The first point which needs to be clearly
understood is that there is nothing like ‘the best
constitution’ for all countries and for all times (not
true; the basic structure of democracy is universal (see
preamble) —- People First).
Forms of government must be shaped according to past traditions
and present circumstances. ‘That constitution is best which at
any given moment, in any particular country, most effectively
contributes to the end for which all governments exist.’1
Aristotle was, perhaps, the first thinker to emphasise this
standpoint. The state existed to enable the individual to
realise the highest life of which he is capable, and ‘those
may be expected to lead the best life who are governed in the
best manner of which their circumstances admit.’2
We must, therefore, judge the state not by some standard of
values peculiar to and distinctive of the state, but by ‘the
standard of the quality of the lives lived by its citizen’3.
While the ends of various types of states may be fundamentally
identical, their forms are bound to be dissimilar in accordance
with local environments.
2.1 The End of the State
But what is the end of the state? This question is, indeed,
pivot on which political thought has been continuously revolving
from ancient times to this day. Plato regarded the state as a
macrocosm in which the individual could find his proper place
and perform the duties for which he was best fitted. Aristotle
believed that the purpose of the state was mainly ethical; it
was ‘a community of equals, aiming at the best life possible.’
According to Hobbes, the purpose of the State was to maintain
order and protect the right of property. To Locke, the end of
Government was the preservation of ‘lives, liberties and
estates.’ Rousseau regarded the state as a ‘social contract’
to fulfil the ‘general will.’ Hegel revived the Greek theory
that the state was the greatest reality. " The existence of
the state," wrote Hegal, "is the movement of God in
the world." "It is the absolute power on earth; it is
its own end and object.’ Bentham maintained that the State
existed to secure’ the greatest good of the greatest number.
To Herbert Spencer, the state was ‘a joint-stock protection
company for mutual assurance.’ John Stuart Mill passionately
advocated the liberty of the individual as the sacred duty of
the state. Marx expected the state to ‘wither away’ after
establishing a ‘classless society.’ In our own times, Prof
Laski regards the state as a fellowship of men aiming at the
enrichment of the common life1. To Bernard Shaw, the aim of a
state ought to be the greatest available welfare for the whole
population and not for a class.’ Wells pleads for
establishment of a world state, in which the freedom, health and
happiness of every individual are protected by a universal law
based on a re-statement of the rights of man.
Indian political thought is contained mainly in the two epic
Rasmayana and Mahabharata,
the Manusmriti, Kautilya’s Artha-Sastra, and Shukracharya’s
Nitisara. The Ramayana describes the ideal kingdom of Rama in
which people were happy, peaceful and prosperous. In Shanti
Parva of the Mahabharata, Bhishma enumerates the duties of a
kingdom, the chief end of the state being the ‘protection’
of the citizens so that they may lead a happy, righteous and
harmonious life, following their respective dharmas or duties.
Kautilya also emphasises the basic principle that the happiness
and welfare of the people are primary duties of the king or the
state. ‘In the happiness of his subjects lies his happiness;
in their welfare his welfare’1.
In Shukraniti, the king is primarily ‘the protector and
benefactor’ of his subjects; he has to discipline the lives of
the citizens in such a manner that each follows his own vocation
according to his dharma without encroaching upon the spheres of
2.2 Totalitarian State v/s
If we carefully study and
analyse all these European and Indian political theories
regarding the end and function of the State, we shall discern
two distinct streams of thought. One set of thinkers attach
importance to the state, and subordinate the freedom of the
individual to the power of the state. They glorify and deify the
state at the cost of the individual. To them the end of the
state is the discipline of its citizens by making them mere cogs
of a powerful political machine. This stream of thought leads to
dictatorship, autocracy or totalitarianism. The other set of
political thinkers regard man as ‘the measure of all things’.
To them, the freedom and development of the individual is of
supreme moment. The function of the state, according to them, is
to safeguard the rights of the individual. They respect man as
an end and not as a means. Count Coudenhove Kalergi, in his ‘Totalitarian
State against Man’ classifies these two schools of political
thought as ‘the Spartan ideal of totalitarian State’ and ‘the
Athenian ideal of totalitarian Man’. In Sparta, man lived for
the sake of the state; in Athens, state lived for the sake of
man. These two political ideologies have also been described as
collectivism and individualism. Truth lies in the happy fusion
of these two streams.
The end or function of the state ought to be a harmonious
adjustment of the interests of the individual and the state. To
use a different phraseology, our aim should be poise between
liberty and authority. The State should facilitate, promote and
strengthen mutual accommodation of individual and group welfare.
The individual should perform his duty towards the State and the
State should safeguard the rights of the individual and enable
him to develop his personality to the fullest possible extent.
Prof. Tawney expresses the same idea in terms of the ‘Functional
Society,’ that is, a society in which rights are contingent on
functions or social service1.
In other words, individual rights and freedom ought to be
relative and conditional; they cannot be supreme and absolute.
The all-powerful state reduces the individuals to mere ciphers.
