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Leadership, Good or Bad?

February 2, 2011

In chapter 1 of “The Prince”, Machiavelli says that ” All states, all forms of government that have had and continue to have authority over men, have been and are either republics or principalities.” In discussion we talked about the way people used to view the rulers of countries, before Machiavelli made this statement. Leaders were either seen as good or bad. If one ruler was good then a monarchy was in power, if one ruler was bad than a tyrant was in power. Despite what Machiavelli said I feel that rulers are still judged as either good or bad. For example, looking at North Korea and Kim Jong-il. He had been seen as a dictator during his rule, with his excessive display of military and nuclear weapons many thought of him as a bully or tyrant. On the other hand even though I know England’s monarchy doesn’t currently have actual political power,  they have always been a monarchy despite which ruler was in power. Although King Henry the VIII was seen as a ruthless ruler, when he passed his crown to his daughter Queen Elizabeth, the monarchy of England was still considered to be intact. One bad ruler didn’t spoil England’s monarchy, but one bad ruler such as Kim Jong il could put the tyranny tag on North Korea.

(All references in the text are to Machiavelli, “The Prince,” in Modern Political Thought:Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, 2nd Ed., edited by David Wootton, p.9)

  1. Matthew Crowley permalink
    February 2, 2011 2:56 PM

    I agree with your points about how one leader can affect the perception of a state, but I still think that is in line with Machiavelli’s thinking. Kim Jong-il has been in power for so long in North Korea that the state has become a tyranny as he is a tyrant. By controlling the state for so long North Korea has become a state in his image. That to me is what Machiavelli’s thoughts mean now as that any country takes the shape of its patriarch. In America our founding fathers’ image still shapes our country because no one has changed the status quo, in North Korea Kim Jong-il created his own status quo. Also I think to look at England’s government you have to look at the prime minister and parliament before looking at their monarchy, as they had a political revolution that basically ousted their monarchy hundreds of years ago.

  2. timothyhall permalink
    February 2, 2011 3:07 PM

    Could you expand on the connection between your citation of Machiavelli and public opinion of leaders? I don’t exactly see where they’re related, as neither Kim Jong-il’s North Korea nor King Henry’s relation to England are “republican”, and Machiavelli is speaking of the existence of only two general types of ruling power, principalities and republics, not the public’s view of individual governments.

  3. kasnetz permalink
    February 2, 2011 4:46 PM

    I disagree with the idea that Machiavelli didn’t judge leaders as good or bad, as you said. I believe he judged good or bad using different criteria. The general promise of The Prince, to me, is to analyze the ways in which princes can be effective in ruling. Therefore, Machiavelli judges good or bad leaders on the basis of effectiveness–whether they maintain control, whether their principality becomes stronger relative to others, and the winning of international conflicts and disagreements. Good or bad should not depend on morality when judging a leader. Machiavelli laid the foundation of the dirty hands philosophy that Walzer elaborates on in our reading. Public opinion does greatly complicate the excercise of these sorts of policies by leaders. Leaders must evaluate the impact of “dirtying their hands” on public opinion, even if by dirtying his hands he works for the public good. Thus I think we need to make a distinction between good or bad in public and international opinion and good or bad in effectiveness of action. Ignoring this distinction muddles our evaluation of the reflection of whether a leader is good or bad on his constituent nation.

  4. Joe Godlew permalink
    February 3, 2011 12:15 AM

    Expanding upon the above comment, I think Machiavelli would indeed consider Kim Jong-Il a “good” leader in certain respects. He has an incredibly tight control of his country–media censored, people brainwashed, and access to the outside world severely limited–and will do anything necessary to maintain this control. His people see him in a favorable light, and under Machiavellian standards he could certainly be considered a “good” leader. Of course, public and international opinion of leaders like Kim Jong-Il isn’t based on such Machiavellian standards. In the real world, people are obviously free to judge a leader as “good” or “bad.”

  5. Krista Carney permalink
    February 3, 2011 3:34 PM

    I would have to agree with the last comment. In many circumstances, leaders that one group deems to be bad can be seen as good by their own people or vice versa. I believe that is one key distinction that Machiavelli has left out.
    Does a ruler’s domestic image or their international political image matter more? What will they get the most benefit from and can being viewed as a tyrant in the international arena give such a leader any benefits?

    I personally believe that with domestic power a ruler can accomplish any international feat he or she seeks, however this becomes increasingly difficult without some support in the international community even with credible threats from the leader.

  6. Utsu stanley permalink
    August 30, 2011 9:48 PM

    What ever is been said about machiavelli, the fact remains that, everything is subject to individual interpretation and epochal opinion. Stanley utsu

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