Thursday, June 01, 2017

Machiavelli's Aristotelian Liberal Republic

As I indicated in my May 19th post, Frans de Waal could not understand the political maneuvering of chimpanzees until he studied them with the help of Machiavelli's book The Prince.  In particular, de Waal saw in chimpanzee politics a democratic or republican structure of egalitarian dominance with a balance of three orders--the one, the few, and the many--the "prince," who is number one, the "great ones," who are high-ranking individuals with ambition to rule, and "the people," who are the great majority of individuals in a society with no ambition to rule, but who do not want to be oppressed by the "prince" or the "great ones," because they want to live their private lives in security and peace.  Machiavelli thought that a stable and peaceful republic would have to balance these three orders in a manner that would satisfy the appetites of all three without anyone having the power to tyrannize over others.  De Waal saw a similar structure of political psychology among chimpanzees: the alpha male chimp is the "prince," the high-ranking adult males are the "great ones," and the adult females and children are the "people."  Among chimps, there can be something like a Machiavellian republican government with consent of the governed and a balance of power between these three orders.

But in Chimpanzee Politics, de Waal also identified Aristotle as a political philosopher who might have understood that as "political animals" human beings share an evolutionary heritage with other political animals such as chimpanzees (1982, 211-212).  Then, in his book The Ape and the Sushi Master (2001), de Waal indicated that in my writing, "Darwin and Aristotle have begun to blend into a single person, perhaps to be called Darwistotle," and he endorsed the "Darwistotelian view" of human politics and morality as showing an evolved political nature shared with chimpanzees and other political animals (81, 349, 359).

Straussian scholars would dismiss all of this as ridiculous.  First, Aristotle does not really believe that human beings are by nature political animals like chimpanzees, they argue, because he sees that human political order depends on the culturally constructive activity of political founders and lawmakers, and human politics as culturally learned transcends animal politics as naturally instinctive.  This argument can be found in Wayne Ambler's 1985 article in The Review of Politics.

Second, the Straussians would say, even if de Waal were right to see a republican balance of three orders among chimpanzees comparable to what Machiavelli recommends, Machiavelli's modern liberal republicanism departs radically from Aristotle's ancient classical republicanism.  In their Introduction to their translation of Machiavelli's Discourses, Harvey Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov assert that Machiavelli and Aristotle differ in how they characterize the few and the many in politics (p. xxviii).  For Aristotle, the oligarchic few and the democratic many make conflicting claims to rule, and thus a republican mixed regime would have to allow both classes to participate in political rule.  But for Machiavelli, only the few are ambitious to rule, while the many only wish not to be ruled by an oppressive few.  This is the Machiavellian political psychology underlying modern liberal republicanism: those few who seek the glory of ruling can satisfy their desire, but with checks on their power so that they cannot oppress the many, and thus the many are secure in their private liberty to live as they please, so long as they do not injure others.

The first point--that human politics is socially learned rather than naturally instinctive--assumes that nature and instinct are necessarily antithetical to artifice and learning, so that social order cannot be natural or instinctive if it depends in any way on artificial or socially learned activity.  But as Aristotle indicated in his biological works, he thought that many animals acted not just by unlearned instinct but also by individual and social learning, and that the political animals had instincts for learning that sustained social order.  Much of the learning necessary for the social life of animals comes from parents teaching their young.  But much is also learned from the competition and cooperation of individuals in the wider community.  Recent studies of animal behavior confirm this by showing that many animals--including chimpanzees--have cultural traditions that distinguish one political community from another.  I have written many posts on this--for example, here and here.

On the second point, Mansfield and Tarcov are mistaken in their assertion of the radical contrast between Aristotle and Machiavelli on the political psychology of republicanism.  Contrary to what Mansfield and Tarcov say, there is a remarkable agreement between Aristotle and Machiavelli in their biopolitical science of republicanism as based on a balance of the one, the few, and the many, in which the few can satisfy their desire for the public glory of ruling, and the many can satisfy their desire for the private security of not being ruled oppressively by the few.  Both see this balanced order of the republican mixed regime as the liberal solution to the problem of faction.

According to Aristotle, some animals are naturally solitary and others gregarious.  Of the gregarious animals, some are political.  The distinguishing characteristic of the political animals is that they cooperate for collective goods, for some common work or function (koinon ergon).  Humans, bees, ants, wasps, and cranes are all political animals in this sense (HA, 488a7-14).  Some political animals distinguish between leaders (hegemones) and followers (HA, 553a26-554b26, 614b19-26, 623b26-29a30).  Leaders can help an animal community by directing it to its common ends, but leaders can also harm a community when they lead factions that divide a community (HA, 553b15-19, 615b17-18, 625a1-26b15).

