Friday, November 13, 2009

A Machiavellian Interlude

The Moral Leap Towards the First Universal Republic

By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 13, Qudrat 10, 166 BE

Why is a republican government better than any other? First, let us define what "republican" means. Basic civics holds that there are three simple forms of government, rule by one, rule by a few, and rule by many; these are termed monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. Each has its own advantages but also glaring drawbacks. Republicanism ideally is a happy mix of all three that maximizes their advantages and minimizes their disadvantages.

Unfortunately, modern nationalist governments, although they aspire to republicanism, are inclined to mix the three in a rigid, legalistic manner, and corruption has an undue influence. I call the result predatory democracy, or "gun-to-my-head democracy," where the people sell the right to pull the trigger of the gun they hold to their own head. Procrustean strictures set parties into permanent competition with one another. Constitutional barriers variously called checks and balances or separation of powers prevent these elements from harmonizing. Niccolo Machiavelli, in contrast, saw the elements of a republic setting each other off in a more natural way.

"In fact, when there is combined under the same constitution a prince, a nobility, and the power of the people, then these three powers will watch and keep each other reciprocally in check." (Machiavelli, Discourses, Book I, Chapter II)

Although Machiavelli is best known for his sinister work on Realpolitik, "The Prince," his greatest contribution to political science was his "Discourses," an apologia for republican governance. Here he makes his real sympathies clear, "...the governments of the people are better than those of princes." (Discourses, Chapter LVIII)

He accepted that a prince (meaning rule held in the hands of an individual) rules more ruthlessly and, if he knows his job, more efficiently than any other form of government. But only for a while. The prince builds a delicate house of cards that can stand temporarily. However, freedom is only assured if both leaders and followers free themselves from crisis and corruption.

In the long run the only time a "he" or a "she" is better than a "they" is when civic virtue has disappeared, crime is rampant and the land is teetering on the brink of anarchy. When times are out of joint a tyrant can be a step to betterment, but only if his rule leads to a general betterment of morals. If they do not improve, he has only himself to blame.

"Let not princes complain of the faults committed by the people subjected to their authority, for they result entirely from their own negligence or bad example." (Discourses, Book III, Chapter XXIX)

If the virtue of both leaders and the people somehow improve, they will be able to work together in a harmonious balance. They will then merit republican rule. And it is only under a republic that the people, the rule of many, can show their superior brilliance over rule by one or rule by a few.

"...if we compare the faults of a people with those of princes, as well as their respective good qualities, we shall find the people vastly superior in all that is good and glorious." (Machiavelli, Discourses, Chapter LVIII)

This marks a crucial transition point. We need virtue in order to pass from lesser, corrupt rule by one or by a few, or from unbalanced, imperfect republics to a truly harmonious republic where every part functions organically. But the only tried and true way to make millions of people more virtuous is through religion. To name just one reason why this is so, religion reconciles the human heart with God, providence and eternity; by doing so, the people learn the virtue of contentment. This virtue placates us all with seemingly unfair providence and the infinite number of galling circumstances that would otherwise lead to discontent. Religion promotes faith and faith, obedience. And a republic depends, more than anything else, upon rule of law.

"Now in a well-ordered republic it should never be necessary to resort to extra-constitutional measures...." (Machiavelli, Discourses, Book I, Chapter XXXIV)

This is where the teaching of John Amos Comenius comes in useful. Comenius held that the root of the world's problems is disunity, and that is worsened by a sense of pride and superiority, especially among our best and brightest. As a result, the three learned fields of activity, politics, religion and science, which should be pillars upholding a republic, are continually at war with one another.


"The third plague which I mentioned as disturbing the peacefulness of human society consists of disagreements arising from ill-feeling between one group and another. In some instances politicians claim to be superior to the other orders; in others, churchmen have claimed superiority over the political order; and even philosophers at times choose to regard themselves as superior to any monarchy.

"Then even within the same order men climb over one another, spurred by ambition to seek the heights from which to look down upon their fellows, who take offence at this and refuse to look up to them, as they would much prefer to cast them down.

"This results in various forms of unrest, hatred, and strife, and there is no limit to it. Therefore in a reformed state of affairs there must be a complete change in our administration. I shall deal first with the question of agreement between the three orders."

(Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 29, p. 163)


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