I have noticed that Indians of a liberal persuasion often refer to the demise of the Swatantra Party in nostalgic terms; if only that experiment had succeeded. I was one of them. Not any more. I have previously referred to the party’s ideological inconsistency. After flipping through Piloo Mody’s book on democracy, and reading a few articles by the people behind the experiment, I believe that the demise was a good thing.
The driving force behind the party was not a commitment to laissez-faire capitalism, but anti-Congressism; Nehru loved the Soviet Union so much that he wanted his own version of that hell hole in India. All such efforts which depend on compromise, sooner or later, will fail.
Consider what Masani writes–
The philosophy of the new party, put in a nutshell, is that it has faith in the people’s capacity to serve the country by serving themselves. The slogan under which Dr. Ludwig Erhard has accomplished the magnificent postwar recovery of West Germany, “Let the men and the money loose and they will make the country strong,” strikes a responsive chord with the Swatantra party’s members. The new party’s members do not believe that a collectivized economy can coexist for long with political democracy. One or the other must give way. Some measure of State enterprise and regulation in the economic field the party accepts as inevitable in the conditions of the 20th Century. But, when government regulation steps across a certain limit, it threatens the purpose for which it is invoked. The new party stands for the “defence of farm and Family.” It rejects materialism and recalls the stress which Gandhi laid on moral values. It rejects the false dichotomy of bread versus freedom. In its view, bread can be achieved only with and through freedom. Abraham Lincoln’s adage that the legitimate object of government is ‘to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they cannot, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves,’ was quoted in one of the key-note speeches at the Bombay founding convention because it has relevance to the problems of India a century after Lincoln’s time.
Perhaps, the best parallel to the character of the Swatantra Party in Western countries is that provided by such as the Smallholders’ Party in Hungary. In the field of agriculture, the paramount need for increased food production is stressed, and it is felt that this is best attained through the self-employed peasant proprietor who is interested in obtaining the highest yields from his land. The peasant farmer should be given all psychological and material inducements for greater production without disturbing the harmony of rural life and without affecting ov/ownership or management. Among such incentives would be a fair and stable price, the provision of credit and the supply of water, tools, seeds and fertilizer.
In the field of industry, the Swatantra Party believes in the incentives for higher production and expansion that are inherent in competitive enterprise, with necessary safeguards against monopoly. The party would restrict State enterprise to the field of heavy industries, where essential, in order to supplement the notable achievements of such private enterprises as, for example, the giant Tata Iron & Steel Company in Jamshedpur, and such national services as the railways. The party has declared itself to be in favour of a balanced development of capital goods industries, organized consumer goods industries and rural industries that afford supplementary employment to the large number of unemployed and under-employed people on the land. The party is opposed to the State entering the field of trade. It believes in free choice for the investor, the producer and the consumer.
What is the Swatantra Party’s economic programme?-they ask. It is laissez faire, says a Congress spokesman. The man who says so has not read our fundamental principles or does not know what laissez faire means.
The Swatantra Party’s policy is based on the Gandhian dictum that ‘all administration should be done by popular will; everything should go from bottom upwards. Democracy will break under the strain of apron strings; it can exist only on trust.’
The cardinal problem of India to which the Swatantra Party has addressed itself is how to meet the basic needs of the people to make their lives worth living.
We stand for an economic programme for the common man to secure him social justice and equality of opportunity; to fulfil the basic needs of the people, viz., food, water, housing and clothing, as the first charge on the State; and to provide adequate safeguards for the protection of labour and against unreasonable profits, prices and dividends.
The aim of the Swatantra Party, therefore, is clear: it wants to restore free democracy and real parliamentary control to the people ; to meet, as the first charge, the elementary needs of the common people, viz. food, water, housing and clothing at easy prices ; to stimulate private initiative to create employment opportunities; to destroy the weedy growth of corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy ; to place the security of India beyond the grasp of ambitious World Powers, so that we can stand fearless before the world.
