Liberal and Libertarian Foucault II: The Bosphorus

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog

Michel Foucault

Security, Territory, Population. Lecture Two. 18 January 1979

To tell the truth, this structuring function of space and territory is not something new to the eighteenth century. After all, what sovereign has not wanted to build a bridge over the Bosphorus or move mountains? Again, we need to know the general economy of power within which this project and structuring of space and territory is situated. Does it involve marking out a territory or conquering it? Is it a question of disciplining subjects, making them produce wealth, or is it a question of conquering something like a milieu of life, existence, and work for a population?

(page 29)

The Bosphorus stands here for chance which government attempt to overcome. For Foucault, a major feature of the period from the 16th to the 18th centuries is the growing awareness of chance, and the need for an art of government which can master it. This is embedded in the rise of commercial life, and its analysis through ‘economy’. and with the growth of interest in chance and the analysis of probability. Foucault notes the 16th century rise of books of government, advice on how to control chance in affairs of state. Machiavelli’s The Prince is taken as the main example. Foucault seems to ignore the republican aspect of Machiavelli, which would have suited his argument perfectly well. He treats Machiavelli’s book as guide on how the Prince can maintain, and extend his estate. What he fails to note, as far as I can see, is that Machiavelli is also referring to a notion of public interest which the Prince ought to serve, as well as failing to note Machiavelli’s wish to recreate Roman republicanism. This fits with Foucault’s analysis because he sees the move to state control as fitting with the growth of some forms of freedom. The interest in state control for thinkers like Francis Bacon and thinker-statesmen like Richelieu, or even writers of tragedy like Jean Racine, arises from the growing sense of uncontrollability. The people are always inclined to rebel, as is the upper class. Attempts to subordinate the economy to state edicts, as in price controls on wheat, prove to be counter productive: enforcement of a lower price for wheat reduces supply and causes starvation.

In the reference to bridging the Bosphorus, Foucault may have the story of the Persian King Xerxes, recorded by Herodotus, bridging the Hellespont (Turkish Straits) during his attempted invasion of Greece. Xerxes succeed in the building the bridge, but not in subduing Greece. The point of the permanent desire to bridge the Bosphorus (which now has two bridges), is that dramatic efforts to master nature may sometimes produce great results, but this may create an illusion of complete mastery of fortune. Xerxes could not conquer Greece, and the mighty absolute monarchs of early modern Europe could not guarantee sufficient bread for all by attempting to conquer the forces of markets and prices

Adam Smith: Republicanism and Military Virtue

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog

Yesterday I looked at how Smith links the progress of commercial society, with all its virtues of education, culture, politeness etc., to the rise of guns used by professional armies. Reading on to An Inquiry into The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations V.i.e, antique republican military virtues make a return in Adam Smith’s account of modern education. Smith thinks everyone should be educated to some degree, and this should be legally required, but with a multiplicity of providers. He’s very critical of the provision of education by schools and universities, which he argues is arranged to suit teachers not students. He prefers a more personal relationship between students and teachers, based on the availability of different instructors who have passed a public examination but are not employees of the state.

Smith’s model for this is education in Ancient Greece and Rome, particularly with regard to gymnastic and military instruction, both required for all citizens in the ancient republics, and linked with each other because as Smith has already pointed out, ancient warfare rests more on physical strength than war with guns.

At this point Smith is full of admiration for the military courage and capacities of the citizens of ancient republics. He compares this unfavourably with the spirit of modern militias (that is locally raised units of non-professional soldiers who are part-time outside a state of war). Smith has just explained approvingly how military spirit diminishes, and becomes more specialised, as societies move to commerce, prosperity and liberty.

There was an ambiguity in that I didn’t mention which is that Smith suggests the army chief and head of state should be the same, and that the army generals should be those associated with the head if states. This seems to justify early modern monarchical absolutism, which does rest on the idea that the king is the military chief in a very strong sense, and that his aristocracy provides the generals. It might just mean a return to ancient republicanism where military chiefs might be the main elected state official (e.g. Pericles in Athens), and holding a military post was a political honour.

The passage I’m currently considering pushes in the direction of ancient republicanism. Smith belongs with Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws (which he often invokes), Wilhelm von Humboldt (in Limits of State Action) and Benjamin Constant in an ambiguity about ancient and modern virtues and liberties. In their different ways, all these ‘Classical Liberals’ are admiring of the freedom and virtue of ancient republics, driven by the struggle for life against nature, the struggle for the city in war, absolute respect for law, and the institutions and traditions of the city. Smith, for example, is very admiring of the importance the Romans gave to the keeping of oaths (Nietzsche suggests in Genealogy of Morals that human history is about breeding an animal that can keep promises). Smith, Montesquiue, Humboldt and Constant also regard the modern world as better than the ancient world in its individual freedoms and the growth of commerce, which reduces military spirit, respect for ancient customs, and love of the state. There are many deep ambiguities in all of them on these issues.

