Politics have come a long way from Niccolo Machiavelli in the late 1400’s to current political philosophers of the twentieth century. Many of those great theorists had one single thing in common: they have strived to break old concepts of political thought, being it racial and gender inequality, or ideas on how to be a leader with less opposition. In modern politics, after a long period of centralized governments, the brief trend of gaining freedom and equality has been deteriorating and the creation of an illusion of freedom has slowly replaced the true freedom of speech and thought.
In the times of Machievelli, governments were centralized under the power of a prince. In his book “The Prince,” Machiavelli discussed how a prince should act in order to be fully respected and maintain full power. He suggested that a prince should do whatever was necessary to achieve his objectives and never rely only on ideals; additionally, no price was too high to pay for success, and a prince should focus more on being loved than feared if not possible to have both at the same time. On the same thought, “a prince should not worry if he incurs reproach for his cruelty so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal” (RWH, p.20); in other words, a prince should sometimes be cruel. Moreover, Machiavelli did not believe in individual freedom.
Even the prince needed to follow rules to maintain his success and everyone else had to follow the prince’s orders and live with fear. Hobbes had a similar view of Machiavelli’s. He believed that “kings, whose power is greatest, turn their endeavor to the assuring it at home by laws or abroad by wars” (Leviathan, 83). This required a need for a centralized government with full powers to the ruler.
Small changes to this political thought arose with John Locke; although still believing in a centralized government, Locke did not grant full power to the king. All government powers had to be limited by life, liberty, and property, and one should “do whatsoever he thinks fit for the preservation of himself and others within the permission of the law of Nature” (RWH, 139). Next in history we have Marx and Engels’ “The Communist Manifesto. ” In this book, the authors explained the history of class struggle and suggested a very different way of how society should work.
They noticed that “every form of society ha[d] been based…on the antagonism of the oppressing and oppressed classes,” and that the only path to form a new society was through this class struggle (CM, 64). Here, in a similar view from the Free Speech movement, the oppressed mass should fight for their rights; however, unlike the Free Speech Movement, this fight was not only to secure their freedom and equality, but to end a capitalist world that was being created by the oppressing class. Marx and Engels claimed that the “work of the proletarians ha[d] lost all individual character…[and men were becoming] an appendage of the machine” (CM, 58).
As a consequence, the mass was losing their buying power exponentially and being forced to work longer hours in order to keep up with the price of the commodities. To end the injustice seen in front of their eyes, they created a new political party, the Communist party, where “capital [would be] converted into common property” to lose “its class character” (CM, 68). This form of government was installed in a few countries for a period. However, it did not benefit the oppressed class as they suggested; instead, it united the bourgeoisie and proletariats, and the only class remaining was now oppressed by the Communist party.
In a different view from Marx and Engels, Ortega y Gasset examines the creation of the “mass-man,” not in terms of social class, but in terms of actions in society. He claims that due to “liberal democracy, scientific experiment, and industrialism,” no man was “confronted with obstacles and limitations” from birth (RM, 8); a man could change his path to becoming a noble by doing something great and simultaneously he could become a mass-man by being ordinary.
An ordinary man is one that is only concerned with their well-being, “and at the same time [he] remain[s] alien to the cause of that well-being” (RM, 10). He does not realize how society merited his luxuries and he believes that those are a natural right. Therefore, the “mass-man” could be from any social background, and as a result, there were no social barriers to one’s future. According to Ortega, since the modern mass do not consider any authority external to themselves due to their selfish ways, they believe to have “complete freedom as its natural established condition” (RM, 11).
On the other hand, the noble man is compelled to follow “some standard beyond himself” to better society (RM, 11). Nevertheless, these are mere illusions; the mass-man is actually oppressed, and by choice, and the noble man is not. Thus, by acting toward the greater good, one could achieve individual freedom in Ortega’s view. The first political movement for true individual freedom was the Civil Rights Movement initiated in the 1950’s. The Civil Rights Movement was a worldwide mass political movement to achieve equal legal rights.
It was initiated by student political organizations from several different universities in the San Francisco area with a series of protests and riots; they aimed to abolish public and private racial discrimination and fight for equal rights. This movement was mainly African American, but it was also the beginning for women’s liberation, to stop nuclear testing, apartheid, and discriminatory employee practices, or any kind of inequality in our society. According to Martin Luther King Jr. , “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.
