Machiavelli or Gandhi for President?

Discuss historical events and information concerning any culture, time, or location in our world (or even the frontier beyond).

Who would you vote for?

Machiavelli
15
83%
Gandhi
3
17%
 
Total votes : 18

Re: Machiavelli or Gandhi for President?

Unread postby Jordan » Fri Dec 30, 2011 10:10 am

Tough choice. These are two of my favorite people of all time. The truth is, though, that they don't fit together. Machiavelli grew up in a world that in many ways was very distinct from Gandhi's. It was more cutthroat and chaotic, and required different tactics to survive, prosper and find success. Gandhi wasn't a passive person like some people think he was; to be honest both Gandhi and Machiavelli are more interesting than people think. They were NOT the one-dimensional "peace loving, bend over backwards pacifist" or "sly, evil bastard" caricatures, respectively, that they have been made to symbolize. Still, if Gandhi had copped the same political attitudes he did to protest the British in Machiavelli's day, he would have been simply flattened. Part of it is cultural as well. Gandhi was likely influenced by religions such as Jainism which are harder to reconcile with more Western values.

The Prince is one of my favorite books of all time. In the end I'd have to say that I much more strongly enjoy Macchiavellli's views on things. Everything he wrote in that book is just so "probing" and "right" so long as it is projected back into the pre-modern times in which he lived. It is not a modern philosophy. It is a historic masterpiece that analyzes the difficulties among groups competing for power (i.e. ministers, rulers and others), the difficulties with ruling different kinds of people (people of the same nationality, people of different nationality, recently conquered people, etc.) and the difficulties of warfare in an earlier epoch. If you look into the history of nearly any Eurasian polity before and during Machiavelli's time, you can see that his judgments were incredibly astute. I guess I'll vote for Machiavelli simply because I believe that his depth of understanding "the times" and suggesting realistic solutions to overcome problems within "the times" is incredible. In that he is just barely matched, but not exceeded, by certain Chinese philosophers of ancient times.
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Re: Machiavelli or Gandhi for President?

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Mon Jan 02, 2012 11:59 am

SlickSlicer wrote:Still, if Gandhi had copped the same political attitudes he did to protest the British in Machiavelli's day, he would have been simply flattened. Part of it is cultural as well. Gandhi was likely influenced by religions such as Jainism which are harder to reconcile with more Western values.


This is a very common misconception which rather goes to show how ignorant we tend to be of times past than of how our present time actually is. As a matter of fact, Gandhi was influenced by a number of movements using similar tactics and political attitudes to his own, from political and religious movements of the time in which Machiavelli lived, such as the Radical Reformation and the Religious Society of Friends, as well as by not-necessarily-pacifistic political, economic and religious ideologies such as distributism (see here for the link between Gandhi and Chesterton).

But to glibly assert that Gandhi's philosophy would have failed in 'pre-modern' times would be to forget the sheer brutality of the British regime, which gunned down literally thousands of his and Badshah Khan's followers. True, Mennonites and the like were persecuted and often martyred for their beliefs, but they were never truly wiped out or 'flattened' even in places where they were not exactly welcome (including a very pacifist-unfriendly nation which would come to be known, after a war in which both the Mennonites and Quakers suffered persecution, as the United States).

SlickSlicer wrote:In the end I'd have to say that I much more strongly enjoy Macchiavellli's views on things. Everything he wrote in that book is just so "probing" and "right" so long as it is projected back into the pre-modern times in which he lived. It is not a modern philosophy. It is a historic masterpiece that analyzes the difficulties among groups competing for power (i.e. ministers, rulers and others), the difficulties with ruling different kinds of people (people of the same nationality, people of different nationality, recently conquered people, etc.) and the difficulties of warfare in an earlier epoch.


That's just the problem, though. Machiavelli's philosophy is a modern philosophy - perhaps among the first of the 'modern' philosophers who rejected Plato and embarked on the path of an anti-Scholastic neopaganism, heavily influenced by the voluntarism of John Duns Scotus. As a 'masterpiece', one cannot forget the 'Gothick' sequence which followed it, in which amoral 'Princes' emboldened by a philosophy which openly catered to the pagan attitude of 'fortes fortuna adiuvat' committed all manner of atrocities in the name of the secular state, in which all of the roles Machiavelli had very readily delineated had already been neatly and safely bureaucratised under the hand of sheer dominion.

Whether or not Machiavelli was a republican, and though he certainly wasn't the 'sly evil bastard' which he has become in popular culture, his own philosophy has, in retrospect, much more readily been the servant of tyranny than the opposite. And though we may decry the philosophies of Plato and Confucius as 'feudal' or 'monarchistic', in the end, the idea that kings must be virtuous in order to assert any kind of meaningful right to rule has much better consequences for the wellbeing of the common man amd common woman than does the voluntaristic playground of sheer power Machiavelli paints.
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Re: Machiavelli or Gandhi for President?

