Hornbill Unleashed

July 24, 2011

Are the winners always right?

Sim Kwang Yang

Niccolo Machiavelli was one of the greatest philosophers of politics in the past few centuries. 

His greatest achievement was to state the obvious, that is: “You are always right, if you win,” in the affairs of mankind. 

“Let a prince then concern himself with the acquisition or the maintenance of the state; the means employed will always be considered honourable and praised by all, for the mass of mankind is always swayed by appearances, and by the outcome of an enterprise,” he advised.

NONEIt is true enough that many people through the centuries have tried to argue against Machiavelli. But among the practitioners of politics, the followers of Machiavelli form the absolute majority. Most active politicians are resolutely and unalterably Machiavellian. 

Instinctively though, all of us know something is wrong with the thoughts of Machiavelli. 

He is, in essence, affirming Thrasymachus’s assertion in the Republic that “might is right”, and that winners have a monopoly on the truth in any conflict.

But we know this is not true in the real affairs of the world. For instance, Hitler conquered the whole of Europe, and won many of the battles that he fought, but even those living at the time knew that Hitler was one of the greatest failures of mankind.

Men of conscience instinctively knew, at the time of his ascendancy as well as today, that Hitler was wrong, even if he could conquer the world. 

History’s lessons not learnt

At the end of many world wars, we still have to insist that Machiavelli was wrong, and that might does not constitute right.

NONEThe standard of rightness or wrongness of historical acts has to be examined in retrospect, often at the end of an era, after many centuries have lapsed. 

As the philosopher of history, Friedrich Hegel remarked: “The Owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk.” 

We can be judges of history only at the end of the event, as an afterthought. While history is evolving, is very hard for us to pass judgment on developing events of the day.

But in our daily lives, we still have to make tentative judgments about current affairs. 

For instance, we can conclude that it is unlikely that Teoh Beng Hock committed suicide, because it was against human nature for him to commit suicide. 

teoh beng hock grave nirvana memorial park 170710 01No matter what any committee of inquiry tells us, the death of Teoh Beng Hock will always remain as a giant question mark, over the way he was detained and questioned. 

Likewise, the Bersih 2.0 rally was a significant day in the history of Malaysia. That whole history has not been lived through, nor written yet. We shall have to wait for events to unfold in the future for us to pass definitive judgment on the virtues and impact of the rally. 

May 13 laid to rest?

While it remains difficult for us to pass historical judgment on current affairs, we also have to remember that history is a cumulative process. 

The Bersih 2.0 rally alone may not alter the course of our nation’s history. But the rally, together with the death of Teoh Beng Hock, and with the gamut of pain we have endured in recent months, may coalesce into a series of events that may change the government of the day.

NONEThere is much wisdom after the event, that we can accumulate through the passage of time. 

For instance, we can now see it is unlikely that the May 13,1969 incident will be repeated in Malaysia. The conditions that gave rise to May 13 have ceased to exist.

Even so, history is not a science, and it is beyond us to predict the future. All we can do is make educated guesses about future events, by taking into consideration all the information at our fingertips. 

NONEAs Hegel knows well, the Owl of Minerva, the symbol of wisdom and understanding, is an elusive creature indeed. 

As I sit here contemplating the future of Malaysia, I am compelled to revert to the ancient value of hope, in human affairs. 

We human beings are not very good at managing our affairs. But by and large, the optimism of Hegel and other great thinkers have given mankind the only hope that we have. 

It is in that hope that we pray Teoh Beng Hock will not have died in vain, and that the Bersih 2.0 rally will herald a new age to come. 

Hope springs eternal in the human breast – or else life is not worth living.

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7 Comments »

  1. HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL

    YES SKY!

    Never should we retreat from our aspirations and hope from free and independent Sarawak!

    1) Freedom from Apartheid/Fascism
    2) Freedom from Religious-Persecution/Religious-Supremacy.
    3) Equality for all ethnicities and faiths in all aspects of policy, Law and Constitution.
    4) Freedom and independence for Sarawak

    Comment by Anon — July 24, 2011 @ 7:02 PM | Reply

  2. AUNTIE BERSIH- ICON OF BEBAS

    Auntie Bersih has become the photo iconof
    1) Freedom from Apartheid/Fascism
    2) Freedom from Religious-Persecution/Religious-Supremacy.
    3) Equality for all ethnicities and faiths in all aspects of policy, Law and Constitution.
    4) Freedom and independence for Sarawak

    Comment by Anon — July 24, 2011 @ 4:39 PM | Reply

  3. The EO is just a tactic of intimidation to scare off the average rakyat in case they entertain any thoughts of an “Arab Spring”. THe BN Govt is well aware that they should not go too far to detain the better known leaders as that could a huge outcry and backlash at both local and international level. They hope by detaining these lesser known and average activists will achieve the desired effect of intimidation yet would limit the splash.

    Communism and waging war against the Agong were just some hairbrained charges dreamed up by overly ambitious PDRM officers as excuses to detain them.

    Comment by Sundar — July 24, 2011 @ 1:47 PM | Reply

  4. If you look at the composition of the members of the EC (from its chairman, deputy chairman and five members), they are all retired civil servants (thus with handsome pensions and gratuities) but most of all BTN veterans.

    So is there any part which can irrefutably point to the direction that the EC (or SPR in its Bahasa Malaysia acronym) is not part of the govt (i.e. BN or aka UMNO) and therefore truly independent?

    Comment by Ahmad Sobri — July 24, 2011 @ 11:27 AM | Reply

  5. It’s looking more and more like Agree to Disagree is another PBB/umno cyberpooper throwing rubbish into the air hoping people would swallow some of it.

    Comment by Analist — July 24, 2011 @ 11:09 AM | Reply

  6. His greatest achievement was to state the obvious, that is: “You are always right, if you win,” in the affairs of mankind.

    As I sit here contemplating the future of Malaysia, I am compelled to revert to the ancient value of hope, in human affairs. It is in that hope that we pray Teoh Beng Hock will not have died in vain, and that the Bersih 2.0 rally will herald a new age to come.

    If this means that Christians are Machiavellian and that you subtle and via NLP support Machivell your words of ‘Contemplate’ and ‘Hope’ easily tacitly mean being lazy or apathetic. I have a better message than an NLP article. SImple and honestly, all who can do it, must run for candidacy if they hate what either BN or PR or both represent. End the APARTHEID, not fuel it with uncertainty and wasted energy on Teoh Beng Hock. His justice will arrive when YOU have won the below 3 items :

    1) Freedom from Apartheid/Fascism
    2) Freedom from Religious-Persecution/Religious-Supremacy.
    3) Equality for all ethnicities and faiths in all aspects of policy, Law and Constitution.

    Comment by AgreeToDisagree — July 24, 2011 @ 5:23 AM | Reply

  7. There’s a chinese proverb saying [ 胜者为王,败者为寇 ] meaning Winner would write history in winner in their favour while loser either died or was put into oblivion.

    What has been forsaken is the fact that “history not only evolves”, often times repeats itself. Winners at one time might become losers and their history re-written.

    But at times, great moment would make history that can’t not be challenged. For this, Bersih will be history remembered as the spring of Malaysia Democracy.

    Comment by mydh.xii — July 24, 2011 @ 1:15 AM | Reply


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