News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Machiavellian Eyes

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Machiavellian Eyes

I wrote the following in response to Pat Lang's remarks on Nasrallah and "immoral equivalency."
Amira Hass writes:

IDF soldiers have killed 44 children in Gaza since June 28, when the failed campaign to release abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit began. That is 44 children out of the 188 people the IDF has killed in Gaza - civilians and armed men, most of whom had embarked on a doomed fight against the invading tanks. The last three who were killed, on Monday, were three farmers from Beit Hanoun who were hit by an IDF shell - about as precise as a Hezbollah Katyusha - instead of the rocket launcher it had been intended to hit.
The notion that one country or people or tribe at war is better than any other has been proven over and over again to be hypocritical. The sooner that we as a nation realize this the better. The jihadists are no less human than we are. While their goals are disssimilar to our own and their methods different, they are simply doing what we'd do were we to step into their shoes. ...

For Israel or anyone else to claim moral superiority over so-called terrorists is itself a red herring. As some historians note, it is the Zionist bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem--a terrorist act--that the Palestinians and now the al-Qaedists learned from.

The French philosopher Simone Weil once said (I paraphrase) that the ultimate goal of self-knowledge is to realize that given the right circumstances human beings are capable of the most despicable and heinous crimes.

What does it say about "our side" that the so-called war on terror is impelling our leaders to rewrite the Geneva convention definition of war crimes?

Since I am trying to see the world these days through Machiavellian eyes, I can only see that this is required by the nature of the enemy we fight. And perhaps the will to change one's tactics and mode of war displays a level of virtu that Machiavelli would applaud.

On the other hand, Machiavelli tried to understand the dialectical interplay between virtu and corruption. For him, the type of virtu that a state displays reflects the level of corrutpion within that state. Corruption here means dependency on others and the loss of liberty of the diverse groups within a given republic.

But it can also mean the actions that bring about a state of affairs wherein others cannot adequately exhibit their individual virtues. There's even some notion that a republic cannot exist without the existence of other republics. Whether or not the US can coexist with Islamist republics like Iran, perhaps, only time will tell.

I suggest it's a matter of will. It's not the jihadists who are the real enemy--it's their believing that they can stand in the way of US expansion into the oil-rich MidEast and consolidation of oil reserves and potential markets.

That is what this war is about--not morality. And, as some neo-Machiavellians might say, what is in the interests of the empire is what serves the interests of all; and you do what you have to do to obtain those goals. Anything else shows a lack of will and the ultimate corruption of the republic.

Yet, Machiavelli seems to have despised the Roman imperium. He did so because it was led by a despot and tyrant. Any functioning republic must not allow tyrants. Perhaps this is the criterion to use in udnerstanding what the "war on terror" is making of us: how much despotism does it elicit? That it does so is a sign of the republic's corruption.

With the rise of the Hamiltonian Executive branch, it is perhaps time to ask some questions about what price we want to pay for an empire whose existence threatens ourselves more than it does those we call our enemies.
When it suits him, the Israeli is part of the collective. Therefore, every terror attack and Katyusha are aimed "against the Jewish people" - which, of course, always authorizes Israel to embark on punishment campaigns that are defined as existential war. And when it suits him, the Israeli denies his partnership in the collective, in the occupation machinery to which he is a partner. He ignores the inevitable implications of the machinery that controls, in an authoritarian way, the lives of 3.5 million people who did not elect it (the Palestinian Authority was from the outset a fiction of government, with no authority).

On the one hand, the Israeli who "doesn't intend" cuts himself off from the Israeli occupation and colonialism machine, and exempts himself from the responsibility for the intention to harm Palestinian civilians, an intention that is inherent in the very existence of an occupation machinery. And on the other hand, he cuts the Palestinian response off from the existence of the occupation machine: After all, they as individuals and as a collective "intended to harm civilians," and this because of their eternal essence as Muslims, as Arabs - which is independent of us.
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