The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained” (MLKJ, 6). Following the Civil Rights Movement was the Free Speech Movement. The Free Speech Movement was also done through protests and riots on the Berkeley University campus by student political organizations to ensure freedom of speech and literature. It also wanted to stop the prohibition of political activities on the university campus.
An interesting connection that can be done however is the relationship between the Civil Rights movement and “On Bullshit” by Henry Frankfurt. The Civil Rights movement fought against inequality; nonetheless, women were not seen as equal by their own revolution “brothers. ” When they tried to take a more active position of leadership, they encountered resistance from the part of their revolution “brothers. ” This led them to begin their own fight. “On Bullshit,” Frankfurt states that “the essence of bullshit is not that is false but that is phony” (HF, 5).
This is what activists were doing at that time. They claimed to want equality to all in matters of law, but in fact, they did not see women as equal. In society today, although one is believed to have total individual freedom, one has not. Racial and gender discrimination in the matter of law or freedom of speech are no longer an issue, but individuals are still discriminated in the everyday life. An example of it is white males having more chances of being promoted to a leadership position or earning a higher salary.
According to Lippmann, a recent trend in modern politics is the manufacturing of consent. It has become more and more present in the political environment and politicians, officials, or organizations leaders have a better capability of creating consent by persuasion. This happens because “established leaders of any organization have great natural advantages. They are believed to have better sources of information…it is, therefore, easier for them to secure attention and to speak in a convincing tone. But they also have a great deal of control over the access to the facts” (Lippmann, 135).
Through that control, they can limit what the mass will have knowledge on, and consequently, guide their thoughts and decisions to what they prefer; every “official finds himself deciding more and more consciously what facts, in what setting, in what guise he shall permit the public to know” and that gives them more power than anyone should have (Lippmann,135). A similar view of the same matter is discussed by Hannah Arendt. In “Lying in Politics,” Arendt exposes how the American government released false facts about the war in order to protect the reputation of our country and the image that its citizens had of it.
This exemplifies Lippmann’s arguments perfectly. Leaders have the power to choose what facts to be released to the public in order to influence their thoughts. Besides choosing what facts will be released to the public and when to release them, politicians “take, if not the whole mass, then the subordinates of the hierarchy sufficiently into their confidence to prepare them for what might happen, and to make them feel that they have freely willed the result” (Lippmann, 134).
This method is genius; being able to convince someone that your idea is their idea is the best way for secretly controlling others and succeeding in achieving your goals; “persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government” (Lippmann,136). In “Truth and Politics,” again by Arendt, there is a similar thinking: opinions will be formed in regards to an issue after arduous analysis of several different perspectives (Truth and Politics, 238); this will make “present to…mind[s] the standpoints of those who are absent” and in that way, their ideas will be expressed (Truth and Politics, 241).
Nevertheless, when representing others point of view, one is not fully adopting that point of view; thus, that idea is being “look[ed] upon the world from a different perspective” (Truth and Politics, 241). Consequently, this act mimics as if one is thinking for themselves and changing the idea according to one’s personality and beliefs, when it actually does not; hence, there is an illusion of an original thinking. Adding this process to the power leader have of what facts to expose, the manufacturing of consent becomes an easy task to do and is a powerful weapon for politicians to have.
Throughout the years, “the creation of consent…has improved enormously in technic, because it is now based in analysis rather than on rule of thumb” and for that reason, “the knowledge of how to create consent will alter every political calculation and modify every political premise” for as long as human beings exist (Lippmann, 135-136). Another recent trend in current society is the lack of more assertive people as during the Free Speech movement. On “Why Don’t We Complain? ” William Buckley Jr.
emphasizes a “tendency to passive compliance” and how the American people “are all increasingly…reluctant to make [their] voices heard, hesitant about claiming [their] right, [and afraid of]…confrontation with Authority” (WBJ, 2). Buckley also describes that the increasing use of technology, centralized economic and political power, and the use of other people to do one’s own work is leading to the “reluctance of the majority of Americans to assert themselves in minor matters” (WBJ, 4). The consequences about not speaking your voice are to become robots and being incapable of having feelings.
Sources Arendt, Hannah, Lying in Politics Arendt, Hannah, Truth and Politics Buckley, William F. , Why Don’t We Complain? Frankfurt, Henry, On Bullshit Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan King Jr. , Martin Luther, Letter from Birmingham Jail Lippmann, Walter F. , Manufacturing Consent Lippmann, Walter F. , The World Outside and Pictures in Our Heads Locke, John, Second Treatise of Civil Government Machiavelli, Niccollo, The Prince Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses