The Only Thing We Have to Fear is…..Ourselves?

December 11, 2011

Political Theory


Just today, once again, Virginia Tech was host to murders on its very own campus. Two individuals, including a police officer, were sadly shot down on campus, the second time such an incident has occurred at the exact school within the last 5 years. For those of you who do not remember, in April of 2007 the Virginia Tech Colombine resulted in the shooting and death of 33 individuals on Virginia Tech campus. These individuals are mentally unstable, and a complete danger to those around them. The worst is they are not the only one, and won’t be the last.

Hobbes and Machiavelli both felt that it was essential for a leader to be able to cause his subordinates to fear him. To me, it seems that in our society we utilize essentially the inverse of this theory. If there is any sort of negative feeling a citizen of the US will feel towards the government, fear would be the last on the list. If anything resentment is more of a common negative sentiment citizens will feel about their government. I am more afraid of being jumped walking down Geddes avenue (where a recent assault took place on campus) than I am of my government, and it’s people like the VaTech Shooters, that make me and I sure others feel this way.

So what does this say about our society, how would Hobbes or Machiavelli assess this situation? Machiavelli said that a leader with true power is one who demonstrates to his citizens that he has the power to both preserve life, as well as take it away. Today, I’m more afraid of a fellow US citizen taking a life than I am our government. Personally, I have no idea what it would be like to live under another sort of government, and I am truly grateful to be a citizen of the US and have the rights I do, but, if our government had more power over the individual, would that result in less incidences like those that have occurred in Blacksburg so recently?

This is how I see it. If we live under the rule of a leader who utilized the techniques and ideologies of Hobbes and Machiavelli, citizens would be far more disciplined, and less likely to be deviants. If I lived under the rule of a dictator I would never break the law, because he is the ultimate authority and he has the right to be far more extreme than if the decision were to be given to a court of law. There is a very good chance that a murderer in this country is given Jail time, a more powerful, and one sided leadership, would be more inclined to execute a murderer, which sends a message to the public telling them not to disobey the say of those in charge.

We have seen several incidences before and there needs to be something done about it. I understand that problems like these can;t possibly be foreseen nor can they be prevented, but there needs to be something done that could prevent people from acting in such ways. I feel a more powerful government would solve the problem easily, but that would be calling for a completely radical change to our nation, and that just isn’t in the cards right now.

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4 Comments on “The Only Thing We Have to Fear is…..Ourselves?”

  1. djavolio8 Says:

    First, I believe it is important to note that only one innocent man, a police officer was slain, as the second “victim” was actually the young man that had shot the officer. Secondly, I don’t no necessarily what you are implying by saying that a stronger government is how we can address this problem. If this was a discrete way of saying that you believe we should have gun control then in that regard i agree with you. Weapons capable of easily taking the life of another are far to common in our nation. As our professor said in class, the notion that on average our classroom has 2 guns in it at any given time is about as scary as it gets. I don’t think many people realize just how vulnerable we all really are when guns are allowed to be bought, sold, and traded freely.

    Last year a man dressed up as a police officer and gained access into the Big House. His motive was just so that he could stand on the sidelines for a game. However, this man for some reason saw the need to carry around a rifle in an effort to sell his uniform. While the rifle was not loaded, the fact that a random guy was able to bring a rifle into Michigan Stadium without meeting even the slightest opposition amazes me. If it’s any consolation though, the man faces legal action as he was impersonating a uniformed officer.

    Having said all this I think Machiavelli’s ideas would be more successful than Hobbes’ in this situation. While a supreme government as suggested by Hobbes would limit crime, I think we’ve seen recently that in any nation where such a government is in place, the people eventually grow angry and utilize extreme forms of violence. Machiavelli’s ideas at least allow the people to maintain a sense of civil freedom all while maintaining respect for their government and its laws.

  2. cobyj17 Says:

    First, because of the size of our nation, it cannot be one single ruler that is able to keep everyone in line. This is where the police and local governments come in. You seem to be saying that you would rather have local governments create fear in their people to prevent crime. Essentially, this is an argument for the death penalty. However, the evidence has not been clear that the death penalty actually deters crime. Additionally, it can be inefficient, expensive, and at times it can execute an innocent person.

    Furthermore, a system where those in power are allowed to execute people to create fear can lead to a dangerous tyranny. While a benevolent dictator is hypothetically feasible, when too much power is given to a leader or the government, history tells us that we will likely see oppression. Hobbes and Machiavelli might argue that these would be more effective systems because of the fear it would cause people, but these theories are incompatible with our system of government. We would have to sacrifice much of what it means to be American as a government to effectively make the people fear the government.

  3. Brian Hall Says:

    What’s important to note here is that there will always be crazy people in society, regardless of what the government does, or whether guns are involved. That said, the government doesn’t need to make us fear it. I personally would never mess with a police officer because I don’t want to get tazered or shot, but then rational fear like that doesn’t work on mentally deranged individuals. Seung-Hui Cho was clearly not concerned with his own safety, nor are any school shooters as the initiation of a shooting rampage is always an endgame choice. These people seriously have no logic behind their actions; I mean, seriously read this writing piece he composed for his English class:

    http://www.somethingawful.com/d/news/richard-mcbeef.php?page=1

    The government doesn’t need to do anything it currently isn’t doing, except perhaps in the area of gun legislation. It is much too easy to buy guns in this country. Individuals can find shady ways of getting around the relatively lax restrictions, even when they have a history of mental illness (like the VA tech shooter). I personally think the value of hunting and target shooting as recreational activities in this country is too great to completely outlaw guns, though.

    It is difficult to make the case that an AR-15 or a semi-auto shotgun is acceptable for civilian shooters, however. Unless you plan to take on an army (meaning you’re crazy), then these things are only a liability on the civilian market. Besides, pragmatically speaking, if the government became oppressive and we civilians wanted to overthrow them, a couple of small arms weapons would not make any difference against the U.S. military. The most we could hope for is a perpetual Taliban style resistance.

  4. albosco Says:

    I have mixed feelings about a lot of what you said in the post. I agree that these continuous out breaks and shootings need to be stopped, but I do not think that a dictator or a stronger government is exactly the best way to deal with it. There will always be people that are willing to break the law like the shooters at VaTech. However, most of the time, these people aren’t exactly concerned with living through it or having any sort of life after it if they do. They know that their chances of actually surviving and incident like that are slim to none, so using the element of fear in a government would have no effect on them. If anything, it would probably encourage people to rebel more often.
    Personally, I would never want to live under a dictator and I am sure that many people in America would agree with me. The reason I love living in America so much is the freedom that it allows me to have. Sure, sometimes that comes with consequences like the shootings at VaTech, but no government is perfect. In this case I would have the say the benefits of having a stricter government would not be worth the loses that everyone would experience.

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