Modern Politics and Society: Violence and Criminality
So let’s say that violence and criminality lie at the base of modern politics and society. This seems like a fairly reasonable supposition given how, at least in the US, our politicians have been “in bed” with criminals continually. There is the fact that FDR made a deal with the mafia don, Meyer Lansky would provide protection along the east coast of the US and FDR would move Lucky Luciano to more comfortable accommodations in the prison system and then free Luciano and send him to Italy after WWII ended. There is also the fact that the US Army, when it invaded Sicily, used the mafia there to combat communists who had resisted Mussolini’s government as well as the German Nazis.
And regarding violence, it is good to remember that the US was created by virtue of a revolution, that is, a revolutionary war that constituted at the time treason. The American Revolution was a treasonous war. And, of course, the US was perpetuated by means of the Civil War, one of the bloodiest wars ever fought.
So, then our supposition seems at least plausible. But now a further supposition: Let us suppose that Plato and Aristotle knew that human societies rested on violence and criminality, something allegedly “discovered “ by Machiavelli. The difference between Plato, Aristotle and Machiavelli is that while Plato and Aristotle recognized that violence and criminality lay at the root of what we call “civilized” societies, they kept that hidden, while Machiavelli chose to expose it.
This may not be a minor differentiation, although it might seem like one. By exposing the basis of human societies as violence and criminality, Machiavelli conveyed a certain legitimacy on those phenomena, and once that is done, everything changes. That is, after Machiavelli, what humans take to be good and bad changes, and what they take to be the best life changes as well. Violence and criminality, if committed on a large scale, come to be respectable, even admirable.
Consider the Civil War in the United States. This war was one of the bloodiest wars ever waged and yet, afterwards, it was looked upon with favor by those who waged it, both those in the North and those in the South. In fact, even more amazingly, Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, tried to render the war sacred, as a sacrifice, an especially bloody sacrifice, that was necessary to preserve the union that was called the United States, as well as ensuring that “government[s] of, for, and by the people” would not perish from the earth. Of course that war involved both great violence and great criminality and yet Lincoln would have us remember it as sacred, that which could not be “hallowed” further. Is it needless to point out that in this way, Lincoln was claiming great virtue for himself, even the greatest virtue? That is, the greatest virtue arises from and is intertwined with great violence and great criminality. This is, to say the least, a sobering thought.