The one way we should definitely not approach this question, is to think the Classical Liberals can be defined as people who were only concerned with ‘negative’ or ‘modern’ liberties, that is of freedom from external constraints rather than freedom which comes from participation in a community, its politics, and civic values, including courage in war and willingness to die for the common good.

Link of the Day: Philip Gerrans on Montesquieu

Primary version of this post at Barry Stocker’s Weblog, with visual content!

The Disposition of Things: Spontaneous Order in the Esprit des Lois, by Philp Gerrans.

This is not a very new piece of work, Gerrans published it a few years ago in European Legacy, but has now made it freely available to download as a a pdt, through his home page at the School of Philosophy, University of Adelaide.

Gerrans looks at a few hypotheses about how to interpret Montesquieu Spirit of the Laws (1748), an Enlightenment masterpiece of what we would now call philosophy of history, social science, and political theory. The political theory is sometimes described as liberal and sometimes described as republican. Gerrans interprets that as the difference between liberty defined as freedom from limitations on action, and liberty defined as participation in the community and the political process. I’m rather dubious about how absolute the distinction is and Gerrans seems to accept an absolute distinction, coming down on a purely ‘liberal’ interpretation of Montesquieu. Anyway his account if clear and economical. As Gerrans points out, Montesuieu was highly revered by the framers of the American constitution, though I think he could have said more about the distinction between claiming to incorporate a position, and the

Gerrans looks at how the readings of the separation of powers in Montesquieu, one of the most famous issues in the Spirit of the Laws, referring to divisions between different branches of government. As Gerrans points out, the context is a wish to limit the power of the absolute monarchy in France, and to follow the example of English parliamentarianism. One point I really like in Gerrans is that he refers to Montesquieu’s economic reasons for preferring close relations with England, he wanted to be free to export wine to that country from his domains. That is strictly speaking a trade issue rather than a political system issue, but the English system, then as now, was more free trade oriented. Montesquieu believed in free trade as a matter of principle, but there is no need to detach great thinkers from their economic interests and context. More political economy of he great thinkers would be a good thing, but not in the sense of simply condemning them for having individual economic interests, or for upholding class interests.

The division of powers can be read in different ways in Montesquieu because of he way he is caught between understanding political systems according to Aristotle’s categorisations and a social scientists’ concern with the reasons that institutions exist as they do. There is a third factor, Lockean contract theory in which the executive is limited by the neutrality of judges and the creation of laws by an elected assembly. I think it is a bit of a mistake to get a fully formed theory of separation of power in Locke, that comes from later extrapolation and the persistent tendencies of all interpreters to think their interpretation is present fully formed in some text they particularly revere. Another reading could be on the socio-economic interpretation that as a member of the aristocracy, Montesquieu wanted to protect particular local aristocratic privileges from the threat of a centralising monarchical state. The Aristotelian aspect is the notion of the ‘polity’, the proper political state as a ‘mixed constitution’ combining elements if democracy, aristocracy, and oligarchy (Gerrans leaves out oligarchy).

Gerrans decides to cut through this by putting the interpretative weight on ‘spontaneous order’. This phrase is particularly associated with the free market economist, and limited state, political thinker, F.A. Hayek. Unfortunately I can’t right now find if Hayek invented the phrase, anyway he was developing a way of thinking found in the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith and David Hume. This is the idea that human society and economic welfare advance through the effects of an aggregate of freely made individual actions rather than through planning. It’s a matter of discussion whether Hayek has the best handle on those thinkers, as a I’ve pointed out in a number of posts on the egalitarian liberal political theorist, John Rawls. Since Rawls believes in a a market economy, he must agree with Hayek to some degree. Gerrans associates the idea with Hayek and the Scottish Enlightenment, and also with Bernard Mandeville, Michel de Montaigne and the Jansenists (presumably mostly thinking of Blaise Pascal).

The interesting leap Gerrans makes is to link spontaneous order with Newton’s mechanics which do explain how the universe works according to laws of physics without outside intervention. As Gerrans concedes there is no direct evidence that Montesqueiu was interested in Newton, but Gerrans argues for a link on a logic of the text basis. The bits of the text which look Newtonian are the early references to a Malebrancheian philosophy of universal laws, applied to societies, Malebranche’s thinking was close to the Jansenists, so maybe Gerrans could have said more about Pascal’s view of science, but broadly speaking he is correct to draw attention to the link between Montesquieu and the physics of the time.