It may be that there are a large number of people in our ancient land who have now lost the capacity to respond to moral appeals, who are impervious to the call of dharma. There have been causes that have brought about this state of things. But this large number of bad and successful men of the world should not blind us to the fact that in the large mass, dharma still rules and supports our society. The millions that make up our nation are still moved and guided by their sense of dharma and the voice of their conscience. If the cynics who deny this were right, our society would have broken down long ago and perished. We should have been hearing of starvation deaths in thousands every day. If we take a survey of the numerous charitable foundations and trusts that work as a matter of routine in the country and which were born of a sense of dharma, without any kind of State compulsion, we can cure our cynicism with irrefutable and abundant facts. The charitable motives and compulsions of the heart which prevailed in the days when these trusts and charitable institutions were founded can prevail today, for we are the same people after all.
“There is no need for charity when there is an obligation; let the State compel”. This is the slogan of the Socialists. But it is forgotten that this will lead irresistibly to total serfdom.
The cynics are not right. Our society is still maintained by the inner law. The outer laws can touch but the fringe of life. They deal with criminals and keep order going. Normal life does not depend on the laws. It depends on the moral consciousness of people. This moral sense has not been effaced whatever changes may have taken place in the rituals and observances of forms. It is by dharma that society is sustained, Lokah dhriyate. It is on dharma we must build, and not on the sands of material motives and our capacity to satisfy them quickly and get votes to be in power. The good seed is not lost. It is still there. We must not ignore its availability. The soil also is good and God will send us the rains. Let us not fail to look after it.
As for Mody, his writing is highly uneven. Sometimes he is very intelligible. At other times, one wonders what possessed that man. The most interesting bit is the chapter on societies where he writes about Marx and Hegel.
Unfortunately, Greek civilisation, except during a very small period, never did enjoy the fruits of democracy, because social upheavals brought forward a strong reaction and a yearning to return to the joy, comfort and security of tribal society which found its climax in Plato. In this context it is worth bearing in mind that no rebellious individual wanted to break up tribal society; the development was simply a natural outcome of growth. It must here be emphasised that change grows out of need, but there is no certainty that the change will satisfy the need—which explains why some of the Greeks hankered after the “good old days”. As a matter of fact, history tells us that every change goes through its traumatic period, creating further problems not initially expected or anticipated, till by a process of trial and error, the change adjusts itself to the new situation and becomes the conventional wisdom of that age-till it is challenged in its turn.
The dynamics of growth is something for which human experience is unprepared, quite naturally, since growth is a factor of the future, just as experience is of the past. The growth of ideas, the growth of population, the growth of aspirations or consumption needs, the growth of trade, growth in the understanding of nature and science and thus of knowledge, the growth of technology, the growth of cults or religions—all invariably bring tensions in their wake resulting in change. The human capacity for vision, reasoning and projection may to some extent anticipate and predict the results of growth, but when growth has been phenomenal, it has usually found civilisation with its pants down. We have already mentioned how the advent of the industrial revolution found feudal society completely unprepared, resulting in a Marxist reaction instead of a capitalist solution within the framework of emerging democratic values. And the same reaction was produced by Hegel, Marx‘s mentor, against the onslaught of ideas released by the French Revolution. In the same class was the reaction of the Gnostics to the onslaught of Christianity.
Something similar took place in ancient Greece when the population explosion, coupled with the rapid development of trade and commerce due to the new progress in seafaring, gave birth both to the ideas of democracy and the evils of imperialism, resulted in the authoritarian reaction of Plato instead of the humanitarian reasoning of Socrates, and plunged the world for two thousand years and more into strife and struggle from tribal society to universalism and back, from city states to empires and back, from the dark ages through the Reformation and Renaissance and back, from democracy to totalitarian despotism and back, through the expansion of knowledge and reason to the closed mind and back, from morality to atheism and back-with the process continuing … And so the struggle goes on …
In the wake of imperialism, the tribal concept of a closed society, its narrow “nationalism”, and the theory of racial exclusiveness or superiority vanished, or at any rate was considerably diluted. All empires from earliest times were heterogeneous, enlarging and engulfing new tribes and cultures, bringing economic exploitation, admittedly, but also introducing the concept of universalism, of the brotherhood of man. All the way up to the end of the eighteenth century, nationalism as a concept, or even a working idea, hardly existed. It had died with Plato and Aristotle, although tribal affinity and its attractions lingered, particularly in determining the treatment to be meted out to other tribes.
Along with imperialism, or perhaps even as a result of it, a spiritual revolution, spearheaded by Christianity, was spreading throughout the world. This not only ignored physical frontiers of “territories” and continents, but also cut through class barriers, convening all sections of the population and strengthening the already developing yearning for equality.
