Machiavellianism And Democracy (Nigeria As A Case Study)

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Machiavellianism And Democracy (Nigeria As A Case Study)


Chapter One


General Introduction

1.1 Introduction

Machiavelli has gained the world popularity because of the way he conceived and understood politics. Today “Machiavellism” is used to describe a political situation characterized by tyranny, despotism, deception and violence. This is because of Machiavelli’s approach and guidelines towardsachieving stability in the state. Machiavelli crafts a perspective that aligns politics with warfare, and justifies the deployment of force, the exercise of cruelties, the practice of deceit and the manipulation of appearances in the service of government. He was greatly influenced by the political disarray in Florence of his time. Moreover Machiavelli presented virtue as vice and vice versa. For him the politician or ruler should not be a moral agent. He should be less concerned with the morality of actions in as much as he maintains power.

The Machiavellian principle in its nature considers the end of actions and not the means used. This poses a state of the survival of the fittest. This situation to a great extent negates the principle of democracy and scuttles its growth. Democracy as we know is praised for its space for freedom, equality, justice and fairness. For any democratic institution to flourish all traces of Machiavellism should be eschewed. This is my major concern in this work. I shall verify how the Machiavellian principle is in play in the Nigeria’s politics. Has it helped matters or does it bring anarchy? This is the question we shall attempt in this discourse.


1.2 Purpose of Study

The aim of this work is to critically analyze the principles of Machiavelli. This will take the form of stating and describing the whole content of his principles as well as pointing out its implications. Also I shall ‘x-ray’ the principle of democracy tracing its origin and the conditions for its practice. This verification will be done within the Nigerian situation. However, the sole issue here is to relate the principle of Machiavelli to the situation of democracy in Nigeria. We shall discuss and inquire on what relevance Machiavellism is to democracy in Nigeria and the various forms through which Machiavellism has penetrated the ambience of politics in Nigeria and other dimensions of life dating back from our independence days to the present day.

In addition, to reject the existence of this Machiavellian principle is being unrealistic and insincere to the whole assignment. This principle due to its tyrannical and immoral nature has attracted the criticisms of many political thinkers and philosophers. Some spoke against its immoral nature. Marx and Engel in criticizing Machiavellism maintained “the true exponents of Machiavellian policy are those who attempt to paralyze democratic energies at periods of revolutionary charge”[1]. The dangers of this principle compose a threat to the moral foundation of political life in general and Nigeria in particular. It has influenced Nigeria and her leaders and restructured the leadership system. Machiavelli in his advice to the prince opined that the ruler is the one who is only interested in his maintenance of power and achieving whatever he wishes regardless of the means employed, thus the end justifies the means.


1.3 Statement Of The Problem

Man in his nature is a political, social and religious being. These three aspects of man plays a very important function in making man what he ought to be. These aspects are complementary in the sense that none supersedes the other in the various endeavours of man. Religion acts as a shield to human conduct and as such promotes morality. This morality is further expressed in the form of virtues. Virtue guides our actions including our socio-political life. Morality has been a thing of concern for many political thinkers and philosophers. Some understand morality as a sine qua non for life. Ekwutosi Cosmas, in his definition of morality states that it is “the rightness and wrongness of the human action”[2].

The problem of morality constitutes a major part in Machiavelli’s political philosophy. From the ancient times, philosophers had always associated politics with morality. They identified politics in moral tenets. The case of Machiavelli was that of a radical contrast. To this Joseph Omoregbe states, “he writes to remove morality if they want to be successful politicians or rulers”. There is no space and consideration for morality. Machiavelli from the start disposed his readers that “straightforward efforts to master and apply the tenets of traditional rules will not produce an effective ruler. Politics must have its own rules”[3]. A look on the views of other philosophers will show the place they assign to morality in political life. For Socrates human actions are associated with morality. Thus, he opines, “to know the good is to do the good. Knowledge is virtue[4]”. He equated knowledge with virtue and maintained that to have the knowledge of a virtue is to have virtue. Plato in his moral philosophy states, “Virtue means knowledge, a true knowledge of the true consequences of all acts”[5]. Plato follows Socrates in maintaining that the goal of human life is happiness and that the only road that leads to it is through a virtuous life.

In addition, Aristotle’s theory of morality centers on his belief that people, as everything else in nature has a distinctive ‘end’ to achieve. He begins his Nicomachean Ethics by saying that “every art and every inquiry and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good. If this is so the question for ethics is, what is the good at which human behaviour aims?”[6] Happiness is the end that is sought for its own sake. For St. Augustine once morality is taken away from government it ceases to exist. Justice is essential to any government. Hence he states, “Without concord there is no city; but without justice there is no concord. Consequently justice is the first condition required for the existence of the city”[7]. The basic problem in Machiavellian principle is the rejection of morality. There was no place for justice, peace and fairness. Machiavelli’s popular maxim that ‘the end justifies the means’ is an attack on ethical principles. Where will morality be if we glory in the end that we make possible through fair and foul means? If we accept this, then on which ground shall we stand to condemn some immoral acts perpetrated by people? What shall we say about leaders and politicians who ascend leadership positions through questionable ways and yet succeed in improving the standard of living in their countries? There are people who have followed this path, the likes of Jerry Rawlings of Ghana who assassinated the past leaders in order to bring sanity into the political arena of Ghana. What of Nigeria whose present condition has been a deplorable one? It does seem that there is little or no morally approved means of survival for the common man.


1.4 Methodology

The method of my research will be highly critical and expository which will aim at analyzing the principles of Machiavelli and the principle of democracy. I will juxtapose Machiavellian principles with the practice of democracy in Nigeria. I will limit my research on democracy in Nigeria running through the three republics it has witnessed. Also a cursory look at democracy and the factors that hinder its workability in Nigeria will be taken.


1.5 Literature Review

Here a review of the theories of some other political thinkers will be made. We shall examine all the periods.

In the ancient period, Plato’s theory of the state is an idealist theory. For him the polis[8], the state should reflect the ideally ordered polity which exists in the mind or in the world of ideas. The ideal state must be a just state. The state originates because the individual is not self-sufficient and has many needs. In order to satisfy these needs the state is formed.

For Aristotle, “the state is the highest form of association, most sovereign, embracing all others and therefore aims at the most sovereign of all good. It is political ‘he koinonia politike’ – the communion of life in the form of state”[9]. The state is the summit of all human associations and activities providing for all man’s needs. Therefore, the states exists by nature since man being a political animal can best secure the good of life and fulfil his needs together with other men in the state. The virtue of justice is a feature of a state; because justice is the arrangement of the political association. Distributive justice promotes political obligation, unity between citizens and the state.

Thus it “involves treating equals equally”[10]. Aristotle in discussing the components of the state defends slavery. The ideal form of government for him is Aristocracy. For Cicero, “the state belongs to the people, a people being association of a good number of persons based on justice and partnership to secure common good”[11]. He advocates that the natural law of reason is the basis of all other laws and that its source is Divine Wisdom and Reason, which directs the entire universe. All other rules draw their power and inspiration from the authority of God who directs all things. He sees justice as a necessity for order in the state.

The medieval period witnessed many political theorists who propounded their theories on what constitutes the state and how the state is to be administered. Augustine in his doctrine of the two cities presents the ‘city of God’-the heavenly kingdom against the earthly kingdom, which the Roman Empire represents. For him, “the ‘city of God’ is the true society, a universal commonwealth ordained by God at the creation of man”[12]. It transcends all races, class and other kinds of boundaries. The supreme good can only be realized if there is justice in the state.

For Thomas Aquinas, the civil society exists by nature. It comes from the nature of man as a social animal. His theory could be analyzed from his treatise on law. Justice holds an important place in his theory. It means for him, “rendering to each one his right[13]”. There are two distinctions of justice, namely particular and general justice. Thomas More advocated for communism and bought platonic idea of the philosopher king. The best and ideal state should “aim at happiness or the pleasure of the entire people and not only that of a few privileged citizens”[14]. He rejected the use of capital punishment. Religion is important in the state and those that are not religious should not be given leadership ranks. Thus he says, “but those who denied God’s existence and providence, the immortality of the soul and sanctions in the future would be deprived the capacity to hold public office and accounted as less than men.”[15] He associated morality with politics.

Another theorist, Jean Bodin opines “the state is a secondary or derived society, in the sense that it is a lawful government of several households and of their common possessions with sovereign power; but it is a different kind of society”[16]. The natural social unit from which the state arises is the family. Political order must be observed because it is the supreme need of man. The supreme power of the state is vested on the absolute sovereign. He has no right to disregard the divine authority or the natural law. Thus “the sovereign is unrestrained by law and he cannot limit his sovereignty by law, so long as he remains sovereign, for law is the creation of the sovereign”[17]. The sovereign is the supreme creator of the law and has ultimate and full control over legislation.

It was in the renaissance period that Machiavelli flourished. With his works, the Prince and the Discourses, he became the first political theorist to present the state as a political structure to be described on its own. In his political theory, “Machiavelli deviates from the medieval teachings on the end of man by contending that the end of man is solely earthly and not heavenly”[18].For him there is no divine law.

