To Be Incorruptible VI: Pushing Democracy’s Limits, Composing, 26/04/2017

This set of six posts turned out to be pretty important for my thinking as I put together the outline of Utopias. So I thought I'd lay out the basics of the idea and the contents to go back through.

One: Virtues of Free People
Two: Deliberation
Three: Virtues for the Public
Four: Introducing Patriotism
Five: Violence for Refuge
• • •
In Machiavelli’s time, democratic patriotism was limited to the walls of a city. It was a spirit that grew from within a community’s bonds of familiarity as an extended family.

The patriotism of the free in Renaissance and Medieval Italy is that of a tribe ruled by its members – the guilds and assemblies were literally the voice of the people. But if you weren’t already a member of that community, you were an interloper. If you were Venetian or Milanese, Florence could never be your home.

Refugees from a natural disaster had no hope of receiving refuge from a neighbouring country. We’re close to returning to that morality today, since the scale of the refugee crisis has overwhelmed so many of Europe’s welfare state institutions.

Not to mention that European cultures haven’t come nearly as close as they should to eradicating their own racism.

But there remains much in Machiavelli’s thinking about how to guard against corruption in our society. Even as, in the pressure of our globally networked community, we need to grow beyond the small horizons of his culture’s communitarian values.

Patriotic immigration is possible, and its successes – though not perfect – demonstrate that an open community built on the creative power of diversity is stronger than a homogeneous, closed one.

I know where I will wear this dagger then;
Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius:
Therein, ye gods, you make the weak most strong;
Therein, ye gods, you tyrants do defeat:
Nor stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass,
Nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron,
Can be retentive to the strength of spirit;
But life, being weary of these worldly bars,
Never lacks power to dismiss itself.
I’m thinking of modern southern Ontario, and what seems to be the case in Swedish cities like Malmö and Stockholm. An open city with a variety of people can call on more social networks, powers, ideas, and intelligences for public service. Democratic patriotism is the spirit of building a community from differences.

Machiavelli wrote that a society of free people – free from tyranny, governing its affairs through open offices and moralities of universal respect – is the strongest bulwark against corruption. Against the social, political, and institutional rot that collapses a society into tyranny and chaos.

A successfully free society has institutions devoted to protecting the freedom and dignity of its people. A free people are devoted to these institutions, and has a strong civil society encouraging people throughout their lives to stand up for their dignity.

Such a society grows their population through patriotic immigration – integrating newcomers by building the society together, negotiating their dignity in good faith with all. A free society treats its neighbouring societies with a parallel respect – such a state doesn’t make enemies, but allies and partners.

A free society has, as its fundamental political principle, that no one be subject to the will of any other, except to help them develop each other’s dignity and capacity to live a good life. There are no hermits or egotists – no jerks – but a society of friends.

A deeply, profoundly free people would be devoted to the public good to such a degree that even the super-rich of society would give almost all their fortune to the public treasury. They’d give it willingly, happily, knowing that it would benefit their compatriots.

None of this “taxation is theft.” I’m talking about there not being a need to tax at all because people will give of their own spare fortunes to help others. That’s the ideal of a free society.

It sounds utterly impossible. But it seems a society which genuinely and universally held to this principle in all their thoughts, hearts, and souls, would be a truly incorruptible society.

Will you be a pessimist? How can you not?

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