So I haven’t had much time to post to here and I’m sorry to the small but important readership that I have. To substitute for musing from my brain about random things I’ll give you musings from my brain on specific things assigned from school. The following is a report I had to do for my English class, I got and A on the paper, and it talks about the similiarities between our current President and a couple of political theorists.
The original state of the union speech, by Bush, is found here.
I would encourage you to read the above essays and come to your own conclusions, but here are some of mine.
Old Ideas Renewed, Recent Theories Discarded
Political theorists have existed for as long as politics have been part of our everyday life. Some have advocated for more centralized power while others have heralded the advent of power to the people. One of the better known, and possibly influential, theorists in the last 500 years is Niccolò Machiavelli. He was a clerk and secretary in Florence in the 15th century and subsequently became infamous for writing The Prince. This was Machiavelli’s attempt at explaining how a leader of a state, the prince, can and should retain power. Another influential theorist of our time is Garrett Hardin who is known for his theories on immigration and ecology. By looking at the State of the Union address for 2006 we can see how our current president has adopted some of Machiavelli’s ideals while rejecting Hardin’s philosophy. The most noticeable viewpoint that Machiavelli and President Bush share is that of wanting to display a positive appearance. Machiavelli tells his readers that the ruler of the state “should appear … to be all mercy, all faithfulness, all integrity, all kindness, all religion.” (pg. 254) Throughout The Prince Machiavelli emphasizes the concept of a leader only needing to worry about how he looks to the people. George W. Bush borrows heavily from this philosophy throughout his delivery of the State of the Union address. He begins his speech to the nation by saying that he is “humbled by the privilege” of standing before Congress and delivering his future plans for the country. This not only ingratiates him to the audience, but also shows his compassion or mercy. Bush states that representatives from both parties “are working on reforms to strengthen the ethical standards of Washington.” This statement reassures United States citizens of the integrity of their government. Bush also displays his kindness by “giving special attention to children” with the Helping America’s Youth Initiative. Clearly, Bush is following the common theme that can be seen in Machiavelli’s work which is the concept of a leader presenting himself as having “good qualities” to the people of a nation.
Another principle that Machiavelli advocates for is the concept of miserliness. He tells his readers “that it would be good to be considered generous” (pg. 248), but he warns that to be actually generous can be ruinous to a ruler as it can lead to “excessive taxes.”(pg. 248) He also states that it is more important that a ruler have enough money so that “he can defend himself from anyone who makes war against him.”(pg. 249) George W. Bush follows this recommendation with his current tax plan. The President has helped pass a tax relief that “has left $880 billion in the hands of American workers, investors, small businesses, and families.” By doing this our president shows he is a generous man, and this action also suggests that he is not “overburdening his people” (pg. 249), as Machiavelli suggests, with taxes. President Bush continues to show his miserliness by not only encouraging Congress to “make the tax cuts permanent”, but also highlighting that if his current tax cuts are passed it “will save the American taxpayers another $14 billion next year.” Bush is considered “generous” by the people of America because they have more money in their pockets due to the tax cuts even though the country is currently waging a war in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Once again George W. Bush follows Machiavelli’s ideas almost to the letter by not only having fewer taxes, thus not “overburdening his people” (pg.249), but also at the same time waging war. Even though Bush seems to follow Machiavelli’s recommendations as they are explained in The Prince, we can see how he takes Machiavelli’s theory on fear and completely changes it for his political agenda. In this year’s State of the Union address we are told that the largest threat to freedom is “radical Islam,” and that these fanatics have chosen the “weapon of fear” as their main threat against America. This tells us not only that we should be in fear, but also who to fear. Our president goes on to tell us that our enemy is “brutal” and that if we don’t continue to deal with these terrorists they will “simply move the battlefield to our own shores.” By using this image of war on American soil against a “brutal” enemy we are coaxed into a state of anxiety and fear of having our safe way of life endangered. This is rather different from Machiavelli’s suggestion of, “A prince must nevertheless make himself feared in such a manner that he will avoid hatred.” (pg. 251) Machiavelli only imagined that a ruler could have his country in a state of fear caused by the head of state himself; however, in our case the country has been put in a position to fear outside forces and not the head of state. By having Americans in fear of terrorists President Bush has fulfilled the most important part of Machiavelli’s counsel, “that he avoid hatred.” (pg. 251) Essentially, Americans do not fear Bush, but the terrorists; furthermore, the President tells us, “[t]he only alternative to American leadership is a dramatically more dangerous and anxious world.” This leads us to believe that the only person that can protect us from the enemy is the president himself. Bush is implying that without his leadership America would be besieged by terrorist attacks; this is a terrifying proposition for any citizen of any country. Bush goes on to create a false sense of protection by implying that “American leadership” is the only way to avoid a “dangerous and anxious world”; therefore, he is the only one able to protect our world from terrorist. Our president has not only updated Machiavelli’s philosophy but also vastly improved it.