Although Aristotle did not specifically identify chimpanzees as political animals, he believed that apes belonged to intermediate species close to human beings, in that they "share in the nature of both man and the quadrupeds" (HA, 502a16).  From his anatomical comparisons, which included dissections of monkeys and apes, he concluded that in their feet, legs, hands, face, teeth, and internal parts, the apes are manlike (HA, 502a17-b27; PA, 689b1-35).

Aristotle sees that like other political animals, human beings face the problem of factional disorder (stasis) that arises from the conflict between those few individuals who want the glory of ruling over others and those many individuals who don't want to be ruled exploitatively by the ambitious few: the few desire political honor, the many desire economic security.  Aristotle's solution to the problem is a republican mixed regime in which the desires of both the few and the many might be satisfied.  The ambitious few can win the glory of holding public offices, but they will be constrained by the rule of law and by being elected by the many, who will win security in their private lives and property, protected from exploitative dominance by the many.  Both the few who care for honor (time) and the many who care for gain (kerdos) will be satisfied.  It is important to have a strong middle class to moderate the conflict between the very rich and the very poor, so that there is a balancing of the higher class, the middle class, and the lower class.  A republic of this sort is the most stable and enduring regime because no class of citizens desires to overturn the regime: the few do not need to overturn the regime to satisfy their ambition for glorious rule, and the many do not need to overturn the regime because of their fear of being exploited by the ruling class (Pol., 1295b1-40, 1297b5-28, 1302a33-1304b19, 1308a1-15, 1308b30-1309a15, 1318b17-1319a6). 

Some readers of Aristotle's Politics see it as suggesting that a mixed regime leaning towards a moderate democracy is the best regime that is practically achievable, which is the argument of Clifford Bates in Aristotle's "Best Regime": Kingship, Democracy, and the Rule of Law (LSU Press, 2003).

Machiavelli proposes a republic very similar to Aristotle's.  Like Aristotle, Machiavelli sees the problem of faction (fazione) arising from the conflict between the ambitious few ("the great"), who want to command and oppress the people, and the popular multitude, who do not want to rule, but who want not to be commanded and oppressed by the great (The Prince, chaps. 9, 19; Discourses, I.2, I.4, I.5, I.16.3-5, II.21.2, III.5).  A prince who wishes to rule as the one head over all must mediate this conflict.

Machiavelli presents a historical cycle of the six types of government based on the history of the ancient regimes (particularly, Sparta, Athens, and Rome), drawing from Plutarch and Polybius,  and Lucretius's evolutionary history of human society from primitive times (On the Nature of Things, esp. 5.931-945, 5.1019-1025, 5.1120-1161).

In the beginning of the human world, the original ancestors of the human species lived dispersed like beasts (D, I.2.3).  Then, as the human population increased,
"they gathered together, and to be able to defend themselves better, they began to look to whoever among them was more robust and of greater heart, and they made him a head, as it were, and obeyed him.  From this arose the knowledge of things honest and good, differing from the pernicious and bad. For, seeing that if one individual hurt his benefactor, hatred and compassion among men came from it, and as they blamed the ungrateful and honored those who were grateful, and thought too that those same injuries could be done to them, to escape like evil, they were reduced to making laws and ordering punishments for whoever acted against them, hence came the knowledge of justice."
Remarkably, it seems, this original "knowledge of justice" arises not from any knowledge of a divine or cosmic law of right and wrong but from the experience of human injuries, the hatred of human aggressors, the compassion for their victims, and the knowledge that those injuries could be done to oneself; and from this arose the human inclination to blame those who injured others and praise those who were cooperative.  Human beings organized themselves into bands for defense of the group--perhaps as a defense against wild animals or as a defense against other human groups. To help in that defense of their group, human beings chose those who were more robust and spirited among them to be their head, to lead them in defending the group against attack.  To enforce customary norms of praiseworthy and blameworthy conduct, they established laws and punishments.  As is suggested by Lucretius, this is a description of human hunter-gatherer bands before the establishment of agriculture and agrarian settlements.

Much of this has been confirmed by research in the evolutionary anthropology of hunter-gatherer bands, which has been the subject of many of my posts.  Human ancestors evolved to punish cheaters who harm others, and thus violate the customary rules of good conduct that arose spontaneously in primitive human societies as a defense against human aggressors.  These rules were enforced by reputational mechanisms--people praising the good and blaming the bad--and by punishing offenders through the retaliation of their victims or the victim's family or the larger group.  Thus, as the Epicureans argued, moral order originally arose as a kind of social contract through a largely spontaneous order in which autonomous individuals agreed to those customary norms that protected them from injury.  There is here the seed of liberal morality and politics: people are free to live as they please, so long as they refrain from injuring others; but when they do injure others, they will be punished by those who feel threatened by them.