What Gerrans could have added is that ‘spontaneous order’ is more obviously connected with biology than physics, after all Darwin picked up on Scottish Enlightenment and early political economy ideas. That was well into the future for Montesquieu and his project of a ‘Newtonian’ theory of society does inform his view of separation of powers. Gerrans argues that separation of powers can be seen on the basis of how individuals interact under limited government, so that provides a social basis. That does not explain everything, but I think it is valuable to incorporate this aspect, particularly with regard to what Montesqueiu says about the ‘spirit of monarchy’ which refers to a social mechanism running on individual pursuit of wealth and status.

From Montesquieu’s point of view a ‘moderate monarchy’ on this foundation can accept limitations from the law and from representative bodies. He seems to think in terms of a synthesis of republicanism and monarchy, without making it clear. As Gerrans points out, for Montesquieu a republic relates to classical notions of virtue which don’t seem appropriate to modern commercial society, In Montesquieu’s theory a republic becomes decadent and collapses when it’s citizens pursue wealth, A republican-monarchical synthesis might establish ‘liberal’ and ‘republican’ liberty in the modern world, though that thought is never there in a very direct way (not that I remember).

What’s Wrong with Republican Political Theory Today? Force, Conflict and the Moment of Decision

Growth of Republican Theory
There has been a recent growth in Republican political theory, though the earliest aspect of it in J.G.A. Pocock goes back some way now. Pocock worked on Civic Humanism in Renaissance Italy and Early Modern Atlantic Republicanism. In the former field, he worked particularly on Machiavelli; and in the latter on James Harrington and the continuation of Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s line of influence obviously goes up to Rousseau, after which the idea of a direct Republican line of influence is harder to maintain.

Kinds of Liberty
More recent work on Republicanism has included Phillip Pettit’s work of normative (analytic) political philosophy of that name, Quentin Skinner’s work on Roman Freedom/Liberty and Machiavelli, and Samuel Fleischer on a third liberty, between the negative and positive liberty I discussed in a recent post, ‘Negative and Positive Liberty: A Short History’. That idea of the third liberty corresponds to the idea of ‘non-domination’ in Pettit. In a comparable manner, Skinner opposes ‘Roman Liberty’ to ‘Liberalism’ which he defines a pure negative liberty, on utilitarian grounds.

Tocqueville and Egalitarian Liberalism
Here I am continuing themes in a recent post on Tocqueville on Republican Politics and the Tyranny of Small Communities, where I suggested that Republicanism recently has been a form of social democracy, a development out of Rawlsian egalitarian liberalism. The recnet Republicans continue Rawls’ theme of defining harm resulting from inequality very broadly, and defining necessary compensation very broadly. For Tocqueville Republicanism is more about maintaining institutions that prevent those with lower incomes from seeking to compensate themselves through limiting the property rights of those with property. That goes along with the wish for institutions that prevent a temporary majority from undermining liberty through any kind of attack on unpopular minorities. Tocqueville’s version of Republicanism has clear precedents in Montesquieu, Locke, and Aristotle. Considering that Tocqueville was inspired by the emergence of democracy as we know it now, in the USA, we could say that this kind of anti-egalitarian Republicanism is at the heart of modern liberal, or representative, democracy. The issue is somewhat more ambiguous than that. Though Tocqueville was against strong egalitarian social measures, he recognised that modern liberty was democratic in the sense that a broad equality of conditions was emerging between citizens of all classes.

State Force
There is another question here. We can place Tocqueville in the context of more egalitarian style liberalism, but we would still need to notice something else about Republicanism, it does not just uphold moral community action, it upholds the state and the authority of the state as something that rests on force as well as consent. That is the dimension that Lockean liberal republicanism and Rousseauesque egalitarian republicanism are overlooking. The state has a an active role in establishing and maintaining republican beliefs, and it uses force against those who threaten those beliefs. Centralised force is necessary to restrain the conformist force which can build up to an irresistable intensity at the local level. as Spinoza suggests, democracy rests on the force of the majority of the people.

Elites and Aristocracy
The point of Machiavelli’s Republicanism is not not just the moral advantage of a community of citizens. While it is important to avoid the still prevalent image of ‘evil Machiavelli’, we should not ignore that recognition of force and coercion in Machiavelli, which does sometimes have a gleeful edge to it. It can be like Nietzsche’ enjoyment of wickedness, which is certainly not an enjoyment of evil for its own sake though. Nietzsche expresses admiration for those states which institute a great political aristocracy, or elite. Tocqueville considered the formation of a modern democratic substitute for aristocracy as necessary in order to maintain liberty under democracy.