While George W. Bush shares many of the same ideals with Machiavelli, the President rejects Hardin’s philosophies. Hardin is well known for his anti-immigration stance. In his essay, “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case against Helping the Poor” (pg. 326), Hardin advocates against immigration into America by saying, “the primary selfish interest in unimpeded immigration is the desire of employers for cheap labor, particularly in industries and trades that offer degrading work.” (pg.334) Hardin is implying new immigrants are not only being exploited by doing “degrading” work, but they are also replacing higher paid workers. Hardin goes on to quote a Hawaiian government official, “[w]e can bring more people here from Japan only by giving away some of the land we hope to pass on to our grandchildren someday.” (pg. 335) Hardin insinuates that immigration takes away from current resident’s resources and land, and from future generations. On the other hand, the President sees immigrants as essential to the economy and our nation as he says, “this economy could not function without them.” This is a completely different world view than Hardin as it makes immigrants an addition to our society rather than a drain. Bush sees immigrants as a resource that stimulates and “serves the interest of our economy.” Bush is at odds with Hardin’s concept of immigration being a drain on America, or a threat to current workers.
Another point on which Hardin and Bush disagree is the issue of helping the poor and less fortunate. The subtitle to Hardin’s essay, “The Case against Helping the Poor” (pg.326), explicitly states Hardin’s view on international aid. He speaks against the World Food Bank by saying that it subsidizes farmers and food manufacturers. He also theorizes that by supporting the World Food Bank the richer nations of the world, which America is the richest, are only encouraging “slovenly rulers” (pg. 331) to not prepare for the “infrequent and sudden” (pg.330) emergency. He goes on to say that if rich nations did not contribute to the World Food Bank the poorer nations would have their populations kept in check from lack of food. George W. Bush, on the other hand, sees helping the poorer nations as a way of making our nation more secure. He says, “We show compassion abroad because regions overwhelmed by poverty, corruption, and despair are source of terrorism, and organized crime.” Our president clearly sees the disadvantages of not helping the poor and underserved. He is aware that if the United States was to ignore those in need it will only foster resentment and hate toward America. Hardin completely misses this crucial point.
George W. Bush is also at odds with Garrett Hardin on how to deal with the environment and other natural resources. The President focuses his attention on how the environment can better serve as a resource to keep “America competitive.” His focus is primarily on developing “cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources” by giving tax credits and increasing funding to research. Bush views the environment as a resource to be used, with greater and greater efficiency, by America for economic advancement. Hardin, in contrast, concentrates on the environment’s abstract values. He states, “[e]very human born constitutes a draft on all aspects of the environment” (pg. 332) and if population is not controlled Hardin asks, “What about clean beaches, unspoiled forest, and solitude?” (pg. 333) With this rhetorical question Hardin shows his belief on conserving the environment for the unquantifiable qualities of personal enjoyment and solitude. Hardin realizes how these qualities can be more valuable to humans than money. Bush does not call for the conservation of the environment, but rather in efficient use of it.
Political theorists have been discussing the different ways in which to run countries for centuries. Some theories stand the test of time and are as effective today as they were hundreds of years ago. President Bush has taken some of the ideals of Niccolò Machiavelli and updated them to work in our current political system. Bush impersonates the ideal leader who presents himself only with the “good” qualities of generosity and good will. He also uses fear to his advantage, although not in the exact way Machiavelli envisioned. However, other hypotheses are inapplicable shortly after their inception. President Bush ignores the ideals of Garrett Hardin only a couple of decades after they had been publicized. Our president views the world from the perspective of a business man trying to make a profit or be philanthropic. On the other hand, Hardin strongly believed that immigration and helping the poor were a drain on United States; furthermore, he believed the environment should be saved for the enjoyment and solitude of mankind. Even though, most theorists never really know how well their theories work, as it takes decades to prove or disprove enacted theories, they can be comforted to know that there will always be students willing to compare their hypotheses to current politicians.
Thanks for reading and remember to think for yourself.