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Power without Moral Compass: Caligula, Trump, Pius XIII, and Machiavelli

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Smoking is ok if the Pope does it” –Pius XIII in “The Young Pope” “If the President does it, it is not illegal” –President Nixon during his impeachment

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]t is practically impossible to watch the latest rage on cable TV, the serial ten episode narration of a future Pope, Pius XIII, and not be struck by the uncanny parallels between it and the ancient political situation under emperor Caligula of the Roman Empire, as well as the present political landscape in the Atlantic Alliance under President Trump.

The movie is directed by Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino, who knows well ancient Roman history and more recent Italian history, the Italy of Berlusconi, Pius X, Pius XII, as well as Hitler, Mussolini and other madmen of the times.

Critics have accused the film of being a caricature of the Papacy, a gossipy reality show of the Vatican who portrays an interesting character (the mad Pope) but not a real-to-life personality; a Vatican melodrama glittering with pomp and circumstances of the Vatican; but that is a misinterpretation, a superficial rendition of the content of the film,

Right from the first episode we are alerted that the real issue of the film is the issue of political power on which both Niccolo Machiavelli and Francis Bacon meditated so deeply. Machiavelli said that in politics “the end justifies the means.” Francis Bacon said that “knowledge is power” and they said a mouthful. The ancient idea was that knowledge is virtue; now, within enlightened modernity knowledge is power to be seizes and held at any cost.

The movie is, in fact, about the intricacies of power, temporal power, at the heart of Catholicism; something that has gone on now for some 17 centuries, since Constantine allegedly donated one third of Italy to the Pope thus creating the Papal temporal power and initiating the problematic mixing the transcendent and the temporal within Christianity. Dante places three popes in hell because of that improper mixing.

The issue of power is perhaps the main idea explored in the series, and this right from the first episode where we witness this intriguing conversation between the newly elected young American Pope, Lenny, and the cardinal Secretary of State, his aide in the administration of the Vatican. During the conversation what comes through is that the new Pope has been elected by the cardinals because of his youth and inexperience in the intricacies of power which will render him easy to manipulate and control.

For the cardinals immersed in the Byzantine intrigues of the Vatican, good disciples of Machiavelli and Bacon that they are, power is knowledge and knowledge is power. During the conversation the Cardinal Secretary asks “Do you know why all the good souls of this world rage against power?” “Why, Your Eminence?” “Because they simply don’t know what it is.” “What is it?” “Power is knowledge.” There you have it. That short exchange contains the key of the narrative: the issue of power, of power devoid of a moral compass.

While the new pope understands the importance of knowledge in order to obtain and maintain power, he also understands it in a very instinctive emotional way. He feels that he is the Pope not because of his abilities, or his faith, or his compassion, but because it is his destiny. Power, as understood by the new Pope, trumps (pun intended) tradition, law, and even truth. When the Pope starts smoking in the papal palace we witness the following exchange: “Holy Father, Holy Father, smoking is not allowed in the papal palace!” “Is that so? Who decided that?” “John Paul II.” “The Pope?” “Yes, the Pope.” “There’s a new Pope now.” “True.”

But why have the cardinals chosen an unbalanced sociopath? Well, they thought that he would be easy to manipulate, an easy to market moderate Pope, a rather naïve person, as most Americans supposedly are. They are to be greatly disappointed. Lenny is not your average Pope. What they got is Caligula who installs as his closest adviser Sister Mary (Diane Keaton) as his advisor, violates the sanctity of the confessional (to get to the secrets which he will blackmail, compromise and yield power over the cardinals), questions even the existence of God.

How can one not see the similarities between Caligula, the sociopathic emperor, Pius XIII, the sociopathic Pope, and Trump, the sociopathic President? They are all pathological narcissists; the universe revolves around them; they are gods, unpredictable, disdainful of common people in general, especially tourists, like to see them humiliated, have little respect for conventional moral principles. They all repudiate the tradition of their predecessors. The Pope wants to make the Catholic Church Great Again. If it sounds familiar, it is. In short Pius XIII is a version of Donald Trump. Both men, one in fiction one in reality (reality show) have tapped into the wave of discontent sweeping the world which has given rise to extreme right movements culminating in Brexit and the potential break-up of the Atlantic Alliance (NATO).