Natural and Positive Law
Republicanism in Aristotle is the idea that the political community is a natural good in its own right beyond the aggregation of individual interests. Republicanism in Machiavelli adds the recogniiton that state power is not ‘natural’ and must be instituted, and maintained by force. Tocqueville’s own thought is rooted in Pascal who emphasised that law is based on force in a godless unjust world, as Derrida also emphasises. Pascal finds positive law (law created by institutions, by the sovereign) is not rooted in natural law (objective moral order outside individual interests and historical constructions).

From Mill to Machiavelli

In John Stuart Mill, liberalism retains some elitist-aristocratic aspects, but is on the way to being a doctrine of politics based on consent, discussion and rationality which has difficulty with discussing what makes such activities possible. It is the sociologist Max Weber, who was more able to deal with this because he saw politics in terms of a ‘realist’ theory of pursuing power. Though current Republicanism emphasises politics as a human activity and goal, it lacks any sense of power and the foundations of the state in force. Despite Skinner’s references to ‘Roman liberty’, it lacks a sense of the absolute devotion of the classical citizen to the sovereignty of the state and its laws. They push the more realist ‘wicked’ aspects of Machiavelli aside as they see Machiavelli in rather Rawlsian terms. Machiavelli did not see politics in those terms, he thought that interests permanently clash and not in the sense of constant dialogue, just as Tocqueville thought that politics must be rooted in human pride and the necessary conflicts in pursuing pride. There is something Realist in Machiavelli and Tocqueville, and there is something ‘decisionistic’, that is politics refers to the moment of decision which is never completely justified and is never completely rational.

Montesquieu, Tocqueville, Foucault

Foucault’s work from Society Must be Defended onwards needs to be understood in relation to Montesquieu and Tocqueville. We could even read Foucault as the third figure in a French liberal triumvirate spanning three centuries. This reading may have some problems attached to it, but no more than the other readings of Foucault around and less than most. Foucault’s reputation has been taken over by Post-Marxist/ Post-Modernist/Post-Structuralist leftists for whom liberalism is a dirty word. However, Society Must be Defended coincides with a liberal revival in France which includes a Tocqueville revival. It uses the terms and references of the two great French liberals (and republicans). It’s concerned with the kind of liberty that can exist under different kinds of regime. It’s concerned with the limitation of society in relation to the state. It uses Montesquieu to establish the evolution of the French state, bureaucracy and aristocracy in the Eighteenth Century. The understanding of the relation between the Ancien Regime and the French Revolution follows the analysis of Tocquville’s book of that name. Foucault refers to majoritarian and demagogic aspects of the emergence of left wing and democratic politics, very much in line with Tocqueville’s understanding of the possible dangers of democracy.

The reading of Foucault’s later work will be very incomplete until it is thoroughly understood and discussed in the terms of his two French predecessors in social and political thought devoted to liberty.

Why Buffy and Joss Whedon’s other work matter

Joss Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, after three series this lead to the spin off Angel. Buffy ran for 7 seasons, Angel ran for 5 seasons. Towards the end of that period Whedon made 14 episodes of Firefly before it was cancelled by the network. The sequel to Firefly was the film Serenity. All these things have sold in massive amounts on DVD, unfortunately TV and cinema have been more mixed in their returns.

I’ll be returing to the Whedonverse. First of all, why does it matter? Today we’ll concentrate on Buffy. A series with a silly sounding name. The full name of the series, as Whedon points out, combines comedy, horror and drama. The silliness already indicates an interest in combining genres and crossing boundaries. What are the themes that appear and make Buffy important 8and which appear in the rest of the Whedonverse).