Unread postby Jordan » Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:04 pm

But to glibly assert that Gandhi's philosophy would have failed in 'pre-modern' times would be to forget the sheer brutality of the British regime, which gunned down literally thousands of his and Badshah Khan's followers. True, Mennonites and the like were persecuted and often martyred for their beliefs, but they were never truly wiped out or 'flattened' even in places where they were not exactly welcome (including a very pacifist-unfriendly nation which would come to be known, after a war in which both the Mennonites and Quakers suffered persecution, as the United States).


I probably shouldn't have even bothered making the argument, because in the end, there is no way to know the outcome of a "what if?" scenario.

As for Machiavelli's work, it doesn't advocate villainy. He mentioned the benefit of being good in several cases, so long as the Prince uses it as a tool. a lot of the things he suggested were brilliant and not necessarily inherently despotic. I remember for instance he had a whole chapter on why mercenaries were a bad idea to use, and another on why rulers should move into a recently conquered territory in order to ensure stability. These were both good ideas. I don't really consider him a philosopher but more like a political strategist writing a treatise. I look at him in a similar light as somebody like Sun Zi rather than Confucius. I don't think his intention was to espouse a certain philosophical mindset, but rather to literally write an informative guide about how to rule a state.

Edit; I realized that your statements about Confucius, etc. was in reply to my comment that "Machiavelli's perception of the times is only matched by certain Chinese philosophers." I actually wasn't thinking of Confucius at all when I wrote that, but more like Han Fei.
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Re: Machiavelli or Gandhi for President?

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:24 am

SlickSlicer wrote:As for Machiavelli's work, it doesn't advocate villainy. He mentioned the benefit of being good in several cases, so long as the Prince uses it as a tool.


And that is my problem with Machiavelli; I don't see him as a villain, but rather as someone who is fundamentally misguided at a basic philosophical level. Any concept of 'the good' as something intellectually desirable on its own merits automatically flies out the window. 'The good', in Machiavelli's terms, can only be the justifying facade of an opportunist masquerading as a philosopher-king, rather than as the demonstrable intellectual characteristic from which the philosopher-king derives his right-to-rule.

SlickSlicer wrote:"Machiavelli's perception of the times is only matched by certain Chinese philosophers." I actually wasn't thinking of Confucius at all when I wrote that, but more like Han Fei.


:shock:

Han Fei? Seriously?

That tells me all I need to know. You do realise, don't you, that Han Fei was poisoned by his classmate under Xun Kuang, Li Si - who himself was betrayed by Zhao Gao to a death by the Five Tortures under the very same Legalist state he fostered? If you ask me, their 'perception of the times' appeared to have been a little lacking, in that it ultimately cost them all their own lives.
Some more blood, Chekov. The needle won't hurt, Chekov. Take off your shirt, Chekov. Roll over, Chekov. Breathe deeply, Chekov. Blood sample, Chekov! Marrow sample, Chekov! Skin sample, Chekov! If I live long enough... I'm going to run out of samples.
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Re: Machiavelli or Gandhi for President?

Unread postby Jordan » Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:57 pm

And that is my problem with Machiavelli; I don't see him as a villain, but rather as someone who is fundamentally misguided at a basic philosophical level. Any concept of 'the good' as something intellectually desirable on its own merits automatically flies out the window. 'The good', in Machiavelli's terms, can only be the justifying facade of an opportunist masquerading as a philosopher-king, rather than as the demonstrable intellectual characteristic from which the philosopher-king derives his right-to-rule.


I understand what you're saying. And now I see why you brought up Plato. But the thing is that I don't view him as a philosopher at all, but as what I stated above: a man writing a treatise on how to maintain power. I agree with you that as philosophies, Confucianism, the views espoused by Plato, et al., have a great deal of merit. I admire them as well.

Han Fei? Seriously?

That tells me all I need to know. You do realise, don't you, that Han Fei was poisoned by his classmate under Xun Kuang, Li Si - who himself was betrayed by Zhao Gao to a death by the Five Tortures under the very same Legalist state he fostered? If you ask me, their 'perception of the times' appeared to have been a little lacking, in that it ultimately cost them all their own lives.


Han Fei's death was one of great injustice. He was destroyed by the sort of minister that he personally denounced. This is not lacking of perception. Actually it shows he was rather keen. Li Si's was of the kind where "one reaps what they sow." I never advocated for Li Si. To extend this further, Shang Yang's is somewhere in the middle...his death was ironic and somewhat deserved as Li Si's, but he was a much better man than Li Si who probably shouldn't have been dishonored in the way he was.

Once I get a chance to access my books, I'll quote some passages from Han Fei and explain to you what I mean about Han Fei's sagacious insight. In essence, what I see legitimate about Han Fei is that he mentions multiple scenarios of conflicts of interest in power, and it's BLATANT when you read what he writes how they are relevant in Chinese history. His passages about how a ruler should act and deal with his ministers are both analytic and prescient. He knew exactly the ways in which men could manipulate and be manipulated [in his time]. More importantly, he saw very real threats to a sovereign's hegemony and stated them outright. This is what I mean by "knowing his time." His philosophies could be well used by those who understood them. Even Zhuge Liang read Han Fei. Too bad Liu Shan didn't.

