Book One, Part One: Discourses 1 through 32
Part 1 of a Series of 6 articles for OpEdNews
Over the last forty years public education has stopped teaching about the responsibilities required of citizens living in a republic. Voting has become a right that one can choose to exercise instead of a civic necessity and duty. The study of government has gone from the public school curriculum. One result of this is the low percentage of eligible voters under the age of fifty who vote.
The very divisive 2016 presidential election highlighted this problem with a decrease in the number of people voting. Machiavelli's Discourses is an analysis of governance that gives insight into current national and world events. It is at once profound and disconcerting, and states principles that every citizen of a republic should understand in order to maintain their republic.
Niccolo Machiavelli lived in Florence Italy from 1469 to 1527. He was an ambassador and councilor on foreign affairs for the Republic of Florence until the Spanish invasion of 1512 with the take-over of Florence by the Medici.
He was relieved of his post, imprisoned, tortured, and exiled from the city. He wrote the Discourses, The Prince, and other works during his exile. His analysis of governance has explanations for current events and warnings that we need to heed today.
In the Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, Niccolo Machiavelli considers the history of governance in first-century BCE Rome with a focus on a republic as the best way to secure the long term stability of states. The author or of the Roman history, Titus Livy, lived from 39 BCE to 19 CE -- through the fall of the Roman Republic under Julius Caesar and the reign of Augustus. His history extends from the mythic beginnings of Rome through the fall of the republic. In The Discourses Machiavelle presents theories about good and bad governance and shows examples of his theories from the Italian Renaissance as well as from Greece and Rome. Here I summarize his theories in groups of related discourses as then reflect on events in our times. I believe that Machiavelli should be regarded as an annalist of governance rater than as an advocate, except for a republic.
Machiavelli makes a distinction between free and not free cities that has nothing to do with the freedom experienced by the population. From Machiavelli's perspective, Tibet and Puerto Rico are not free nations while North and South Korea would be considered "free." Tibet and Puerto Rico are not "free," because they are subjugated by China and the United States. North and South Korea are free because they can make decisions independent of pressures from China and the United States. The Discourses only consider "free" states.
There is a fifteen-hundred-year gap between Machiavelli's Florence in 1500 CE and the Roman Republic of the First-Century BCE. Furthermore, there is a five-hundred-year gap between Machiavelli's time and the present. Over the two-thousand years some things have changed a great deal while others have remained relatively constant.
The basic economic engines for both the Roman Republic and Renaissance Italian city states were based on their surrounding agriculture. That is no longer true today. Our economic engine is industrialization, including industrial agriculture. In both Rome and Italy there was a strong central religion that had a major influence on their civic governments. In the Western countries and the United States, the relationship of religion to government is being questioned and most of the main-stream religious influence is fading with the exception of some fundamentalist congregations. While technology was integral to both Rome and Renaissance Italy, it lacked the dominance we see today. In the United States, technology has become a religion in that it is commonly believed to be able to solve all of humanities problems. The great force that has remained constant throughout time is human nature and its pervasive relationship to governance. This was recognized in the writing of the Constitution and Bill of Rights with their checks and balances on power.
The various discourses contain observations about aspects of governance, political powers, state safety, corruption, and the expansion of powers. They analyze types of governments and how they change over time from both internal and external pressures. The observations provide significant insights into our world today. Following my summary of each group of dialogues I show how they apply using specific examples from our recent history.
Structures For Governance
" Others ... say that there are six types of government, of which three are very bad, and three are good in themselves but easily become corrupt, so that they too must be classed as pernicious."