Although the foraging band was an egalitarian society in which all adults were autonomous, some individuals respected for their talents in mediating disputes and leading the group could become leaders, but their leadership depended on the voluntary agreement of everyone in the group, and any leader who became a bully provoked resistance and retaliation that had a leveling effect.  So there was a natural tendency for a few people to seek dominance over the others, but this natural dominance drive of the ambitious few was checked by the resistance of the many who refused to be exploited by a dominant few.

From the beginning, then, there has been a kind of government by the consent of the governed, in that those few who rule must win the support, or at least acquiescence, of the many, because rulers who are hated by the people provoke the violent resistance of the multitude who do not want to be exploited by their rulers.

This resistance of the multitude to injuries by the ruling elite runs through Machiavelli's history of governments.  The three good forms of government--principality, aristocracy, and popular government--promote the common good rather than the merely private good of the rulers, and thus the people will accept such governments.  But each of these three good forms are inclined to decline into bad forms as the first generation of rulers is replaced by succeeding generations--principality declining into tyranny, aristocracy declining into oligarchy, and popular government declining into the license of mob-rule, and thus these three good forms are unstable.  Each of the bad forms will be overthrown by the multitude when they see that the government is not promoting their peace and security (D, I.2.3).

Those who prudently order the laws, Machiavelli believes, will create the most stable and enduring republic by forming a mixed regime that combines all three of the good regimes: "for the one guards the other, since in one and the same city, there are the principality, the aristocrats, and the popular government" (D, I.2.5).  In such a republic, a prince can govern "by way of freedom" rather than "by way of principality."  The princely desire for power and the popular desire for freedom can be combined.  The popular desire for freedom is expressed in two ways: a small part of the people (perhaps only 40 or 50 people) want to be free to command, but most of the people want to be free to live a secure private life.  A "well-ordered republic" with a prince elected by the people and public offices for the ambitious few under the rule of law so as to protect the private liberty of most people satisfies all three classes of human beings--the one, the few, and the many (D, I.16, I.20).  Such republics also need princes "to make their men military" by training them for military service in a citizens' militia, so that the republic does not depend on foreign mercenaries for its military defense and offense (D, I.21).

This is the liberal republicanism that would be later elaborated by people like John Locke and John Adams.  And yet this Machiavellian liberal republicanism also has roots in Aristotle's mixed regime, as Machiavelli himself suggested in his Discourse on Florentine Things After the Death of Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici, sometimes entitled A Discourse on Remodeling the Government of Florence or Reforming the State of Florence Done at the Instance of Pope Leo X, which can be found online.

Florence had officially been identified as a republic for hundreds of years.  But the Medici family had ruled unofficially, without any legal authority, over the city through most of the fifteenth century.  When Lorenzo de Medici ("Lorenzo the Magnificent") died in 1492, his son Piero was unable to maintain the family's power, and he was forced into exile in 1494.  Then, a new republican constitution was established for Florence under the influence of a charismatic Dominican monk, Girolama Savonarola, who used his popular public sermons to persuade the people to turn Florence into a Christian republic that would become the center of Christian renewal for the whole world.  After almost four years of power, Savonarola was defeated by his opponents, including the Pope, and he was hanged and burned in 1498.

After the death of Savonarola, Machiavelli was elected in 1498 to his first public posts--Second Chancellor of the Republic, replacing a deposed follower of Savonarola, and Secretary of the Ten of War.  For fourteen years, from the ages of 29 to 43, Machiavelli was an important public official for the Florentine republic in its diplomatic service and military security, including organizing a citizen militia.

In 1502, Florence was threatened by the advance of Cesare Borgia's armies.  Florentines began to debate a change in their constitution.  The Gonfalonier (standard-bearer) of Justice had always been elected for two-month terms, which deprived the republic of strong leadership in war and diplomacy.  In Venice, the head of the government, called the Doge, was elected for life.  At the end of August, a vote passed in the Great Council (a widely inclusive popular assembly) declaring that henceforth the Gonfalonier will be appointed for life. 

On September 21, Piero Soderini was elected Gonfalonier for life.  He became the most powerful fully legal head of government  in Florence's republican history. He was in effect the chief executive of Florence.  He defended the Great Council, and he mediated conflicts between the city's popular and oligarchic factions.  Machiavelli was a friend and supporter of Soderini, and most of Machiavelli's positions in the government depended on Soderini's patronage.  Because Machiavelli's father was a tax debtor, Machiavelli was ineligible for Florence's chief magistracies.

One of the fundamental weaknesses in the Florentine republic identified by Machiavelli was the dependence on foreign mercenary soldiers.  Machiavelli argued for establishing a citizens' militia.  His oligarchic opponents warned that it would be dangerous to arm plebian citizens within the walls of the city.  Machiavelli answered this objection by arguing that dividing the powers over the militia would prevent any one leader from using the militia to subvert the government.  Piero Soderini supported Machiavelli's proposal for a people's militia.  Machiavelli began by recruiting and training peasant people in small towns outside Florence.  In 1508, he organized the militia to fight against Pisa, which was in revolt against Florentine rule.

But in 1512, when the armies of the Church and Spain marched against Florence, the city was still too weak militarily to resist the invasion.  In August of that year, Soderini was forced into exile.  Spanish troops entered Florence.  And the Medici family was allowed to return.  On September 16, the magistrates of the city were forced to reinstate the Medici family.  Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici and Giuliano de' Medici became the rulers of Florence.  Two days later, after this Medici coup, Machiavelli's Florentine militia was abolished, and the Great Council was dissolved.  Piero Soderini's image was removed from all public buildings, and his political service for Florence was discredited. 

Machiavelli composed an unsolicited memorandum to Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici. He warned the Cardinal that those Florentine patricians who were attacking Soderini and claiming to be the friends of the Medici family were not true friends, because they were only maneuvering to become heads of state themselves.  "I should like to make friends for your house, not enemies," Machiavelli wrote.  He advised that the Medici's needed to found their state on the support of the people and not on those deceptive patricians who falsely claimed to be their friends.

If the memorandum was read, it did not win any Medici support for Machiavelli.  On November 7, 1512, he was dismissed from all of his governmental offices.  On February 18, 1513, a plot to kill Giuliano de' Medici and overthrow the government was discovered.  Two leaders of the plot were arrested and then beheaded.  Machiavelli was arrested because his name was on a list of potential collaborators found in the pocket of one of the conspirators.  In prison, he was questioned about the conspiracy and tortured.  The interrogators employed the strappado: a man's arms are tied behind his back with a strap tied to a crane that jerks his whole body off the ground, so that his arms are ripped out of their shoulder sockets.  This was done to Machiavelli six times.  Six times he was asked why his name was on the list.  Each time he denied any knowledge of the conspiracy.

While Machiavelli was imprisoned, Pope Julius II died.  Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici was elected the new pope, taking the name Leo X, becoming the first Florentine pope.  Now the Medici were princes of both Rome and Florence.  The new pope declared a general amnesty for political prisoners in Florence.  Machiavelli was released after 22 days in prison.

By the end of 1513, Machiavelli is spending most of his time at his country house in Sant' Andrea in Percussina, not far outside the walls of Florence, with his wife and children.  He writes The Prince and The Discourses, which are widely circulated but not published until after his death.  His play Mandragola is performed for the first time in 1518, and its success makes him famous around Europe.

Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici became the leader of Florence, the person to whom Machiavelli dedicated The Prince.  In May, 1519, Lorenzo died.  Pope Leo appointed his cousin, Cardinal Giulio de' Medici, to become the new head of Florence's government.  Lorenzo had become hated by the people of Florence, and Leo wanted to consider changes in the Florentine government that might soften some of the popular resistance.  He advised the Cardinal to invite prominent people to propose changes in the government.  Machiavelli was one of the people mentioned.

Now, for the first time since the Medici coup of 1512, Machiavelli had a chance to influence the Medici rule of Florence and to try to bring back to Florence something like a republican government.  In his Discourse on Remodeling the Government of Florence he returned to the theme of his 1512 memorandum to Cardinal Giovanni, who was now the Pope: for the security and glory of Medici rule, the support of the untrustworthy patricians is not enough, because "no stable republic was ever established without satisfying the general public [l'universale]."

Machiavelli argues that no state can be stable unless it is either a true principality or a true republic.  All other forms of government that are situated between these two are unstable.  A prince cannot rule by himself, because he needs a coalition of supporters, most commonly a nobility.  In a true principality or monarchy, the noble gentlemen make themselves lords over the people, and the prince is lord over the nobles.  This cannot be done in Florence, because it does not have a well-established landed nobility, and so there is great equality in Florence.

