Archive for the ‘Machiavelli’ Category

The Fox show 24 is getting ready to air its 8th season this January. If you’ve never seen the show it focuses around the main character Jack Bauer who works for the United States Government to help stop a looming terrorist attack. Each season the terrorists are different, the attacks are different and the situations are different but in each season Jack Bauer has to make a decision of if he wants his hand to be dirty or clean.

Countless times in the show it seems, Bauer decides whether he will torture somebody who he believes will be able to give him information that will help to stop the terrorist attack or not. He almost always decides to torture the suspect and in the process gets his hands dirty. Bauer is seen as in the Protestant Model of dirty hands to be a tragic hero. He suffers and has to deal with all of the skeletons in his closet of all the people he hurt or killed. This situation is almost the same thing as Walzer describes in his essay Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands. In his piece Walzer describes a politician having to decide whether or not he will torture a captured enemy leader who knows the locations of bombs set to explode around the city.

The moral dilemma is faced in both circumstances. The person can either choose to go with what he knows to be right and not torture, or torture them for the good of the general public. In season 8 of 24 the President, Allison Taylor, had to make several decisions involving this problem. She was seen as a good person when she was running for President but was forced to compromise her morals. Terrorists threatened that they would use a “CIP” device, that can circumvent even the most powerful firewalls and security to control computers, unless the President withdrew American troops from the fictional African country of Songala. They demonstrated this power by taking control of air traffic control and intentionally crashing two planes. The troops had been put there to help fight a brutal dictator and help the severely impoverished people of Songala. This situation is similar to the first situation proposed by Walzer in The Problem of Dirty Hands. In this situation a leader has to decide whether they will make a deal with a corrupt deal in order to win an election.

Walzer makes the point that in order to be an effective leader you have to get you hands dirty. The voters want and expect that you will do what it takes to be a leader even if it means compromising your values, but they also don’t want someone who is a bad person. So Walzer says the compromise between the two is that if you feel remorse for getting your hands dirty then what you did was ok. This seems to be the opinion of President Taylor’s decisions. Many of her advisers tell her that what she did was necessary and she was still a good person because of it. Niccolo Machiavelli in his book The Prince says that it is necessary for the prince (the ruler) to be bad. He needs to be able to go against his conscious and make the hard choice.

The opposite to these arguments state that there is always another way out, and that being a good person is more important than anything else. This view is almost never represented in 24, it is always black and white that the only choices are to torture somebody or to watch thousands of people get killed. Walzer explores this but at the end comes to the conclusion that the dirty hands problem will always persist. I think that there will always be another solution and that the dirty hands problem is not inevitable in politics.

The Prince in Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed., edited by David Wootton (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008).

Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands. Walzer, Michael. 1973.

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The President of the United States, Barak Obama, recently proposed another program in his attempt to stimulate our economy. This program alone, would reimburse homeowners for energy-efficient appliances and insulation, meaning things they have to use that require energy. It was said that one homeowner alone could receive up to twelve thousand dollars in rebates. This of course also includes money for small businesses, renewable energy manufacturing, and infrastructure. The plan would allow private contractors to conduct homeowners to be reimburse for purchasing things as simple as air conditioners, heating systems, washing machines, and refrigerators; director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Steve Nadel, stated windows and installation would also be covered, including the price of the equipment as well as the installation cost. So a household that spent up to twenty-four thousand dollars on upgrades could receive up to half of that money back. The cost for this program is in the range of ten billion dollars. As of  right now, there is no income restriction, they don’t know who would be eligible, however, it is expected that people in the higher social class might not be eligible, as many weren’t in the first attempt to stimulate the economy.

