Real Republican Freedom II: So What Is the Law For Anyway? Research Time, 29/03/2017

Continued from last post . . . When I was reading the anarchists – Mikhail Bakunin, Emma Goldman, Colin Ward – I was meditating on the excess of law. How the very framework of some kind of coercive rule-following institution put pressure on human freedom.

Which those institutions do. I’m not about to say this isn’t an essential feature of legal institutions. When rubber hits road, there’s nothing protecting citizens from police violence except self-restraint on the part of police officers themselves.

We tell stories to remind us that institutional authority can be abused
so that we stay angry when we see it happening. We can't let that
level of corruption become normal, so we tell stories to remind
ourselves that such people are villains.
Think about it as a deranged, cartoonish image if it helps. As a fable told with fantastic imagery and intense drama. Imagine Nicolas Cage as a werewolf hunting the streets of New Orleans with fiery blood.

If that predatory human is really hunting your streets, though, don’t you want police and law enforcement institutions around to protect you from them? Leave aside the issue of violent crime or exploitive behaviour. Think about the truly dangerous criminals – the ones capable of bringing down your society.

Machiavelli is thinking about that last type of criminal. When he discusses the corruption of a virtuous government in Discourses on Livy, he has some very clear examples in mind. He’s talking about military dictators of small countries who raid the treasury, bankrupt the whole place, and flee to let the country be overrun by an expanding foreign empire.

This was the type of people running the independent states of northern Italy in Machiavelli’s time. As a politician, he was directly concerned with preserving a strong government in Florence that could preserve its independence against ambitions of conquest from France, Spain, and Austria.

France, Spain, and Austria in the early 1500s were absolutist monarchies expanding European empires through military conquest. Remember that situation whenever you read Machiavelli. His materialism and pragmatism was so deep and thorough because the times required it.

The problem of how a community protects itself from predators remains. Some predators are murderers, con artists, ruthless profiteers. Some predators join the police and the military. Some of those predators take advantage of a lucky situation to make themselves dictator of a whole country.

Because when the military takes command, the people's freedom
never comes out all that well.
So the best ways to prevent the downfall of your society to military dictatorship is to build strong institution. What makes an institution strong is public belief in its power, over and above the people who hold power through those institutions.

When a country’s institutions are more important to the people than its leaders, a leader who tries to corrupt those institutions will find a revolution on his hands. A revolution to protect institutions before those institutions even become corrupt and turn their violent powers completely against the population has a much better chance of success than one that must start from a position of total submission.

This is why it’s easier to stop a democracy from falling than it is to actually topple one. You may not think this, because of such a long history of military coups against democratic governments around the world.

But most of the world’s democracies are very young. Even the oldest, where democratic values are deeply ingrained in popular culture, have powerful inequities and institutional habits of oppression and abuse.

It takes a long time for a culture to become democratic through to its communal soul, to that one common feature of all citizens. It takes a long time for a people’s fundamental community love to be for freedom and mutual respect, and for the institutions that protect those freedoms.

There are many different objects of patriotism – the ethnic nation, religious dogma, the royals, the leaders, the god-kings, empire. The only good objects of patriotism are ideals and institutions of freedom. Anything else is slavery and war.

And that message is from, of all people, Machiavelli. . . . To be continued

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