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Sunday, March 09, 2008


Should we invade Mexico? To stop illegal immigration? My students say "Si!"

OK, this isn't exactly a scientific sample. As one option for my short paper topic in Modern Theory, I asked this question: George W. Bush speculates that he might improve his legacy were he to invade Mexico. What advice would two of the thinkers we have read (Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke) give to Bush on such an invasion? Yada yada, whose advice is better?

The vast majority claim this scheme would be a good idea, regardless of which advisers they pick. Some use Locke as a "moral" foil, but then say that the pro-war advice would be better because Bush would like it better. I've seen this before. Students invariably believe that the point of being an adviser is to feed the leader's most extreme desires. Instinctive yes men, they never catch Machiavelli's harsh criticism of "flatterers." I had more than twenty students pick this option and use Machiavelli as one of their advisers. Every single one said Machiavelli would enthusiastically approve of invading Mexico. Part of this, of course, is the reflexive tendency to fall back on what I call "cartoon Machiavelli": kill em' all, kick ass, take names, power, power, POWER, beeyatch. I preach against that reading, but skulls are thick. No one picks up on Machiavelli's "realism" regarding interests or his tragic sense of how Fortuna threatens to bring down the most virtuoso prince. Even Cesare Borgia failed. No hint in these papers.

More than just simplification reflex, I think the explanation here must be their assumption that American power is essentially unlimited. America, fuck yeah!, sayeth Parker and Stone. If we imagine it, we can do it. There will be no consequences. This maintains even after Iraq. Why would no one pick up on this? Mexico has four times the population of Iraq, a border war would aggravate refugee flows to the U.S. not stop them, and our military is already bogged down in two foreign wars that have only diminished Bush's (and America's) power and reputation, and yet the only lesson my students can take from Machiavelli is that we need better PR. Meanwhile, my guess is that if Machiavelli did advise Bush on this question, he'd say something like, "What are you insane! Getting your ass kicked in Iraq is not enough for you? Do you know a threat when you frickin' see one? You're lucky no one has revolted yet. Dude, cut yer' losses!" And, of course, not even George W. Bush is actually dim enough to entertain this scenario. But my students are. Methinks this is good news for McCain and the Iran hawks.


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