Machiavelli is not afraid to tell someone that they are wrong, he is a harsh individual; it wouldn’t be a surprise if he bluntly told the President, “no, let these people live the way they are, should you would help them when they’ve put themselves in this position?” With Machiavelli being this strong believer in Virtu, he would more than likely oppose this proposition. Machiavelli would expect these people to handle any problems on their own and if they weren’t able to, it was because they didn’t have the ability to, they didn’t acquire the necessary strength and skill to do so; consequences exist in his eyes, and should be inevitable; they aren’t seeing consequences if they are constantly being helped. He would not applaud President Obama on his virtuous behavior, instead he would frown upon it; his theory of Fortuna would force him to believe that these people are suppose to be where they are; if they were not at the level the president wanted them to be at, so be it, he can not help them, this is destiny, and therefore it is out of his control. Those people who probably won’t be eligible, who are not in need of this assistance, only are not in need of it because they’ve worked their way there, furthermore they deserve to be there; he should be doing is awarding them. Machiavelli has a “Destroy the losers” sense of attitude, as discussed in section. If these people are destroying or hurting the economy because of their lack of stableness, you rid the economy of them, in an attempt to “establish a new”, instead of stimulating the economy, you should create a new economy. He would encourage Obama to be more decisive, to just decide one thing instead of trying to fix things.

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Most will sway from discussing the legitimacy of the Holocaust. I believe the Holocaust occurred. I think it was an unjustified atrocity that paralyzed the relationship of the Jewish Religion with the rest of the world. After reading the Prince, I became interested in evaluating how Machiavelli might assess Adolf Hitler’s actions. While I understand Machiavelli specifically addresses principalities, many of the arguments he poses apply to any head of state. I will only address such issues. I hope to prove that Machiavelli would endorse Hitler’s actions given the time.

Machiavelli argued that both fear and love are desirable for a leader. It is difficult to unite constituents with love, and fear better conserves leadership. Machiavelli argues, “…Fear restrains men because they are afraid of punishment, and this fear never leaves them,” opposed to love, which, “…attaches men by ties of obligation…which they break whenever their interests are at stake” (Wootton 36). When I first learned of the Holocaust, Hitler became an icon for evil. Hitler is indeed in contention for the world’s most dreaded man.

Machiavelli would give Hitler an A+ for those actions at that time to draw attentiveness towards his willingness to produce horror. Machiavelli explains how a leader, “should make himself feared” (Wootton 36). Fear will produce followers because people typically fear those that may harm them. It is astounding the amount of supporters Hitler gained to conduct such outrageous deeds. Adolf Hitler did an astonishing job at instilling fear in both his enemies and allies.

In chapter 19, Machiavelli explains how it is better for a leader to declare commitment on the side of one force, and against the other. Because one group will endorse that leader, while the other fears him. The latter is entirely more preferable than being neutral, because neutrality does not guarantee committed support. Hitler orchestrated a Nazi campaign, and completely abolished its enemy. By doing such, he gained overwhelming support from the Nazi regime, and was an effective leader because he had a committed army. However, Machiavelli would reconsider his assessment after seeing Hitler’s implications.

Once seeing what Hitler did, Machiavelli would give him an F. Firstly because Machiavelli emphasizes the importance of stability. After Hitler’s reign the German economy collapsed, a sign of instability. The government restructured and the nation was in utter turmoil. Secondly, Machiavelli argued that being feared is good, being hated is undesirable because people are encouraged to betray you. Hitler had a Nazi populous behind him when in power, however, once people saw the implications they concluded differently. Hitler is now revered as a horrific symbol. Furthermore, Hitler was smart because he preserved his munificence by ordering inferiors to execute the “enemy” instead of publically doing ALL of the killings himself.

Hitler’s actions in the Holocaust did two things that Machiavelli says are most significant. Hitler took the side of one group, exploited their wants, and magnified them by eradicating their enemy. Further, Hitler used that extermination to instill fear in his enemies and his allies. Machiavelli would certainly argue that Hitler’s actions were those of a good leader at the time, but caused instability as a result and were ultimately poor decisions.


Machiavelli. The Prince. (Translation source listed below.)

Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought…Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Second Edition. 2007.

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According to many scholars, Niccolό Machiavelli was by no means a supporter of Principalities, such as that of the Medici family of Florence, but rather an enthusiast of Republicanism. He truly believed in a Republicanism that recognized all people as naturally moral, and respected the common person. Why then, did he write an instruction manual for the Medicis outlining exactly how to run a successful, intimidating, brutal principality? Some theorists argue that Machiavelli had ulterior motives for writing The Prince. Knowing this, we can see that Machiavelli used two approaches in The Prince in order to establish Republicanism as the primary governing ideal under which Florence was ruled. It is apparent that these theorists may be correct in viewing The Prince as a tool Machiavelli used to either set up the Medici principality for disintegration, or influence them to govern in a more Republican manner.

