Home > Uncategorized > Florence and the Drones – NYTimes.com

Florence and the Drones – NYTimes.com

February 8, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

He just had a different concept of political virtue. It would be nice, he writes, if a political leader could practice the Christian virtues like charity, mercy and gentleness and still provide for his people. But, in the real world, that’s usually not possible. In the real world, a great leader is called upon to create a civilized order for the city he serves. To create that order, to defeat the forces of anarchy and savagery, the virtuous leader is compelled to do hard things, to take, as it were, the sins of the situation upon himself.

The leader who does good things cannot always be good himself. Sometimes bad acts produce good outcomes. Sometimes a leader has to love his country more than his soul.

Since a leader is forced by circumstances to do morally suspect things, Machiavelli at least wants him to do them effectively. Machiavelli is full of advice. If you have to do something cruel, do it fast; if you get to do something generous, do it slowly. If you lead a country, you have more to fear from the scheming elites than the masses, so you should try to form an alliance with the people against the aristocracy.

When you read Machiavelli, you realize how lucky we are. Unlike 16th-century Florence, we have a good Constitution that channels conflict. We have manners, respect for law and social trust that softens behavior, at least a bit. Even in the realm of foreign affairs, we’ve inherited an international order that restrains conflict. Our ancestors behaved savagely to build our world, so we don’t have to.

But it’s still not possible to rule with perfectly clean hands. There are still terrorists out there, hiding in the shadows and plotting to kill Americans. So even today’s leaders face the Machiavellian choice: Do I have to be brutal to protect the people I serve? Do I have to use drones, which sometimes kill innocent children, in order to thwart terror and save the lives of my own?

When Barack Obama was a senator, he wasn’t compelled to confront the brutal logic of leadership. Now in office, he’s thrown into the Machiavellian world. He’s decided, correctly, that we are in a long war against Al Qaeda; that drone strikes do effectively kill terrorists; that, in fact, they inflict fewer civilian deaths than bombing campaigns, boots on the ground or any practical alternative; that, in fact, civilian death rates are dropping sharply as the C.I.A. gets better at this. Acting brutally abroad saves lives at home.

via Florence and the Drones – NYTimes.com.

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