::: Evan Sparks
Ciceronian themes permeate a popular family film. ::: Click here to read the full text.
You point out, of course, that reality rarely, if ever, conforms to the ideal. This is true but I think you have missed something. As Machiavelli pointed out in "The Prince," it is not that might makes right but that right makes might. Rulers who try to do it the easy way with cruelty, suppression, etc. tend to live lives that are nasty brutish and short. Yes, sometimes they succeed, but they frequently fall like Hitler. Stalin succeeded, but the Soviet Union fell because it was built upon sheer power. The U.S.A. is strong because it respects the inherent dignity of its people.
As he explains,
[T]he nobles, seeing they cannot withstand the people, begin to cry up the reputation of one of themselves, and they make him a prince, so that under his shadow they can give vent to their ambitions. The people, finding they cannot resist the nobles, also cry up the reputation of one of themselves, and make him a prince so as to be defended by his authority. He who obtains sovereignty by the assistance of the nobles maintains himself with more difficulty than he who comes to it by the aid of the people...
Besides this, one cannot by fair dealing, and without injury to others, satisfy the nobles, but you can satisfy the people, for their object is more righteous than that of the nobles, the latter wishing to oppress, while the former only desire not to be oppressed.
Therefore, the more greedy a ruler is, the more he should respect the rights of the people. Their rights make him strong.
"When you disarm the people, you commence to offend them and show that you distrust them either through cowardice or lack of confidence, and both of these opinions generate hatred."
The problem with all of these ideas , which should be obvious if you actually look at the histories of Rome and countless other societies, is that those who have power are only rarely those who deserve it, only rarely those who have gained it on these "natural talents" rather than sheer cruelty and the forced efforets of others. And thus, while such ideas are all fine and well in the abstract, when actually applied to a society they merely function as an excuse for the weak and ordinary to claim false superiority. This is not to say that you are wrong that such natural leaders exist (I'm not arguing for some ridiculous Marxist/democratic elevation of the ordinary and taking the side of Syndrome), merely that in a society based on individual gain, few such leaders will have the patience necessary to attain the postions that they ought to hold, especially when the rewards to themselves are so throughly negligible. This is because the Incredibles is, needless to say, a fantasy. Of course the superhero is above and beyond the ordinary person, but the politician rarely ever is.
See C.S. Lewis's classic "Screwtape Proposes a Toast."
Recalling that it is a speech offered by a demon in hell, we shall relish this excerpt:
Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. ... Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle's question: whether "democratic behavior" means the behavior that democracies like or the behavior that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.
You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practice, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.
The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say "I'm as good as you."
The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the center of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don't mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says I'm as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.
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