In the Prince, Machiavelli describes exactly how to run a successful Principality. One of Machiavelli’s central arguments revolves around the concept of amorality. He says that morality is meaningless when it comes to the good of the state. He references the idea of Raison d’état, meaning that a ruler is governed by a different set of ethics than the common people. For a ruler, the ends justify the means, allowing a ruler to execute any action, no matter how brutal or unfair, in order to achieve a good outcome for the state as a whole. If The Prince was intended by Machiavelli to be leaked to the general public, we can assume that the people of Florence would not have liked the thought of the Medici family ruling them under the concept of amorality. Even though a good outcome for the state would sound appealing to most people, the thought of a ruler being permitted to use any means necessary to achieve that outcome does not. Though the Florentines may have valued their state very highly, the possibility of being brutally treated by the Medici family would cause discontent among them, setting the stage for a Republican coup.

Another way Machiavelli infiltrated the Medici Principality with his Republican ideals is through his discussion of strategic amoralism. Machiavelli references a Greek figure, Agathocles, who he describes as wicked and evil. At first glance, the actions of Agathocles do not seem to differ at all from those Machiavelli states are necessary for creating and maintaining a successful principality. Agathocles committed acts of brutality and torture in order to gain power of a state. Agathocles’s actions, though physically identical to those of a Machiavellian ruler, were committed out of self interest with the only goal being personal glory. Machiavelli explains that only when a man is driven by the desire to improve the condition of the state and the lives of the people are actions of violence and brutality acceptable. Through this argument, Machiavelli smuggled his ideas of a Republican government that serves the people into the minds of the Medici family. Since the rest of The Prince describes traits of a successful, almost totalitarian ruler, Machiavelli attempts to disguise Republican thought as totalitarian direction in order to show the Medici family that working for the best interests of the people is the most effective method of government.

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Realistic Morality

             In a recent debate during my discussion section I was surprised to see how many students in the class would consider themselves a utilitarian.  I was reminded by this when I was reading a recent blog post about the television show, House MD, and its relationship to Machiavelli.  In the post, the student discussed a doctor who essentially killed a man who was planning to kill thousands of people.  The question, then, was whether or not this was a moral act for the doctor?

             In my opinion, this was completely immoral.  This goes back to the whole argument of utilitarianism; yes this was a utilitarian act, but was it moral?  From what I have read in the past, namely from J.S. Mill, he determines that a true utilitarian is one who practices utilitarianism in everyday life.  However, this is simply impossible.  A true utilitarian would be forced to favor the total benefit (utility) of the population and such utility will always outnumber an individual’s utility.  The common example here is organ harvesting, which entails giving one’s organs to another.  A true utilitarian would be forced to give all of their organs, even if they were alive, to a few sick people if it could save their lives.  In Mill’s mind, saving three lives would be better than saving one, and thus this was a moral thing to do.  This sounds absurd but it really is the exact same thing that the doctor did in the television show.  Granted his situation was on a much larger scale, but he killed an innocent person in hopes of saving others.  As American law states, “innocent until proven guilty,” and this man hadn’t done anything yet.  Mill refuses to recognize one’s own sense of intrinsic self-worth and it seems to be a tremendous downfall of his argument.

            Now, the question is, what are you if you aren’t a utilitarian? Well, Mill’s main proponent was Kant.  Kant’s sense of morality was based on his idea of the “categorical imperative.”  This was his notion that there should be strict laws that determine all questions of morality and that one should act only in a way that can be realistically considered a universal law.  For example, it is possible to imagine a world where nobody lies but it is impossible to imagine a world where everyone lies.  Therefore, lying is immoral.  There are many challenges to this – quite simply, what if someone is coming to kill an innocent person and you lie and tell them they are where they actually are not?  Is this immoral?  Kant would answer, yes.  This returns to the question of the doctor, was it his place to make that decision? 

