Bringing it Back to Machiavelli
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.