April 30, 2004
Now “the Jesus factor” is in the news. The person and name of Jesus mean many things to many people; but when that name is used to cover or promote evil or dishonesty then we’re not really dealing with Jesus. He has been replaced by those who misuse his name.
That’s a Machiavellian strategy. I just read a book about Machiavelli’s importance for today by a man who advises the White House. While I read, I made two cursory lists in the front of the book.(1)
1) Machiavellian values: war, dominate, defeat, fearsome, show no mercy, control, tough, dirty, nasty, evil (those last 3 words were used by the author, not supplied by me), calculating dishonesty, pride (hubris), vindictive retribution, passion for self-fulfillment, anti-freedom, political use of religion . . .
2) Opposite values: a generous spirit, altruism, the common good or general welfare, cooperation, with thought but without calculation (a phrase I saw used about Howard Dean’s style), bundle of sticks (family), listening, forgiveness, bipartisanship, principled compromise, coalition building, conflict resolution, conflict management, cultivating of others’ giftedness . . .
If this Administration is practicing the evil values and habits of the first list and covering it with the name of Jesus – as it seems to many of us that they are – then they are practicing blasphemy as well as idolatry. They have the wrong Jesus.
“Nowhere in the New Testament is there an image of the human Jesus that is compatible with attitudes of hubris, hedonism, envy, arrogance, acquisitiveness, self-aggrandizement, hostility, or violence. Jesus is everywhere associated with faithful obedience toward God and meek, compassionate, self-emptying service toward other people.”(2) That does not mean, of course, that Jesus was prone to mince words or avoid the issues.
If we want a true Jesus factor operating in our society, a good place to start would be to get intimate with his actual words and deeds.
1] Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, by Michael A Ledeen, 1999, St Martin’s Press. 2] Living Jesus, by Luke Timothy Johnson, 1999, HarperSanFrancisco, p200.
1. The list from Ledeen well represents the behaviors and attitudes of Machiavellianism, both as coached by M. himself, and as practiced by the Bush administration (with coaching from Ledeen). I have to assume it is no accident that I hear more defenses of Machiavelli lately, given the dishonesty, manipulations, and bloodiness of the Bush regime.
2. Tyrants often talk about the welfare of the people and present themselves as the ones best qualified to oversee that welfare. To put those words into practice as one’s driving value is a very costly thing, and arises out of a very different world-view and moral system.
3. The list I quoted describing the Jesus of the Gospels means Jesus is disqualified from or incapacitated for Machiavellian strategies. (“Nowhere in the New Testament is there an image of the human Jesus that is compatible with attitudes of hubris, hedonism, envy, arrogance, acquisitiveness, self-aggrandizement, hostility, or violence. Jesus is everywhere associated with faithful obedience toward God and meek, compassionate, self-emptying service toward other people.”)
4. So this is a Christian and Gospel issue. The “Machiavellians” of 1st century Jerusalem are the powers-that-be who worked together to get Jesus executed. And his own take on that was that it would result in the kind of devastation that the Romans inflicted on Jerusalem in A.D. 70. (Luke 19) There is a real choice here. These are not easy issues, but we need to be aware of the choices we are making.
You obviously do not understand the principles of Machiavelli. Being Machiavellian does not mean wanton cruelty. He actually discourages “excessive cruelty,” as the people will come to despise the prince.
You cite “the common good” as an anti-Machiavellian concept; however, Machiavelli cites the common good as the only reason to employ cruelty. As Machiavelli sees it, the common good is the establishment of order, for without that people are basically evil.
Machiavelli was also a staunch supporter of republican form of government, but he felt that at times of crisis, a stong central leader was needed. Our founding fathers agreed with him in this respect by consolidating executive power in the hands of one man. The Federalist Papers agrue this is needed for swift and efficent responce to immediate threats to our nation.
Machiavelli was not some evil enemy to democracy that some ill-informed elitists make him out to be. He was simply a man who felt the common good was the greatest good, and if a ruler must utilize some methods which would be considered immoral by some, so be it. He was are great political thinker, who was correct about many aspects of human nature. Unfortunately, like most great thinkers, including Jesus, Plato, Hobbes, Marx, etc…, his words have been grossly misunderstood by ignorant people.
http://www.emachiavelli.com – a great site with a true interuptation of Machiavellian thought. respond to firstname.lastname@example.org