The Malta Independent 23 August 2019, Friday

Beating or succeeding Muscat

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 2 June 2019, 10:41 Last update: about 4 months ago

Last week, I argued that Joseph Muscat owes much of his political strength to the enormous emotional capital he amassed over the years by wooing Labourites through Super One Radio and TV, and talking to them as if he were a member of their family.

This week I will zero in on another aspect of how Dr Muscat acquired the enormous political capital he spends to survive scandals that would leave lesser politicians politically bankrupt overnight.


Joseph Muscat spent 16 whole years studying Alfred Sant, whose tenacious hold on power not only supplied Dr Muscat’s apprenticeship but also turned the wheel of fortune in favour of the young Muscat.

Machiavelli observed that a prince’s success depends on both his Prowess and Fortune. What Machiavelli said about the “civil principality” applies to Dr Muscat. In the civil principality, a citizen comes to power “not through crime or other intolerable violence”, but by the support of his fellow citizens. This, says Machiavelli, does not require extreme prowess or fortune, only “fortunate astuteness”.

Dr Muscat’s prowess comes from his observation at close range of the mistakes committed by his predecessor as Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Dr Sant was an austere Prime Minister, and – to use a metaphor from Maltese history – many Knights had no time for Lascaris. As Leader of the Opposition, Dr Sant preferred principle to pragmatism, the price for which was hefty.

All those characteristics which, in theory and an ideal world, were good (such as principled inflexibility, etc.) turned out to be completely disastrous in practice and the real world. Joseph Muscat saw all of this unfold before his eyes and took copious notes. The lesson was this: if a politician upholds principles despite political storms, s/he will end up smashed on the rocky coast of defeat.

At the same time, Dr Muscat’s fortune was made by Dr Sant’s tenacious hold on power. By remaining at the helm of the Labour Party for 16 years, Dr Sant allowed Joseph Muscat to not only the opportunity build an intimate rapport with Labourites, to learn the ropes and to conceive the Machiavellian notion that in politics no principle is sacred, but also – once the Sant years were over – to enjoy the gratitude for the ‘liberation’. In a paradoxical way, Dr Muscat benefitted from his predecessor’s overstay and overdue departure.

According to a certain source, Dr Muscat played a trick during the 2008 election by alerting certain elements to the ace Labour had up its sleeve: the Mistra Bay Scandal. If this is true, then Dr Muscat deliberately derailed his own Party’s campaign, wrong-footed Alfred Sant and paved the way for his own ascension to power. Upon acquiring it, he made a point of avoiding his predecessor’s ‘mistakes’: principles not to be held sacred, naughty behaviour to be tolerated and brazen-facedly defended, political positions to be deemed malleable.

Machiavelli also says that at times the Prince has to be a lion and at others a fox. Dr Muscat usually behaves like a fox; rarely, and with certain individuals, he has behaved as the lion.

I think it did help that Muscat’s father was self-employed, selling fireworks. This trade must have taught Muscat how to negotiate and sell (what ends up in) smoke.

In sum, all these ingredients – long-term rapport with Labourites, long-term apprenticeships, perfect timing and fox-like behaviour – have made Joseph Muscat what he is. Whoever wants to beat him at the polls has to keep this in mind. Whoever wants to succeed him in the Party, ditto.


Gender quotas

Last week’s results have shown beyond the shadow of a doubt how useless – even pernicious – gender quotas are.

The electorate had to choose six representatives and, without any State intervention – no quota, no imposition, no interference – chose three ladies and three gentlemen. The electorate chose – spontaneously, without being forced – to spread equally among the two sexes.

It is obvious that the only requisite to see women in high places is equal opportunity. The electorate will then assess each candidate on merit. Almost inexplicably, just as when you do not mess with populations half the babies are born male and the other half females, so the electorate – when not messed with – chose women as one half of the elected representatives and men as the other half.

Fascism is when the State does not trust the individual with important decisions and substitutes the ideological conscience for the individual’s conscience. Fascism is not an ideology – it is a mode of governing. Mussolini’s and Franco’s were conservative Fascisms. Now we have liberal Fascism, where certain States impose a liberal conscience on the individual: the individual does “the right thing” because the elites so dictate.

But, as we have seen, there is no need for such brutality. When the liberal principle is just and fair (because, let’s be clear, not every liberal principle is just and fair), people will spontaneously implement it. Equal opportunity for all is just and fair; that women, being inferior, are incapable of running for office is ideological rubbish. Because equal opportunity is a just and fair principle, people will implement it.

State intervention is clearly useless – but also pernicious. If a woman is elected on the strength of an imposed gender quota rather than elector trust, then that woman has to deal with the implied negative assessment of her abilities over and above the bitterness of males who, had it not been for the ideological imposition of gender quotas, would have been elected but were instead left out in the cold.

Indeed, vox populi, vox dei. If you give them the right opportunity, the people will vote well. There’s no need for interference, for the (Fascist) imposition of (liberal) values.

If Modernity is indeed the daughter of Reason, then there is no need to apply Force.