The modern period theorists also contributed immensely to the development of politics. Thomas Hobbes holds that man originally existed in “a condition of natural warfare-a state of homo homini lupus, a condition in which man is a wolf to man”[19]. In the state of nature there is no morality, no law, no right or wrong. People then enter into bond or contract to establish peace and overcome the condition of the survival of the fittest. The social contract or commonwealth is the state where the people give up their right of self-government and establish a ‘unity’. John Locke holds the same view. The state of nature is the state of perfect freedom and equality. Men enter into social contract in order to form a political society to avoid the inconveniences that characterize the state of nature. Here through labor one acquires private property. Thus “he hath mixed his labor with (nature) and joined to it something that is his own”[20].


Chapter Five


Critical Evaluation and Conclusion

5.1 Critical Evaluation

Machiavelli was more of a political theorist than a political philosopher. Machiavelli was greatly influenced by the political situation in Italy of his days characterized by rancour and warfare. He experienced political realities in their most brutal form. Hence, he got acquainted with the tactics and the psychologies of Italy’s tyrants. He went to the extreme by proposing an immoral and despotic way of handling the state which he suggested in his book, The Prince; it is, “a book that teaches effective tactics for the absolute ruler and which many readers have seen as preaching violence and even glorifying in bloodshed” .

More still, Machiavelli wrote wholly of the mechanics of government, of the means by which states are made strong. He viewed politics as a battle and a constant struggle for power. The sole aim of politics is to preserve and increase political power. He simply abstracts politics from other considerations and writes of it as if it were an end in itself. Before Machiavelli politics had depended on tradition whereby morality played a major role as the custodian of political system.

Furthermore, his theory in its nature is subjective rather than objective. This implies that meaning of things may vary according to situations. On the contrary ethical norms and morality are objective and can be universalized. His subjective approach to morality and politics undermines the very foundation of morality. This is why his theory is considered amoral. He offered an extreme example of a double standard of morals, one of the ruler and another for the private citizens. This means that the rulers are above the law which bears morality. They have their own laws and can decide to behave and violate them.

In addition his theory, to a great extent encourages selfishness and materialism. He assumed that human nature is basically selfish and that the motives of the ruler must be egoistic. There is enthronement of self-interest over communal interest. For Machiavelli, the satisfaction of selfish interest suffices for the common good. What is morally accepted is based on personal interest and is subjective. This is tantamount to anarchy and oppression in the society. This has been the trouble with politics in Nigeria. The leaders are concerned with the ways to perpetuate themselves as leaders and they go about all possible ways in order to realize their dreams. Little or no respect is given to the basic human rights. Violation of the human rights is rampant. This should not be the case because the end of politics does not constitute in power. It is not news that our politicians use this principle in their leadership. Both the military dictators and civilians have imbibed this principle. Since the independence Nigeria has suffered economic, religious, social, and political imbroglio. The democratic system is disrupted and run on the whims and caprices of the leaders. Rigging of election is one of the things that has been causing political unrest because those who know how to move the nation forward are not given the chance to do so. Only the rich acquire leadership status and this politics of money destabilizes the nation. For Machiavelli a successful government should aim at security of property above every other thing. This he sees as the most universal desire in human nature. Thus he states “men easily forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony” .

There are yet other positive contributions of Machiavelli in politics. He is acknowledged for the new trend of thought he introduced. He laid the foundation of the birth of the modern politics. He was able to expose the clandestine and immoral means some leaders use to perpetrate and achieve their desires. He was able to hold the bull by the horn. In politics, sometimes deceit becomes beneficial. In diplomacy and international relations, elements of deceit are sometimes applied and used. The constitutional conference conducted by Obasanjo in Nigeria is a good example.


5.2 Conclusion

Considering the life of Machiavelli, the frustration that he encountered, it is evident that he may have written out of frustration. His two books were criticized as inspired by the devil because of its immoral undertone. Democracy in Nigeria has being a trial and error. At speeches politicians refer to our democracy as a nascent one. But the point is that things continue to grow worse as the day passes. The same group of people become leaders. Some military officers will only retire in order to continue to rule as civilians.

Finally, this principle has really formed a part and parcel of some Nigerians in whatever they do. People neglect the necessary procedures and only look up to the end that is achieved. This has turned the nation into a war front where only the fittest survives. The best medication for this ugly menace is for us to retrace our footsteps and use the proper ideas. The leaders should learn how to leave their offices when their tenure expires and not finding ways to remain life in power forever. This will go a long way to help sustain democracy in Nigeria. Efforts should be made to plan the future for our dear nation.


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