Nicolò Machiavelli, King Richard III, and The Lion King

Many of you probably have already made the obvious connection I am going to make from the title. The fact that Shakespeare’s King Richard III of England, the character Scar from the Disney childhood classic the The Lion King have in common. Both are weaker and deformed versions of their brothers who are kings, and they both desire power at whatever cost. In the video we saw in lecture was a monologue where Richard III proclaims his intentions to employ whatever actions necessary to gain the royal crown, and this is parallels the murder Scar commits  of his brother Moustafa and banishment of his nephew Simba to become king. It is a tit for tat dirty hands for dirty paws comparison.

Now we all remember that Machiavelli wouldn’t have encouraged these actions because he solely supports only engaging in “dirty hand politics” for the good of the nation. What I wish to explore is why we were so willing to accept “dirty hand politics”, even if culturally we proclaim to despise it? Why is Simba still the hero of The Lion King and in our hearts if he isn’t willing to perform these “dirty hand politics”? Where does a politician’s use of “dirty hand politics” end? I was truly surprised in class when we were asked whether we thought Machiavellian politics were a good or bad influence in politics half of us agreed that they were. Personally I said it was bad, but to an extreme because I do understand it gets results. But does getting results through “any means necessary” make a politician good?

Let’s think about each question individually (I’m not even going to try to give an answer…either way I’m wrong). Why are we so willing to accept “dirty hand politics” if we proclaim to despise it? There isn’t a political campaign where there are no accusations of opponents lying or cutting underhanded deals. Reversely there probably isn’t a political campaign that doesn’t employ these tactics to advance a candidate. Meanwhile at Tea-Party and Occupy Wall Street protests around the country in the past few years there has been a call to remove the dirt from our politics. Are we so desperate for political action we are willing to throw basic moralities of honesty and honor out the window? We said that “dirty hand politics” is good if reserved for actions that better the state, but what we easily forget is that if someone gets dirty hands the dirt is spread all over us. We punish those who are caught with dirty hands, no matter the motive. We want results, but refuse to look at the consequences such as shame in the international, national, or even local community because of these tactics. Maybe “dirty hand politics”aren’t a necessity, but the convenience of having someone do the dirty work for us.

Why are we still asking for political figures that resemble Simba instead of Scar? Half of us agreed that we need dirty hand politicians. So why do we disgrace those that get caught? Bill Clinton got a bad rap for getting dirty hands in an issue completely non-political, and he could have easily been kicked out of the White House (by congress or Hillary…yikes!). At the same time Nixon had to resign so as not to be removed from office, because of the Watergate Scandal. Yet what Nixon did can easily be seen as classic Machiavellian “dirty hand politics”. Nixon was fixing the election so those “dirty good for nothing pinko-commie” Democrats that divided the nation right? If we look at it through this context maybe Machiavelli wasn’t providing an actual reason for “dirty hand politics”, but an excuse to use when caught with dirty hands (and in Machiavelli’s day Nixon would have had the force to stay in power…scary thought). 

When is the use of “dirty hand politics” acceptable? That’s an easy one! When it is for the good of the state dirty hands are acceptable. Ok. Who decides what is good for the state? In Machiavelli’s day it was completely up to the ruler. In our time it is up to us the people…in theory. Good. Now go out and round everyone up together and decide what we all want and where we should be allowed to get dirty to get results. If you can’t understand the sarcasm go over your notes on pluralism from the first few weeks of class. Since we, the people, can’t agree and we aren’t supposed to know when our politicians use dirty hand tactics, because then we would have to punish them for being caught, our leaders must use their discretion of when “dirty hand politics” can be used. You can imagine how many issues we will have with one person in a powerful position deciding when it is ok for him/her to dodge the rules, and why we would not want that.

So where are we now? We know we don’t like “dirty hand politics”, we ask for honorable politicians who we know will sucker punch someone in our interests when deemed necessary, and we want this person to know exactly when to use these tactics and to what degree while remaining completely moral otherwise. This seems quite the daunting task for a politician, to seem innocent but cut throats willingly when we truly need it. Yet we ask for this because we know that it is necessary. The quote at the end of Tuesday’s lecture says it all, and the final scene of The Lion King says it all. We want a leader like Simba, honest and innocent, but we wanted him to kill Scar instead of trying to him live.



Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

One Comment on “Nicolò Machiavelli, King Richard III, and The Lion King”

  1. Brian Hall Says:

    I think the reason there seems to be a hypocritical contradiction in society’s tacit support for and simultaneous condemnation of dirty hands is simply an inevitable part of having a personal system of moral valuation. We want our politicians to be successful at whatever the cost, but we also don’t want them to cause problems for us through the results of their actions either. People’s morality varies of course, as some would not bat an eye at the thought of mercilessly hunting down and killing people, or using torture to stop terrorism while others might take issue. I would assume that someone with as little morality as possible (like a serial killer), would probably not care what the government does as long as the repercussions do not come back to him.

    Society as a whole has a unique and somewhat twisted sense of morality, which can be most easily seen in news media. This changes over time as the individuals in society also change, which is why Dirty Hands is never a universal concept (we might today look at a problem and come to a different conclusion than people in the past or future).

%d bloggers like this: