the great democracy guaranteeing each equal being freedom and liberty – natural rights, intrinsically awarded to each and every man, woman, and child of every race and creed. Yet it seems obvious many centuries later that our promises were either unrealistic or undeserving of the effort needed to uphold them. We have effectively neglected our responsibility to follow through with so much of what we profess to stand for.

            Our nation has become the real-world embodiment of the politician exercising power in Michael Walzer’s, “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands”, originally alluded to on page 164 and discussed between pages 166-167. Like the politician who “believes that torture is wrong, indeed abominable, not just sometimes, but always” and “had expressed this belief often and angrily” (167), America was never supposed to be a “torture” nation. Additionally, like the politician, who fancies himself a good man, yet authorizes the use of torture, in recent months, it seems clear that America’s stance against such measures was little more than another one of our empty promises, since broken and subsequently justified. And as Walzer, quoting Austin, points out, “a justification is typically a denial of fault and an assertion of innocence” (170).

            The United States is signed to multiple multilateral peace conventions and wartime treaties in which the use of torture to any extent is unabashedly, explicitly, and unequivocally denounced and outlawed (for example, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions). Yet in the last year it surfaced that what first emerged as a seemingly singular, contained scandal executed by rogue officials (Abu Ghraib) was, in reality, something of a systematic, institutionalized policy ordered from the very top. And the infractions that we are now known to have perpetrated make embarrassing photographs sound about as frivolous as a bad hair day at a Thursday night mixer.

            Walzer’s politician, who is implied to have campaigned on an anti-torture platform, is no different than the United States, a nation that has, for many years now, arrogantly asserted its moral superiority. It is on the strength of such campaign promises that Walzer’s politician was elected to govern, just as the United States authorizes itself to police the world and bend its own rules on the strength of the professed ethical high ground behind which it hides. 

            There are those in our country who wish to continue to hide. Essentially, their defense is two-fold. They can either argue for the necessity or the effectiveness of these tactics, or they can intentionally allow the dialogue to devolve into a battle of semantics in which they instead characterize the methods being used as “enhanced interrogation”.  The former of these arguments is an essentially irrelevant claim which holds no water in any reasonable consideration of the situation unless accompanied by a movement to change both national and international law. The latter, however, serves as a more complicated rebuttal. It seems self-evident that the techniques employed fit the definition of torture. Unfortunately, common sense seems insufficient in the battle to convince ideological zealots.  

            As Walzer summarizes, his politician “committed a moral crime and he accepted a moral burden” (167); his hands are dirty. The United States must, too, hold itself accountable for its crimes. We must acknowledge that our hands are dirty if we are to wash them. The only alternative is to go on pretending that they are clean, but we’re not fooling anybody. Until we accept responsibility and punish those responsible, it is likely that nobody will shake our hands.

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On Tuesday Iranian students at Sharif University held an antigovernment protest. The cause for the protest was the controversy with the current president of Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There are beliefs that he unjustly swayed the election in his favor. The Minister of Science and Higher education, Kamran Daneshjoo, was supposed to pay a visit to the University on Tuesday morning, but due to the protests, the visit was cancelled (for more information please click this link: nytimes article)

The acts of the students and the steps they have taken closely resemble the steps Dr. Martin Luther King outlines in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. The first resemblance would be the simple fact that, as to this point, the protests held by the students have been non-violent. The four steps addressed by Dr. King are the, “…collection of facts to determine whether injustice exist; negotiation; selfpurification; and direct action” (page 2, 2).  In the article it is implied that the government has done some unjust, and what seems to me as Machiavellian, things. Soon after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the election hundreds of former government officials and activist were thrown in jail. Although not for the most thorough of reasons, the Students have collected enough facts and witnessed enough unfairness to say that injustice exists. The students achieved self-purification by openly accepting their punishments of jail time and being banned from attending class. They took the direct action of nonviolent, persistent protests; something Dr. Martin Luther King was an activist for, as long as injustice was proven.

