La Fontaine wrote his fables in the spirit of political Averroism. Let's understand this.
Against religion and the clergy in medieval times, the materialists were isolated, as the new revolutionary class, the bourgeoisie, was still non existent or very weak. For this reason, materialism in Europe, which was called “Averroism”, transformed itself in political Averroism.
In fact, Averroes made the same attempt, formulating the “double truth” as a compromise: religion and science would be saying the “same” in a different manner, but science would be not public, the king being a sort of mediator.
With John Wycliffe in England and Jan Hus in Bohemia, materialism directly helped the monarchy in its struggle against both religion and the clergy. Materialism became a tool for the monarchy to justify its politics with practice, and not morality or religion.
It was the birth of the political sciences, and its major exponent in Europe is Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 -1527), and his famous work “The Prince”.
Nevertheless, when we look at history, we can find the same phenomenon in any situation with the same characteristics.
For this reason, we find in India the major work called “Arthashastra”, the “Art of wealth”, written by a mysterious “Kautilya”, who was in fact Chāṇakya (c. 350–283 BC), the great minister and strategist of Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of Mauryan Empire whose grandson was Ashoka.
We also find, much later but still in India, Ziauddin Barani (1285–1357) and his Fatwa-i-Jahandari, “Rulings on Temporal Government”. This book was written when Barani was already in disgrace, and it had no impact in the history of India, but it is a good example of political Averroism and its failure in the Islamic countries, because of the strength of the clergy.
And in our country, at the time of the construction of absolute monarchy, we find chief ministers who were also cardinals: the Italian Giulio Mazzarino, known as Jules Mazarin, and Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu.
Richelieu was like Chāṇakya : the damned soul of the state, and we can also find a valuable work in this field: his Political Testament.
Kautilya, Barani, Machiavelli, Mazarin and Richelieu had only one goal: to understand and explain what a state was and how it could exist as such.
When they write about the “Prince”, the “King”, etc., they deal in fact with the state, with the bourgeois state; it was Lenin, in “State and revolution”, who was going to explain precisely, at the beginning of the 20th century, what the socialist state is.
The socialist state is based on ideology, because it is bound to disappear with social classes, along with the construction of socialism and then communism. On the contrary, the bourgeois state, based primarily on absolute monarchy and then the bourgeoisie, is an administration which goal is to maintain things as they are, through policies and the army – i.e. in a national way.
As Chāṇakya formulated it, “an imperial structure requires two essentials – a well organized administration and the political loyalty of the subjects.”
Rejecting idealism, morality and religious interference, Kautilya (i.e. Chāṇakya), Barani, Machiavelli, Mazarin and Richelieu have theorized the state as a well-functioning administration, with one principle: efficiency.
This means, seen from the outside, cynicism and cruelty, and indeed it can be the case, as with the terrible siege of La Rochelle organized by Richelieu.
The state is what counts, the most valuable thing is the “raison d’État”, the “national interest”.
Therefore, as Richelieu explained: “Secrecy is the first essential in affairs of state”, “Cunning may be employed to deceive a rival, anything is permitted against our enemies”.
In the Indian Arthashastra, we find numerous explanations of how to manage the state, to organize the administration, to satisfy the masses to avoid troubles, the use of spies and of murder being therefore acceptable.
Chāṇakya also explains in great detail the importance of spying, and even of killing. As he says:
“The administrator should station secret agents in the country appearing as holy ascetics, wandering monks, cart-drivers, wandering minstrels, jugglers, tramps, fortune-tellers, soothsayers, astrologers, physicians, lunatics, dumb persons, deaf persons, vintners, dealers in bread, dealers in cooked meat, and dealers in cooked rice.”
Barani tells us in the same “technical” way: “Now determination (azm) or resolution (qasd) may be for good or evil, for welfare or disruption, for religious affairs or wordly affairs, and the result of it may be beneficial or harmful.
Also the resolution may appertain to things possible or impossible, to difficult enterprises or easy matters, it may bring prosperity or ruin, good reputation or bad reputation, profit or loss.
In other words will, in the abstract form, has no moral value, but when in actual operation, it may be good or bad.”
And of course “The Prince” had a powerful impact. Published in 1532, it was forbidden by the Vatican in 1559, but had by then already been republished fifteen times. And if its circulation was in this way stopped in the Catholic countries, it was not the case in France, where politics became a new field of study under Francis Ist, paving the way for Louis XIVth.