About Machiavellianism and Individualism
Why it´s more important, why a politician is saying something, than what he is saying (machiavellianism, political theory, masses, massmovements, individualism, collectivism)
In the following I will compare two quotes and therefrom derive conclusions, why it´s more important, why a politician is saying something, than what he is saying.
»There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and woman and their families«
– Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013), Prime Minister of the UK
»If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich«
– John Kennedy (1917-1963), 35th President of the USA
Before we can compare this two quotes with each other, we must first dissect them individually to not just understand their meaning but also the intention of the authors. Let´s take a look at the first sentence in the quote by Thatcher: There is no such thing as society.
Ontologically you can argue from a materialistic point of view, that this is right, as society is more of a metaphysical thoughtconstruct / an idea than a really existing object. But Thatcher contradicts herself in the following sentence by listening families, which are also an idea. And as Thatcher is a politician she probably didn´t wants to make a philosophical statement, but if any a sociological statement. Furthermore, and even far more important, she wants to influence their audience into a certain direction. (You can here assume a machiavellistic approach)
She wants to remind the people, that the thing called society, to which they plea for help or demand from a comfortable life, consists of individuals. So if you demand something from society, you demand it from other individuals who are more or less like you. If everyone just demands, society can´t function and if you are constantly demanding and taking from society and so from other individuals, you are not better, than a parasite. Furthermore, if there is no such a thing as society, the individual is more or less the only one in charge for his own (misery or) wellbeing (because, why should anyone else care about you). This is a very individualistic point of view, with a liberal waft.
On the other hand, the quote by J.F. Kennedy has a rather socialistic and collectivistic testimony. Kennedy appeals to society as a real thing, so understudies an idealistic ontological position, which implies a responsibility of the stronger/richer individuals/parts of it to support the weaker/poor ones, as otherwise the stronger and society as a whole can´t survive.
Interestingly, no one of these two quotes makes a real moral statement, but rather appeals to reason and reason in this case seems to lead to different results:
The first one says, that you cannot rely on no one else except yourself, the second states, that all humans need to work together as we just can maintain status quo or even develope further by helping each other.
But which of this two is true or right? I dare to claim: both and none, but let me first dwell deeper into the topic, so you can understand my trail of thoughts. At the first glimpse anthropology, sociology and even to certain degree history agree with Kennedys statement, as humans are in general pack animals, who are only really strong and able to reach overall wellbeing and dominion over nature by working together and caring for each other. Of course, it depends on the situation and the perspective. On the other hand, an individual can often gain more for himself (and so under certain circumstances for whole society) by acting individualistic, machiavellistic and selfish, but usually at the expense of others. So a single, strong willed and minded human like eg. Leonardo da Vinci, Alan Turing, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln or Albert Hofmann, can create or do individually things, who push mankind as whole forward, but this is the exception, not the rule. If everyone would behave individualistic, economy would collapse, as it needs the workforce of the collectivistic herd to maintain itself (also the majority hasn´t the preconditions to become a great individual).
As politicians, Kennedy and Thatcher have to take care of a whole nation and help this nation to remain stable and to flourish. Their goals are more or less the same, but why are their statements then so different? The answer lies in the in difference between the society Kennedy had to govern and the society Thatcher had to govern. As Thatcher demands indirectly more selfresponsibility and individualism you can conclude that this is what lacks the people, she´s governing. Kennedy statement implies, that there lack of collectivism and a growing gap between the rich and the poor, which, if not stopped by acting more socialistically, could tear apart society and economy.
If a society wants to function well, it has to find the right amount of collectivism and individualism, which are necessary determined by factors, like the zeitgeist, the technology and the cultural development at the moment. These two politicians made statements to adjust their citizen’s attitude to reach the necessary/right amount, in Thatcher’s case the regulator pointed too much in the direction of collectivism, while in Kennedys case the regulator pointed too much in the direction of individualism, so both had to counteract.
So this statements weren´t made to declare an universal meaning or incitement, but are bound closely to the circumstances, they have been made. Their goal is to push the people in the direction, which is currently needed to move forward or to reach a certain goal, like power, wealth or stability. And this is how politics work. Ideologies and Ideas, like Socialism, the concept of Good and Evil, Christianity, Communism or Nationalism are nothing more than ideas and thoughtbuildings inside the heads of some animals called by themselves humans and thus not real from a rational (or moral and political nihilistic or materialistic) position. This thoughtbuildings are neither true nor real, but they are necessary for successful politics and survival, as they are powerful tools to control the herds and prevent them to fall into the nihilistic void or radical hedonism, which would make them useless for society and the ones, who are governing it. And this is not a conspiracy on a large scale.
People by nature crave and create ideas, as they need them to perceive the world. But they are lazy in creating own ideas and so run gladly and automatically into the arms of given ideas and ideologies as long as someone else thinks for them and gives their life meaning. If you want people to obey, tell them there is an entity called god, who punishes them for not doing so; if you want people to work hard and so make the economy flourish and the taxes bubble up, tell them the story of the american dream; if there are riots because the poor can´t stand their situation, preach socialism; if you want to win an election, tell the people what they want to hear; if you want people to be quiet, give them the illusion of being in power, by installing a system you call democracy, though real democracy would be a deadly state of anomy, as it would mean that the masses were governing, and the masses have no idea of real politics, will and economy, they are like sheep. Kant can preach his sapere aude for millennia, but the majority of humankind will stay forever immature and in need and in search for shepherds and the warm conformity of a simple worldview. The truth, the harsh absurdity and meaningless nature of reality, make it nearly impossible to keep a normal human in line and his life bearable, so the people, especially in crowds, will always need delusions and a feeling of being a part of a collective/bigger idea, which they can follow and live and die for, though individualism is in a long term the only way to make progress, because only strong individuals driven by the will to power (wolfs not sheep) are able to push society forward and invent, explore and create really great and new things and ideas.
So do I believe in any of this two statements? No and yes. From an emotional, political and machiavellistic point of view, i think, everything is allowed to keep order on this planet, even telling lies and creating delusions, because people need delusions to function; from a sociological and political position i understand, that if you want society and mankind to survive, they must balance on the fine line of enough and too much individualism or collectivism; and through looking at social evolution and psychology i can see, how this morals and concepts came into being as defense mechanisms – though as an individualist i am sick of politics and disgusted by collectivism, but I accept their inevitability and necessity, and at the same time i don´t believe personally, that there is any sense or meaning in anything, so you are free to do everything. This all may sound at first paradox and absurd, but our world is paradox and absurd, too. But that´s all my personal opinion. Dare to question me.
copyright by Nikodem Skrobisz
Ein Gedanke zu „About Machiavellianism and Individualism“
While I agree that sense or meaning in an overall sense (objectifyable or scientifically defensible) is not discernable and thus free choices are a logical result, I would add a “but”:
Those free choices are hampered or restrained or guided (chose at your discretion) by your personal beliefs and those shape your outlook as well as the world you perceive. That does not necessarily change the world, but going against your beliefs will change you for the worse (who to trust, if not yourself?) and following them will give a pretense of meaning to you and them and – in a way – make you “learn by going where you have to go” (Roethke).
I admit that I preferred the poetry of Nietzsche to his philosophy and Schopenhauer didn’t appeal to me at all, because it made the grey room of Jean Amery too recognizable behind it’s shut door. Instead I found Böll’s answer to the question that free will poses rather appealing (as given in “Billard um halbzehn”).