Monday, December 05, 2005

Further Discussion of War

The following quotes were at the end of the Jet Li movie Hero, which is, in all honesty, probably one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Maybe I’ll talk about that some other time, though.
To reconstitute political life in a state presupposes a good man, whereas to have recourse to violence in order to make oneself prince in a republic supposes a bad man. Hence very rarely will there be found a good man ready to use bad methods in order to make himself prince, though with a good end in view.
Nor will any reasonable man blame him for taking any action, however extraordinary, which may be of service in the organizing of a kingdom or the constituting of a republic. It is a sound maxim that reprehensible actions may be justified by their effects, and that when the effect is good, it always justifies the action. For it is the man who uses violence to spoil things, not the man who uses it to mend them, that is blameworthy.
A prince should therefore disregard the reproach of being thought cruel where it enables him to keep his subjects united and loyal. For he who quells disorder by a very few signal examples will in the end be more merciful than he who from too great leniency permits things to take their course and so result in chaos and bloodshed; for these hurt the whole state, whereas the severities of the Prince injure individuals only
It is essential therefore, for a Prince who desires to maintain his position, to have learned how to be other than good, and to use or not use his goodness as necessity requires.
Everyone sees what you seem to be, but few know what you are.
-- Niccolo Machiavelli

To what extent, if any, do the ends justify the means?

In a democracy, politicians tend to act in ways that make themselves appear better, rather than being free to act in ways that they consider best. Is democracy then not the ideal form of government?
Is the United States Supreme Court, being given life tenure and therefore free from worrying too much about what is popular, an example in favor of or against Machiavellian politics?


  1. Surely you're not suggesting that our government is a democracy, are you?

    Forgive me, but I haven't read much Machiavelli. Short attention span and what-not. But what he seems to be proposing is nothing sort of Utilitarianism. The end justifies the means; it's better to sacrifice a few individuals for the sake of society. It's a cost-benefit analysis -- if the cost of M (means) < gain by E (ends), then we call it good. Makes good financial sense, but I really don't know how you can translate it into politics. Is the price of war worth the outcome? Is the survival of two people worth the death of one man?

    As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, they're both unbeholden to the general public (i.e. "independent judiciary") but they're also human, and appointed by politicians who -- as we've all seen lately -- are eager to make their constituents happy. So the politicians appoint someone based on their politics, and the Justice may or may not feel compelled to please the President who put him or her on the bench.

    In deciding capital punishment cases, incidentally, SCOTUS does actually take into consideration what is popular, insofar as it looks to the states for a consensus under the theory that if a majority are doing something, perhaps the social climate has changed such that the Constitution should be interpreted to include the majority interpretation. I would imagine this goes for other things as well, but I'm too brain dead to think anymore.

  2. I'll give you the lawyerly answer to your question.

    It depends.

    I bill in six minute increments, btw ;^)