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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Back to Machiavelli: Corruption & Pak Politics



Machiavelli’s realpolitik, or pragmatic politics, is justified by not only dictators but also many democratic leaders. Perhaps Pakistani leaders do not read Machiavelli but they are the true embodiment of his Prince. They have sycophants around them to admire and praise them and transform them as great and popular leaders. In return these sycophants are pleased by receiving high titles that they do not deserve. Those who oppose the rulers are isolated, imprisoned and tortured. Under such leaders people are given opportunities for corruption. The state and its institutions become tools to protect corrupt leaders and their interests rather than protecting the people against them. Agitation is crushed by brute force. After studying the politics of Pakistan, we can conclude that some of our leaders have further embellished Machiavelli’s ideology.



Thinkers and philosophers throughout history made efforts to persuade rulers to observe principals of justice in order to protect the weak from the powerful. Plato in ‘The Republic’ emphasised on justice. Thomas Aquinas, a medieval theologian, maintained the same view that state without justice is nothing but a tool of coercion. During the Medieval period, Muslim thinkers also emphasised the importance of justice in politics in many treatises.


There are references to Anushervan, the Sassanid king as a role model. Kai Kaus in Qabusnama, Nizamul Mulk in Siyasatnama, and Ghazali in Nasihat ul Mulk advise rulers to follow the policy of justice. These treatises known as ‘The Mirror of Princes’ encourage the rulers to observe moral values for the welfare of their subjects. However, history shows that rulers had their own agendas to fulfill and were not bound by any advice and sermons.

Machiavelli, the Renaissance thinker had different views regarding the moral definition of justice. In Plato’s dialogue, a Sophist thinker challenges Socrates that “might is justice.” But Machiavelli presents an outline for rulers like Hitler who studied and followed Machiavelli’s teachings.

Presently, many leaders in the Third World countries are too smart to surpass Machiavelli’s thoughts and adopt principals which suit their political agenda. We find Machiavelli and his Prince alive even today, violating all moral values in order to achieve success.

First of all Machiavelli wants to know whether one is ambitious for power. If the answer is yes, then, he advises him to lie and deceive in order to achieve utmost power. He has to be more cunning rather than wise to rule, or in other words, to be a fox rather than a lion. He further advises one to rule with an iron hand and does not tolerate any opposition from the public.

Those who dare to challenge his policies must be punished. His Prince enjoys being surrounded by people who flatter him, and are ready to obey all his commands. His Prince would refrain from having a man of principle in his company who would not be obedient to his corrupt policies.

According to Machiavelli’s advice, a leader should not keep his promise. His views should change with his interests. Practical politics is more important than promises and commitments and the truth may be violated if it becomes an impediment. He should not be ashamed or apologetic if he breaks a promise or a commitment.

To maintain his innocence, power should be handed to a deputy to deal with the enemies brutally. When the deputy becomes unpopular, he should be dismissed, executed or imprisoned to show the people that the ruler himself was always against the deputy’s policies. This way, he absolves and protects himself from ill will.

He does not introduce any reforms as these bring change and may upset society. Therefore, the status quo is maintained and it is in the ruler’s interest to keep the system intact.

Machiavelli believes that his Prince is free from all moral values and is only concerned about maintaining power and to getting rid of his enemies.
There is no question of justice to protect the weak from the powerful. On the other hand the weak are supposed to be obedient and loyal to his rule.

Machiavelli’s realpolitik, or pragmatic politics, is justified by not only dictators but also many democratic leaders. Perhaps Pakistani leaders do not read Machiavelli but they are the true embodiment of his Prince. They have sycophants around them to admire and praise them and transform them as great and popular leaders. In return these sycophants are pleased by receiving high titles that they do not deserve. Those who oppose the rulers are isolated, imprisoned and tortured.

Under such leaders people are given opportunities for corruption. The state and its institutions become tools to protect corrupt leaders and their interests rather than protecting the people against them. Agitation is crushed by brute force. After studying the politics of Pakistan, we can conclude that some of our leaders have further embellished Machiavelli’s ideology.

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