"Against their own will" ?

Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Wed, 13 Mar 1996 02:29:54 -0600

John McCreery cites Robert Thornton:

> "_Virtu_ in Machiavelli is what Weber more or less had in
> mind with his term charisma, and is the personal capacity of
> some individual to cause others to act. I would leave it as this,
> although political philophers (Weber among them) seem to
> think that the action that the _virtu_ causes in others, is
> somehow against their own will."

Then John goes on to say:

> It is that "against their own will" that I would like to hear
> more comments on. The proposition that power always works
> against the will of those on whom it is exercised is, it seems to
> me, fundamentally flawed and an artifact of bourgeoise
> individualism carried to an extreme that sees any
> acquiescence in power as a threat to personal autonomy. By,
> in effect, denying the possibility of both legitimate authority
> freely accepted as such and and happy acceptance of quid pro
> quo, this position leaves only violence as a ground for
> inequality. That way lies the shadow of Hobbes and Hitler
> both.

I see two ways of looking at that "against their own will" phrase.

In immediate reaction, the phrase conjures up visions of blackmail or
torture or, at very least, the use of force. As John says, that was
Hobbes's vision of "the warre of each against all". How else could I be
induced to do something that my will rejects?

Let me try another slant instead. "Influence", "power", "persuasion", not
to mention "coalition" and "compromise", M.G. Smith tells us, are the
essence of politics, just as "authority" and "hierarchy" are the essence
of what he calls "government". (I'm referring to his Kurl Bequest Prize
Essay, "On segmentary lineages", in JRAI, or the expanded version of those
same ideas in his book, "Government in Zazzau".) Politics is all about
inducing me to support something that I otherwise would not support. . .
Once you start thinking along these lines, you're into the realm of "happy
acceptance of quid pro quo".

Remember, I was raised mostly in Chicago. The original motto of the city,
"Urbs in horto" (usually translated as "The city in a garden"), became
obsolete a long time ago. Historically, the development of effective
machine politics created a new motto that I recommend to anyone who
wants to analyze political behavior. The new motto, "Ubi est meam", is a
back translation from the language of the Chicago streets: "What's in it
for me?" I contend that you don't understand a political system until
you can point to what's in it for each and every participant.

That's non-serious talk about a very serious analytic principle I have
tried to apply in my own work in political anthropology. I am not
satisfied with an alleged analysis of a political system that attends
exclusively to the power of leaders. To me, the analysis is incomplete at
best and meaningless at worst if it does not look very carefully into why
followers accept leadership. I begin with the hypothesis, also out of
Chicago politics, that "nobody does nothin for nothin": without the quid
there is no quo.

What the follower can demand in exchange for political support is the
great variable among systems. It may be a share of the boodle, or the
exercise of veto power when alternative courses of action are up for
decision, or the opportunity to participate in the decision-making
process. It could be something as "simple" as just being left alone.
The list of possibilities is great, if not quite infinite.

The exchange model I like does not necessarily involve a real exchange of
either goods or valued statuses. What it is about is the reinforcement
of notions about what is valuable in the first place. So long as the
follower PERCEIVES that something, some idea, some value, is given in
exchange for the follower's support, the system can work. Get to the
point where a large number of those who are ruled feel that they are not
getting anything out of being ruled and the system MUST fall.

Underlying this whole line of analysis is my discontent with an axiom that
has served the purposes of many political analysts. In anthropology, it
has been the guiding star for Radcliffe-Brown and his adherents ever since
his Introduction to "African Political Systems". That axiom talks about
the ultimate source of political power residing in a monopoly on the
legitimate use of force.

And why don't I like that formula? Because I think there is a more
fundamental source of political power. In the Sacred Documents of my
country, it is reflected in the phrase "governments derive their just
powers from the consent of the governed". I propose leaving out the word
"just". Ultimately, there is NO power without the consent of the governed.

Let me cite three historic cases: the first 1917 revolution in Russia,
the overthrow of the Ubico dictatorship in Guatemala in 1944, and the
overthrow of the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua in 1979. In all three
cases, the government seemed to control massive military power compared
to the pea-shooters of their opposition. In all three cases, the central
power came to be perceived as getting all the advantages while demanding
sacrifice and loss from everybody else. Romanovs, Ubicos, and Somozas,
their sycophants, and their cronies did well -- but the bulk of the
military class, profesionals, business both big and small, the middle class,
the intellectuals, the government servants, all came to feel excluded from
whatever benefits they thought of as vital. (Never mind the great
excluded mass of peasants in all three cases. Despite Eric Wolf's
"Peasant Revolutions of the 20th Century", I'm not convinced that
peasants start revolutions. They DIE in revolutions.)

In St. Petersburg in 1917, there came a day when the army, ordered to put
down demonstrators demanding bread and butter, joined the demonstrators.
That was the end of the Tsar. In Guatemala in 1944, there came a day
when all businesses closed their doors, all traffic on the streets of
Guatemala City came to a halt, and the legislature refused to recognize
the authority of the President. That was the end of Ubico. In Nicaragua
in 1979, businessmen and professionals withdrew their support from the
regime. It wasn't that they took up arms against Somoza; they just
stopped recognizing the legitimacy of the government. There came a day
when the men of the National Guard went to their barracks, changed into
civilian clothes, and tried to merge into the population. And that was
the end of the Somoza dynasty.

The ultimate source of political power, I contend, is the possibility
of a massive withdrawal of support for the regime. A monopoly of
physical force cannot sustain political power in the face of the
withdrawal of support. Political systems are about maintaining support
for the incumbents, for the general rules of the game, and for the
continuing solidarity of the political community.

Of course, what I'm saying here is a major undercurrent in Macchiavelli's
recommendations in The Prince. His concern is with how a ruler can
obtain the willing consent of those he rules, despite the fact that they
intially opposed his accession to power. His advice is that a would-be
ruler must make sure that those he rules FEEL that it is to their
advantage to keep him in power. Quid pro quo!

BTW, I find it strange that with all the talk of Macchiavelli in this
discussion nobody has yet mentioned the probable source of most of his
ideas on politics: the writings of Ibn Khaldun. Seeing parallels between
Italy five centuries ago and Africa today is evocative metaphor rather
than historical accuracy. The parallels between politics in
Macchiavelli's Italy and Ibn Khaldun's experience of Islamic politics are
much more direct.

By today's standards, the Italian political philosopher was also a
plagiarist. I'm not surprised that Ibn Khaldun's original contributions
to Macchiavelli's thought are usually ignored. It's the Christian West
surpressing recognition of any debt to Islam and its followers. But
that's a whole 'nother subject.

mike salovesh, anthropology department <salovesh@niu.edu>
northern illinois university PEACE !