Buffy is an icon of female power, often defeating patronising enemies.
Buffy is also an ambiguous character: the hero and the disturbed individualist
The apparently simple conflict between good and evil moves switches back and forth between moral ambiguity and moral absolutes.
Buffy is drawn in different ways to 2 vampire characters (Angel and Spike) who make journeys from good to evil.
Buffy, Angel and Spike finds that despite the elemental conflicts she participates in, that the world has no meaning. The only morsl perspective is what the individual brings.
These characters refer to alientated states of mind and the struggle to overcome subjective alienation.
Characters find that passion drives them and is the basis rather than moral judgement.
Spike shows a moral evolution driven first by the restraint of a violence inhibiting implant, then by love for Buffy and then by regaining his ‘soul’ (soul=conscience in the Whedonverse). Many questions arise here about what morality is and what moral motivation is.
Individual difference and liberty are promoted along with an awareness that they can become alienating and disturbing.
Buffy is drawn towards ‘the dark’, towards violence, aggression and chaos in her own struggle against them.
The struggle against demonic chaos is a struggle to impose the order that Buffy resists.
Characters go through remarkable changes from apparent good to evil, and from evil to good. This is made very material in the vampirasation of Spike and Angel, both events are shown in flashback, and in the ways in which Angel and Spike get their souls back. For Angel, a soul is a punishment, for Spike it is a reward he seeks to make him worthy of Buffy. These tranformations and many others, raise questions about the limits of personal identity and the posisbility of change within continuous identity.
It deals with different possible worlds, as do many philosophers.
It’s very funny, all serious themes are ironised and everything is ironised. This is an important message in itself. Comedy and tragedy are always close together.

Machiavelli: Republican, Democrat and Lover of Liberty

The Myth of Machiavelli
Another cross over with work on teaching in this blog which tackles the enduring myth of Machiavelli. The myth is of a thought only directed to the celebration of the immoral use of power. In this myth, Machiavelli is the guide to seizing and holding power as an end in itself; and Machiavelli is presented as a diabolical, or at least cynical, exponent of cruelty as the price of power. This parallels the kind of accusations made against Nietzsche (discussed in earlier posts), and rather conveniently from this point of view the course ends with Nietzsche. The intervening figures are Bacon, Hobbes, Harrington, Spinoza, Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Humboldt, Kant, Hegel, Marx and Mill.

Machiavelli and the Case of Nietzsche
This kind of accusation against Machiavelli is not widely accepted at all by those working on Machiavelli. In the case of Nietzsche, there is division between commentators on whether Nietzsche should be seen as an Authoritarian Extreme Elitist focusing on domination by the ‘Overman’, or a Liberal Moderate Elitist focusing on the example for humanity established by the ‘Overman’.

The Machiavelli Critics and their Hypocrisy
The consensus of those who have spent much time with Machiavelli is that he was arguing intellectually, and fighting in life, for Republicanism, Democracy and Liberty. The myth is all the more annoying and all the more in need of refutation. It is significant that Jesuit writers worked hard on establishing that myth. The original Jesuits were completely devoted to upholding church power, and they were much more extreme in their adherence to ‘wicked’ means than Machiavelli. Unlike Machiavelli they thought they acted from divine approval. If anyone thinks this is a harsh portrayal of the Jesuits, they should consult the criticisms made of the the Society of Jesus by that most passionate of Catholic thinkers, Blaise Pascal, in his Provincial Letters (down load text). The tendency for the notoriously power hungry to stigmatise Machiavelli did not end with the Jesuits, Frederick the Great (Frederick II of Prussia) wrote an Anti-Machiavel (download text). Frederick wrote this just before inheriting the throne, an event he celebrated with the invasion of Hapsburg Siliesia. Frederick was an admirable person in many ways, as a sincere adherent of Enlightenment and tolerance, but he was not short of the wish to gain and increase power through any means. Those most devoted to the cynical pursuit of power have a persistent need to scapegoat Machiavelli.

The Twilight of Divine Order
The myth of Machiavelli is not just the creation of those who need to believe in something worse than their own desire for power for what they fondly believe is some higher purpose. The image of diabolical ‘Machiavel’ appears in Christopher Marlowe‘s great Sixteenth Century play, The Jew of Malta (download text). In Marlowe, and others, Machiavelli acquires an aura somewhat like Don Giovanni in Mozart’s opera (as discussed by Kierkegaard in Either/Or I, ‘The Immediate Erotic Stages or the Musical-Erotic’), who fascinates with his relentless immorality and who acquires a kind of moral superiority in refusing to repent even as he is dragged down to Hell. Machiavelli was dismissive of Christianity and openly advocated immorality in the service of the state, but that was an immorality which served the public good and not a diabolical exultation in evil for its own sake. Like other Early Modern thinkers and writers, like Marlowe and Shakespeare, like Pascal and Hobbes, Machiavelli was gripped by the feeling that society could not be built on the foundations of purist morality, and sometimes enjoyed the feeling of emancipation from an all present divine morality. That is not the same as just welcoming evil, as the case of Pascal shows, it can involve great melancholy. For Machiavelli, human self-interest and fallibility is a truth to be grasped without evasion while trying to create the best possible form of political community, the Republic.

