I was asked for some book recommendations by a reader. His requests on general self-discipline and habit-forming stuff were easy enough to give recommendations on, but he also asked for some good jumping off material to learn about "democracy and other forms of government" - my reply follows -
On government... hmm... I've read a lot on the topic, but no one work stands out to me as must-read stuff. Usually what I do is put a historical era into Wikipedia, do a "wiki walk" for a while, and then google the most interesting people and events for other insights.
You might consider Machiavelli's "The Prince," which was well-read and well-admired by most of the American founding fathers. I just read "Machiavelli, Violence, and History" which is a short essay -
Machiavelli is widely misunderstood because his most striking quotes - like, "Better to be feared than loved" - are taken out of context. The essay I just linked you to talks about violence in pursuit of the common good, things like that which can be a bit of a head-trip.
The Prince is one of those books that you have think critically on, you won't agree with all of it, but there's some interesting insights. The most interesting one I got from there was reading about how the soldiers of a republic tend to be more loyal than a monarchy's soldiers. Republican troops, thus, fight more fanatically, are more willing to die, less likely to retreat, and more likely to keep fighting even if it looks like the paymaster can't make their wages for a while.
I read that around the same time I was learning about Napoleon, so it shed a lot of light on things. Republican troops (I use "republican" the way most people use "democratic" - for instance, America is a republic with some democratic elements, not a democracy - there hasn't been a pure democracy in a very long time) - anyways, republican troops tend to fight harder, fight more fanatically, give up less easily, and require less quality of life and less pay and less wages to fight on. Napoleon did a lot of other things right militarily, but I think an underappreciated reason for his success is that he was running an imperial republic for government instead of a monarchy.
I suppose I should define terms again - "imperial" has two potential connotations. First, of expansion and empire. This is the modern usage of the word.
There's an older usage of the word, from Latin "Imperator" - that's where the word Emperor comes from. But an Imperator wasn't an Emperor under modern usage of the word emperor... "Commander" is probably the closest modern translation of Imperator, though it's not quite right - an Imperator would have both civil and military authority to the end of a common cause.
So it's funny, sometimes you can wind up in a government structure that I'll call an "imperial republic" - that's a government with republican elements (ie, some democracy/voting to choose representatives, then the representatives meet and have some legislative authority), but also has a very strong executive branch run by an "imperator" - Napoleon, I think, would quality as an imperator, and indeed, he took the title "Emperor" later in his life but never "King."
Interesting, isn't it? When Napoleon re-emerged for the 100 Days, it was the Emperor Napoleon I vs. King Louis XVIII... oftentimes, the distinction isn't made in history between an imperator-style "Emperor" and a traditional monarch "King" - but there is a difference. While "Emperor" and "King" are used basically interchangeably in modern usage, people would have understood the difference back then. While Napoleon was to some extent a monarch later in life, he was always more of a commander than a monarch. Imperator, y'know?
Oh right, I'm off on a tangent, but I brought it up about Machiavelli and soldiering and republics. The problem "pure republics" with a weak executive tend to face is dissent and the inability to get things done. That happened in the United States a few times - notably with the Nullification Crisis, which Andrew Jackson smashed, and then the Confederate Succession, which Lincoln smashed.
Between those two events, America was transitioned greatly from a "pure" republic towards a semi-imperial republic (again, I use "imperial" mostly in the classic sense here, though even the classical imperator also had connotations of expansion/empire).
Machiavelli wouldn't be a bad place to start analyzing the differences between monarchies and republics, as he covers history without much embellishment and doesn't care if he looks good or bad in the process. Perhaps before reading The Prince you would do well to check out that Harvard article/essay I linked that discusses violence as a means to common good - it's fascinating stuff. It's totally taboo to even talk about these days, but this is how much everyone through history analyzed and thought up until at least the end of World War II.
I'll probably put this up on my blog, it seems to have evolved into almost a full post. Good questions here, and let me know if any of the recommendations are interesting to you. Cheers,
Have you read Chanakya ? He predates Machiavelli , and was one of the greatest and most shrewd political thinkers and administrators of India .
The other book to suggest about government is Anarchy, State and Utopia by Nozick. This is a modern stab at political philosophy. If you like The Prince from Machiavelli then read his Discourses. This is his attempt at the more serious set of rules to really run a republic. Last book to suggest. the Next Decade. This is written by the founder of Stratfor a great site and provider of analysis on world events. He asks the question of whether the USA can be an imperial power under it's present framework or have the will to rule.
I think your sentiment is on the mark (and you're right, in most organisations violence is outdated). However, at the level of government, power is maintained by a monopoly on the use of force - that is, a government is in charge because if anyone disagrees with its authority the government has the power to physically enforce it (i.e. prison). A government without physical force would never be able to enforce its position as arbitrator in disputes (e.g. what use would laws against theft be, if the government wasn't willing to physically stop thieves).
I get the impression that Castro might be an apt comparison for Napoleon. Kind of the "Commander" of the movement, but not making any absolute claims to traditional authority beyond the support of those in the movement.
On the topic of legitimacy, I think you (Sebastian, but others too no doubt) would find Max Weber's thoughts interesting. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization is I believe the book I'm thinking of, but you can find an overview in his lecture "Politics as a Vocation" (http://www.ne.jp/asahi/moriyuki/abukuma/weber/lecture/politics_vocation.html).
I personally think violence is outdated. It's effective only as a last-ditch effort, otherwise persuasion and non-physical threats (99% of people will fall either to one or another, guaranteed) work much better in any kind of organization.
Poor Machiavelli, I bet he never thought he'd be remembered in a mostly negative light, but then again, he probably didn't care :-). And the life of commoners in just about any period was about the same, whether under a monarchy or republic, so it's interesting to see how just the idea that they're fighting for themselves, for freedom, equal rights, or something else closer to them (rather than for the king, for the country, because they must, etc.) makes them fight and work harder...
In the year 1853, the Ottoman Empire had been in power for 554 continuous years. Abdülmecid I was Sultan and, shortly into the year, the Albanian-descended Governor of Crete Giritli Mustafa Naili Pasha took the post of Grand Vizier.
Queen Victoria was the Monarch of the British Empire and Lord Aberdeen was her Prime Minister, though the Queen favored one of his rivals, Benjamin Disraeli, as an advisor.
In France, Napoleon III had been elected President of the Republic in 1848, and had dissolved the National Assembly two years previously in 1851. In December of 1852, the Second French Empire was established, with Louis-Napoleon becoming named "Napoléon III, Emperor of the French."
Across the Atlantic, Franklin Pierce was the President of the United States of America and Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War. There were 31 states at that time, and the American Civil War had not yet been fought.
In mid-1853, the Russian Empire started maneuvering troops to key places on the Baltic Sea near Ottoman territories. Hostilities were about to break out into the Crimean War. The primary forces were Ottoman, British, and French fighting the Russians. The war ended with a decisive British/French/Ottoman victory.
It's been a while since my last post. Real life things getting in the way and just a general lack of time over Christmas to get back on and up to speed. Profuse apologies.
On the plus side I got an eReader for Christmas and have made sure I get more time to read so have plenty of material queued up over the next few weeks.
I've got some updates to post and will try to get through them today. I've finished Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett and also read Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. I also managed to read Flatland at long last. Also read (in one case reread) a couple of Matthew Reilly short stories.
Currently reading The Written by Ben Galley and Brood of Bones by A E Marling as eBooks and Emperor of Thorns as an actual book.