The People’s Machiavelli – By Teodros Kiros (PhD)
I would like to give a latent and surface interpretation to Machiavelli’s’ classic text, The Prince. In this piece, what I wish to show is the People’s Machiavelli, before I begin advising the opposition about how they can use Machiavelli’s insights to organize the people to demand change and bring change.
In “Dissent and Democracy” (Abugida, Ethio Media, Nov 6, 2008) I gave a surface interpretation of two cardinal Machiavellian concepts, Virtu and Fortuna, and applied them as tools by which we can examine the structure of politics on Machiavelli’s view. The surface argument is that the leader of monarchies and republics should fashion his leadership by using Virtu in concert with Fortuna. Political attention is given to the single leader, should he want to create power and maintain it. The center of attention is the single leader who governs the people both as the masses without whom he cannot survive, and against whom he must guard himself, as they may secretly intend to topple him. He loves the people enough to use them and fears them equally because they are the ultimate houses of power. The above is the surface reading of the relevant parts of The Prince, but there is a latent reading.
The latent reading is premised on the view that in contrast to leaders, the people are the honest elements of the population. The latent reading is further buttressed by Machiavelli’s decision to write The Prince, in Italian, the language of the people- so that the people can read The Prince and understand their plight in the appropriate language. Had Machiavelli not cared about the people, he could have presented the text to the Medici family, the rulers at the time, in Latin, the language of the ruling element. Given this overt decision, one could surmise that, the author wanted the people to know how they are being governed, and most importantly, realize what they must do, if they are being governed incorrectly. The Prince shows both the nature of the distinctly political and tactics of political action and the perennial rules of revolution. In the latent sense, The Prince, is also uniquely and brilliantly revolutionary- a manifesto for the people and not merely a manifesto for rulers, on the surface reading.
On the latent reading, it the people who matter; it is the people who make laws, although, given their sheer number, they cannot execute the laws that they could legislate, by choosing organic leaders who represent their interests. Moreover, since stability was so important to Machiavelli, he could not imaging a stable republic that is not loved by the people, and in order to love the order, the people must create it, the people must participate in the creation of power in concert with the right sovereign, who governs democratically and not tyrannically, since tyranny is the way of beasts and democracy is the way of the enlightened, the way of moral leaders.
For us Ethiopians, the latent reading commands us writers to write for the people, in their language, in this instance Amharic, and translate Machiavelli into Amharic spiced by our proverbs and stories, and pierce their hearts, the seat of their thinking.
Future articles will apply the latent reading to the cultivation of a democratic opposition for Ethiopia’ future.