The Prince
Niccolo Machiavelli was the author of two great books: The Prince(download here) and The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy (download here). The myth of Machiavelli is maintained by referring only to The Prince, and then only in a vulgarised form in which Machiavelli is held to instruct a Prince on how to seize and hold onto power by any means possible, in a spirit of diabolical pleasure at the evil resulting. It is a nonsense to take The Prince in isolation since Machiavelli makes it clear that the book is only one part of his political thought, devoted to principalities. He makes it clear in Chapter Two of The Prince, just two pages into the book that the has written on republics elsewhere. In any case, any remotely careful reading of the book will note two things.

1. Machiavelli wrote the book to encourage an Italian prince to unite divided and occupied Italy, as can be seen in the last chapter, ‘Exhortation to Liberate Italy from the Barbarian Yoke’

This opportunity to provide Italy with a liberator, then, after such a long time, must not be missed. I have no doubt at all that he would be received with great affection in all those regions that have been inundated by the foreign invasions, as well as with great thirst for revenge, with absolute fidelity, with devotion and with tears of gratitude. What gates would be closed to him? What people would fail to obey him? What obvious hostility would work against him? What Italian would deny him homage? This foreign domination stinks in the nostrils of everyone. Let your illustrious family, then, take, up this mission, with the spirit and courage and the faith that inspires all just causes, so that under your standard our country may be ennobled, and under your auspices these words of Petrarch will come true

Valour will take up arms against wild attacks;
And the battle will be short:
for the ancient valour is still strong in Italian hearts.

2. There is the patriotic motivation for The Prince in which a prince will become the instrument to a unified Italy that Machiavelli certainly hopes will evolve into a Republic modelled on that of Ancient Rome.

Even if we concentrate on the advice Machiavelli give this potential unifier of Italy on how to hold on to power, we notice a Republican spirit, in which the ruler must rule in the public interest, shining through.

Chapter XIX
I conclude, then, that rulers should worry little about being plotted against if their subjects are well disposed towards them, but if their subjects are hostile and hate them, they should be afraid of everything and everyone. Well-ordered states and wise rulers have always been very careful not to exasperate the nobles and also to satisfy the people and keep them contented; this is one of the most important things for a ruler to do.

The Discourses
The Discourses are a commentary on the first 10 books of Titus Livy/Livius History of Rome. Livy wrote his history under Augustus in the early years of the Empire, exalting the heroic era of the rising Republic. Machiavelli wrote a commentary on Livy, because the Republic of Rome was his model of Republicanism, Democracy and Liberty. Machiavelli referred to a mixed constitution of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy rather than democracy, but that was the closest thing to Liberal Democracy as we understand it within the thought of the time.
Some of Machiavelli’s chapter headings in Book One really tell us what we need to know: ‘What kind of Events gave rise in Rome to the creation of Tribunes of the Plebs, whereby that Republic was made more Perfect’; ‘That discord between the Plebs and Senate of Rome made this Republic both Free and Powerful’; ‘How Necessary Public Indictments are for the Maintenance of Liberty in a Republic’. These alone are enough to tell us that Machiavelli valued: the Republic, the representation of the poor in the political institutions of the Republic, open struggle and conflict between groups of citizens as strengthening the power and freedoms of the Republic, rule of law and the subordination of all citizens equally to law is a foundation of Republican liberty.
Let us have one quote from Chapter 4 to confirm those impressions

The demands of a free populace, too are very seldom harmful to liberty, for they are due either to the populace being oppressed or to the suspicion that it is going to be oppressed, and, should these impressions be false, a remedy is provided in the public platform on which some man of standing can get up, appeal to the crowd, and show that it is mistaken. And though, as Tully remarks, the populace may be ignorant, it is capable of grasping the truth and readily yields waht a man, worthy of confidence, lays the truth before it.
Critics, therefore, should be more sparing in finding fault with the government of Rome, and should reflect that the excellent results which this public obtained could only have been brought about by excellent causes. Hence if tumults led to the creation of the tribunes, tumults deserve the highest praise, since, besides giving the populace a share in the administration, they served as the guardian of Roman liberties, as we shall show in the next chapter.

James Harrington: English Republican and Follower of Machiavelli

Harrington was a Seventeenth Century English Republican in an era of political struggle and excitement about conflicting political ideas. Despite the anathemas thrown at Machiavelli, Harrington studied him and drew inspiration for his own development of Republican theory for his own time. Let us confirm Machiavelli’s real influence on political ideas through a quote from Harrington’s master work A Commonwealth of Oceana (download here).

