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Politicians: Machiavelli’s Prince? Or Our Own?

October 4, 2010

A prince, by Machiavelli’s standards, feels empowered by his divine right and through his virtu so that he feels a need to achieve glory. To fulfill this goal, Machiavelli suggests that his prince reaches his glorification through improving the success of his state. He points out that a prince will inevitably rise with his state and glory may be achieved through the success of his state as it is inherent and will come automatically as a state becomes empowered.

Many people automatically view politicians as having lower moral standards than the average person, and makes assumptions about political leaders being driven by a hunger for power and glory, much as Machiavelli’s prince is.

“Let me begin with a piece of conventional wisdom to the effect that politicians are a good deal worse, morally worse, than the rest of us (it is the wisdom of the rest of us)” (Walzer 162).

However, I feel apprehension when is comes to being presumptuous about anyone, politicians included. Some may suggest that it is being optimistic to an unhealthy extent, but I feel I must ask: Isn’t it possible that politicians are merely hungry for the common good? In my (difficult) attempt to see the good in everyone, I have come to ask myself whether or not it is plausible that politicians have no alternative motives like power or glory. I have concluded that it is indeed possible that a politician might simply want what is best for the greatest majority. We too often forget the real reasons politicians exist: to represent us. I believe there is a voice of the masses that politicians hear and attempt to convey as best they can. They can never be totally objective, but when politicians must make difficult choices, aren’t they concerned with how the vast majority of the general public would act? And do they not then act accordingly, on our behalf? After all, that’s the true utility of politicians: they speak and act for the masses; they face the difficulties and issues we would all detest to confront.

Machiavelli’s prince makes his way along a predetermined path of glory, ultimately concerned for him self and driven by his own selfish motives. Our politician, our prince, pulls the weight of everyone along a path of his own making which he believes will suit most everyone best. He guides us towards a place we might all live best and when confronted with an issue, he represents us in handling it the way most of us would. We only ever choose for ourselves, and our prince must choose for us all – in doing so sacrificing the contentment we too often take for granted. It may be impossible to know for sure what the cognitive functions of a politician’s mind are. However, I like to imagine that not all or even many of our leaders are defined by Machiavelli, and that they really are doing a service through committing themselves to the common good.


		
4 Comments
  1. joshuacy permalink
    October 5, 2010 12:09 AM

    While I share your desire to see good in everyone, I must disagree, at least to some degree.
    I believe that politicians (at least, most politicians) begin their career looking out for the interests of those who put them into office. But being a politician is hard. It’s hard to tell who wants what, and it’s hard to vote in a way representative of your constituents, so most politicians just listen to the people who come to them: lobbyists.
    Lobbyists aren’t inherently bad, as we often assume they are; lobbyists are looking out for the interests of *someone*, and this is how politicians get their information, a lot of the time.
    After spending a lot of time with lobbyists, it must be hard to refuse their gifts, and after long enough, most politicians become the same, corrupt individuals that we imagine them to be.
    Modern politicians, in contrast to Machiavellian Princes, do not need to take what they want, it is instead given. To succumb to greed, one must only accept gifts, making the modern political game that much more horrifying.

  2. Jameson McRae permalink
    October 5, 2010 1:34 PM

    I believe that politicians today can be compared to any other minority group in the country. Lets take Muslims in America for example, after September 11,2001 many Americans view all Muslims as ‘evil’ or ‘anti-American’. It just so happened that the terrorist attacks were by people with a Muslim background giving all Muslims a bad reputation. Just as not all Muslims are ‘terrorists’ not all politicians are ‘scumbags’.
    The media looks for the best story at that just happens to be exploiting the worst people in every group. Politicians have gotten a bad rep through all of the stories portrayed in the media. Sure there are a few politicians who fit the cliche description, but the majority are looking for the best for the people they represent.

  3. andrewjclark permalink
    October 6, 2010 11:34 AM

    I don’t think the outcomes in your poll are mutually exclusive. When politicians seek glory, they do so by passing legislation that helps people. When statesmen want power, they have to prove policy results so that they can be elected again. Anyway, good ideas in the post!

  4. jptrue permalink
    October 6, 2010 12:19 PM

    “Isn’t it possible that politicians are merely hungry for the common good?”

    Consider this question during a shift in political opinion/power…

    A politician might be able to get elected running on a platform of ideas that represent their area but also align with the current “common good.” However, what if the large scale idea of the “common good” changes over time while the area he represents continues to hold their old beliefs (thus now competing against the majorities “common good”). The politician is confronted with two possibilities:

    1. Continue to represent the local beliefs and be reelected for fighting against the current “common good”
    2. Isolate his constituents and adhere to the new wide scale idea of “good” and eventually get booted out of office.

    Thus, we can see that the issue is that the “common good” is not a static, concrete idea. Rather, in politics, the idea of what is good in the majority can change because the composition of the majority can change. As a result, a successful politician cannot maintain a healthy career or be successful if he just follows the “common good”.

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