Monday, December 10, 2018

A Machiavellian View of the “Tumult” in Trump Presidency

Everyday I come across new stories on the chaos in Donald Trump’s administration. He is criticized for using his Twitter account to attack his opponents, and for being in perpetual conflict with the mainstream media, intellectual community, political establishment, and even with the powerful institutions of his own government and the members of his own staff.

Is the chaos that we see in the Trump presidency a good thing or bad thing for the Republic (USA)?

If we go by the insights on a republic that Niccolò Machiavelli offers in The Discourses on Livy, then we can draw the inference that the Trump presidency is a fairly good form of republican government. Machiavelli was of the view that a republic is energized by conflict. Without conflict, there can be no politics and no freedom for the citizens. The interests of the citizens can be safeguarded only when the political and intellectual circles are mired in conflicts of all kinds.

Machiavelli uses the word “tumult” several times in his book to describe the noisy and disorderly political culture in ancient Rome. He notes that the tumult between Rome's political factions, and between its nobles and plebs had a beneficial impact—it energized the Roman republic and preserved the freedom of its people. He is the first philosopher to assert that the conflict between political factions and sections of society is useful and good.

He writes in Chapter 4 of The Discourses:
I say that to me it appears that those who damn the tumults between the nobles and the plebs blame those things that were the first cause of keeping Rome free, and that they consider the noises and the cries that would arise in such tumults more than the good effects that they engendered.
In another passage, Machiavelli says that the tumults were a “guard on Roman freedom,” and that if Rome had been more tranquil, it would have lost its energy. If the period of tranquility were to last for too long in any republic, then instead of being strengthened, the society would lose its energy, and its political and intellectual culture would see a steep downfall.

Machiavelli understood that the very nature of politics is conflictual, and only when the ruling class is tolerant of conflict and chaos that there is freedom for the citizens. I am convinced by Machiavelli’s arguments on the functioning of a republic, and I think that Donald Trump should be cheered for his chaotic governing style.

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