Thursday, August 24, 2006

Machiavelli 101

The unjustly-reviled Florentine would have snorted at the US behavior in Iraq, and the Israelis in Lebanon. He understood that one must first win unquestionably and establish oneself as master. Once in charge and unquestionably so, you can worry about how to order things. But attempting to calibrate the use of force so as to win "World Public Opinion" and "Hearts and Minds" is a recipe for disaster because it breeds contempt and anarchy.

Because Machiavelli was blessedly free of simple-minded, unidimensional moralism, he could see the paradox that forsaking bloody actions for the sake of wanting to be loved can lead to greater bloodshed and cruelty later on. Particularly in the nuclear era, when the US can slay by the tens of millions at the push of a button, a great power cannot ever be position where it sees the situation as "Them or Us." Any state will choose "Them," and Hiroshima will look like a garden party. All for the sake of "Upholding Our Principles" some years earlier.

From the beginning of Chapter 17 of the Prince:
Descending next to the other qualities set forth before, I say that each prince should desire to be held merciful and not cruel; nonetheless he should take care not to use this mercy badly. Cesare Borgia was held to be cruel; nonetheless, his cruelty reconciled the Romagna, united it, and reduced it to peace and to faith. If one considers this well, one will see that he was much more merciful than the Florentine people, who so as to escape a name for cruelty, allowed Pistoia to be destroyed. A prince, therefore, so as to keep his subjects united and faithful, should not about the infamy of cruelty; because with very few examples he will be more merciful than those who for the sake of too much mercy, allow disorders to continue, from which come killings or robberies; for these customarily harm a whole community, but the executions that come from the prince harm one particular person. And of all princes, it is impossible for the new prince to escape a name for cruelty, because new states are full of dangers. And Virgil says in the mouth of Dido: "the harshness of things and the newness of the kingdom force me to contrive such things, and to keep a broad watch over the borders."¹
Later in Chapter 17, Machiavelli makes the important distinction between being feared and being hated. Machiavelli notes that it is not only possible, it is even the best of all possible worlds, to have the first without the second. Americans don't understand that -- thinking that to be feared is to be hated. And, far worse, they don't understand that others do see things that way, particularly honor-based cultures such as the Arabs, to whom there is nothing more contemptible than weakness.
---------------------------------------------------------------
¹ I quoted from a translation other than the one I linked to, because Harvey Mansfield's translation of the Prince (the one I like best and the one the quote is from) is not available online.

8 comments:

Piraeus said...

Harvey Mansfield? Ha! Everyone who truly want to understand The Prince reads the Leo Paul de Alvarez translation.

Scott said...

2 problems.

First, the (unfortunately common) view that "Arabs only respect strength" smacks of racism and it doesn't take the rise of Arab news media into account, which tends to try to frame struggles in relation to larger issues. It isn't a fair account of either Arab opinion or the teachings of Islam. The evidence suggests that Arabs (like us) do take questions of justice into account when making moral evaluations, and are not merely driven by self-interest. If they were driven merely by self-interest and not larger questions of justice, then we wouldn't be seeing so much irrational behavior.

Second, most political theorists are prepared to acknowledge that Machiavelli's approach is flawed, not just because it is immoral, but also because it isn't sustainable. If everyone acted according to the dictates of M, then we would have perpetual war. If our goal is for Arabs to accept "Western" or "universal" values that would lead to a sustainable peace and not simply impose our will by force, then it is necessary to walk the walk, no matter what the inconvienence.

If the West adopts M as its political philosopher, then it deserves the fate of the tyrant.

Victor said...

(1) "the (unfortunately common) view that 'Arabs only respect strength' smacks of racism" ... which makes it untrue ... why? Learn about cultural diversity, Scott.

What, exactly, does "the Arab news media" have to do with the question of what Arab values are? I'm not saying it does or can have nothing to do with the matter, but the way you've put things is incredible vague.

