Chapter 2

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Basic Principles


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 others.

2.2 Totalitarian State v/s Totalitarian Man
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 service
1. 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 the proletariat"4. Prof. Joad in his ‘Guide to the Philosophy of Morals and Polities,’ observes:

"The study 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 this conclusion."

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 people.’
 
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.

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