.. eferring to the notorious but often also highly misunderstood cynical character of Machiavelli’s analysis, I want to concentrate in the means, not in the legitimacy of the polities, or in the question of whether their goal is genesis, restoration, defence, or destruction of a polity’s existence and liberty. The means, namely, ultimately reveal many relevant features of a polity’s character: whether its power is built upon legitimacy and liberty, or upon coercion and terror. Those admirers of Machiavelli, who read his works in a selective way, or out of their historical context, tend to overemphasise the cynical character in the thinking of Machiavelli, who wanted to appear a worthy advisor for established princes, conquerors, as well as Republican city polities. It must be mentioned, however, like Quentin Skinner does, that Machiavelli’s sympathies were clearly on the Republican side, growing from the intellectual grounds of the Renaissance humanist Florentine Republic, which tried to preserve its liberty against the Emperor, the Pope, the little empire of the Duchy of Milan, as well as the internal aspirations of the Medici to usurp power in Florence.
Actually they finally did it, time after time, throwing Machiavelli out of his position, even though he wrote Il Principe in order to attract the interest of the new regime to hire him as an advisor. One-sided admirers of Machiavelli’s ideas tend to emphasise those ideas that seem to suggest that the ends always justify the means, and that a statesman’s virt is important only to appear as possessing all the classical and cardinal virtues of the Antiquity and the Christianity, whereas true loyalty to these virtues would only harm the interests of a ruler or a state. However fervently Machiavelli attacks against the ancient and Christian virtues and appears cynical, he still is a thoroughly romantic political thinker. So, as a critical admirer of Machiavelli’s ideas, I want to draw your attention to some important and often ignored features of Machiavelli’s thinking, best implied in his Discorsi. First, Machiavelli does not hide his basic favour for the Republican liberty that was the main concern of his predecessors, the Florentine humanists.
Secondly, he did not suggest that virtues should be forgotten – quite the contrary, he always recommended ‘good’, whenever it was not absolutely necessary to use means like violence and atrocity. Third, Machiavelli very well realised the importance of legitimacy by consent to be the key to virtuous policy and to the preservation of a polity. He even described an ideal of a republic that would last forever. He greatly admired the equilibrium of the ancient Roman Republic in contrast to the Roman imperial period. Machiavelli drew our attention to the very issue, against which many of his contemporaries attacked: namely faction, the fact that competing groups of interest, that kept the Roman Republic in a state of dynamism, actually guaranteed the Republic’s stability, simultaneously indicating that the high civic virt of not only the regime but amongst all the Republic’s citizens, was maintained – virt in the active and even heroic sense of Pericles, Cicero, and the heralds of the Italian Renaissance.
For Machiavelli, like for the Renaissance defenders of political liberty and independence in general, the decay of Rome began with the emergence of coercive and imperial rule, and simultaneous loss of individual virt, the spirit of liberty, which alone encouraged the virtuous individuals for great deeds, and brought prosperity to the whole community. They thought the rise of the imperial regime was the beginning of the end for the Roman Empire, which, by losing its virt, also lost its legitimacy, and finally also stability. Rome is not the only empire that came to its dusk in this way. Thereby, those, who are citing Machiavelli in defence of imperialism, or in defence of forceful preservation of empires that have come to their dusk and moral decadence, are actually misusing Machiavelli. However, to return to the issue of terror, a notice can probably be made that however cynically Machiavelli might have excused terror as a means of advocating a regime’s ultimate mission, even he greatly despised harsh and excessive, entirely non-virtuous, use of terror and violence without succeeding in bringing about any of the claimed goals – goals that, for a cynical politician, might have justified the lack of virtue in the means.
Excessive use of terror but incapability to bring about any virtuous ends seems to be typical for empires in decay – empires at their dusk. Therefore falling empires – or empires that were already unsuccessful and illegitimate in the very first place – often appear as the type of polity that is most expectable to be possessed by what we described as a ‘terror regime’. Failing to provide any liberty, stability or prosperity at home, the empires of dusk turn into mere terrorist regimes that direct their aggression and terror against both internal and external scapegoats – often and paradoxically, moreover, blaming them for ‘terror’. Late Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were good examples of such decayed empires that have degenerated into mere terror regimes, and we can easily see the same features in certain failing empires of our own time. Even Machiavelli would hardly have found much virt in their actions, and even much less the Italian Renaissance theorists, whose main point was the defence of Republican liberty and the virtuous ‘uomo universale’. Instead, they would perhaps have found the defence of Estonian, Slovenian, Croatian, Georgian, Chechen or Kosovar liberty against the obviously non-virtuous terror regimes most justified and virtuous.
Of course there are, and there will always be, individuals and groups that will use terror as their weapon. Such actors are especially generated in places where there is a constant state of war, and prevalent illegitimacy of the status quo. Supporters of some newly fashionable ‘civilizational’ theories on geopolitics may assume that terror and terrorism are somehow connected to cultural or even genetic inheritance of ‘eastern’ cultures, and should be excluded from Europe and the West by simply sacrificing the nations lying, for their misfortune, beyond the imagined boundaries of our Western civilization. Such theories, when it comes to the issue of terror, are of course naive, as the examples of Northern Ireland, Basque Country and Corsica suggest. Implicit hints are given to us every day that certain ethnic groups or religions would be inherently ‘terroristic’ in nature.
