Past present: Conflict and change
Machiavelli’s The Prince became famous while the rest of his works are not so well known. One of his books The Discourse also referred to as The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy discusses the classical history of early Ancient Rome and is useful in understanding the present day issues of our country.
Out of 142 volumes of Titus Livy’s ancient history of Rome, only ten survived. When the book was published for the first time, Machiavelli’s father who had prepared the index obtained a copy from the publisher.
Machiavelli studied the wide-ranging comparison of ancient and modern states and societies, spruced up by a contrast between the ancient Roman republic and modern Florence. The book provided abundant material on the early history of the ancient republic, which for Machiavelli was the exemplary state by which all others — ancient and modern, could be assessed. He derived lessons from Livy’s history, which resulted in a mix of practical and workable political systems.
According to Machiavelli, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy are not bad in character and spirit. However, after degeneration, monarchy becomes tyranny. Aristocracy is the rule of the oligarchy which converts to a corrupt system when controlled by ambitious individuals. Likewise democracy ruled by a mob results in disorder and anarchy.
The Roman republic consisted of the consul which was like a monarch but did not have absolute power, the senate which represented aristocracy, and the tribune which voiced the sentiment of the plebeians.
Machiavelli pointed out that the amalgamation of these three institutions resulted in social, political and economic discord in the Roman society. When common people protested and raised their voice against exclusion from politics, the higher
authorities decided to include them in the political process.
To Machiavelli, conflicts played an important role in transformation of the society. If there was compromise and homogenity, the society would fail to produce new ideas and thoughts. Therefore, contradiction was an important element which changed societies of the past.
When conflicts were crushed or suppressed brutally, they damaged society. In case of Florence, his hometown, the authorities either suppressed opponents or exiled them and the result was disorder and chaos.
Machiavelli further noticed that in Sparta and Athens, foreigners were not allowed to take part in politics. In the Republic of Venice people were not permitted to carry arms. On the other hand the Roman Republic granted citizenship to foreigners, and allowed common people to carry arms. Therefore, he argues that an inclusive as opposed to an exclusive approach stabilises the political system.
Machiavelli believed that conflicts must not be allowed to discourage people but the nature of conflict must be understood.
Since conflicts express grievances, problems and sufferings of people, these become guidelines to learn the social, political and economic situation of the common people and help solve their issues.
However, if conflicts are repressed without understanding them, they would weaken the political and social system. Moreover, a policy of inclusion rather than exclusion should be adopted in dealing with political rivals and minorities.
We can apply Machiavelli’s thoughts to the Balochistan conflict which has become a national crisis and threatens to damage
our political system. Unfortunately, our approach to solve the matter by crushing the conflict and excluding the people of Balochistan from the political process has failed miserably.
We may have democracy but the feudal aristocracy controls all powers which is inclusive of usurping people’s right to take an active part in politics. When people protest and demonstrate against anti-people policies, they are brutally dealt with by law enforcing agencies.
This creates a gap between the people and the ruling classes. What privileges do people enjoy in a democratic state if their voices are not heard and they are dismissed as a non-entity? As the roots of democracy become weak, military adventurers grab the opportunity to capture political power and establish a dictatorial rule.
Machiavelli’s ideas are pro-people and encourage their active participation in political activities. As the Pakistani society is passing through crises, we can learn from his convincing arguments and change our outlook regarding conflicts and peoples’ role in politics.