Contrariwise, where “Modernity” ‘needs’ Force, then it is a False Modernity.

Let Reason take its course.

Reason is intimately related to Justice, and Justice is a sentiment common not only to man but to most creatures, as Darwin himself observed. It is innate in us and is then shaped by nurture. If Justice is the obverse of the coin, then the reverse is our ‘moral sense’. In The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote that “our moral sense” originates “in the social instincts, largely guided by the approbation of our fellow men, ruled by reason, self-interest and, in later times, by deep religious feelings, and confirmed by instruction and habit.”

It is extraordinary how something like Justice – which makes the electorate choose with exquisite equality – is something that transcends individuals and is exercised as if individuals are acting together like one organism.

In a twisted way, many of our misconceptions on gender – essentially that women are inferior to men – could be due to a (deliberate?) misinterpretation. In the turbulent years of the French Revolution, French women asked that Les Droits de l’Homme (The Rights of Man, I Diritti dell’Uomo – which we Maltese naturally translate as Il-Jeddijiet tal-Bniedem not as Il-Jeddijiet tar-Raġel) be extended to the female sex. This was – incredibly enough – denied to them because the rights were understood in a literal fashion, as the rights of men!

This limitation required a number of corrections, including gender quotas.

One particular 20th-century philosopher argued that our language is our limitation. In this case, the English language (but also French, Italian and Latin) served as a limitation, because of the double meaning of ‘man’ as both ‘male’ and ‘human being’.

In the case of Maltese, there is no such limitation. When we say ‘bniedem’, we know that it refers to ‘humanity’, not ‘the male’. We know because the sense is alive in the word ‘bniedem’, which we have inherited from our ancestors. We feel that sense because we are native speakers. All words carry within the germ that beget them. This hidden life of the word found its natural expression in the vote of the electorate last week when, voting for its six representatives, it chose three women and three men.

Was it a matter of chance? I think not. But let’s see what happens in five years’ time. In the meantime, the evidence we have so far indicates that there is no need for gender quotas. Let the will of the people be freely expressed, and that freedom will rake in huge profits in terms of equality.


My Personal Library (52)

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) is mostly known for his The Prince, first distributed in 1513, but published in 1532. Machiavelli’s principal aim when writing this book was to exhort a prince to unite Italy – at the time a territory divided into several states and statelets, some of them under foreign domination. He looked to Lorenzo the Magnificent, of the de Medici family, to be the leader who could unite Italy.

In The Prince, Machiavelli discusses whether a Prince should be generous or parsimonious, cruel or merciful, in what way he should keep his word, how he should avoid contempt and hatred and similar topics. I might one day write an analysis of Joseph Muscat’s government from a Machiavelli (not Machiavellian) point of view.

If you have seen the mafia movie A Bronx Tale (1993), you might remember the scene in which Italo-American mobster Sonny LoSpecchio lectures his young protégé Calogero (originally named Lorenzo ... for The Magnificent?) Anello about Machiavelli.

Lorenzo: What do you read?

Sonny: You know... things... you know. I read philosophy.

Lorenzo: Philosophy? You read Philosophy? Come on, Sonny.

Sonny: Sure. You ever hear of Machiavelli?

Lorenzo: Who?

Sonny: Nick Machiavelli, believe me, this man had it together. If he was around today, he would be my Consiglieri.

Lorenzo: So what about this guy Machiavelli?

Sonny: Availability, that’s what he always said.

Lorenzo: What do you mean?

Sonny: I could live anywhere I want to. You know why I live in this neighbourhood? Availability. I want to stay close to everything. Being on the spot you can see trouble start and deal with it immediately. Trouble is like a cancer. It’s easy to cure when it’s small, but if you wait too long, it grows and then it kills you. So you gotta cut it out early. Availability. That’s what it comes down to. The people in this neighbourhood, that see me every day that are on my side – they feel safe and that gives them more reason to love me. But the people that want to do otherwise, they think twice, because they know I’m close. And it gives them more reason to fear me.

Lorenzo: Is it better to be loved or feared, Sonny?

Sonny: It’s nice to be both, but it’s very difficult. But if I had my choice, I would rather be feared because fear lasts longer than love. Friendships that are bought with money mean nothing. You see how it is around here, I make a joke and everybody laughs. I know I’m funny... but I’m not that funny. It’s fear that keeps them loyal to me. But the trick is, not to be hated. That’s why I treat my men well. But not too well. I give them too much, then they don’t need me. I give them just enough where they need me but they don’t hate me.

In the following scene – one of American cinema’s most iconic – a group of Germanic-looking Hell’s Angels bikers walk into the mafia-owned bar and obnoxiously misbehave and roughhouse. Irked, Sonny and his Italo-American mobsters then beat the living daylights out of the bikers and kick them out of the neighbourhood: the realisation of Machiavelli’s dream – the Italians driving the Germanic invader out of Italy.

Legend has it that Mussolini kept a copy of The Prince on his bedside table for bedtime reading.


  • don't miss