Such implications, often offered by the propaganda of the very regimes that can themselves be defined as terror regimes, are dangerous and only feed xenophobia that damages our ability to observe the world clearly. In the matter of fact, terrorism is bound to the political environment. Apart from satellites of active and influential terror regimes – like the various communist groups, which the Soviet Union used to finance, and which in most cases have not been cut entirely short from their original sources of finance and weaponry – the true reasons of terrorism usually lie in the decadence and illegitimacy of the prevalent status quo. This means that remedy to the disease should be directed at a revision and development of the situation towards a more legitimate one, even if it means altering the status quo. Machiavelli’s world was far from static, and so is ours, where the lack of change, rather than change, is the source of violent instability and terror. The alternative for a constant search for higher legitimacy and virtue of the situation – coercion and conquest – usually just breeds more terror and instability, unless a whole oppressed population is simply wiped out.
Of course even this option, usually named genocide, has not been unfamiliar for the present terror regimes. While individual terrorists and minor groups can be easily dealt with by normal police and justice system, state terror practised by what we defined as terror regimes, as well as the inevitable counter-terror that tyranny generates amongst the victims of state terror, form the real threat for peaceful states. Thus it is justified to refer to this kind of major violence, consisting of terror regimes and their vassal groups as well as counterparts, with the term ‘international terrorism’. *** In order to protect Europe and the West against the most long-lasting form of international terror, namely totalitarian communism, as well as in order to prevent the re-emergence of something like the national-socialist terror regime of Germany, the Western states formed a security alliance named the NATO. It should not be forgotten that the NATO’s explicit mission was and should be to protect the Western liberty against the tyranny and state terror practised by the Soviet Union, which was an almost pure example of what a major ‘terror regime’ is in a long run.
In the spirit of Machiavelli’s romantic tone amidst all his cynicism, I dare to call this mission both virtuous and righteous. In the righteous times of Ronald Reagan, it was still very clear for all, against which ‘Evil Empire’ the NATO was meant to defend the Western liberty – the ‘Free World’. When, by the downfall of the Soviet terror regime, the West declared the Cold War to be over, the NATO faced an ideological problem: Although communist terror regimes continued to live on in China, North Korea and Cuba, but also in many Russian satellites, like in Serbia and in Belarus, the West felt it necessary to revise the original mission of the NATO. But since it lacked a clearly defined new target to defend the West against, the NATO began to lose its virtue: Would such a huge alliance as the NATO be needed only for interventions against relatively small terror regimes, such as the dictatorships of Iraq and Serbia? Even in the course of these obviously justified interventions against polities that the West had clearly found terror regimes, the NATO seemed to be quite foreign to its own initial fundamental values. Kuwait was liberated, but terror regimes were not at all removed in Iraq and Serbia. Croatia had to liberate itself, Bosnia was divided in a clear territorial favour of the Serbs, and the Kosovar liberty has still not been recognised.
Meanwhile, really large and internationally lethal terror regimes, Russia and China being the most eminent ones, have been left in total peace in advocating terror and tyranny against Chechens, Georgians, Azeris, Moldavians, Uighurs and Tibetans, and to practise terror-based pressure against their democratic neighbours, like the Baltic countries and Taiwan. While the NATO is unwilling to explicate that the alliance is fundamentally established to protect the liberty and existence of such free, democratic and legitimate states as Estonia, for instance, against the threat of international terror by terror regimes that are too powerful to be resisted by small individual peaceful countries, the alliance is losing its virtue, and encouraging its potential enemies to adopt terror regime and thus to become ‘Evil Empires’ in the Reaganian sense of the expression. It was once fashionable in the West to speak about the threat of communism. Nowadays it is very fashionable to speak about a mythical threat of Islam, based more on images and imagination than on facts, as the fact remains in Europe that no Islamic nation in her neighbourhood has attacked a Christian nation (the only exception at the moment is Sudan, which is cruelly oppressing the Christian secessionists of Southern Sudan), while all the wars in Europe in the last ten years have been started by Russia or Serbia, in many cases against Muslim nations, although in other cases against Christian nations as well. Amidst all this present fuss about a populist party gaining democratic victory in the Austrian election, Europe seems to ignore that the lack of virtue in the common defence of Western liberty has greatly contributed to the virtual re-emergence of the possibly worst and most destructive form of state terror, namely a combination of ultra-nationalist and socialist structures, in a nuclear superpower in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood.