            At the end of the day, it is impossible to live your entire life in the interest of others.  If so, there will be nothing left of you to live.  This isn’t to say that people should be selfish and not participate in charity or help others; it’s just to say that there is a limit to this.  If someone gives all of their money to the poor, then they will be poor, and this isn’t a realistic goal.  Islamic faith has come up with a good solution to this and asks that Muslims donate a certain amount of their money to charity.  This retains individual self-worth and still contributes to society.  Luckily, people can make their own decisions on morality and not simply decide between Mill or Kant.  But if we had to choose, I would side with the realistic – and go with Kant.

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Obama, Harry Reid, and Machiavelli

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            In John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, he says “That in the state of nature every one has the executive power of the law of nature” (page 289).  He goes on to defend his claim from those who would argue that if every individual had the power to be judges in their own circumstances, then biases for one’s own person, friends, and loved-ones would inherently contaminate the system and “nothing but confusion and disorder will follow” (289).  Locke claims that people with this argument would support the appointment of a government in order to “restrain the partiality and violence of men” (289).  To these accusations, however, Locke defends his claim by questioning the legitimacy of absolute monarchs because they are men too who have biases.  He proposes, “…and if government is to be the remedy of those evils, which necessarily follow from men’s being judges in their own cases, and the state of nature is therefore not to be endured, I desire to know what kind of government that is, and how much better it is than the state of nature, where one man commanding a multitude, has the liberty to be judge in his own case, and may do to all his subjects whatever he pleases, without the least liberty to any one to question or control those who execute his pleasure?” (289).

            Upon reading this passage, one may compare and contrast Locke’s claims to those of Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes.  Niccolo Machiavelli argued for the creation of a Prince with total control of power.  The means by which the prince would gain the position of ruler would be through the usurpation of power, perhaps including the killing of the previous ruler and his allies.  The prince would then be all powerful and could rule by an agenda of fear or love.  A key point in Machiavelli’s power proposition is that the prince’s position is perpetually threatened by the possibility of being overthrown by another individual who wants his position or by the people because they are not sworn to obey him.  In Hobbes’ concept of government, there exists a sovereign who has complete and unquestionable authority and power.  The sovereign acquires his position by contract between himself and his subjects.  The contract is absolute and unable to be questioned once agreed upon which means that the subjects have no legitimate claims to oppose the sovereign’s authority.  Thus, once a sovereign is put into place, he retains his position for life. 

            To address Locke’s question, Machiavelli might argue that a prince is necessary to keep order and control people through the face of fear in order to prevent continual acts of revenge.  The prince could execute a person who wronged another and, thus, satisfy the desire of revenge by friends and loved-ones.  Due to his authority, the act would be a finality and could act as an end to the dispute between people.  Locke says though that humans have “two distinct rights, the one of punishing the crime for restraint, and preventing the like offence, which right of punishing is in every body; the other of taking reparation, which belongs only to the injured party…” (289). When considering Locke’s distinct rights in the state of nature, however, one must also consider reality.  Locke saying that reparation only belongs to the injured party assumes that people will live by this idea, but in reality, it is probable to say that without the presence of some over-seeing authority, there could exist a never-ending circle of revenge and reparation between two families or groups. 

            Thomas Hobbes argues that absolute sovereign trumps even a prince in power because his acquisition of power came through a contract between him and his subjects; therefore, the subjects are authors of the actions of the sovereign.  According to this argument then, a sovereign has executive, legislative, and judicial power in all cases which is exactly what Locke questions as being convoluted.  Why is it that one person can act as judge for all and his own action, yet the subjects are not given the same right of being their own judge?  An important idea in this context is recalling that the subjects choose to give up their liberty to be their own judge in order to gain protection as a mutual interest and relieve the constant fear of civil war, revenge, and perpetual competition that are inherent in the state of nature.

            In conclusion, after considering Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes’ position on where executive power lies, it is important to question the reality of the laws of nature.  A paradox seems to arise in claiming that the state of nature inherently embodies absolute freedom while at the same time claiming that, for example, people have two distinct rights that elicit constraints for reparation for only the injured party.  Thus, after thinking about Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke’s arguments about the state of nature and the execution of power, I think that some government is necessary in order to put limits on what a person can and cannot do with the motivation of vengeance and desire.

Wooton, David. Modern Political Thought: Reading from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Second Edition. Hackett Publishing: Indianapolis, 2008.

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