This Young Pope is so appealing not as a person that in fact does not exist at the moment, but because of his complex contradictions and his character. All narcissists and madmen are complex appealing characters, but not in any positive mode. At the start of the episodes the Pope defines himself as a contradiction: “I am a contradiction, like God.” What is pathological is that he thinks of himself not as God’s representative or witness on earth, but as a god, the way a Caligula did, the way a Trump does.

These people are compelling not because thy are in any way admirable, but because we just can’t stop talking about them. We keep asking in wonderment: why do people accept the bullying, why all that rudeness. Why the lack of challenge? Most importantly, what is it about power, about the bully culture of “might makes right” that turns people into monsters?

Some tentative answers can be supplied by a comparison between Trump and Young Pope. Like the Pope who says that smoking is OK in the Vatican palace if the Pope does it, (and nobody else), Trump seems to have gone back to the famous Nixon quip “if the President does it, it is not illegal.” This is scary stuff for the survival of democracy. Both man lack a clear moral policy agenda for their institutions. What is clear is the Machiavellian goal of asserting power and making sure that nobody dares to challenge it. They are out to get what they want, no matter how petty. They rule by creating dissensions and confusion and establishing capricious priorities, like that of buying back the papal tiara from the basilica in Washington and wear it as he is carried about in the “sedia gestatoria,” as a saint of heaven, a tradition long in disuse.

Power, shock and awe is the goal to be grasped as an end in itself and in whose name all means are acceptable. As the young Pope says: “Power is domination, control and therefore a very selective form of truth, which is a lie.” One needs to create one’s alternative facts to keep one’s enemies down, humiliate them and destroy them. At the same time one needs to keep the people entertained with showmanship. Make them wonder, whom they are really dealing with; be ready to punish any one who dares tell the truth and declare the emperor naked.

Ultimately, the two deranged characters, one fictitious, the other real, while declaring themselves demi-gods, do not believe in any god at all. They believe in power. As the young deranged Pope tells his confessor” God, my conscience does not accuse me, because you do not believe I am capable of repenting, and therefore, I do not believe in you. I do not believe you are capable of saving me from myself.” When the confessor is outraged by the statement, the Pope replies that it was just a joke.

So, what we have are two nine year olds desperately looking for love and understanding while their pathologies place the whole world in peril. This is surrealistic stuff of high quality, a reality show worthy of a Fellini movie, entertaining, fascinating, but also frightening and disquieting. An American Pope who does not believe in God, and an American President who does not believe in democracy and the constitution.

But the best of the reality show may still be coming.

Author’s note: this essay, in a slightly modified form, has already appeared in Ovi magazine on February 11, 2017.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Americas

Friction Between United States & Iran: The Tension and Its Impact

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Background Study

The relationship between the United States (US) and Iran has a long and complex history. In the early 20th century, the United States (US) played a key role in the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government and the installation of a pro-Western monarchy under the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. This led to a deep mistrust of the United States by many Iranians. In the 1970s, the Shah’s regime was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The new Islamic Republic of Iran was deeply anti-American and took 52 American hostages in the US embassy in Tehran. The hostage crisis lasted for 444 days and severely damaged US-Iran relations. In the following decades, the US has had a policy of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation towards Iran, citing its support for terrorism and pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran has also been known to support groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are designated as terrorist groups by the US.

In recent years, there have been some attempts at improving relations between the two countries. The Obama Administration negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, which lifted some sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program. However, the Trump Administration withdrew from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Currently, the US and Iran are in a situation of high tension, with both sides engaging in a series of hostile actions against each other, such as the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by a US drone in 2020. The US has continued to put sanctions on Iran and labelled several Iranian organisations as terrorist organisations. In summary, the relationship between the United States and Iran has been characterized by a long history of mistrust, hostility and mutual accusations, with both sides engaging in actions that have escalated the tensions between them.

The Tension:

There are several accusations and actions that have contributed to the high tension conflict between the United States and Iran.

From the perspective of the United States, the main accusations against Iran include:

Supporting terrorism: The US government has long accused Iran of providing financial and military support to groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, which the US has designated as terrorist organizations.

Pursuit of nuclear weapons: The US has accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, despite Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

Human rights abuses: The US has also accused Iran of widespread human rights abuses, including the repression of political dissidents and minorities, and the use of torture and execution.

