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Dirty Hands = Great Leader?

January 31, 2011

As Uncle Ben from the cartoon Spider-Man once said: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ All leaders must make note of these words of wisdom before asserting power on the population in which he is ‘granted.’ Although these leaders can’t soar through the sky shooting webs, there are important ideas that can be brought from this Marvel comic series.

Consider the shape of a typical spider web. It is roughly circular and through all of the twists and turns of the web, it all meets at the center, where the spider typically lays. Analytically, you can suggest that the thing that is keeping the spider in the middle of it all is all of the things that the web is supported to. That is, from a leader’s perspective, the thing that is keeping him in power is the people around him that support him as the ruler. That would include citizens, military, cabinet, and other foreign leaders. Michael Walzer, author of “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands” identifies how the good of the many is better than the good of the few. In other words, to ensure the best interest of the greater population in which one rules, one must enforce policies that would be more beneficial to the majority than to those that are the minority. This idea is two-fold. One, you want to ensure that the citizens are happy and develop a strong nationalistic feeling about their land. And two, you want to ensure that you continue to stay in power. The following video shows a current problem in our world in which Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak faces strong rebellion from his nation’s people.

In this case, Mubarak is in a position where he cannot assert a good majority of his power because the people are not listening to him, or better yet, they are listening to him, but responding with riots and violence and much more.

Now why do I bring this up?

Well it is clear from the footage that Mubarak has gotten his hands dirty. He has a lot of responsibility on his hands and it is up to him how he plans on settling the riots in the country. Should he dethrone himself as president or continue to maintain power using the ideas of Machiavelli? Unlike Walzer, Machiavelli’s “The Prince” lies around the statement that the ends justify the means. In his case, he needs to do whatever he can to maintain power, even by setting morals aside. For example, I’m sure that there are still supporters of Mubarak and if these supporters stick together alongside him, like a web, there is a chance he could overthrow the majority. You could call it reverse Walzerism. And let’s say that he does end up maintaining power, regaining control over the people of Egypt, and settling the riots that have destroyed many buildings, police offices, and homes. Does this constitute him being a great leader?

This topic is open to further interpretation/discussion, what do you think?

  1. chrisshu permalink
    January 31, 2011 11:04 PM

    I don’t think either Machiavelli or Walzer would call him a good leader. Machiavelli would most likely call his leadership flawed because the people despise him and have rioted. Perhaps his leadership was good in the beginning, but when I refer to his leadership, I refer to the days leading to the riots. Thus, even if he can suppress the current riot, it’s not to say he’s guaranteed to suppress the next one. Instead, getting to this stage of the deterioration of a state just demonstrates how weak his hold on the populace is. Walzer would probably also describe him as a weak leader. If he suppresses the riots and stays in power, it’s not for the good of the majority nor himself. Rather, I believe Walzer would suggest that he step down. Firstly, if he doesn’t step down, the riots could worsen and deteriorate Egypt even more. This would be bad for the state and people. Secondly, if he cannot control the riots, there is a possibility of the mobs killing him which is bad for him. Thus, from a Utilitarian and self-preservationist standpoint, staying in power isn’t good for him. However, if he does step down, the climate of Egypt might return to peace and his life might be spared from an “angry mob death”.

  2. cfbeckman permalink
    February 1, 2011 7:53 PM

    I think the “two-fold” idea you presented was spot on to the conflict in Egypt. Firstly, you mention that the dirty hands theory supports the argument that citizens should take a powerful and active role in the own government. This is exactly what is happening in Egypt today. From Tunisia, they saw that after 20 or so years, they really don’t have to put up with the leadership in which they were under. Cue protests and nationwide movements.

    However, the second half of the dirty hands theory is where things get foggy; you say that its necessary for the ruler to stay in power. Well, that’d the problem now. The leadership in Egypt, the reason why the nation is divided, is to be determined. It’s anyone’s guess: will the citizens really get what they want? Or will Muburak just appoint this own successor before stepping down?

    With all of this information, could this Egyptian conflict really be subject to the dirty hands theory? I think so. He definitely has dirty hands. However, I do not agree that he must do anything to get back in power, as you implied. If he’s not willing to listen, well then, what’s the point? No one knew Egypt would actually one day have protests such as these! This leader’s been in power for 20 something years, why was this year the one that changed everything? I think the citizens realized, from Tunisia, they could have a say in their government; they’re simply trying to become more involved. Perhaps the most intriguing part of all of this is the youth involvement. With their mobilization sprawling from Twitter and Facebook (before the government found out and closed access to the sites), they’ve really been a beneficial asset to the movement. If their leader listened to what they were saying, but implemented no change, there would be no point to all of this….nothing would ever be solved.

    We should look to this movement as a model for the dirty hands theory, but keep in mind that everything isn’t so cut and dry.

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