I would also like to take the time to point out the Machiavellian actions the Iranian government has taken. The article states, “Dozens of student activists were jailed or barred from attending classes this month, according to student Web sites, in an effort to intimidate students” (1). In chapter eight of “The Prince” Machiavelli explains the need a ruler has for cruelty (3). In my discussion session we talked about why Machiavelli believes a ruler must use cruelty from time to time. A majority of the class agreed it was a way of establishing and maintaining power. If you kill someone who committed a crime such as theft, then that is an example to all others what will happen to them if they commit the same crime. Cruelty is a way to ensure that as a ruler you have the upper hand and keep your legitimacy as the authority. The Iranian government seems to be following this same idea; if they put some of the student protesters in jail it will send a message to the others what they will face if they continue their actions. The second Machiavellian action taken by the government is that once the new President came to power he made sure to get rid of those who were in power previously, “More than a hundred activists and former government officials were arrested after the election” (1). In chapter seven of “The Prince” Machiavelli lists the things a ruler should do when they come to power, among other things he lists “…destroy one’s enemies…” (page 21, 3). According to Machiavelli, by imprisoning the former officials President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad secured his power as the new leader and showed his people the control he has.

Works Cited

  1. Fathi, Nazila. “The New York Times Log In.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 29 Sept. 2009. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.         <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/30/world/middleeast/30iran.html?hpw&gt;.
  2. King, Martin L. “Letter from a Birimingham Jail.” Letter to Fellow Clergymen. 16 Apr. 1963. Historicaltextarchive.com. Historical Text Archive, 2001. Web. 27 Sept. 2009. <http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?op=viewarticle&artid=40&gt;.
  3. Machiavelli. “The Prince.” Ed. David Wootton. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub Co Inc, 2008. 9+. Print.

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We have been discussing in class whether majority opinion or truth should prevail in the laws of society. While Socrates argued for truth, the Athenians as a whole believed in majority opinion. It is easy to say that we want society to function through truth. But how do we determine what is truth?  Isn’t the purpose of the majority opinion to determine our nation’s belief in truth? If the majority of society makes a conclusion, whether in a sentencing or drafting of a law, doesn’t that become truth? Or quite possibly the best method is to combine truth with majority opinion. While the actual truth is important, we need the majority to determine what the truth is. The question remains as to how we get the majority opinion from society.  Are we to ask every single person within a state or nation what they believe the truth is? Our government (along with Athens) uses representatives of the nation to represent the state as a whole, and takes the opinions of these representatives to determine the truth. Through a government of representatives of the people, we are able to discover whatever truth we are looking for, yet still there always remain criticisms.

Is it inevitable for there to be outliers who criticism the government’s decisions? Further, will there always be people who believe in a different version of the truth? I conclude that it is impossible to exist in a society where everyone, regardless of age, family, or environment, is raised to believe in the same ideals. Regardless of how thoroughly we try to represent our nation, there will always be a voice unheard, because we all have different voices. We can see this from the different parties in the American government.  From the creation of our Constitution we have almost always had two political parties, and while they have been categorized by different names, it is generally always a group of people who lean left or lean right (and people somewhere in the middle of this spectrum). We can exist in a society where there are two distinctively different ideals because both ideals want to achieve the same goal, they want to serve the best interest of the nation.

An article about Obama’s “first big leak” is what prompted these ideas. The Obama administration had apparently received information that stated we may lose the war in Afghanistan if we do not send more troops abroad. This caused me to reflect on people who have been protesting the war overseas for years. The Americans were promised by the Obama administration during elections that we would pull out of the war and start bringing troops home, I find it ironic that the Obama administration is now contemplating sending more troops abroad.  I am not criticizing this; I believe it is hard to criticize the decisions of the current government because as this shows, there couldn’t be leaks if there weren’t things we weren’t being told.  We obviously do not know all of the information, or all of the truth, so how can the majority really decide what is best?