Threat to regional stability: The US has accused Iran of destabilizing the Middle East through its support for groups like the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria.

From the perspective of Iran, the main accusations against the United States include: –

Interference in Iranian internal affairs: Iran has long accused the United States of attempting to overthrow its government and interfere in its internal affairs.

Supporting Iran’s enemies: Iran has accused the United States of supporting its regional rivals, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, and of providing military and financial support to groups that seek to overthrow the Iranian government.

Violation of human rights: Iran has also accused the US of violating human rights, pointing to actions such as the use of drone strikes and the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Economic sanctions: Iran has accused the US of imposing economic sanctions on Iran, which it claims have caused significant harm to its economy and people.

In terms of actions that have escalated tensions, from the US side:

  • The killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by a US drone in 2020.
  • The US has continued to put sanctions on Iran and labelled several Iranian organisations as terrorist organisations.
  • Increasing military presence in the Gulf region.

From the Iranian side:

  • Continuing to develop its nuclear program, in spite of the US sanctions.
  • Seizing of foreign oil tankers and ships.
  • Attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia that were blamed on Iran.
  • Shooting down of a US drone in 2019

It’s worth noting that the situation is complex and multifaceted and both sides have taken actions that have escalated the tensions between them.

Its Impact.

The tension between the United States and Iran has had a significant impact on the international community. It has led to increased instability and uncertainty in the Middle East, with both sides engaging in actions that have the potential to escalate into a larger conflict. This can disrupt the oil supplies and lead to an economic crisis. The tension has also had an impact on the security of other countries in the region, as many of them are allied with the United States or Iran and could be caught in the middle of any potential conflict. This has also affected global oil prices due to the potential disruption of supplies from the Middle East. This has also had an impact on the ongoing negotiations and agreements between other countries and Iran, such as the Nuclear Deal. The US withdrawal from the deal and imposition of sanctions has affected other countries’ ability to do business with Iran and has also affected the ongoing negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

Moreover, many countries have had to navigate the delicate balance between maintaining good relations with both the United States and Iran, as both countries are major powers with significant economic and military influence. This has led to some countries, particularly those in the Middle East, to align more closely with one side or the other, potentially damaging their relationships with the other. Secondly, the tension between the US and Iran has also affected the ability of countries to engage in business and trade with Iran, as the US has imposed economic sanctions on Iran. This has led to some countries to scale back their trade and investment with Iran, or to find ways to circumvent the sanctions. Thirdly, the tension has also affected the efforts of countries to mediate and resolve the conflict. Many countries have tried to act as intermediaries to de-escalate the tensions and find a peaceful resolution, but the deep mistrust and hostility between the US and Iran have made this a difficult task. Fourthly, the tension has also affected the security of other countries in the region, as many of them are allied with the United States or Iran, and they could be caught in the middle of any potential conflict.

Overall, the tension between the United States and Iran has had a significant impact on the formulation of foreign policies in the international borders, as many countries have had to navigate the delicate balance between maintaining good relations with both countries, while also addressing the economic stability and security implications of the tension.

Conclusion.

The tension between the United States and Iran is a complex and longstanding issue, and there is no easy solution to melting down the tension. However, some steps that could potentially help to alleviate the tension include:

Diplomatic negotiations: Direct talks between the United States and Iran could be an important step in resolving the tension, provided that both sides are willing to come to the table with open minds and a willingness to compromise.

Support from the international community: Other countries could play a role in mediating talks between the United States and Iran and in putting pressure on both sides to de-escalate the tension. The support of other countries in the region would be particularly important.

Lifting of economic sanctions: The lifting of economic sanctions on Iran could help to improve the country’s economy and reduce the impact of the sanctions on the Iranian people, which may reduce some of the hostility towards the United States.

Addressing mutual concerns: The United States and Iran have many concerns about each other’s actions, such as human rights abuses, support for terrorism, and destabilizing activities in the Middle East. Addressing these concerns in a direct and honest way could help to build trust between the two countries.

De-escalation of military activities: Both sides should avoid any action that could escalate the situation into a military conflict.

Evidently, these steps would likely be difficult to achieve, but they could help to reduce the tension between the United States and Iran, and provide some relief to the international community.

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The World is Entering A Period of Transformation: Can the West lose?