The Preliminaries, showing the Principles of Government
[…] government (to define it de jure or according to ancient prudence) is an art whereby a civil society of men is instituted and preserved upon the foundation of common rights or interest, or t (to follow Aristotle and Livy) it is the empires of laws and not of men. And government (to define it de facto or acording unto modern prudence) is an art whereby some man, or some few men, subject a city or a nation, and rule it according unto his or their private interest; which, because the laws in such cases are made according to the interest of a man or of some few families, may be said to be empire of men and not of laws. The former kind is that which Machiavel (whose books are neglected) is the only politician that hath gone about to retrieve […].

A Note on How a Major Conservative ‘Liberal’ Thinker Needed to Stigmatise Machiavelli as Wicked

One major Twentieth Century political philosopher, Leo Strauss, (a major influence on Neo-Conservatives) stuck to this prejudice. In his Thoughts on Machiavelli, Strauss sticks to the interpretation of Machiavelli as ‘wicked’, which is a consequence of Strauss’ adherence to Ancient Philosophy, particularly with regard to the place of Natural Law. That is Strauss resisted any tendency to think of the state, and therefore politics, as grounded in anything other than Natural Law. Natural Law is itself a phrase with many interpretations, but what Strauss was referring to was the idea that all humans can and should arrive at the same basic morals and laws through use of reason, because laws are based on an objective eternal order. He was drawing on a rich tradition rooted in Plato and Aristotle, and in Muslim, Christian and Jewish readings of Ancient Greek philosophy.
Strauss’ claim that Machiavelli broke with the Natural Law tradition is not controversial, and neither is his view in Natural Right and History that modern political thought is premissed on a separation between laws as they exist historically and natural law increasingly seen as an abstract ideal. Given that modern political philosophy, along with modern thought about law and ethics, has turned away from Natural Law towards more empirically and historically conditioned understanding of political principles, the identification of Machiavelli as uniquely wicked is a mischievous attempt to undermine modern political philosophy as opposed to the supposed eternal truths of Plato and Aristotle. A rhetorical trickery is used in which Machiavelli, as represented in a common place misunderstanding, is used to undermine Machiavelli and all modern political philosophy. Nietzsche is also used and misused in this way by Strauss. He uses a fundamentally cheap and misleading argument resting on prejudices about diabolical Machiavelli and Nazi Nietzsche, mixed up with pretensions to calm dispassionate universal reason, to instate Plato, as the beginning and end of political philosophy. Various references to Aristotle essentially serve the idealisation of Plato. In this way, Strauss is able to define himself as a ‘Liberal’ with an essentially ultra-conservative argument, a strangely familiar way of arguing. Strauss thought that philosophical truth is gained through an ‘esoteric’ reading of Plato and his Medieval interpreters, that is a reading according to Strauss’ eccentric search for hidden meanings. In accordance with this, Strauss accepted democracy but thought the rhetoric of democracy was a cover for the rule of the those enlightened to Straussian standards. Even though they essentially regard democracy as an instrument of the ‘wise’ ruler, Straussians in US politics are remarkably keen on a universalist crusade for democracy. The consequence is an enhancement of the power of the state within the US and in the hegemonic claims of the US in the world system, to an extent which shocks many traditional conservatives used to doctrines of the limited state and prudent self interest in international relations.

The Preventable Death of Hrant Dink: Ultra-Nationalist Hysterics and the Political Leaders who Have Appeased Them

End the Appeasement of Ultra-Nationalism
Repeal Article 301 and all laws which Criminalise Political and Historical Discussion
Push the Ultra-Nationalists into the Political Wilderness
State and Political Leaders must totally Separate themselves from Ultra-Nationalism

The fourth post I wrote for this blog was on the ‘The Nationalist Upsurge in Turkey’
where I emphasised the harassment of Hrant Dink, through the courts and outside court buildings through the despicable campaign of hatred mounted by hysterical ultra-nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz. I certainly do not accuse Kerincsiz, or other leaders and manipulators of ultra-nationalist hysteria, of connection with the murder. I do accuse them of creating an atmosphere of hysteria through their harassment in a country where political violence has been all too frequent. In the context in which which extreme political divisions have led to violence, including murder, the possible consequences of Kerincsiz’ hysteria campaign is all too obvious. He is guilty of knowingly, deliberately and calculatingly, creating an atmosphere in which the chances of Dink’s murder was increased.

I emphasised in my earlier post that Kerancsiz’ hysteria campaign was being tolerated by the state and by the mainstream political parties. Kerancsiz is a member of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Action Party; though the party has cleaned up its act in the last 10 years, under the leadership of Devlet Bahceli, after a long period of involvement in political violence, they did nothing to restrain Kerincsiz. Though they did not directly endorse his hysteria campaign, they have clearly benefited from the atmosphere of hatred and tension raising that Kerancsiz has created.

