Niccolo Machiavelli. Louis Althuser. Walt Whitman. What do they have in common? Universally and time-boundless political philosophy and social analysis. Although born at different times and in different places, these three philosophical giants examined and correctly theorised about leadership and how dictators maintain themselves in power. Here is how.
Nicolo Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat and philosopher who is famous for the Prince, a book about how princes, kings, prime ministers, and presidents maintain their authority over their people. Even in a democracy the tendency seems to be the same. First, pit wives against their husbands and let the wives or husbands spy against each other. While they are fighting against each other the prince, king, prime minister or president enjoys the fruits of power.
It was a tactic carefully and successfully used by Ngwazi Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda to suppress dissent. Wives betrayed husbands. Husbands betrayed wives. Citizens spied against each. And Dr Banda lived, ate, and danced happily for 37 years.
This political tactic has morphed into something even more sinister. While allowing freedom of expression, freedom of worship and civil society activism, the post—MCP regimes have let the very organisations, the very pillars of democracy, the very non-state actors meant to police and nurture democracy fight each other. Parallel civil society organisations have been formed to criticise and neutralise the civil society organisations that critique government policies. As the civil society organisations fight each other, the president and his clique are happily enjoying State resources.
Even religious institutions have fallen prey to this tactic. Only this week we have heard about an outfit calling itself the Interfaith Forum for Peace, Justice and Dialogue (IFPJD) formed by the very religious leaders that formed and most whom have served the Public Affairs Committee (PAC). What is clear is that that the IFPJD is there to neutralise the PAC.
Another perfection over Machiavelli’s divide and rule tactic is the ‘buy and shelve’ common in football and other lucrative sports. Coaches and managers buy players from rival teams, not because they want them but to weaken the rival teams. We all know how many strong politicians, religious leaders, chiefs, and civil society leaders have been bought, shelved and are now rotting.
Out Machiavelli, enter Louis Althuser, French philosopher and teacher. Althuser theorised that to run the State successfully a king, prince, leader, president, queen or prime minister does so through repressive State and ideological state apparatuses of control. State apparatuses of control comprise the police, secret service, and the army whose job is to use violence, weapons of mass destruction, and other tools to suppress dissent and guarantee happiness for the leader. To show how powerful the leader is, the police, army and even service are deployed in full regalia and armed to escort the leader all over the place. The aim of the display armed police and army is to scare the perceived enemies of the state.
Regimes led by weaklings have been maintained in power by repressive State apparatuses. Muammar Gadhafi, the Libyan ‘Brother Leader’ for over 40 years, appeared threatening in military attire but when armed conflict approached his fortified residence in Tripoli, he ran away, hid under a culvert, was caught, pleaded for mercy and was shot, silver gun in hand. The German Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, could not face the advancing enemy armies, hid in a cave and shot himself while in the embrace of a woman. Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, ran away for days, dug a hole and hid there with stashes of American dollars, was caught, pleaded for mercy and was sentenced to death by a kangaroo court and hanged.
Repressive State Apparatuses of Control keep dictators in power, even against the wishes of the majority of the citizens. This what the recent police and army press conference and threats were meant to achieve. Suppression of citizen dissent.
Althuser also wrote at length about ideological State apparatuses of control. The state uses state media, such the MBC, schools, and faith institutions to subtly spread and get itself accepted by the citizens. Even the so-called private media are not immune to this control. The Macras of this world are meant to ensure that all media ‘behave’ within the confines of the State ideology.
Exit Althuser, enter Walt Whitman, the poet, to conclude: ‘Each leader, he writes, ’comes in state with his train, hangman, priest, tax-gatherer, soldier, lawyer, lord, jailer, and sycophant’. n