Moreover, such totalitarian states, whether fascist or
socialist, are ultimately controlled by one or a few ’supermen’
who rule over the destinies of millions. But man, in order to
survive must get rid of such supermen, however noble and high
intentioned they may be. ‘There is no hope for civilisation in
Government by idolised single individuals’2.
The spectacular rise and fall
of Hitler and Mussolini are glowing proof of the futility of
arrogant dictatorships. Whether Hitler is dead or still alive,
the fact remains that he has been reduced to a myth and a fable.
2.3 Russian Democracy
Russia has evolved
another type of government that is generally termed as ‘the
dictatorship of the proletariat.’ The end of the Marxian State
is a classless and democratic society. But such a society is
sought to be achieved through the ruthless regimentation of the
masses with the hope that ultimately the state would disappear.
But as Prof Aldous Huxley remarks, "such a highly
centralised dictatorial state may be smashed by war or
overturned by revolution from below; there is not the smallest
reason to suppose that it will ‘wither away"3.
John Gunther fears:
"Russia may become a dictatorship not of but over
Prof. Joad in his ‘Guide to the Philosophy of Morals and
of history suggests that dictatorships from their very nature
become, as they grow older, not less, but more extreme; not
less but more sensitive to and impatient of criticism.
Developments in the contemporary world support this view. Yet
the theory of communism postulates precisely the reverse of
what history teaches, and maintains that at a given moment a
dictatorial government will be willing to reverse the engines,
to relinquish power, and, having denied liberty, to concede
it. Neither history nor psychology affords any warrant for
Prof. Ginsberg, in his ‘Psychology of
Society.’ points out how ‘any centralised form of government
is bound to be oligarchic in tendency.’ Acharya Vinoba Bhave
holds the same view because centralisation, whether capitalist
or socialist, involves violence, suppression and militraism.1
2.4 Case for Democracy
The only alternatives,
therefore, before the world is democracy. It stands, or, at any
rate, ought to stand for the unfolding of human personality
within a properly organised government. While it grants freedom
to individuals, it constantly reminds them that along with the
exercise of their legitimate rights they have also to discharge
certain duties towards the state or society. Lincoln defined
democracy as ’government of the people, by the people, for the
Although this Gettysburg motto has been reduced to a hackneyed
phrase, it is much more significant than what we usually
believe. As Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt points out, the basis of
democracy is moral and religious; it implies brotherhood and
deep regard for one another so that "our own success, to be
real, must contribute to the success of others".
Plato did not favour a democratic constitution because it tended
to be controlled by a class of ‘idle and dissolute men’5.
That is why he preferred ‘the enlightened despotism of the
philosopher king’ to democracy. Rousseau held that perfect
democracy was not for man. ‘Were there a people of gods, their
government would be democratic’3.
De Tocqueville concluded that democracy led to a dead level of
mediocrity. Sir Henry Maine was afraid that popular government
would ‘inaugurate an era of stagnation.’ Lacky regarded
democracy as too meddlesome and antithetical to liberty.
Bismarck scoffed at democracy as ‘blubbering sentimentality.’
The well-known French writer, Faquet, described democracy as ‘the
cult of incompetence.’ To Nietzsche, democracy was ‘a
degenerating form of political organisation.’ Voltaire was
against democracy because he compared the people to oxen ‘which
need a yoke, a goad and hay’. In our own times, Bernard Shaw
regards Lincoln’s definition of democracy as ‘romantic
nonsense.’ "The people," writes Shaw, "have
obstructed government often enough; they have revolted; but they
have never really governed."
Yet the truth remains that democracy is the only type of
government which can harmonise the interests of the individual
and the state. Although, as I said in the beginning, it is not
possible to lay down any one type of constitution as ‘the best’
for all countries and for all times, it must be conceded that
democracy alone provides the best milieu or environment for the
promotion of ‘good life.’ "The admission on equal terms
of the largest possible number of members of a community to
share in its government on equal terms best promotes the
satisfaction of all the members as individuals, and also the
welfare of the community as a whole," observes Lord Bryce1.
Moreover, as Prof. Lennard remarks, "democracy is more that
a form of government; it is a social ideal, and the difficulty
of the ideal is commensurate with its nobility."2
Democracy is of immense value because it respects man.
"The magic of political democracy", says Mrs Webb,
"lies in its enlargement of human personality"3.
From the standpoint of national morality, points out John Stuart
Mill, "the supreme merit of democracy lies in the fact that
it promotes a better and higher form of national character than
any other polity whatever". From the educational point of
view, democracy is to be preferred because, as Prof. Burns
declares, ‘the best education is self-education’. Democracy
taps the sources of political talent that lie beyond the purview
of other systems of government.
It must be admitted, however, that democracy, like many other
good things of life, covers a multitude of sins. It is, at
present, plagued with numerous evils and shortcomings. Democracy
is, veritably, on trial; it is at the crossroads. Let us examine
in greater details the implications of this crisis in democracy.