Musings on Politics & Policy

An attempt to take an open minded view of current topics,
strip away excess detail and arguments,
and get at underlying issues —

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Countering Machiavelli

Is it naive to believe in the importance of understanding and caring for others? Are there those who will simply smile upon it as wrong headed and then go about achieving power through cynical means? Is it necessary that they should succeed and those who are thus labeled "naive" should fail? Have Jesus and Mohammed failed because their followers have caused so much anguish in their names? Are those who believe as Machiavelli did reachable? Or are there differences that are true and deep and unbridgeable?

Let me tell a true story of a missionary who was once traveling deep inside a far land. He had been there many years, learned the language and the ways of this land, and done much that was good. One day he was captured by bandits. They were arguing what to do with him when their leader came down the road. He stopped them and said, "You must set this man free. Once I was alone and injured, and he stopped and treated my wounds. He saved my life, and we owe him his." Now these were bandits and robbers waylaying travelers. Little else is known about them. While doing good guarantees nothing, it improves one's odds. People around the world have beliefs that include concepts like Karma. They also have sayings like, "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword."

The United States is in a somewhat unique state. We have become, at this moment in time, the single super power in the world. No other country has the capability to project such awesome force around the globe. However, even with the current disparity in power, we are far from omnipotent and we are not invincible. Unlike the overlord in Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End", we lose battles, we fail, our young people die. If we use our force needlessly or wantonly, and do not take the time to understand others and care for others, then we invite them to hate us, and we are responsible for the consequences.

The challenge is how to get from here to there. If there are those who believe in the Machiavellian approach, and in authoritarianism and militarism, and they have gained the upper hand both in terms of power and mindshare among the people, then others must speak out and be the voice for true moral strength. If the Machiavellian leaders pander to specific groups and divide the nation, then others must find the high ground and speak to the universal moral values that unite the diverse religions and cultures around us. One has to believe that truth and reason, spoken with courage, can bring the people of America around.



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