You must understand that there are two ways of contending, by Law, and by force: The first is proper to men; the second to beasts; but because many times the first is insufficient, recourse must be had to the second…. Seeing, therefore, it is of such importance to a Prince to take upon him the nature and disposition of a beast, of all the whole flock, he ought to imitate the Lion and the Fox; for the Lion is in danger of toils and snares, and the Fox of the Wolf: so that he must be a Fox to find the snares, and a Lion to fright away the Wolves…
Machiavelli’s archetype of the fox (roughly) corresponds to Pareto’s combination-instinct residue; while the archetype of the lion (roughly) corresponds to Pareto’s group-persistence residue. What Pareto adds to Machiavelli’s archetypes (besides more accurate delineation of the archetypes) is an important insight alluded to in the last post. Machiavelli’s ideal is that the Prince combine the cunning of the fox with the strength (i.e., the ability and willingness to use force) of the lion. “But such a happy combination occurs only for a few individuals,” notes Pareto. “In the majority of cases people who rely on their wits are or become less fitted to use violence, and vice versa.” In other words, people (particularly rulers) tend to be either lions or foxes.
Pareto developed this theory from his extensive knowledge of history. Particularly influential was the conflict between Athens and Sparta during the Peloponnesian War. Athens is a typical example of a state governed by foxes, while Sparta is a typical example of a state governed largely by lions. The cultural and political elite of Athens were remarkably individualistic and innovative; indeed, it was these attributes that helped make this city state the cradle of Western civilization—the birthplace of European literature, philosophy, and political theory. Sparta, on the other hand, was a cultural backwater. Innovation in Sparta was a crime. The individual counted for very little, his initiative strangled in a web of custom and religion. Yet in the Peloponnesian war, Sparta conquered Athens.
Pareto’s view of “instinct-combination” and “group-persistence” residues was partly devised to try to explain how a sophisticated, cultured, individualistic “advanced” society like Athens could ever lose a war to a “tribalistic,” uncultured, “primitive” society such as Sparta (or Macedonia and Rome, which also conquered Athens). It seems rather counter-intuitive that the more advanced polity should ever lose to the less advanced. Yet history is replete with examples of the less advanced conquering the more advanced in war. Here’s merely a short list thrown together at the spur of the moment:
- Sparta over Athens
- Macedonia over Athens
- Rome over Athens
- Rome over Carthage
- Barbarians over Rome
- Mongols over China
- England over France (100 years war)
- Spain, Austria, France over Renaissance Italy
- Roundheads over Cavaliers (English Civil War)
- French Revolutionists over Old Regime
- Prussia over France (Franco-Prussian War)
The fact that there are many counter examples in the other direction is of no relevance to the point at issue. After all, one would expect the more advanced nation to prevail in nearly all cases. What is surprising (and in need of explanation) is how the less advanced ever prevails.
How would Objectivism explain the victory of the less advanced over the more advanced nation, of the lion over the fox? Objectivism would probably attribute it to bad philosophical ideas in the fox. Yet this is not convincing, because in most cases, the less advanced nation, governed by lions (i.e., group-persistence residues) will cherish even worse philosophical notions. The ideas predominant in Periclean Athens, whatever flaws or “contradictions” they may have exhibited, were clearly superior to the “tribalistic” and “superstitious” notions prevailing in Sparta. Athens was much more individualistic and “rational” (at least in its philosophy) than Sparta. So how did Sparta defeat Athens?
Pareto gives a couple reasons:
It is plain enough that what was lacking in Athens was such a balance between the combination instincts and the residues of group-persistence that while the combination-instincts encouraged adventure, the group-persistences would supplement them with perseverance and firmness of resolve required for success in the schemes imagined...
Athens had generals of the greatest ability at that time, but she could neither keep them nor take advantage of them…. Where sentiments of group-persistence are not very strong, people readily surrender to the momentary impulse without giving adequate thought to the future, forgetting the larger interests of the community under the sway of uncontrolled appetites. The Athenians cared little for their generals. They tormented them, persecuted them, condemned them, lost them through fault of their own. The lessons taught by past experience are of no avail for the future, there being no sense of group-persistence.
A third prominent reason for Sparta’s victory over Athens is the individualism prevailing in Athens (an indication of a weakening of group-persistences) eroded discipline and the stability of command (as is evinced by how the Athenians treated their generals). Discipline, hierarchy, willingness to serve a leader are qualities advantageous in battle (and which are strengthened by group-persistence sentiments).
A fourth prominent reason for Sparta’s victory stems from the courage and staunchness in battle provided by group-persistence residues. While the Athenians were capable of displaying courage in battle, no one fought as bravely or as with as much determination as the Spartans, who placed honor above all other considerations, including those of self-preservation. Pareto repeatedly identified group-persistence residues with the willingness and the ability to use violence. Where group-persistence residues are intense, people have a “living” faith: that is, they have ideals they are willing to die for (rather than just argue about).
In Pareto’s vision of human nature, rationality doesn’t have much to do with conduct, “for human beings are guided primarily by sentiment.” Therefore, in order to motivate human beings to defend their country and avoid the disastrous effects of pursuing self-interest in a non-rational way, some type of sentiment is required to spur “human beings to the required activities.” In this respect, “the chief utility of the sentiments of group-persistence is the resistance they offer to harmful inclinations of individual interest and to the impetuous sweep of passions.” But the very utility provided by group-persistence residues is itself problematic, since the group-persistence residues have produce other effects that Objectivists (among others) will deplore. These other effects be the subject of my next post.