There seemed to be no logical base for nationalism as we know it today—”the sovereign self-determination of a political state residing within a territorial boundary”, as Woodrow Wilson put it.
Justification for nationalism could be found on the basis of religion, birth within a region, loyalty to a leader or dynasty, language, or even a political creed, ideology or system, But nationalism based merely on the number of people enclosed in an administrative area—the concept of nationalism currently popular—lacks a certain logic. It is no wonder that the modern state, almost all over the world, is faced with the problem of searching for a national ethos, and that trouble, dissatisfaction and even a yearning for secession is afflicting a number of countries, creating uneasy tensions and endangering peace.
Most of what has been said can be found in Popper’s brilliant analysis of the subject, which also tells how Hegel, Friedrich Wilhelm’s court philosopher, was called upon to justify the absolute Prussian monarchy in defence against the democratic movements unleashed by the American and French Revolutions. Hegel, the mentor of Marx, had no contemporary answers to hand; he had to go back, all the way to Plato and Aristotle, to find the totalitarian doctrine to justify absolute monarchy, the modern concept of nationalism, and the supremacy of the State over the individual.
To those of us familiar with the modern concept of nationalism and acquainted with the modern theory of the State, it might be a refreshing shock to go back to the debates held at the time of the framing of the American Constitution to find arguments raging about whether a State federating with the Union should have the absolute right to secede or not. To most of us today the very idea might amount to sedition—yet here were the Founding Fathers of Democracy willing to discuss, quite openly, the virtues or disadvantages of secession! And, believe it or not, no less a person than the ideologue of American Democracy, Thomas Jefferson, was its principal proponent!
For two thousand years after Plato‘s advocacy of a return to a constricted ‘national’ City State, nationalism as a political force remained dormant, if it existed at all; it emerged in Prussia only after the Napoleonic wars, requiring, it would appear, a philosophy of existence, which Hegel was asked to provide.
Hegel’s dilemma reminds me of many scientists in authoritarian states who feel they have to doctor their research to arrive at predetermined conclusions officially held. I may sympathise with the scientist, at least for his lack of options if not for his compliance, but I find it impossible to do so with Hegel, particularly as we have enough evidence from Schopenhauer and others, who not only scoffed at Hegel’s philosophy, referring to it as “charlatanry”, but had the opportunity and the courage to defy the official Germanic line.
The tragedy of Hegel is that he inundated reason with words and won. Through his university he spread the doctrine and trained a generation of philosophers who venerated him. As Schopenhauer said: “He (Hegel) exerted, not only on philosophy alone, but on all forms of German literature, a devastating, or more strictly speaking, a stupefying, one could also say. a pestiferous influence, To combat this influence forcefully and on every occasion is the duty of everyone who is able to judge independently. For if we are silent, who will speak?”
Karl Marx was one of Hegel`s victims, Even Lenin felt that it was necessary to read Hegel to understand Marx. Hegel thus became the father of Absolutist Monarchy. Fascism and Marxism-all at the same time—a remarkable philosophical achievement! His verbiage is so extensive that there is no argument, or established theory or principle that he did not use, changing definitions freely to suit his arguments and to arrive at his predetermined conclusion. Hegel was a champion of freedom, a great humanitarian, a firm believer in equality and fraternity; only he felt that all this had to be enjoyed by the State and not by individual human beings, except where it served the State. And the State, according to Hegel, consisted of who made the decisions. And who else should be fit to do that except the great leader, his master and King, Frederick William!
It is an old principle developed by Critias, widely used by Plato and many others and made the anchor of Hegel‘s verbiage, “to take advantage of sentiments. not wasting one’s energies in futile efforts to destroy them”. In more modem terminology, “if you can`t fight ’em, join ’em”—”without losing sight of your goal”—can be usefully added. Genuine, sincere, humanitarian individualists have been deceived by these methods on the premise that “how can he be so wrong if he is capable of such noble sentiments?” This is precisely the process by which Plato`s ‘justice‘, medieval authoritarianism, Christendom’s ‘humanitarianism’, Rousseau’s ‘general will’ and Hegel’s ‘freedom‘ gained currency. The devastating effect of such subterfuge on innocent well-meaning humanitarians led Kant to exclaim “may God protect us from our friends. From our enemies, we can try to protect ourselves.”