With Machiavelli it is more or less the same. There are many passages of The Prince where he illustrates examples from previous history to justify the case for why rulers should do certain things. When I looked into what he wrote, it was personally a sort of revelation for me because I thought "Oh. That's exactly like such and such case. That happened a lot back then and was a real problem."

Edit: lmao @ "sow what one reaps." I gotta stop trying when I'm tired. Glad I caught that mistake of mine, but I still feel ashamed. :oops:
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Re: Machiavelli or Gandhi for President?

Unread postby WeiWenDi » Wed Jan 04, 2012 11:05 am

Jordan wrote:But the thing is that I don't view him as a philosopher at all, but as what I stated above: a man writing a treatise on how to maintain power. I agree with you that as philosophies, Confucianism, the views espoused by Plato, et al., have a great deal of merit.


It would be perfectly fine with me if everyone had your view of Machiavelli and his limits; sadly, though, even Wikipedia regards him as a philosopher - and, if you will allow me to indulge for a brief moment my Marxist philosophical upbringing, 'the philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it'. His work had a profound impact on the creation and direction of the entire discipline of 'political economy'; and it should rightly be considered in that light.

SlickSlicer wrote:Han Fei's death was one of great injustice. He was destroyed by the sort of minister that he personally denounced. This is not lacking of perception. Actually it shows he was rather keen. Li Si's was of the kind where "one reaps what they sow." I never advocated for Li Si. To extend this further, Shang Yang's is somewhere in the middle...his death was ironic and somewhat deserved as Li Si's, but he was a much better man than Li Si who probably shouldn't have been dishonored in the way he was.


My point is this: if you have an entire school of thinking which purports that the great mass of human beings are inherently and irrevocably evil, and that they can only be kept in line through the punishments and manipulations of an all-powerful elite, with all crimes being punishable by the same punishment, how is someone like Li Si to be avoided? Han Fei expected, and indeed wanted, ministers to be ruthless and to compete amongst each other not only with meritorious achievements under the law, but also by borrowing the ruler's arts (術) of bureaucratic manipulation. And if the only way for an official to get ahead is by going against the law and not getting caught (which Han Fei expected them to do), then it should come as no surprise that they do exactly that.

Jordan wrote:Even Zhuge Liang read Han Fei. Too bad Liu Shan didn't.


True, but Zhuge Liang had the good sense not to follow him to the letter, even when coming up with new laws under Liu Bei; his authored works, manuals and commentary on the Sunzi Bingfa tend to show a fairly heavy Daoist (rather than Legalist) influence on his thought.

Jordan wrote:When I looked into what he wrote, it was personally a sort of revelation for me because I thought "Oh. That's exactly like such and such case. That happened a lot back then and was a real problem."


I know the feeling. It was that way when I first read Marx. It was only later that I came to the realisation that, whilst Marx was an incredibly insightful diagnostician for the ills of late-capitalist society, his prescriptions for the society would be disastrous, as well as not really addressing the underlying problem. There could be no guarantee apart from a leap of faith that the relations governing the separation of labour would be more equal under the 'classless society' after the revolution than before.

Machiavelli was the same way - he saw a society in which 'princes' would pretend to be virtuous whilst playing a game of naked competition for power behind the scenes, and authored a book which would help them to do that more effectively (whilst taking care to preserve what, to him, were the most important elements of a republican polity)... but his prescriptions only ended up further entrenching (and legitimating, through his voluntaristic fatalism) the very system he hoped to constrain.
Some more blood, Chekov. The needle won't hurt, Chekov. Take off your shirt, Chekov. Roll over, Chekov. Breathe deeply, Chekov. Blood sample, Chekov! Marrow sample, Chekov! Skin sample, Chekov! If I live long enough... I'm going to run out of samples.
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Re: Machiavelli or Gandhi for President?

Unread postby bodidley » Mon Jan 09, 2012 7:11 pm

It's an oversimplification or to call Machiavelli morally bankrupt for telling it like it is. The international community is anarchic and might does make right. Machiavelli is the grandfather of realpolitik. If you compare Guan Zhong as the model of Confucian virtue in politics, then some of his actions might be considered barbaric or ruthless as well from the standpoint of modern western morals. Using virtue to your advantage doesn't mean that you'll always be able to keep the white gloves on.

Also, just because someone evokes your name to justify doing something immoral doesn't make you responsible. I don't think the slaughter of the inhabitants of Jerusalem during the First Crusade had a lot to do with the teachings of Jesus, for example.
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Re: Machiavelli or Gandhi for President?

Unread postby Zhou Chie » Sun Apr 01, 2012 1:25 pm

What's funny is that Machiavelli was actually a pretty nice guy, and one who supported freedom and democratie but because he wrote a book which was Rulership 101, he's blasted, between him and Gandhi I'd say that Machi is far more sensible and far less extreme in some of his behaviour, now I like and admire Gandhi as much as the next guy, but starving yourself to prove a point isn't exactly normal behaviour if you know what I mean.
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