Cruel to be Kind
In Machiavelli’s The Price, he seems to be making an ambivalent statement about morality; he defines it politically by referring to cruel actions with just means. As Walzer compares it to a comment by Hamlet in his writing, Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands, “I must be cruel only to be kind” (Walzer 170). Regardless of Walzer’s own opinions of Machiavelli, he does bring up an interesting point about the moral dilemma of cruelty and kindness. Machiavelli certainly seems to suggest that cruel action is acceptable as long as the desired outcome is achieved. Is this applicable to our own lives today?
There are certainly situations that suggest necessity in being “cruel to be kind” in our modern life, save Nick Lowe’s hit “Cruel to Kind.” While I don’t think he was referring to Machiavellian theory, it is still a great song nevertheless and I encourage you to listen to it.
Chart hits aside, Machiavellian principal is applicable in today’s society. As we discussed in lecture, as well as agreed to as a class, politics today are extremely Machiavellian. In campaigns, politicians often play dirty and do cruel things in order to achieve success in gaining positions; perhaps this is in the hope that they might do kind things once in office.
Thinking on a more personal level, I might argue that parenthood requires somewhat of a Machiavellian hand in the raising of a child. Parents play an important role in shaping their child’s understanding of the world. This means that children look to their parents in guidance of how to behave in society. If a parent were to let a child get their way all the time (eat sweets, fight with other children, throw tantrums, act selfish, etc.,) then let’s face it, that child would turn out to be a complete brat. In this sense, parents have an obligation to act cruelly towards their children. They must enforce rules, bedtimes, and behaviors that the child may object to. Parents must also serve adequate punishment. While for a certain time, the kids might resent their parents for their cruel actions, they may be more grateful when they realize this strange act of kindness has allowed them to become normal acting people.
In a similar sense, we talked about in discussion the Machiavellian approach to the relationship between GSIs or professors and their students. As a student, I may feel that my GSI is acting cruelly when they give me bad grades and judge my work. However, this cruelty is both necessary and kind. I am still learning to become an informed person, and my GSI is seeking to help me achieve that through criticism. By pointing out my mistakes and punishing me accordingly, I may actually learn to better myself as a student in the long run.
So although Machiavelli may seem like a really old guy with guidelines for princes, his comments on morality do leak through to today’s society. Whether you be a parent, politician, or professor, he has something to say to you– “you’ve got to be cruel to be kind, in the right measure”– or at least that’s what Nick Lowe’s love interest has to say to him.