Robert Wright reads Machiavelli, to good effect: he suggests that the BushCheney approach to foreign policy has been so concentrated on instilling fear that it has neglected the importance of not incurring hatred along with it. Wright suggests “respect” as a reasonable goal. That sounds right.
Wright doesn’t point out (though Machiavelli does) that respect is a two-way street. If you treat others with contempt, you deprive them of the option of respecting you while maintaining their own self-respect. If they’re too afraid of you to return your contempt, then hatred is the only remaining option. The lack of respect for the rest of the world that has marked the Bush foreign policy from its inception has left as its legacy the contempt of most of Europe (look how heavy a political burden it is to be a Bush supporter even in the UK) and the hatred of the Muslim world. Sometimes it’s necessary to incur the wrath of others; the problem with the current Administration is that they seem to glory in it.
Contempt for others sometimes comes from a lack of real self-respect, from a self-concept so uncertain that it must prove its toughness, assert its masculinity, by “dissing” others. Real self-assurance is generous of spirit. Think of the difference between the cheap and nasty swagger of a Clint Eastwood character and the unvarying good manners of a John Wayne character; you can’t really imagine the Duke addressing one of his cinematic foes as “punk.”
Well, of course Machiavelli was Italian and was born more than 500 years ago, so I suppose he counts as prototypically “old European.” But this particular line of thinking wouldn’t have seemed strange to the founders. As a colleague remarked to me just the other day, “What ever happend to ‘a decent respect to the opinions of Mankind’? “
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Kleiman on Respect
Mark Kleiman has a great post regarding
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