Sunday, May 27, 2007

On hatred of the Republic

I started reading Balkinization because it was on the Bellman's blogroll, and I'd like to thank them for the introduction.

Scott Horton has posted a long commentary gleaned from the Fourth Annual Conference on Counter-Terrorism at Villa La Pietra, Florence, Italy, May 26, 2007, but I think an excerpt on the misuse of Machiavelli's by neocons to justify their aggressive insanity is worth reading.
America has suffered a very grave series of reputation setbacks. America is now at the lowest point it has ever occupied in the world’s esteem. Public opinion polls around the world show the country at levels of popular dislike and distrust which, seven years ago were almost unimaginable....This is a staggering feat of reputation-sabotage.

Should we be concerned about this? In my mind the answer is clear. We are creating a progressively more dangerous world – more dangerous for everybody, but especially for Americans. In some corners in America, concern about world opinion will be dismissed with sneers. At some point, a commentator on Fox News will say “Let them hate us, so long as they fear us.” The commentator will probably present this as a saying of Niccolò Machiavelli, Florence’s great political theorist.

[Let us] dwell for a moment on this saying and Machiavelli’s relationship to it, for Machiavelli was undoubtedly a very wise student of statecraft, and one of the true gems in his work on political theory is an exploration and exposure of the foolishness of just this idea. First, we should recall that this statement is not Machiavelli’s – it comes from the Emperor Caligula, a man who has secured his reputation in the United States through pornographic movies. Hardly a figure worthy of being emulated by the leader of a modern democratic state, much less a Family Values Republican.

In chapter 17 of The Prince Machiavelli says that “it is much safer to be feared than loved” – a very shrewd rearrangement of Caligula’s statement. But he doesn’t stop there – he goes on immediately to say that the one of the worst mistakes a prince can ever make is to be hated; for in this way he converts himself to a target. He compounds the risks he personally and his subjects must face. Stephen Holmes has an excellent discussion of this in his new book The Matador’s Cape, an extremely insightful study of America’s recklessness in responding to the terrorist threat that struck on 9/11. The point is obvious: reputation matters.

The balance that Machiavelli commends to us is this: don’t strive to be loved, but at all costs avoid being hated. A modern state need not flinch from being feared, but its position is strongest when it exhibits the values of virtue of which he writes. A state which is seen as virtuous, strong and decisive is best able to assure its security. |Balkinization|

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