Even if entirely pessimistic attitudes towards present Russia would be most inconsiderate, it is impossible, especially from the viewpoint of the Baltic states, to neglect the security threat that Russia constitutes: It is a highly unstable superpower with huge military arsenal, a superpower that does not hide its aspirations to renew a hegemonic status and that tends to see the use of force as the means of driving its interest. In the Annual Assembly of the Paneuropean Union in Strasbourg, December 1999, our honoured President, Arch-Duke Dr. Otto von Habsburg, an eminent European who has seen rise and fall of two totalitarian empires, spoke about the alarming similarities between the end of the interwar period and our times. History never repeats itself identically, but it would be inconsiderate to claim that no tendencies of historical dj vu should be feared. The short positive and optimistic interregnum in Russia, best characterised not by Gorbachev but by Gaidar, came to its end already by the end of 1993, combined with Yeltsin’s turning from a national liberationist into a revanchist imperialist.
Even if the early Russian Federation did not entirely resemble the Weimar Republic, the rise of the new regime, characterised by the former Security Committee’s hegemony, highly resembles the gradual loss of democracy in Weimar Germany. Besides the traditionally strong anti-Semitism of Russia, and besides the newly fashionable anti-Islamism, Russia has rehabilitated almost all the features of the Nazi geopolitical and imperial thinking. What is, however, even more alarming, is that the European countries seem to repeat the tones of Europe in the times of Hitler’s rise, when the Western toleration of Nazi German policies, and purposeful blindness at anti-Semitism and the prevalent propaganda, directly contributed to the expansionism and the holocaust. I must repeat the warning that the Western security policy seems to have lost its virtue. In the long run, the Europeans may wish to develop such European security structures that would protect them from Russian terror as well as from a feeling of inferiority at the American hegemony. Such an idea was proposed, among others, by the father of the Paneuropean Union, Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, in the 1920s.
At the present, however, the conduct of European policies towards the conflicts in the Balkans and in the Caucasus has proved such lack of capability in any common, sovereignly European, security policy, that the NATO still seems to be the only credible protector of European liberty. While the main European powers stay sinisterly passive at Russian atrocities, and some find Putin’s regime even worthy of praise, the anxiety of the small countries in the empire’s shadow is growing. Who, if not the NATO, will guarantee that Estonia or Romania or Lithuania will not become the next Chechnya, or a next subject to a coup d’tat and forcing of a vassal regime, such as majority of the present CIS states? Today’s European ‘virt’ must appear quite sinister for the countries located in ‘Zwischeneuropa’, as the new chairman state of the European Union, France, openly favours Russia over the democratic states of ‘Zwischeneuropa’, and as Portugal’s Jaime Gama comments on the Russian aggression in Chechnya by stating: Europe understand Russia – we also have terrorists and we fight them. At the same time, the European Union removes all sanctions against Russia, although situation in Chechnya has only got worse – explicitly stating that now Russia has a strong leader. If this is Europe’s virtue in defending Western liberty, the NATO indeed should recover its original mission of protecting freedom from terror regimes.
There are people in Europe, who claim the NATO to imply mere U.S. hegemony over European affairs, while in fact the U.S. is growing tired to finance Europe’s defence. It must be remarked, moreover, that the French, Portuguese, American and also other Western attitudes are tolerating and even encouraging Russia into the form of a centralised chauvinist regime, led by a strong leader. This cannot be good for Russia’s neighbours, or for the Russians whatsoever.
It indicates lack of sense of a virtuous goal for the NATO. Against what international terror would the NATO defend European liberty, if not the one witnessed in Bosnia, Kosova and Chechnya? Against a mythical conspiracies of Muslims and Jews, disobedient media moguls, and mysterious Arab mercenaries who are spotted by anonymous security-related sources around the world? Are these figures of the Itar-Tass tales really the threat endangering the liberty of Europeans? [We could ask the Estonians whether they are eager to recognise a claim that wanting to get rid of the Kremlin’s yoke is terrorism, and constitutes a major threat against the Eurasian stability.] If Europe cannot generate virt needed to unite this continent and to liberate it from the horrors of terror and genocide, witnessed in Bosnia, Kosova, Chechnya and elsewhere where all basic classical or Christian or European values have been violated, we may eventually have to witness the loss of our liberty in favour of terror regimes and various kind of nationalist regimes that will emerge in East Europe in response to the growing threat of Russian aggression. This is what eventually happened to the liberty of the Italian city republics in Machiavelli’s times, resulting that the Renaissance turned into absolutism. This is also what eventually happened to the ‘Zwischeneuropean’ states between Germany and Russia in Coudenhove-Kalergi’s times. Perhaps the anti-Westerners of the so-called ‘new right’ of Europe have made a point in arguing that the NATO, or the West in general, has lost its virtue.
So far the Machiavellians could have argued in a similar tone, and so could Demosthenes have argued against the lost virtue of the Hellenic cities facing the militarism of Macedonia. But yet Machiavelli and his contemporaries also argued that people should never yield and give up their liberties before terror of military strength and barbarism. This would mean lack of virtue, as liberty grows from courage, according to Pericles. These are the near future concerns of the NATO or any defence organisation aiming at virt, and the preservation of European liberty, perhaps eventually expanding it into Eurasian liberty, thus finally bringing about a revival of virtue also in Russia, Serbia, the Caucasus, Turkestan, Middle East, Iran, and many other places currently possessed by international terror and fear. European History.