By Denys Springer
Niccole Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ wrote: “It is far better to be feared than loved” was Machiavelli’s famous advice to those who wished to wield power effectively. Then and now – I am sure his thinking is valid. He went on to write “the bond of love is one which men, wretched creatures that they are break when it is to their advantage to do so, but fear is strengthened by a dread of punishment which is always effective”. This is an everyday occurrence in Saint Lucia, but it seems very prevalently in the political economy of economic policy.
In democracies, the variety of electoral institutions affects how policymakers feel constituent pressures. Organized political parties can help extend the time horizons of politicians: while an individual politician may worry only about the next election, a party has to be concerned about its longer-term reputation. In this context, studying politics in Saint Lucia is not the fear of Guy Joseph or the upwardly mobile Stephenson King but what prime minister Allen Chastanet has done with one part of Machiavelli’s advice – to create an atmosphere of fear in his government.
However, he showed his weakness when he tried tactfully to ask the public for forgiveness. He was dismissed, rightfully so. But that was never part of Machiavelli’s plan. But his handlers attempt was rather empty, lacking sincerity, in the unnatural course of action of a “State of Emergency” that is pernicious and pervasive.
On examination of the democratic world, it is very difficult to find a state under the pretext of being in a state of emergency. It has simply not been enforced in the majority of democratic countries and those who do are trying desperately to curb the spread of COVID-19. But despite being told that we have managed it very well and have opened our borders to the US coronavirus spread. In my view, the prime minister’s alibi for the State of Emergency is hollow, duplicitous, pervasive and beyond belief.
In my estimation, the prime minister has worked an entire Cabinet in his image and likeness of fear, the political economy of economic policy. He has in my view not merely been ruthless but recklessly brave in his delimitations to push his power to the limit. In that case, once again, Machiavelli comes to the fore when he writes that “it is better to be impetuous than circumspect”.
The similarity between Machiavelli’s theory on the usefulness of intimidation and the practice of the present prime minister is well set out in his classic “State of Emergency”: where is the State of Emergency? Can he explain it in any of his proficient languages?
In the prime minister’s interaction with fellow ministers and civil servants, he concludes his distinctive weapon of fear more than any prime minister we have had. The use of fear operates on two levels. First and foremost there is “the face to face intimidation we see so often in the House of Assembly with the opposition and second, the submissiveness of the Speaker of the House; albeit at times, careful not to appear to be vindictive as Machiavelli would observe, “if … it proves necessary to execute someone this should be done only when there is proper reason and manifest justification for it”.
And meantime the prime minister tries to soften the blow by asking for forgiveness he is unable to forgive. Unable to recite the Lord’s Prayer accurately, in contrast to a ten-year-old on national television. But more adaptable to being ruthless and reckless in his determination to push his power to the limit. Once again Machiavelli’s maxim “it is better to be impetuous than circumspect” is so true.
In my estimation, that many voters have made up their minds from what they have seen and experienced and therefore all they are waiting for is the general election, it is visible is that the prime minister is desperately trying to paper the cracks on the verge of an election.
At this late stage, it is without a doubt a lost cause. In his case, I would love to write that cohesion, purpose and success take precedence over policy and ideology in the voters’ eyes, but this is not the case.
The lessons will be learnt by many in the Cabinet who did not take action will soon learn that the voters have lost faith in them. Further, the danger the prime minister faces is hubris. The price of towering over his colleagues and ruling them by fear is that he becomes isolated. When no one dares to tell you what you don’t’ want to hear the writing is therefore on the wall. A classic example is what we are experiencing in the United States with president Donald Trump his support and popularity is dwindling.
Therefore, the only way to safeguard against flatterers Machiavelli wrote is by letting people understand that you are not offended by the truth but if everyone can speak the truth to you then you lose respect. What I see is the prime minister’s dominance over his colleagues in that – he refused to countenance the possibility of any of them taking over.
It ends with a leader dangerously out of touch as we have seen and witness, one dangerously clinging to office who is difficult to remove in the party of fear – pernicious and pervasive. Having thought of the above, I was forced to look at Rasputin’s influences over Nicholas 11 in the same way as the prime ministers’ influence over the majority of his party. I must say that at times I wondered if the representative for Castries South East or Teo Ah Khing is not the Rasputin’s and he is like Nicholas 11. The people are a liability because of bad governance.
Jean Jacques Rousseau writes that “a state is democratic to the extent that it acts and express the common will of its citizens”. I conclude by pointing out distinctly that the government of Saint Lucia has not seriously thought of planning short term or strategically setting goals and objectives in the development of the country. Much of it is piecemeal, simply to create an illusion that they are creating jobs.
Finally, I must concur with Rousseau that “no legitimate power can retain force when the laws have lost it”.