Of course, the Arabs "take questions of justice into account." But what "justice" is is a reflection of their values, and this value pluralism can also makes their behavior (a matter on which you're again being quite vague) quite rational from their point of view of their values without having to make it so from hours. Islam, Islamic chauvinism, and honor-based culture's values account for a lot.

(2) If everyone acted according to the dictates of M, then we would have perpetual war. Which is an argument against NM being correct ... why? What if "only the dead have seen the end of war" and NM is simply describing reality? Do you think you can wish reality away reality about how people act, by saying, well, if everyone acted that way, we'd have perpetual war. Some things (defeat, slavery) truly are worse than war, or at a minimum we have to act as if they are. Foreswearing war merely leaves those who do so at the mercy of those who do not.

What I don't think you're getting is that we conquered Iraq the Western way -- very quickly, as bloodlessly as possible, not engaging in repression and showing every sensitivity we could. It hasn't exactly produced boundless Arab love for us, has it?

And what exactly does "walk the walk" mean in this context. Are you saying we can appease Islam by accepting their values? That we can buy them off by appeasement?

Scott said...

"Of course, the Arabs "take questions of justice into account." But what "justice" is is a reflection of their values, and this value pluralism can also makes their behavior (a matter on which you're again being quite vague) quite rational from their point of view of their values without having to make it so from hours. Islam, Islamic chauvinism, and honor-based culture's values account for a lot."

Naturally, I'm no expert on Islam, so I may be wrong here...but what I mean is that Islamic values are not so different from ours as they are commonly represented. They also value genorosity, hospitality, fairness, etc, and not merely strength. When our media talking heads claim Arabs only understand brute force, they are playing on unconscious racist feelings and are misrepresenting the case.

As for the Arab media, I guess I'm saying that although Arab media institutions frequently stir up hatred against Americans, they are also there to set the record straight. If Americans and Israelis begin acting more justly and generously, there is plenty of evidence to suggest the Arabs will take notice.

"What if "only the dead have seen the end of war" and NM is simply describing reality? Do you think you can wish reality away reality about how people act, by saying, well, if everyone acted that way, we'd have perpetual war. Some things (defeat, slavery) truly are worse than war, or at a minimum we have to act as if they are. Foreswearing war merely leaves those who do so at the mercy of those who do not."

True enough, but whether this is true or not does not free us from moral imperatives. The problem is that war creates a space where morality is no longer applicable, pulling us down to the level of beasts, and this is precisely why it is necessary to avoid war until the very last resort.

As for Iraq, what builds resentment is not so much the initial conquest (which did involve plenty of civilian bombing, btw), but the continued occupation. Finally, "walking the walk" just means adhering to the same moral rules that we demand of those we conquer. This ranges from human rights issues to simply being honest. Here, adhering to M's endorsement of deception is especially dangerous, since in the contemporary world the Arab media is there to point out the lies. Recall, for example, that Bush went on television and told the Iraqi people that we would take Saddam out, and then we would leave.

Anonymous said...

I know this website gives quality dependent
articles and other material, is there any other web page which
provides these data in quality?

Take a look at my web-site: food games

Anonymous said...

Can I simply just say what a relief to uncover someone who really knows what they're discussing on the web. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More and more people should check this out and understand this side of the story. I was surprised that you're not more popular
given that you most certainly have the gift.

Feel free to surf to my webpage - buy followers on instagram

Anonymous said...

Somebody necessarily help to make severely articles I would state.
That is the very first time I frequented your web page and thus far?
I surprised with the analysis you made to create this actual submit
amazing. Great activity!

Stop by my web-site: methods to buy followers on social media service twitter

Anonymous said...

After I originally left a comment I seem to have clicked on the
-Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time
a comment is added I get 4 emails with the exact same comment.

Is there a means you can remove me from that service?
Appreciate it!

Here is my weblog way to buy real cheap twitter followers free