Philosophy and the Umbrella Revolution

Philosophy and the Umbrella Revolution

History remembers the great leaders that have been in charge of revolutions, quests to conquer the world or unify a nation. One can pick apart leaders to see what traits they may or may not possess. But still these leaders were in charge of these causes that the world has remembered. Niccolo Machiavelli was a 16th century Italian philosopher who wrote his manifesto, The Prince. The Prince was written by Machiavelli in the common language of the time and was easy to read for all who were capable to read. The Prince informed the reader how to gain both knowledge and enlightenment, and then use the knowledge they had gained to seize power and wealth. Over a hundred years later, John Locke wrote of property, life and liberty. Locke’s philosophy was based around labour and using natural resources. Locke believed society could only be effective if everyone followed the laws of that civilization. In Hong Kong, protestors have lined the streets in the thousands to protest what is happening within their country and the government response. Although the works of Machiavelli and Locke were written centuries prior to the Hong Kong protests, the ideas and themes of Machiavelli and Locke can still be compared and contrasted with the events in China.
Niccolo Machiavelli believe that there was no more powerful gift in the world than that of knowledge. Through use of knowledge, Machiavelli wrote that one could control and manipulate the common unenlightened man. With the ability to control and manipulate men, Machiavelli believed one could lead them to do whatever the leader desired. “Take then, your Magnificence, this little gift in the spirit in which I send it; wherein, if it be diligently read and considered by you, you will learn my extreme desire that you should attain that greatness which fortune and your other attributes promise. And if your Magnificence from the summit of your greatness will sometimes turn your eyes to these lower regions, you will see how unmerited, I suffer a great and continued malignity of fortune” (Machiavelli, translated: Marriott, 2006). In that quote, Machiavelli writes to the Prince exactly what his writing or gift to the Prince will give the Prince the chance to do. Machiavelli demands attention to detail in both reading the Prince, but also states that it also considers deep thought to fully gain the knowledge required to execute the plan of the prince. Once the Prince or Magnificence has gained the knowledge intended to them from Machiavelli, they will be able to obtain greatness in which they can gain and expand their fortune. Through use of the greatness that Machiavelli wrote of in the prince, he believe that the Magnificence can gain control of the lower regions or less enlightened or lower class to continue to achieve greatness and future fortune. Machiavelli believes the unenlightened were the perfect targets for manipulation. In order to be part of an enlightened Prince’s greatness, they are willing to be manipulated and used as a pawn or fall guy in the greater scheme of the Prince.
In the fall of 2014, thousands of people protested congress in Hong Kong over the decision made on the electoral process in China. “The problem for the protestors is that this movement is highly fragmented – run by a slew of different groups, each with distinctive personalities and priorities guiding them. What appeases one group risks outraging another” (Guilford, 2014). The author of the article illustrates one problem with the protests in Hong Kong, but maybe not the problem that Machiavelli would point out first if he was alive and capable of doing so. Starting with the issue outlined by the author, multiple groups, leaders and goals. Machiavelli would have a very deemed this a fault in their execution of their plan. To successfully use Machiavellian principles there needs to be one leader who has one set of goals. With the protesters in Hong Kong they are competing with themselves as much as they are competing with the government. The problem that Machiavelli will likely outline first as being the largest problem with the protesters is the fact they are not taking advantage of lower standing, less knowledgeable and unenlightened people. Machiavelli believe that you could only gain power through the use of power, however the protesters can line the streets but they hold no true power to overtake and force change in Hong Kong congress. Without being able to take advantage of the weak and easily manipulated population, Machiavellian theories are unable to be executed to their full potential. The author Guilford describes CY Leung’s response to the protest as Machiavellian (Guilford, 2014), which seems appropriate because like Machiavellian they are attacking the weakness in the protesters to achieve the goal they have set forth. Leung extending an olive branch (Guilford, 2014) is a Machiavellian technique to wet the appetite of the lower class protesters, inviting or manipulating them to settle for far less than what they want to achieve.
Over a hundred years after Machiavelli wrote The Prince, John Locke wrote of life, liberty and the use of natural resources and personal property. Locke believed that each man is equal and should be treated as such. Locke believed that hard work through labour should be rewarded with property and the right to use, obtain and trade resources with other people. “A time, however, came, in the progress of human affairs, when men ceased to think it a necessity of nature that their governors should be an independent power, opposed in interest to themselves. It appeared to them much better than the various magistrates of the State should be their tenants or delegates, revocable at their pleasure” (Locke, 2010). Locke illustrates his believes that government’s role should be for the people to ensure equality among all men. In comparison, the protesters are fighting to ensure they get equal say in the elections. Locke also conveys in the quote that governors should be independent power working in the best interest of their citizens. Again, the people of China are protesting because they feel the government is not treating them equally, specifically with equal voting power as those on the congress. While the government in Hong Kong in the opinion of the protesters is overstepping their grounds and acting in their own interests, not the interests of the people.
Comparing Machiavelli, Locke, the protesters and government in China you can see many fundamental principles of both philosophers work being considered when the decision to protest was made. However, the works of Machiavelli and Locke can be used to contrast the thoughts of each other and the protesters in China. Fundamentally, Locke and Machiavelli have very little in common. Their prized works were written over one hundred years apart and illustrate how much the world has changed over that time. Machiavelli believe it was acceptable for a leader to be a tyrant who focused solely on accomplishing their own personal goals. While Locke believe that government operated to serve the people and insure that their hard work was reward with property and goods to trade and consume. Locke’s theories are a backbone that were used when drawing up the United States constitution, where government intervention is supposed to be minimal as the citizens of the country came to America to escape what they viewed as over bearing government in their home nation. The protesters in Hong Kong believing they have the capabilities to shut down congress (Guilford, 2014) goes against the writing of Locke. As the protesters, do not have the resources to achieve their goal, nor have they put in the hard work necessary to achieve change. The government response is also a contrast of Locke who believes governments should work for the interests of the people which it appears is not being achieved within Hong Kong congress.
In my opinion, the works of Machiavelli and Locke both hold merit. Government should only intervene when needed. Governments should be focused on what is best for every single person within that country’s borders. However, with that being said, using Machiavellian techniques are necessary and should be used. However, they should be used within the shadows, the dark areas where the public does not want to go, but knows the government should be working to maintain their personal freedoms. Governments should be using software or spies to look into their populations’ privacy to ensure safety. In an age where privacy has been abandoned by many with the invention of social media, governments should be doing the dirty work to ensure safety to ensure no attacks are made to harm their nation.
I also disagree with the protest in Hong Kong. The citizens are taking the wrong approach to achieve change. Protests have become a past way of achieving change. The government is acting appropriate in their response and not bend over and give the public what they want. Governments should not appear weak and bend to whatever the public want. Especially when the public is divided and does not know what want. If the citizens of Hong Kong want to achieve change they need to adopt a more effective method of change. They need to address change though the use of money and resources. How they can do that is more complex and requires hard work that protesters rarely appear like they want to put into their effort. The protesters need to find a way to cut off cash flow or resources from being used from the government. When the government is in a place of need or weakness, change can be made. Until then, the protesters appear to be nothing more than the idle protesters who came across as lazy individuals who did not know what goal they were fighting for.
From now until the end of time, people will be looking at past philosophers for ways to think and justify their actions. Through the enlightened works of John Locke or Machiavelli, people will try to achieve their goals through various methods. Locke through governed equality and hard work that brings its benefits. Machiavelli’s believe that manipulation can be used to gain knowledge, wealth and power. One way or another, people need to find their own method that works best to achieve their goals.


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