Succumbing to tyranny, going along with it, or even mere tolerance of it on the grounds that it may produce economic progress, discipline, national integration or material benefits, is extremely harmful, even to the Hegelian super-state because it must eventually destroy the very foundations of society. Mutual trust is displaced by universal distrust; courage is displaced by fear of every other person, including family members; altruism is displaced by selfishness; truth gives way to lies in order to save one`s ever endangered honour, interest or even life; frankness gives way to sycophancy, and love is displaced by hate. Tyranny makes everyone sub-human and no such society can last, no matter how strong the tentacles of state power or the machinery of government.
To quote Desmond Morris from The Human Zoo: “It is only a partial truth to say that power corrupts, Extreme subjugation can corrupt equally effectively. When the bio-social pendulum sways away from active cooperation towards tyranny, the whole society becomes corrupt. It may make great material strides. It may shift 4,883,000 tons of stone to build a pyramid; but with its deformed social structure its days are numbered. You can dominate just so much, just so long, just so many, but even within the hot house atmosphere of a super tribe there is a limit. If when that limit is reached, the bio-social pendulum tilts gently back to its balanced mid·point, then society can count itself lucky. If, as is more likely, it swings back and forth, the blood will flow on a scale our primitive hunting ancestors would never have dreamt of.”
But then he also has gems like-
When an atheist wishes to attack religion, he starts by attacking God. Similarly, when totalitarians wish to destroy democracy, they start with fundamental rights.
and (from the excerpt above)-
…through the expansion of knowledge and reason to the closed mind and back, from morality to atheism and back…
…altruism is displaced by selfishness; truth gives way to lies…
from which I can only conclude that he believed that atheists were immoral, closed-minded totalitarians and that altruism has some merit on its own account, just like truth.
He also writes-
Just as any other right can be abused, the right to property can also be, and has been, and continues to be abused. Modern democratic society has coped with this problem through a graduated income tax, wealth, inheritance, gift and luxury taxes, ceilings on property, land tax, property tax, municipal taxes and a host of other devices.
There is a fundamental difference between those who enjoy power acquired through wealth and those who consider power to be their wealth; because the former is earned through work and production, and the latter acquired by force, without any commensurate effort or compensating virtue.
Let me make it plain. I am not talking about inherited wealth (beyond a small functional element), against which I have very serious objections…
He goes on to explain why he fails to understand what is so sacrosanct about national boundaries, and then based on some strange “practical” logic, advocates a national polity with a two-party electoral system. All other parties will be legally barred from contesting. All in all, a gigantic philosophical mess. And he was one of the founders of the Party.
Liberalism, call it classical liberalism if you don’t want to be included among “progressive” kooks, has always had an altruistic side to it. Altruism is a philosophical position which says that self-sacrifice is a virtue. Not only that, self-sacrifice is a “duty.” All religions subscribe to that view. And nearly all political systems do too. I know of two philosophers who wrote against such a view. One was Nietzsche. The other was Rand. If self-interest is immoral, why subscribe to capitalism at all? Surely Gandhian socialism is a better political system. Its non-violent, “moral”, redistributive (voluntarily, of course), liberal, humanitarian, egalitarian etc etc etc. Why claim to be capitalists (but not laissez-faire, free market capitalists, that’s too extreme a position to take), and then aim for a socialistic polity. The gap between the Swatantra Party and the Congress seems to be similar to that between the Congress and the Communists. Every one is intent on being part of “soup kitchen” politics, satisfying “basic needs,” seeing to it that people are not exploited by those who make “unreasonable” profits and so on. If that’s liberalism, then there is no point being a liberal and thumping one’s chest about how different one is compared to the Congress. In that case its not “faux” at all, and no individualist would accept the tag.
It’s Gandhi’s (and Shastri’s too) birth anniversary and every one is busy lying through their teeth about how the Mahatma is relevant to this day, and how Gandhian economics is a great idea. There is the odd (well deserved) Gandhi bashing too. If one must learn something from Gandhi, its his deep suspicion of the State. Mody is not all bad. He does have this Gandhi quote in the book-
I look upon an increase in the power of the State with the greatest fear, because, though apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the root of all progress.