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Machiavellian quality

[ 2009-07-24 14:05]     字号 [] [] []  
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Machiavellian qualityReader question:

Please explain “Machiavellian quality” in this sentence – The theory so frequently advanced that the character of William II is of a Machiavellian quality.

My comments:

Machiavellian quality is the quality of a politician.

The typical politician, you know, is one who is clever and cunning and who will lie to you without batting an eye if he can profit from doing so.

But first, word origin.

Many English adjectives derive from real people. In this sentence – He was a protean character who constantly adapted to his environment – for example, the word “protean” (which means changing continually in appearance or behavior) derives from Proteus, an ancient Greek god who had the ability to change his shape at will.

Machiavellian, on the other hand, refers to Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), a multi-talented Italian who’s most known for his political philosophies. He was also a diplomat, musician and of course writer.

Etymologically, his sixteenth-century contemporaries adopted and used the adjective Machiavellian (elaborately cunning), often in the introductions of political tracts offering more than government by “Reasons of State”… while contemporary, pejorative usage of Machiavellian (anti-Machiavellism in the 16th C.) is a misnomer describing someone who deceives and manipulates others for gain – Wikipedia.

So therefore, remember, Machiavellism smacks of derogative connotations today. Make sure you use it on the right politicians.

Or perhaps I should say the wrong ones.

That is, if you could at all distinguish one politician from another.

Anyways, here are media examples:

1. The finger-pointing seems to have just begun in the months-old acquisition of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America (BAC)—and now in the spotlight is Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Today, the papers report, Bernanke will testify in front of the House oversight and government reform committee on the Fed’s role in the messy takeover, as Republican lawmakers accuse him of orchestrating a cover-up of Merrill’s worsening financial situation. Bernanke has denied any wrongdoing. “Lawmakers, especially House Republicans increasingly hostile to the Fed, are expected to ask Mr. Bernanke about [Bank of America CEO Kenneth] Lewis’s previous suggestion that the government pressured him to not disclose details about the discussions, and that officials made clear they would consider ousting management,” the Wall Street Journal writes. According to Reuters, former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has also been called to testify before Congress next month. No date has been set for his testimony. Democratic Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York, who heads the committee, said in a statement. “I am not going to prejudge these issues. We are not even close to finishing the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch investigation at this point.”

The New York Times zeros in the politics of the matter, saying that the Republicans’ attack on Bernanke, one of their own, has Democrats coming to his defense. It writes: “A memo written by Republicans, citing e-mail and internal Fed documents that were subpoenaed from the central bank, is building a case that Mr. Bernanke was a Machiavellian autocrat who forced Bank of America to go through with a disastrous merger that it no longer wanted to complete. But the committee’s Democratic chairman, Representative Edolphus Towns of New York, is investigating whether Bank of America executives were engaged in an elaborate shakedown, demanding that the Fed and the Treasury provide more than $100 billion in fresh capital and guarantees against the losses that were building up at Merrill Lynch.”

- Bernanke, a Machiavellian Schemer? TheBigMoney.com, June 25, 2009.

2. This, just in:

What kind of a political animal is Barack Obama? Ambiguity seems to be his hallmark. In foreign affairs, no one is sure whether he is a dove or a hawk. At home, some see a persuasive snake, and others a dangerous shark. Or perhaps he is a mixture - a “snark”, to borrow Lewis Carroll’s term…

As Niccolo Machiavelli whispers: “It is as well to ... seem merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, religious, and also to be so; but you must have the mind so disposed that when it is needful to be otherwise you may change to the opposite qualities (and) do evil if constrained.”

How can it be possible to uphold the moral values of the community at home and yet operate with very different ethical values abroad? Why is a family blown to smithereens in Pakistan by a Predator bomb of any less moral worth than Obama’s own family smiling on the White House lawn?

For many politicians, the reluctant answer comes from the philosophy of utilitarianism - that is, “the ends justify the means”…

Of course, duplicity is not just a Machiavellian trait - many societies depend on just such a contradiction, resorting to the claim that the end justifies the means, even if the means falls below publicly held standards of morality. Even Plato allowed it in his “noble lie”, used to explain citizens’ different upbringing and roles. Machiavelli is simply enunciating plainly what most governments prefer to keep secret. “Everybody sees what you appear to be, few feel what you are,” Machiavelli says of his Prince. The enigma that is Barack Obama could not be better summed up…

In both Machiavelli’s and Obama’s writings, republics flourish when they respect customs and traditions; when town dominates country; when a large middle class exists; when popular power is institutionalized; and when there is plenty of civic spirit. Above all, both men share the sentiment that adaptability to circumstances is the central virtue of republican government. “A republic or a Prince should ostensibly do out of generosity what necessity constrains them to do,” writes Machiavelli. “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, recently echoed.

- Primary colours, TimesHigherEducation.co.uk, July 23, 2009.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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