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Recommended reading

A painstaking work of research and analysis in the fields of history, philosophy, and political science

Recommended reading

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, left-leaning activists and intellectuals in Pakistan opted for divergent rout. Some, for instance Prof Jamal Naqvi of Karachi, regretted and repented that their lives had been wasted in search of an unrealistic ideal. Others, such as Jam Saqi, joined political parties such as the Pakistan People’s Party. But still there were a couple of dedicated and diligent thinkers who neither became despondent, nor did they deprecate their ideological orientation. Rather, they produced high-quality books on topics that were mostly neglected in the country. Ahmed Salim, Ashfaque Saleem Mirza, and Dr Mubarak Ali fall in the latter category.

Mirza has eight books to his credit, on subjects ranging from ancient Greek drama and essentials of philosophy to poetry and political science. His latest book, the one under review, is a painstaking work of research and analysis in the fields of history, philosophy, and political science. Though the title of the book claims to start with Niccolo Machiavelli, Mirza gives a comprehensive overview of the pre-Machiavellian streams of thought in the first chapter. He begins his discussion by explaining how approximately 2,000 years ago Platonic and Aristotelian thoughts influenced early Christianity.

Mirza discusses Saint Augustine’s treatise The City of God and its amalgamation of Christian teachings with Greek logic. Saint Thomas Aquinas is the next stepping stone in this journey of ethical and political escapades. With this background we are ushered into the world of the Italian Renaissance. This period of intellectual upheavals has not yet attracted the attention of writers in Urdu, and Mirza has done intellectual justice to this era by highlighting the economic, political, and social factors contributing to the Renaissance. The two centuries preceding Machiavelli were arguably the most exciting centuries of the second millennium in terms of transition from the dark ages to the Age of Enlightenment.

This book should be recommended reading for students of political science in Pakistani colleges and universities. There is a dearth of serious political science books in Urdu, and Mirza has begun to fill the vacuum with his laborious work.

The changes the Renaissance brought to the thinking patterns of the European intelligentsia were to influence the centuries to come. Machiavelli was a product of this transition but, as Mirza points out, he has been dealt with unfairly by political scientists who came after him. Mirza tries to restore Machiavelli to the position he deserves in the annals of political history. Mirza’s arguments are replete with references to Machiavelli’s works in addition to his most celebrated — or rather maligned — The Prince. Jean Bodin has been given less than 10 pages, but the treatment is compact and convincing.

The longest chapter is the third one, which is also the most interesting and pertinent to conditions in Pakistan. The chapter discusses the distinction between philosophy and religion by underscoring their diverse foci. The Reformation movements lashing the Christian world in those tumultuous times had shaken the core of the Christian world. Questions that never occurred to the clergy and the commons, suddenly sprang from thinkers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Mirza focuses on Tudor England to discuss the scientific methodology emerging from Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

Bacon was a true iconoclast, if not in religion then for sure in political and scientific thought. The 17th century brought in its wake a transformation not only in religious terms but also, as highlighted by Mirza, in agriculture and industrial domains. The divine rights of kings were being challenged and religion was being replaced with new education resulting in intelligent questions. The kings were losing their grip on power and representative bodies such as parliaments were claiming more political space. In this upheaval, writers such as Thomas Hobbes were presenting their own epistemology.

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They were questioning the nature and soundness of existing knowledge and wanted to use the crucible to test the veracity of each claim. Here, Mirza devotes a full 20 pages to John Locke, of which every word is well-deserved. Locke had written extensively about the natural state, the state of war, and the concepts of property and ownership. But perhaps his most important contribution was regarding political and civil societies. Mirza discusses at length the social contract propounded by Locke and explains the structure of an ethical state with reference to basic human rights.

The weakest chapter of the book is about 18th-century Europe, which just focuses on Jean-Jacques Rousseau. One would have expected a detailed treatment of Voltaire as well, but for some reason Mirza has been a bit reserved in his judgment of Voltaire. Though Rousseau has been given appropriate space in the book, the 18th century perhaps deserved more. Mirza attempted to compensate for this short shrift by explicating in the next chapter on Friedrich Hegel. Born in the latter half of the 18th century, Hegel was a giant philosopher who outsmarted most of his predecessors.

In Pakistan, there are not many who can claim to have read and understood Hegel. Mirza, though modest in his claims, is undoubtedly an expert on Hegel. In his conversations, Mirza is at ease while untangling the intricacies of Hegel’s formidable formulations. If you have tried to read Hegel, in any language, and feel him to be unsurmountable, do read this chapter on Hegel by Mirza. Though some of the terms in Urdu are at times difficult to digest, the overall impression of the chapter is easy to digest. Then Mirza moves on to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels with their predecessor Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72).

Chapter six summarises the component parts of Marxism by discussing the English classical political economy with Adam Smith and David Ricardo. The French utopian socialism covers Saint Simon, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen. The chapter closes with a discussion on the concepts of dialectical and historical materialisms with a critique on proletarian dictatorship. The last two chapters of the book discuss the thoughts and writings of Lenin and Antonio Gramsci within their appropriate historical milieu. The chapter on Lenin covers almost two centuries of the Russian history starting from Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great.

The last chapter on Gramsci contains many interesting ideas and knowledge that may not be known to ordinary leftists. Mirza brings alive the Italian society of the 19th century with its full economic and political strings. Gramsci’s political thoughts were at variance with those of mainstream Marxist-Leninist parties in the early 20th century but his contribution of original concepts and ideas has been duly discussed and explained by Mirza. Especially Gramsci’s classification of intellectuals offers hefty food for thought to those aspiring to be ‘intellectuals’. Mirza’s treatment of Gramsci’s Notes on Politics and Modern Prince is refreshing.

This book should be recommended reading for students of political science in Pakistani colleges and universities. There is a dearth of serious political science books in Urdu, and Mirza has begun to fill the vacuum with his laborious work. The ministries of education, the higher education commissions both at the federal and provincial levels, and the libraries of educational institutions should include this book in the next purchase list. One hopes that this book may see many editions, with improved proof reading.

Machiavelli sey Gramsci tak (From Machiavelli to Gramsci)
Author: Ashfaque Saleem Mirza
Publisher: Fiction House, 2017
Pages: 416
Price: Rs800

Dr Naazir Mahmood

Naazir Mahmood
The writer has been associated with the education sector since 1990 as teacher, teacher educator, project manager, monitor and evaluator.

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