On May 8, 2017, Faculty of Law, University of Dhaka organized an Open Discussion Program on ‘Niccolo Machiavelli on State and Civil Society’. It was the inaugural edition of ‘Law Faculty Open Discussion’ conducted by Faculty of Law, University of Dhaka. The program was inaugurated by Professor Dr. Nasrin Ahmed, Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Dhaka while Professor Dr. Rahmat Ullah, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Dhaka chaired the program. The keynote speaker was Dr. Salimullah Khan, Professor of General Education at the University of Liberal Arts. More than hundred participants ranging from faculty members from different universities, university students and young professionals attended the discussion program.
In her inaugural speech, Dr. Nasrin Ahmed lauded the efforts of Law Faculty for taking the initiative to host such an event. She reiterated that an educated person should be enlightened with knowledge from multiple disciplines; be it law, politics, philosophy or science. She urged the organizers to host more such discussion forums in the future.
Dr. Rahmat Ullah then addressed the participants saying that an interdisciplinary approach was indeed required to share and complement the vast knowledge of the world. He also remarked that law was nothing unrelated to the society and thus, law students being social engineers, needed to expose themselves more to the field of social science.
The moderator of the event, Syed Masud Reza, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Dhaka said that Dr. Salimullah Khan was someone regarding whom the law faculty always felt proud of. He stated that although the discussion was mostly related to students studying law, it would also help students from other disciplines.
Afterwards, Dr. Salimullah Khan delivered his speech on the topic ‘Niccolo Machiavelli on State and Civil Society’. At the onset, Dr. Khan claimed that what has been spread regarding Niccolo Machiavelli in the last 500 years was absolutely false and that one needed to delve into Machiavelli’s books to understand him properly. He stated that his discussion would largely be based on Machiavelli’s treatise, The Prince and Anotnio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks.
In his elaborate discussion, Dr. Khan extensively dissected Machiavelli’s treatise starting from how Machiavelli’s words transformed the political landscape of Italy in the 16th century. He further stated that Machiavelli meant to educate the Italian mass on politics by publishing this treatise. As such, Dr. Khan believed that modern politics was born from this.
He remarked that Machiavelli was a multifarious genius whose vision, as Anotnio Gramsci understood, was a unified and independent Italy during the Renaissance era. He also claimed that Machiavelli was a democrat of the most radical type as he believed in rule ‘by’ the people, not ‘of’ or ‘for’ the people.
Dr. Khan talked about Machiavelli’s idea of secularism and his intention of separating the state from society and religion. While drawing similarities between Machiavelli’s protagonist, Prince and Marx’s Manifesto, he observed that both sought “popular” revolutions. However, he said that in one case it had to be “national” whereas in the other, it had to be rather “beyond national” or international, because of the class question taking precedence in the second case. He thus concluded that if Machiavelli could be the Marx of the 16th century, then Marx could also be called the Machiavelli of the 19th century.
He feared for such a time when people devoid of knowledge and in abundance of emotion would start trusting a condottiere i.e. one who conducts, and cited the example of the Italian dictator, Mussolini’s reign. Towards the end, Dr. Khan stressed emphasized that to develop political consciousness, citizens should remain active and not become subaltern. He lamented over the fact that Muslims nowadays are subalterns in the UN and thus, unable to seek recourse for violation of their rights.
Law Faculty intends to host more such forums in the near future to build a society based on rule of law and equality from the multidisciplinary knowledge gathered from these discussions.