Political Realism, Political idealism, Power and Justice: Security versus Human Rights

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Political realism basically takes two forms but both forms deny, for different reasons, that politics is fundamentally  related to ethical categorical reasoning(the basis of justice and human rights) and both forms would claim that instrumental reasoning of different kinds form the preliminary stage of action which is fundamentally to be measured by its consequences. The first form of political instrumentalism or consequentialism is encountered in Machiavelli’s thoughts. Machiavelli in his work “The Prince”  attempts to provide pragmatic guidance for rulers, advice  that is free from “lofty ideals”, and he claims that private morality and public morality are to be separated for a Prince who has the task of governing people. He recommended a kind of “situational governorship” in which , if the circumstances demanded it , one would be wholly justified in deceiving and killing the nobility of a country if they threatened the power of the ruler. This kind of recommendation has led some   commentators to call this work a handbook in the art of criminal government. It is better he argued to be feared and loved than to be merely loved, or even worse, feared and hated.  He adds that it is very difficult to be both feared and loved and that therefore the ruler should satisfy himself with being feared. This recognizably bears the marks of a realpolitik which refuses to think in terms of any kind of political or ethical idealism. Machiavelli believes that  “idealism” means  something which  common sense “associates” with the notion of an “idea” which in the mind of the realist becomes strangely detached from the action which is guided by it. It is almost as if the realist believes that rationally based actions can proceed blindly and instinctively toward some goal or consequence. It is not surprising therefore that Machiavelli believes that it is important for the ruler to have knowledge of the manipulation of instinctively based emotions as well as knowledge of  the Psychology of the people one rules. For example:

“Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”(Machiavelli, The Prince)

And of course it it would be foolish to question a realist about whether the above description is a realistic description of the real situation he finds himself in.For the narcissistic realist that would be a sign that he is  hated  which in turn would require appropriate action on his part, namely punishment of his critic.

Hobbes is a a Political realist but  with different more scientific assumptions  and a scientific  method: the resolutive-compositive method of Galileo which he uses to describe and explain mans political activities. He has in common with Machiavelli a simplistic Psychology which claims that  the basic parts of man from his sensory-motor organs  up to his memory, imagination, and reason  all compose endeavours which are essentially in the service of mans appetites and aversions. Every voluntary action is determined by mans appetites and aversions(Hobbes, Leviathan). This composite  consequence  then entails  a further consequence that man always seeks some power when living in communities  which is determined by the amount by which his capacities, riches ,reputation and friends exceed those of other men.  In simple societies like a state of nature, there are further consequences, the powers of men oppose each other. There is a struggle  for power which can become  violent resulting in a war of all against all because some mens desires are without limit:

“So that in the first place, I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death.”

Because the war of all against all cannot produce peace and commodious living Hobbes envisages a conditional justification of distributing ones own personal power to that of a sovereign who assimilates all  the power,  in return for the absolute obedience of  the citizen. The sovereign  provides the conditions necessary for a bourgeois  market driven society in which men continue to strive for power  in an environment which banishes the omnipresence of death  unless related to  the threat of the sanction of the law if their desires are uncontrolled. For Hobbes, a mans value is quantified by his capacities, riches reputation and friends.

This is in stark contrast to the idealistic Kantian concept  of man as an  end in himself irrespective of his capacities, riches, reputation and friends. For Kant man does not have a market value because,  even if we concede that this simplistic picture of man refers to the facts about man and his relation to other men and his society, values cannot logically be deduced from facts. An ought cannot be derived from an is without committing the naturalistic fallacy. This is the major reason why political idealism is  closer to the truth than political realism but in itself is not the whole truth.

The salience of the above post for  the events we are currently experiencing in Syria, the UK(the land of Hobbes) and the USA is  the following. The world is experiencing the consequences of the disconnection of value-laden ideas to action. Political  idealism maintains, for instance that the good intention behind the action, rather than the actions consequences, is “logically” related to to the action which it ontologically defines. If this it is correct, this is  certainly an Aristotelian and Kantian position and it is one of the foundation stones of humanistic liberalism. From this view of action we derive our views of justice and human rights. This view  certainly rests on psychological or anthropological conditions far more complex than we see in either of Hobbes’ or Machiavelli’s theories which are fundamentally individualistic or egocentric in Hobbes’s case and   narcissistic in Machiavelli’s case. These are the theories that allow us  adopt an attitude which allows us to sign and support executive orders affecting a significant proportion of the Muslim world, an executive order  whose major motivation is consequentialist: allowing the most powerful nation in the world to feel safe in the face of, relatively speaking, small numbers of terrorists.