Of Grace and Arrogance

Guest: Carol Darr, Director, Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at The George Washington University Rich Harwood's two commentaries on the Republican convention focus on the theme of grace and humility vs. certainty and partisanship. Each party, he comments, spend too much time demonizing the other, and too little addressing the larger and more important issues the beset the country.

Rich's call for grace and humility in the face of the widespread and mutual contempt that both parties exhibit toward their political opponents calls to mind Niccolo Machiavelli's comments about arrogant and insulting behavior.

Machiavelli said that arrogance springs from two impulses, an overestimation of one's own abilities, and an underestimation of the power of one's opponent. Insults, he said in the Discourses, are "usually caused by victory or the false hope of victory" and "inflame your enemy and egg him on to revenge." This arrogant behavior does not take "any strength from the enemy" - "in no way impedes him" - but instead "makes him hate you more and more and plan with greater zeal to harm you."

The arrogant person is thus harmed from both ends: he or she strengthens opponents and makes him- or herself more vulnerable. For these reasons, in the Discourses, Machiavelli advises leaders "to employ all suitable measures against the use of insults and taunts... for there is nothing that inflames the minds of men more or raises greater anger whether it is said in earnest or jokingly."

Thus, if political leaders on both sides cannot find it within themselves to act with more grace and humility, perhaps they can be persuaded to take a more expansive view of their self-interest. "From such pride a prince ought to guard himself as from a shoal, because to bring hatred on himself without any return is in every way rash and imprudent," Machiavelli cautions.

Carol Darr teaches a course on Machiavelli's political advice at GW's Graduate School of Political Management.