I am not saying that the Obama administration is right or wrong. I am pointing out that in our nation we elect officials to represent our best interests. We determine who to elect based off of their campaigns and their previous decisions in office. But the problem is that the government withholds information from the nation. How can we decide if we think they have made the correct decision if we did not know the information they knew when determining their votes. We can never really judge if the representatives have acted on what the majority opinion would find as the truth until after the decisions are made and all of the information is released, often years later. Many things may have happened in these years which can change what our opinions would be now versus then. I find it intriguing that our nation elects a group of officials to represent majority opinion (congress) to try to determine what is truth, but at the time a specific person is actually in office, we do not TRULY know if they’re decisions are what the actual majority would believe is the true, just decision. We do not know because we were never put in the situation, with all of the information, and the stress of making a decision on the spot. We have to put all of our trust that somebody is an adequate representative, but have no way of knowing for certain.


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Anyone Else Frustrated?

Anybody else really frustrated with this reading?  Not at all because it is hard, but because it is poorly argued.  Machiavelli picks and chooses which arguments he wants to support, and no addressing some important claims that seem to need some backing.  He also speaks in an enormous amount of generalizations and superlatives.  He is constantly using terms like “always”, and “never”.  These types of arguments lead him into self-contradiction.  Anyone have any thoughts on this or noticed the same thing?

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Niccolò Machiavelli, in The Prince, describes important qualities and attributes a “ruler” must have in order to govern a successful nation. The main quality I want to focus on is “Is it better to be loved or hated as a ruler”. Machiavelli states that an efficient ruler must possess both qualities. However, as he goes on in Chapter 12 he comes to the conclusion that being hated is better than being loved. I feel that a country of people who are truly in love with their ruler will have greater prosperity in the future. If the ruler has found a way to gain the love of his subordinates, there is a sense that they who do anything to protect him and the country even if it means giving up their life. I think the bond of true love wouldn’t be broken in times of despair and hardship, I think it is actually made stronger in those times.

For example lets look at the horrific disaster that took place on 9/11. When a terrorist regime hi-jacked United States airplanes and crash them into the World Trade Center, and a few other places. Thousands of people died that morning and families we shook at their roots. However, the United States didn’t tremble, the love and passion that our country holds helped us ultimately win the fight against terrorism. Even though, the Bush adminstration was and still is under question about their motives and intentions in getting involved in the Middle East, the country stayed strong and fought the battle together. Another key is that Bush’s approval rating was at its highest peak during the weeks following 9/11, this indicates that the citizens of the U.S. fully trusted the actions that the government was taking. The trust didn’t come because of fear, it came from the affection which is the underlying theme of our country.

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As I read The Prince, I can’t help but compare the views of Machiavelli with events in United States history. In chapters 12 and 13, Machiavelli discusses mercenaries and auxiliary troops in warfare, greatly discouraging their use. Looking at the American Revolution, the British army relied heavily on multiple different types of mercenaries in fighting the American colonists. German mercenaries (Hessians), Native Americans, and even American loyalists were all used and could all fall into this category.  While we cannot say that this alone led to their demise, it’s safe to say that the multiple language and cultural barriers presented many difficulties for the British.

Though Machiavelli’s thoughts of mercenaries seem consistent in the war, his view of auxiliary soldiers does not. In the early stages of the Revolutionary War effort, the British soldiers were badly beating the American colonists. Without aid from foreign powers (auxiliary troops), there was little chance the continental army would win the war. The Battle of Saratoga proved to be the turning point of the war. After our victory, the French agreed to join the fight against the British creating momentum for the rest of the war. Without their help, America would have lost the war, so clearly auxiliaries proved beneficial is this situation.

Another point I find worth noting was Machiavelli’s advice to explore the land and to learn and utilize its secrets. This “home field advantage” is what kept the colonists in the war despite lack of training and discipline until receiving French assistance.

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