When the AKP (a conservative party rooted in Islamism which now defines itself as Conservative Democrat, on a Christian democratic model) came to power, the new Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was greeted by many liberal-left intelligentsia in Turkey, and by many foreign observers, as a great reformer and enemy of the hard core statist-nationalist old guard in Turkey. Where has Erdogan been in opposing Kerancsiz? What was done to stop Kerancsiz from turning the court room and the court steps into a theatre hatred and hysteria? What did Erdogan, Prime Minister and leader of Turkey’s largest party, do against this? Nothing. Does Erdogan wish to repeal article 301 of the Penal Code, criminalising ‘insults against Turkey, which was used against Dink and many others? No. Article 301 gives legal and state sanction to idea that the individual can be punished for criticising the nation. It is fundamental to the hysteria campaign of Kerincsiz who frequently uses it to bring prosecutions. It’s time for Erdogan to behave like a modernist conservative democrat, and not just try to talk like one.

The largest opposition party in Turkey is the Republican People’s Party, a social democratic party which is a member of the Socialist Internationalist. Has it demanded the repeal of 301? No. Have they opposed ultra-nationalist ideology? While many members of the party are consistently opposed to ultra-nationalist hysteria, leading members have endorsed intolerant attitudes, for example on the question of a free discussion about the 1915 deportation and massacre of Armenians. It was Dink’s insistence on claiming that this should labelled ‘genocide’ that started his troubles. I’ve always argued against such an interpretation, but it is a question to be settled by free discussion. The laws, like 301, which criminalise free discussion, have contributed to the atmosphere in which Dink was defined as an enemy of Turkey who deserved to be murdered. When I meet RPP members, they like claim the party is a modernist party based on human rights and political freedom. The time has come to act, not just talk. Has the RPP leader, Deniz Baykal opposed the Nationalist Action Party? No, he is seeking to bring them into a coalition government. Has he condemned Kerincsiz? No. Has he demanded the repeal of 301? No.


Those who committed the murder are very likely rather pathetic individuals, people who know very little about Turkish politics, and even less about the world outside Turkey, except the ‘knowledge’ that Turkey has enemies who ought to die. Probably people from low income and low education backgrounds dependent on god fathers and distributors of patronage who fill them with ultra-nationalist fanaticism. They have probably seen all kinds of injustice in their life, and are conditioned to blame it on national enemies, traitors, and liberal appeasement, no doubt aware that many liberals and liberal democrats, on the centre right and the centre left, in Turkey are part of a system of patronage and corruption. However pathetic, they must pay for what they have done. However, if all that happens is that they get life in prison, nothing will have been achieved to improve Turkey. The pseudo-nationalists will have won, they will have preserved and entrenched a system of patronage, clientalism, favouritism, corruption, mafia criminality, and protectionism which keeps Turkish people poor but enables the people at the head of these activities to be rich. I’ve met some radical left and democratic people in Turkey who deny the problems of corruption in Turkey. These are people who benefit from party patronage, or from well intentioned international subsidies for NGOs, the problem is not just with the stereotypical ultra-nationalist apes, it is also with apparently civilised, intellectual and democratic people. All the people who benefit from these distortions find that distributing patronage will create loyal and pathetic clients, very likely the status of those who murdered Dink. The real planners will have kept themselves distant of creating tension within Turkey, and between Turkey and the international community. The international Armenian lobby has already jumped onto the murder of Dink, though Dink strongly criticised Armenians who put anti-Turkish lobbying above positive action to improve Armenian conditions, in Armenia itself and for Armenians everywhere. While we must sympathise with the sincere horror that Armenians throughout the world will feel at this murder, we must note the risk that this will turn into a campaign of ant-Turkish hysteria creating further nationalist hysteria in Turkey. The godfathers will have succeed in their gaols unless…..


The political and state leadership in Turkey has announced its intention of bringing Turkey up to international standards with regard to political freedoms and human rights. They have failed to do so. They have failed to challenge ultra-nationalism. Leaders must must accept responsibility for the atmosphere in which Dink was murdered. They must atone. Public opinion and leaders of all kind must see this as the moment to make a definitive break with ultra-nationalism and to to make the rule of law, freedom of speech and tolerant democracy supreme.

We shall attempt to raise our national culture above the level of contemporary civilization. Therefore, we think and shall continue to think not according to the lethargic mentality of past centuries, but according to the concepts of speed and action of our century. We shall work harder than in the past.
Kemal Ataturk, Speech on the 10th Anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey