The meaning of politics, which is perceived as the principle, perception, ability, or art of ruling human communities, regulating state affairs, and maintaining public order throughout the first periods, has changed a lot and suffered a semantic restriction during the modern periods. The most radical and blazing alteration about the concept of politics happened after it was disconnected from morals and metaphysics. The reason for the politics, which had been viewed as a valuable and commendable acquirement and activity capable of providing justice, preventing injustices, and maintaining public order, to have a bad reputation among the majority of people at present is the fact that it has been drifting apart from moral values.
Dirty Politics of Today
Today, politics is mostly associated by most people with negative imagery and meanings such as lies, deception, hypocrisy, manipulation, propaganda, popularity, and conflict. Some even refer to the meaning of politics as “dirty” and express their longing for a “clean” one. Almost every single day, the disclosures, lies, and corruption about the politicians are widely publicized on websites, newspapers, and television and this intensifies the image of dirty politics even more.
The surveys suggest that politicians are accepted as “the least trustworthy people”. Because when politics is the main subject, most people start thinking about perceptions such as “keep a foot in both camps”, “delude the people”, “gild the pill in the squares”, “somehow eliminate or discredit the opposition”, “deceive people with false promises or be a hope monger”. Politics virtually turned into acrobatics. Even today’s modern state structures do not view the politicians worthy of being respected and put bureaucracy before them.
The attitudes and behaviors of the politicians, their relationships with each other, or the objectives they would like to achieve through politics cause politics to be perceived as “dirty”. To put it more explicitly, politics cannot go beyond being only a disposable tool in the eyes of the politicians towards acquiring, protecting, and keeping the power. Therefore, politics became a field where people look after their own personal or denominational interests instead of an occupation where the source of the countries are distributed fairly, injustices prevented, people are ruled peacefully, and public interests are ensured.
To make it more clear, going into politics, especially in the countries where the law is not adopted in full and democracy is not well developed, became a haven for seizing posts, gaining reputation, sitting pretty, living in luxury, providing employment for followers, benefiting any state opportunities, and partisanship. In this respect, the wheels of today’s politics are turning around interests. Islamic Scholar Said Nursi described today’s politics, which turns around interests, as a “monster” and provided the following judgment about it: “The modern politics has so much lie, deceit, and evil in itself that it turned out to be conducive of the devils.”
The most important objective of the politicians today is gaining power after obtaining popularity in the public eye and later using the power and the sources of the country for their own interests, and this indicates how politics jumped its track. Just as the objective of many politicians is illegitimate and inhumane, their ways and methods in order to achieve this goal are illegitimate too. Politicians see all methods permissible since they move away from the principles and rules of religion and morals
Unfortunately, today’s politics has no coefficient, principle, or red lines to limit, bind, and discipline the politicians. Concepts such as companionship, loyalty, and fidelity lose their meanings in a place where power is worshipped and interests are sacralized; shamelessness and lubricity take the place of a stance of principles. It is quite obvious that it is impossible to mention moral qualities such as honesty, righteousness, and trust in an environment where people can be bought and they could easily sell out each other.
Due to the fact that politics is accepted to have its own principles and rules today, many actions and behaviors that are perceived as immoral and not approved by the individuals or society are seen as “possible”, and they are even accepted as a necessity of politics. For example, politicians saying “white” for something in the past and saying “black” to the exact same thing today; disgracing somebody yesterday and praising the same individual today; being a hypocrite and constantly fighting with the opposition seem like ordinary things for the people.
On the other hand, today’s politics embraces a monopolist and collectivist logic. Anybody who might have a chance to listen to the politicians will think that they possess all of the world’s goodness and virtues; the evil, mischief, and fraud belong only to their oppositions. The religion of Islam promotes reconciliation, peace, compromise, unity, and solidarity; but politics, on the contrary, choose discourses and actions that promote separatism, discrimination, and polarization. Because such a method makes it easy for politicians to rule people. The high levels of stress imposed on society in every electoral period; all public venues from neighborhood cafes to debates on television hosting political conflicts and quarrels are different reflections of the polarizing and discriminating nature of today’s politics.
This polarizing manner of politics somehow manages to turn people into partisans, and also militarize, radicalize, and over-politicize them. The people lose their emotions such as mercy, justice, and fairness due to the fact that they support their favorite political parties and their leaders blindly and unconditionally and ignore their mistakes. The people, who are addicted to prejudice this way, might favor reprobate individuals in their favorite party rather than the good people working for other parties. Islamic Scholar Said Nursi said, “I have abandoned the aftermath of political life by saying “I take refuge in the name of Allah from the accursed Satan and politics” after I witnessed a religious scholar vilifying another scholar who adopted an opposite view and mentioning the name of an unbeliever respectfully who adopted his own views.” This sets an example of how prejudice might make the people overlook atrocities and recreancies by even trying to cover up some infamous crimes that take place inside the families, institutions, or the community itself just to leave the parties they support unharmed.
Politicians constantly try to attract people with different propaganda tactics and also by using the power of media and never allow people to think with a clear state of mind. The people watch the news the politicians want them to hear, not the realities by dint of the politics-oriented media; thus they lose touch with reality. And expecting this calamitous situation to change is futile while the only concern of the politicians is the “votes” and as long as the concern of the people sticks to their “hunger”. Whenever the superior values and principles are remembered and cared about above these facts, only then the real commence for the change will happen.
In addition to all of the aforesaid, the politicians might legitimize all kinds of luxuries, gaudiness, and wastage under the wings of “Reputation does not allow any retrench.” phrase after they come to power and secure their posts. They manage to find a religious cover-up for all kinds of bribery, thievery, and corruption in order to fill their pockets and safe boxes. They manage to consider all kinds of tyranny and bullying necessities of politics in order to suppress possible objections and resistance. They might even silence those who oppose with methods such as blackmail, threatening, and intimidation. The politicians might take hold of legislation and judiciary in favor of their own interests due to the fact that the majority of them think that being strong equals to being justified. They might see it normal to intervene in the lives of the citizens, restrict freedoms, and even resort to violating the people’s rights.
All of the above represents a general description of the political understanding and logic of the politicians today. These negative aspects explained above are the reason why some Westerners see politics as the most vulgar form of intellectual activity or some individuals like Said Nursi or Muhammad Abduh to seek refuge in Allah from politics. Now, let’s take a look at how today’s political science and Machiavellian thought break politics away from morals.
Modern Political Science
Politics, which was seen as a matter of religion, morals, and philosophy and subjected to different opinions in classical times, has become an independent science on its own in the last century. Scholars, who were engaged in religion, morals, and philosophy, focused on the ethical judgments and normative statements that politics should possess and worked on the description of the ideal politics. In other words, they tried to direct and limit statesmen with the values and principles they presented regarding the nature and quality of politics.
Politics was redefined and reshaped according to John Locke and David Hume’s empiricism and Auguste Comte’s positivism after being accepted as a science. Just like the other sciences, politics was also isolated from values and judgments that was regarded as subjective in nature; thus it was subjected to be described with objective, consistent, and verifiable facts. Political scientists put the theories, utopias, opinions, and beliefs aside and predicated the facts upon politics; they carried out their analyses and syntheses through observable behaviors. Therefore, the metaphysical explanations, beliefs, and moral principles on how to perform practical politics were explicitly rejected.
Significant steps were taken towards changing politics into a scientific discipline in modern times and important data was put forward in order to define social events. But on the other hand, the studies conducted in order to examine the existing political systems, and define the attitude and behaviors of the politicians were more likely about legitimizing the status quo. These did not have any efforts towards identifying or solving the problems about the way the politicians performed politics, neither did they have any objectives as such.
As a result, politics was isolated from religion and morals in modern times. Religion and politics or morals or politics were tried to be separated from each other with regards to their sources, natures, and objectives. It was asserted that politics had its own principles and rules different than religion and morals. Therefore, the idea that suggested these should not be mixed together and each of them should be left to their competent ones became prominent. As a matter of fact, it is also possible to state that politics generally overrode religion and morals and subjugated them under control.