But although Florence has no nobility, there will always be three different classes in every city--the elite (primi), the middle (mezzani) , and the lowest (ultimi). Even with the rough equality of citizens in Florence, some of the citizens will have "elevated spirits" (animo elevato), and they will think that they merit being elevated above others.  The Florentine republic under Soderini was unstable because it failed to satisfy the desire of these ambitious few for public offices of high honor, and consequently the state was ruined.  Since there are by nature three ranks of men in every society, a well-ordered republic must satisfy the desires of these three classes.  Machiavelli lays out a constitution that would allocate power between these three ranks.  This would include the appointment of a Gonfalonier of Justice for a term of two or three years, or perhaps for life.  Machiavelli saw this as a "perfect republic."

Machiavelli's reasoning here seems to assume what Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and others have called the "theory of minimum winning coalitions."  In politics, rule by one person is impossible, because even the most autocratic dictator needs some supporters.  The difference between dictatorship and democracy is that the dictator rules with the support of a very small coalition of supporters, which corresponds to Machiavelli's principality, while the democratic leader rules with the support of a large coalition of supporters, which corresponds to Machiavelli's republic.  I have written a post on this.

Alternatively, one could identify Machiavelli's principality as corresponding to what Douglass North and his colleagues called the "limited access order," and Machiavelli's republic could be identified as corresponding to the "open access order."  I have a post on this.

In another post, I have written about ancient Athens as one of the few open access or liberal orders in the premodern world.  One can see in Athens a social order that approximates some of the features of modern liberal republicanism, which was seen by Aristotle.  I have written three series of posts on Aristotle's Darwinian liberalism that begin here, here, and here.

Actually, Machiavelli himself points to Aristotle in his Discourse on Remodeling the Government of Florence.  First, Machiavelli echoes the language of Aristotle (see the Politics, 1302a32-33) in his last sentence: "Nor is there another way of avoiding these evils than to reorganize that city so that it may in itself be firm; and it will always be firm when every one has a part in it and knows what he has to do, and in whom to confide, and that no class of citizen has to desire innovation, either through fear for himself or through ambition."

Second, Machiavelli brings up Aristotle's name as a philosopher who wrote about how to reform republics:
"I believe that the greatest honor that men can have is that which is willingly given them by their country, and I believe that the greatest good that is done, and the most pleasing to God, is that which is done for your country.  In addition to this, no man is exalted as much in any of his actions, as are those who have reformed republics and kingdoms with laws and institutions.  These are, after those who have been Gods, the highest praised: and as there have been few who have had opportunity to do so, and still fewer those who have known how to do it, the number of those who have done it is small; and this glory has been esteemed so much by men who have known nothing but glory, that not being able to establish a republic in fact, have established it in writing; for Aristotle, Plato, and many others have wanted to show the world, that if they had not been able to found a republic as Solon and Lycurgus did, they did not fail from ignorance but from being powerless to put it into effect."
Remarkably, Machiavelli here implicitly compares himself with Aristotle, Plato, and other philosophers who established republics in their writing, even when they could not establish them in fact.  As far as I know, Machiavelli's only other references to Aristotle and Plato in his writing is in The Discourses--one reference to Aristotle (III.26.2) and one reference to Plato (III.6.16).

John Adams quoted this passage from Machiavelli to explain his love of honor from writing constitutions for America.  Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which is the oldest written constitution still in force in the world.  In that constitution, Adams followed the principle that he had learned from Machiavelli--balancing the one, the few, and the many--by separating and balancing the powers of an executive and of an upper legislative chamber for aristocrats and a lower legislative chamber representing the people.  This Massachusetts constitution had great influence in the drafting of the United States Constitution of 1787, particularly Article II on the presidency, which can be seen as establishing a republican prince.


Roger Sweeny said...

De Waal saw a similar structure of political psychology among chimpanzees: the alpha male chimp is the "prince," the high-ranking adult males are the "great ones," and the adult females and children are the "people."

What about the adult males who aren't "high-ranking"?

Larry Arnhart said...

That's a good question.

All of the four adult males in de Waal's group--Yeroen, Luit, Nikkie, and Dandy--became alpha males at some point. Chimp groups in the wild are larger than this. I would like to know if some adult males in the wild never become high-ranking, or at least don't ever reach alpha male status.

Roger Sweeny said...

In some animals, non-high-ranking males go off into "bachelor groups" (and sometimes come back later to try to get a chance at reproduction). But as far as I know, this does not happen with chimps.

Vaguely related: a few years we visited the three largest tallgrass prairies in the US, all of which have substantial bison herds. We found out that all the herds are "managed"--which includes removing most males and all males more than seven years old. They just get too ornery, fighting to have dominance and the right to mate. The herds have a female/male ratio of about six to one, compared to a birth ratio of one to one. They are profoundly unnatural.