Sexual misconduct was not invented by the current generation. Before Al Franken and Matt Lauer there was Bill Cosby. In Greek myths the gods often raped young women. Plato wrote a book about the ethics of sex and love, called “The Symposium.”
Men have always desired the godlike power to take what they want with impunity. Male dominance ignores moral restraint. It wants power, pleasure and glory.
One spokesman of misogyny is Machiavelli. In an infamously sexist passage in “The Prince,” Machiavelli says that fortune is a woman. If you want to win fortune, you need to beat and abuse her, like you would batter a woman you want to control. Machiavelli teaches that glory comes to those who are audacious and violent.
The Machiavellian man brags about his prowess. He even boasts about what he has not done, manipulating truth in order to manufacture status. The Machiavellian also manipulates people. He grabs and gropes, swaggers and swears. When accused of misdeeds, he lies and dissembles.
We see numerous examples across the country of men getting caught with their pants down. Some have apologized. Others have resigned or been fired. But the hard-boiled Machiavellians continue to deny and denounce.
The most egregious examples come from the Oval Office. Recall Bill Clinton’s famous false denial, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Other men would have withdrawn in shame. But not Clinton, who shrugged off impeachment.
We see numerous examples across the country of men getting caught with their pants down.
Our current Machiavellian-in-chief bragged on tape about grabbing women’s crotches. President Trump has recently suggested that the voice on the tape was not really him, despite the protestations of his accomplice, Billy Bush.
For a Machiavellian, there is no fact that can’t be massaged to serve his purposes. The Machiavellian never flinches. He trades punch for punch. He mocks and belittles his enemies. He traffics in false and inflammatory material. He accuses others of stupidity, fakery and immorality. If he apologizes, his words are insincere. When he makes promises, he offers flattery without substance.
Unfortunately, the Machiavellian strategy pays off. It often works to be a jerk. It often seems that the more shameless one’s deceits, the more glory one attains.
Perhaps the tide is turning on this. But progress will be slow. This problem has been with us for thousands of years.
Plato understood that sex and politics were often at odds with morality. Good men are often destroyed by evil liars. And shameless gropers often keep what they grab.
The Platonic man does not fit well in the world of male dominance. He is reflective and retiring, modest and private. He does not boast. He is not willing to sacrifice his integrity to achieve victory. He is conscious of his own failures. His primary concerns are truth, justice and virtue.
Let’s teach our sons to be better men than the Machiavellians currently on display.
The Platonic man sees no value in taking what is not freely given. He values honesty, friendship and love. He won’t pander. He won’t lie or spread false rumors. He thinks that glory without goodness is not worth the price.
The Platonic man does not view sex and power as ends in themselves to be obtained by any means necessary. Indeed, Plato suggested that lust for sex and power often lead us astray. He taught that sex without restraint is rapacious and that power without justice is tyranny.
The Platonic ideal is constantly at war with the Machiavellian urge. Education and constant effort are needed to develop men of character, who are caring, truthful, just and wise. Young men must be taught to keep their pants zipped.
While we might forgive the immature mischief of an adolescent, we cannot ignore the immoral machinations of mature men. The worst aspect of the Machiavellian man is that he makes groping and glory-seeking a way of life. He models depravity and makes it appear to be good. The tragic fact of political life is that so many Machiavellians have so much power.
The solution is moral education and the empowerment of women. Listen to women’s complaints. And condemn male dominance and misogyny. The point is easy to make today as the rogue’s gallery of gropers continues to grow. Let’s teach our sons to be better men than the Machiavellians currently on display.
Andrew Fiala is a professor of philosophy and director of The Ethics Center at Fresno State: @PhilosophyFiala