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The world is witnessing a complex mix of escalating tensions, in the context of which some see that the US’s grip is beginning to loosen, and its hegemony and influence over the international system has begun to disintegrate. The shifting world order is giving way to a diverse mix of protectionist nationalism, spheres of influence and regional projects of the major powers. It cannot be denied that there is a deeper crisis, linked to liberal internationalism itself, and to get rid of the deeply dysfunctional characteristics of the global economic and social system, policy makers and those in control of the fate of the planet need to rediscover the principles and practices of statecraft, and collective action against the tendency towards chaos and the destruction of human structures. Likewise, the multilateral global institutions of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund and below need to be reformed to reflect this new global reality.

With one of the permanent members of the Security Council violating international law, and the principle of not changing borders by force, which is the case that the US and its allies have been doing for decades as well, the United Nations with all its structures remains mostly marginalized. Meanwhile, dealing with Ukraine as part of the East-West confrontation would spoil for decades any prospect of bringing Russia and the West in general, and Russia and Europe in particular, into a cooperative international order. And if Ukraine is to live and prosper, it should not be the outpost of either side, east or west, against the other, but should, as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger estimated, act as a bridge between them. Russia must accept that trying to force Ukraine into dependence, and thus move Russia’s borders once again, would condemn Moscow to repeating its history of self-driving cycles of mutual pressure with Europe and the US. The West must also realize that for Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign state. A geopolitical dynamic, in the context of which the Biden administration seems keen to restore the reputation of the US, and restore its image, after four years spent under the rule of former US President Donald Trump. It wants to clearly distinguish between the behavior and values of the US on the one hand, and the behavior and values of its opponents such as China and Russia on the other.

In the process, Washington wants to re-establish itself as the linchpin of a rules-based international order, but the it, torn internally, will become less willing and able to lead the international stage. It will be difficult to restore its image in the Middle East, especially. For a long time, unquestioned the US support for Israel has allowed it to pursue policies that have repeatedly backfired and put its long-term future in even greater doubt. At the forefront of these policies is the settlement project itself, and the absolutely undisguised desire to create a “Greater Israel” that includes the West Bank, confining the Palestinians to an archipelago of enclaves isolated from each other, the familiar clichés related to the two-state solution, and “Israel’s right to defend itself.” It loses its magical incantatory power with the rise to power of the fascist far right. The US, which considers itself a mediator in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is still offering the Palestinians empty rhetoric about their right to live in freedom and security, while supporting the two-state solution. It’s claim to a morally superior position seems blunt, tinged with hypocrisy in Stephen Walt’s words. And if the US had normal relations with Israel, the latter would receive the attention it deserved, nothing more.

Chomsky, who seems keen to criticize neoliberal democracy, and wants to rid democracy of the power of money and class inequalities, which cause the success of populism. He sees that there are people who are angry, and dissatisfied with the existing institutions, which constitutes, for the demagogues, a fertile ground for inciting people’s anger towards the scapegoats, who are usually from the weak groups, such as European Muslim immigrants or African Americans and others, but at the same time, it leads to a kind of popular reaction that seeks to overcome these crises. There are many uprisings against oppressive regimes, and most of them are due to the impact of neoliberal programs over the last generation. Almost everywhere, in the US and Europe, for example, the rate of concentration of wealth, which has stagnated so great for the majority, has undermined democratic forms, just as elsewhere the structural adjustment programs in Latin America, which has produced decades of backwardness. The negative effects of globalization on the lower and middle social classes, coupled with national resentment against immigration, and a sense of loss of control over sovereignty fueled violent populist reactions against the principles and practices of the liberal order. With the intensification of the crisis due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, as well as the Iranian nuclear file and its faltering paths, Europe appears between a rock and a hard place, although in reality it does not like acts of hatred and imposing sanctions against Moscow, or against Tehran, due to the intertwining of its economic interests, but they must follow the US. As described by Chomsky. Whoever does not comply with it will be expelled from the international financial and economic system. This is not a law of nature, but rather Europe’s decision to remain subservient to the “master tutor” in Washington. The Europe and many other states do not even have a choice, and although some peoples and states have benefited from hyperglobalization, the latter has ultimately caused major economic and political problems within liberal democracies. Here Mearsheimer agrees with Chomsky that it has seriously eroded support for the liberal international order. At the same time, the economic dynamism that came with excessive globalization helped China quickly transform into a superpower, as it rearranged itself in a way close to or superior to other major powers, and this shift in the global balance of power put an end to unipolarity, which it is a precondition for a rules-based liberal world order.