Machiavelli’s Political Theory
In fact, scientification and separation from metaphysics of the notion of politics started with Machiavelli who died in 1527. In his book titled “The Prince”, he focused on realpolitik and developed a sense of politics that knew no boundaries outside of success and power, put the purpose and existence of state above everything else, legitimated all means for achieving the goals, transformed individuals and societies into a tool of the political power, and he paved the way for the emergence of realistic political theory and modern state with these ideas. The following statement of Machiavelli is a succinct summary of Machiavellism which sees all means legitimate for achieving results: “Everyone sees how you appear, few touch what you are; and these few dare not oppose the opinion of many, who have the majesty of the state do defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, where there is no court to appeal to, one looks to the end.” (The Prince, p. 72)
According to Machiavelli, the head of state cannot limit himself to some moral and religious principles such as honesty, loyalty, fidelity, and generosity. On the contrary, he does whatever is necessary under the current circumstances. Briefly stated by Machiavelli, the head of state must bear a spirit that is accustomed to fluctuating according to the winds of fortune and change of conditions. If the moral principles are convenient towards achieving political goals and carrying out state affairs; he benefits from them, but if they are not; he rejects them. As can be understood from the following statement of Machiavelli, the religious and moral principles do not have any actual value; these can only act as a tool at most in order to reach the goals or protect the power: “This has to be understood: that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things for which men are held good, since he is often under a necessity, to maintain his state, of acting against faith, against charity, against humanity, against religion.” (The Prince, p. 70)
If the head of state must resort to force, cheating, killing those who harm, neutralizing opponents, carrying out evil and persecution, he should not avoid doing these binding to any moral concerns. Machiavelli says the following: “Nonetheless, he should be slow to believe and to move, nor should he make himself feared, and he should proceed in a temperate mode with prudence and humanity so that too much confidence does not make him incautious and too much diffidence does not render him intolerable.” (The Prince, p. 66)
A prudent lord, therefore, cannot observe faith, nor should he, when such observance turns against him, and the causes that made him promise have been eliminated. And if all men were good, this teaching would not be good; but because they are wicked and do
not observe faith with you, you also do not have to observe it with them. Nor does a prince ever lack legitimate causes to color his failure to observe faith. One could give
infinite modern examples of this, and show how many peace treaties and promises have been rendered invalid and vain through the infidelity of princes, and the one who has known best how to use the fox has come out best” (p. 70-71)
According to Machiavelli, the important thing for the head of state is to show himself to the people as an honest and moral person; not practically be like that. He must try to gain fame by creating a highly intelligent and skillful great person image with every single action he carries out, and establish a reputation by undertaking large enterprises; giving rare examples of goodwill he performs in the eyes of the people. (p 89-91) However, in order for the head of state to receive the love and trust of the people, even though he could manage to show that he has superior moral virtues; he should actually do the contrary. For example, Machiavelli explains that the ruler must be like a fox in order to recognize the traps in front of him, and be like a lion just to scare the wolves away; but on the other hand, he states that he must conceal this nature of his thoroughly, hide his thoughts and appear to his people differently. (p. 69-70)
In other words, the ruler should look as if he is good, but not act like one. For example, it would not be right for him to remain true to his word in a place where his interests require him to lie. He explains this idea with the following words: “Nay, I dare say this, that by having them and always observing them, they are harmful; and by appearing to have them, they are useful, as it is to appear merciful, faithful, humane, honest, and religious, and to be so; but to remain with a spirit built so that, if you need not to be those things, you are able and know how to change to the contrary.” (p. 71)
Machiavelli also pointed out that it is also important for the head of state to show himself as a religious person: “And nothing is more necessary to appear to have than all religion. Men in general judge more by their eyes than by their hands, because seeing is given to everyone, touching to few. Everyone sees how you appear, few touch what you are; and these few dare not oppose the opinion of many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them.” (p. 70-71)
Machiavelli, who claims that man has an inherently bad and selfish nature, thought that a non-pragmatist and non-selfish head of state could not perform successful politics. He states: “For it is so far from how one lives to how one should live that he who lets go of what is done for what should be done learns his ruin rather than his preservation. For a man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards must come to ruin among so many who are not good. Hence it is necessary to a prince, if he wants to maintain himself, to learn to be able not to be good, and to use this and not use it according to necessity.” (p. 61)
If we observe the following words of Machiavelli, it seems like the cruel political motto “reinforcing power by destroying artificial enemies”, which is embraced and resorted to frequently by many dictators who have lived in the near future or still living, is inherited from him: ” Therefore many judge that a wise prince, when he has the opportunity for it, should astutely nourish some enmity so that when he has crushed it, his greatness emerges the more from it.” (p. 85)
Machiavelli created a new “mind of the state” that has its own realities with his approaches. And the rulers part is not to limit himself with any kind of religious or moral rules except “the exalted interests of the state”. Because it is above all values and principles. Its limitation to a number of moral standards would damage his power and the exalted interests of the state.
Without a doubt, there have been theoreticians who objected to the strict application of the methods in science to be replicated in social sciences and also the isolation of politics from morality. As we come closer to our present day, studies on the relationship between politics, religion, morality, and law have started to increase. Seeing how politics is identified with power and interest, degenerated, and detached from moral principles day by day, some researchers have started to search for clean politics again, and once again began to focus on the relationship between politics and morality.
To be continued.
Prof. Yuksel Cayiroglu is a scholar focusing on Religious studies and Islamic Law.