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Bringing it Back to Machiavelli

April 16, 2011

As we draw near the end of the semester, and thus the end of Political Science 101, I have begun to think back to all of the readings and all of the philosophers we have read. I continue to come back to Machiavelli and all of his views presented in “The Prince.” As I wasn’t blogging at the time of our reading of Machiavelli, and I have continued interest in his work, I decided to come back and write about his views and why they most interest me.

Last night I watched the movie “Miracle.” For those who don’t know, it is a movie based on the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team that shocked the world by winning the gold medal, and beating the unbeatable Soviets along the way. In this movie, the coach, Herb Brooks, make a clear statement to his team that he is not there to be liked by the players, or to be their friend. Instead, he is there to lead them. I could not find the exact scene where he says this, but the below scene is a good replacement, as it highlights this mentality.

Machiavelli states that it is better to be feared than loved. Coach Brooks also realizes this, and has total control over the team, and the respect of every single player, because he leads them with a strong (but fair) hand. Also, Machiavelli believes that it is important for a prince (or leader) to surround himself with advisers that will be truthful and constructive, as opposed to yes-men. The assistant coaches for this team question Brooks’ decisions, and give their opinions.

So far the two views of Machiavelli have been at least somewhat positive. How about Machiavelli’s opinion that it is better to spend your time appearing virtuous, instead of being virtuous? This seems like bad quality in a leader, as we clearly want our leader to live a virtuous life…right? On second thought, maybe Machiavelli’s philosophy, ignorance is bliss, isn’t as absurd as first thought. Why is it important for the President of the United States to be virtuous? Is it because this means that we can trust him to make morally responsible decisions? Let’s go back to the clip we viewed in lecture about the WWII bombings on Tokyo. As McNamara said, if they had not won the war, they would have been tried for war crimes. Leaders are forced to make decisions daily that are lose-lose, or at least seem that way. The normal person would struggle to make these decisions. Being virtuous is to have or show high moral standards. Is it morally correct to bomb Libya to stop Qaddafi’s dictatorial actions? This is obviously a tough question that we will struggle to agree on. So it seems difficult for a leader to always be virtuous in the eyes of everyone. This shows that even if they wished to be truly virtuous, it isn’t that simple. So more easily a leader should support whatever decision he makes with reasons why that decision was the virtuous one. This then creates a leader who seems virtuous to the people, while maybe actually acting less than virtuous.

Is it important that Bush’s intentions were pure in his invasion of Iraq years ago? People will say yes as a knee-jerk reaction, but in the end, does it make a difference? There were definitely problems in the middle east that could easily have warrented intervention. This intervention occured, and Hussain was replaced. Does it matter that he did it for the right reason as much as it matters that the world believes he did it for the right reason?

To be clear, I am of the majority that desires a truly virtuous leader. I am also not here to argue for or against the invasions of either Libya or Iraq. However, I do believe that Machiavelli’s statements carry more truth and justifaction than people want to believe. Maybe it is better for the populace to believe that their leader is virtuous. These questions are provocative and stimulating. Machiavelli’s prince (or leader) seems to be one based on efficiency and power. As we can see, his desired leader has been present throughout our society in many ways. From coaches to presidents, and everything in between, Machiavelli’s philosophy has influenced many people, for better or worse.

  1. April 16, 2011 10:25 PM

    This was a very enjoyable article to read and I loved your wide range of comparisons to Machiavelli’s idea for the best prince (or leader). On the “Miracle” aspect of your blog, I completely agree that Herb Brooks was such an effective coach because he was feared more than loved. Although some his coaching techniques were questionable like making his team skate for hours after a victory and challenging and injured player to play, all of this built up his reputation as a fearful coach that expected the most out of his players. However, I do not think that this style of coaching is necessary for a leader to be successful. There are a fair share of Herb Brooks and Bobby Knights that succeed as a feared ruler, but there are also a fair share of coaches that succeed from being loved. Coaches like Mike Kryzewski and Roy Williams are hardly ever seen yelling at their players and are known to be loving and supporting. In this sense, I think that a leader does not need to feared, but rather respected. Whether a leader is loved or feared, people will listen to them if they have the respect of the group they are leading. As far as Polisci 101, Machiavelli would definitely love Herb Brooks and his style.

  2. Pierre Gerondeau permalink
    April 16, 2011 10:43 PM

    This was a very interesting post, and I have got to say I love the Machiavelli reference to “Miracle.” The “Again” scene is one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies, and I agree with your assessment that sometimes it is better to be feared than loved, and for your leader or coach to make strong decisions and have strong decision-making. Having watched the Michigan Spring Football game earlier in the day, the reference to Machiavelli reminded me of some of Coach Brady Hoke’s comments after the game. He was talking about how he wants the players to buy into the strong Michigan tradition so that the team can get back to being the pinnacle of success in college football. He said, “I told them that they’re not always going to agree with what we do. And that’s ok, I really don’t care, but we’re going to make decisions and move for Michigan.” People may not always like the Machiavelli approach in certain situations, but for coaching, especially in a violent game like football, I think it is the perfect approach and mindset to make Michigan a better team.

  3. Christina permalink
    April 17, 2011 9:46 AM

    I loved this post! I really learned a lot; your comparisions to things like Miracale or President Bush really put Machiavelli and his ideas into perspective.
    I could tell you were very apprehensive to assert that you agree with Machiavelli, that a leader should be virtuous. I’m just here to say you shouldn’t be! I completely agree- a leader should be virtuous- I’d even go as far as to say that it’s the foundation for every good leader. Without virtue, where’s the morality? How will a leader hold himself or herself accountable?

    Great blog post! Very insightful!

  4. oakheart347 permalink
    April 17, 2011 2:14 PM

    I would agree with you that Coach Brooks does coach the 1980s team with a Machiavellian-style, but I would actually argue that he is BOTH loved and feared. Machiavelli himself states that “one ought to be both loved and feared; but, since it is difficult to accomplish both at the same time, I maintain it is much safer to be feared than loved.” Machiavelli believes that it is difficult to be both loved and feared, but not impossible.
    Coach Brooks was loved by his players – he took personal interest in each and every one of them. As Coach Brooks himself states during their tryouts “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones” to his assistant coach. Herb had coached some of the players he took before and coached against others. Many of the players on that team already had interaction with Brooks before that team. Brooks believed in his goalie – Jim Craig, even when everyone said that he lost his game after his mom died; he believed in O’Callahan, a forward that was injured just prior to the Olympics and almost lost his spot on the team because they were uncertain that he would be able to play again; by his captain Mike Eruzione, who would not have even been on the team if it wasn’t for Coach Brooks’ strong opinion of having him on the team. Brooks undoubtedly was feared at first by his players, but that grew to admiration and respect as they realized what he was doing – he was creating a team that would die for each other, that would go the extra mile for one another, and that would show that chemistry out on the ice – because that was going to be the only way to win those Olympics – the team had to believe and trust in each other.
    Coach Brooks was a subscriber to Machiavelli’s belief about being a strong ruler through being “able to put together a sound army and face battle against any opponent.” Coach Brooks himself made the team’s schedule “longer, tougher, and much more competitive” as he himself states in the film (which Coach Brooks was actually a part of helping make). Brooks wanted to play the entire Eastern Bloc’s hockey teams before the Olympics even started in order to give his team the experience of facing them and to show them that he believed they could beat them. Even though his team got horribly beaten by the Soviets days before the Olympics began, the experience would pay off later in the semi-final game.
    Overall, I do agree with your post, but I would argue that Coach Brooks was in essence a true Machiavellian ruler in that he was both loved and feared by his players.

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