When Mikhail Gorbachev presented his vision for managing the post-Cold War era, he proposed what was then called the Common House of Europe. This was one of the options for a unified Europe and Asia region extending from Lisbon to Vladivostok without any military alliances. Today, the world is witnessing a revival of some of the worst aspects of traditional geopolitics. The wars of the major powers in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region, with the increase in Israel’s extremist and racist policies, and the possibility of Iran causing instability in the Middle East, have combined to produce the most dangerous moment since World War II. As great power competition, imperial ambitions, and conflicts over resources intensify, the stakes are how to manage the collision of old geopolitics and new challenges. It is inconceivable that there is a state that represents the backyard of any other state, and this applies to Europe as much as it applies to US, Asia and every other region in the world.

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Brief Review of Wilson’s Study of Administration

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Public Administration is an action part of the government responsible for policy formulation and implementation. It can be defined broadly as a part of government activity and academic discipline. This field emerged from the mother discipline, Political Science. 

The root of public administration emerged from The Study of Administration, an article by Woodrow Wilson that appeared in Political Science Quarterly in 1887 and is credited with establishing the foundation of public administration. This is the beginning of public administration. This first paradigm is known as the Public-Administration Dichotomy with many facets. Political-administrative dichotomy, which serves as the theoretical foundation of public administration, has a profound historical basis but continues to spark heated debates and disputes.

Administration, according to Wilson, falls outside the proper realm of politics. Frank J. Goodnow asserts that although the administration “has to do with carrying out these policies,” politics “has to do with the manifestation of the national will.” Shortly said, Goodnow advanced the Wilsonian theme with more daring and passion and proposed the politics-administration dichotomy.

Wilson’s article is primarily concerned with the United States of America, although its arguments can be applied wherever in the world. He discusses three broad subjects in this essay, all of which relate to public administration as a science that must be examined. To begin, a brief history of the study of public administration is provided. Second, there is the subject matter, or, more precisely, what really is public administration. Finally, he strives to determine the most effective strategies for developing public administration as a science and helpful tool within the framework of the United States of America’s democracy.

The science of administration is the ultimate fruit of the study of politics that began around 2200 years ago. The administration is the executive, functional, and most noticeable side of government and is as old as the government itself. Wilson says, until the twentieth century, no one wrote about administration as a science of governance. Administering a constitution is getting tougher than formulating one. He compares the old and contemporary public administration. Nations like Prussia (Germany) and France, who set an example of first regarding themselves as servants of the people and then creating a constitution with organized government offices, easily incorporated administrative science in their administration. Wilson claims that democracy is more difficult to govern than monarchy. Monarchies ruled by a few men made decisions easy. But in a democracy, the people decide. A monarchy may easily reform, but not a democracy. 

For instance, to amend a constitutional mandate in Bangladesh, It is necessary to have the backing of a majority equal to or greater than two-thirds of the total number of parliament members. Ziaur Rahman, the president of Bangladesh, declared in 1978 that a referendum was necessary in addition to 2/3 of the vote in order to modify certain articles. By contrast, it is difficult and time-consuming to amend the constitution USA. Two-thirds of both chambers of Congress must approve a proposed constitutional amendment before it can be adopted by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Wilson distinguishes administration from politics in his article, despite its ideas being integrally linked to politics. Unlike earlier reformers, Wilson believes that administration should be separate from politics and should not be manipulated. Public Administration is a detailed and systematic way of public law, and every application of general law as an act of administration, in his view. He contends that public opinion holds officials for being accountable, which is a part of the modern philosophy of Democracy.  Compelling technical education and rigorous civil service examinations are required to qualify officials for the responsibility challenges. 

Wilson discusses the development methods of the study. The government must find measures to reduce the enormous administrative burden. A comparative administration distinguishes democratic values from non-democratic ones. For example, in Syria, Bashar Al Assad practised autocracy for a long time which is different from democracy in the USA. A strong political system is essential to run the government. The method’s application While the American administration has a European legacy, Wilson contends that it must establish its own path via comparative research. 

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