Monday 24 October 2016

We expect more from politicians than we do from ourselves

Published 25/11/2015 | 02:30

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote about how to achieve and hold power
Niccolo Machiavelli wrote about how to achieve and hold power

Politics in Ireland has become significantly animated with the sniff of elections in the air.

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John Locke, the 17th-century British political thinker, saw politics as a necessary evil.

This judgement was rooted in his experience of the unprincipled machinations in the practice of government. Things have not seriously changed since Locke's time.

The rough and tumble of politics seems to bring out the worst in all of us.

Five hundred years ago, the much-maligned Niccolo Machiavelli set out to show the princes of Florence how to achieve power and maintain it.

Implicit in his writings is the notion that politics is an independent activity, with its own principles and laws, distinct from those of morality and religion. This shows itself in the apparent moral gap between the rulers and the ruled.

Anyone entering politics will not survive by occupying the moral high ground.

The skill of politicians is not about conformity to the traditional moral virtues but a willingness to do whatever is required to achieve their purposes whether the actions are wicked or good in the traditional sense. Politicians are involved in the exercise of practical reasoning -doing what works.

Politicians succeed to the extent that they are seen to be working to our advantage. The essential quality in a politician, if he or she is to succeed, is moral flexibility, learning how to avoid appearing immoral when occasionally constrained to behave somewhat immorally, working hard at helping to lead people to see all that is done in a good light.

We seem to expect from politicians higher standards than those we expect from ourselves. We tend to vote not so much on the basis of moral considerations but on considerations of self-interest.

Politicians reflect the values we communicate to them. Perhaps we get the representatives we deserve.

Philip O'Neill

Oxford, UK


Keeping events in perspective

Laura Delaney's fears about terrorism are understandable (Irish Independent, November 22). But while she might already be informed about geopolitics, experience only comes with age. She is too young to remember how almost three whole generations grew up under the doomsday shadow of nuclear holocaust during the Cold War.

In the 1980s we not only had to suffer two of the most belligerent Western leaders at the same time - Thatcher and Regan - but one of them developing Alzheimer's, which led to a dark 'Spitting Image' TV sketch about the US president mistakenly pressing 'launch' instead of 'lunch'.

While we got on with our lives, there was the sneaking sense that it could all end in a mushroom cloud at any instant.

Then one morning we woke up, the Berlin Wall had come down and the Russians had gone home. We mistakenly thought we'd have a world of harmony, peace and rainbows, but the 'security services' and politicians weren't long finding new bogeymen - terrorists lurking around every corner, as if they were something new.

The world, alas, was not a safe place yet - "just vote us another term in office and we'll make it safe for y'all." Looking back into history, we find it replete with examples of real and imagined bogeymen used to cow populations into compliance - heretics in the Middle Ages, witch mania in Protestant countries in the 17th and 18th centuries, 'Reds under the Bed' in the 1950s, immigrants and foreigners at all times.

Generally the main purpose these serve is to bully populations into an ever-greater handover of their personal liberties in the name of some dubious 'security'; to keep fear levels cranked up to near-hysteria so that people accept the silencing of their voices and opinions.

My advice to Laura is this - watch out for the real dangers in life. Terrorist attacks create fear because they are spectacular, that is the whole point of terrorism.

But you still are thousands of times more likely to die young in a road accident, because of lifestyle (smoking, bad diet, drinking to excess), or suffering an allergic reaction to peanuts or bee stings.

You're even more likely again to die at a ripe old age at home in your bed. So enjoy your life, don't panic and watch out for those who'd convince you to surrender your privacy and freedoms in the name of 'security' - these are the real threats to your quality of life.

Nick Folley

Carrigaline, Co Cork


Time for dialogue, not war

The pounding of the war drums from Leinster House disturbs me. Ireland has an international reputation for achieving peace not by the bomb and the bullet, but for having the courage and imagination to sit down, listen to people's grievances and to work hard at every level to uproot the causes of human rights violations that grow into heartbreaking scenes of violence.

It is too easy for nations to bomb, to assassinate and to issue condemnations: they may make politicians feel better, but that will only be for the short-term.

I would have thought that the Government would have learned at this stage that one of the primary history lessons 1916 teaches is that if you kill people who believe they are fighting for their freedom, you will only succeed in creating popular martyrs. I appeal to the Government to sow seeds of peace for dialogue, not war.

Stephen Winder-Baggot

Dublin 8


Leave satire to the comics

I was very disappointed with the piece documenting the career of An Taoiseach Enda Kenny to acknowledge his 40th anniversary as a TD in Dáil Éireann on RTÉ's 'Claire Byrne Live'. I feel it was not befitting what we should expect from a supposedly serious current affairs programme.

I would have thought such an analysis would have been completed by a political reporter rather than a satirist who demonstrated his lack of political know-how by finishing his piece with the comment "Enda is the man who became Taoiseach through no fault or effort of his own."

Can we please leave current affairs to those best qualified to provide a worthwhile, serious analysis of a political career and leave the comedy to the comics?

Roisin Duffy

Ravensdale, Dundalk


The greatness of John Hume

It was sad to read about the difficulties now faced by John Hume and his wife Pat arising from his dementia illness (Irish Independent, November 23).

Those of us who have lived in this country throughout the period of the Northern Troubles are conscious of the great debt owed to John, and to others like him, for ensuring that even in the darkest days the centre never entirely fell apart.

To borrow the words famously used by Éamon de Valera about Michael Collins, it is my belief "that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness" of John Hume.

John Glennon

Bannagroe, Co Wicklow

Irish Independent

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