Faux liberalism

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.

And Munshi

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.

And Rajaji

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.

and

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.

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Comments

  • Pramod Biligiri  On October 3, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks for an informative post.

  • blr_p  On October 8, 2009 at 1:39 am

    Mody seems to have an axe to grind over the emergency.

    Have you spoken to your elders regarding its effects ?

    I did and was told things had gotten to a complete standstill. Once emergency was declared it unclogged evrything and nobody had any excuses left and HAD to get on with it. From that pov emergency could be seen as a necessary evil at the time. Its not been used since so evidently it served its purpose.

    Now i’m sure we can argue over how bad it was and everything but tell me was there any alternative ?

    She could have not done it to begin with.

    So why’d she do it then ?

    • Aristotle The Geek  On October 9, 2009 at 12:09 am

      # “Have you spoken …”
      I did bring up the topic once or twice some years back when I was reading Rohinton Mistry’s novel on the subject. And the views I heard didn’t surprise me. One of them was something that I came across on numerous occasions later on – something on the lines of “the trains ran on time.” Another view was a non-view; they were so busy living their lives that they simply didn’t care enough about the subject; the Emergency left them untouched. I put this down to a) their political naiveté, b) the middle class mentality. A lot of people in the middle and upper middle classes did support Indira Gandhi’s policies. If she lost the elections, I don’t think it was because of them.

      # “Now i’m sure we can argue over how bad it was and everything but tell me was there any alternative ?”
      Alternative? She was PM of a country with a constitution that pays lip service to the “rule of law.” I don’t want to talk about nonsense like the court case against her, and will only say that nothing she ended up doing was surprising. The Emergency and its aftermath did show a few things to those people who were not blind, though-
      * There is a fascist undercurrent to the ideology of the Congress party.
      * The “opposition” is no better.
      * The Supreme Court of the country is not pro-freedom.

  • blr_p  On October 9, 2009 at 2:31 am

    Yep, very similar replies when i spoke to my elders as well. But then i’m a southerner so Congress might have had a stronger grip over my area than elsewhere.

    Why would the court cases be nonsense ?

    I was under the impression that it all blew up a cpl of weeks after the Allahabad court ruled she was guilty of rigging the 1971 elections.

    What i don’t understand is if they deseated her as a result then how could she still remain PM to declare an emergency ?

    Was there then any merit to the case at all.

    Reading on the wiki unearthed a nice little gem concocted during the era called MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act). The predecessor of TADA & POTA by non other than the Congress so yeah, they have, in the past displayed a fascist streak, no doubt compounded further with the goings on during the actual emergency :)

    The Supreme Court as far as i understand is the sole arbiter on all things to do with the consitution. They might have erred on the side of caution during that period. Freedom comes second whenever compelling state interests present themselves :(

    So what about the future and the chances of a re-occurrence ?

    See this

    Do you agree that chances are less for an emergency to be declared when ppl are more economically empowered than perhaps was the case during the emergency with a bad economy.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On October 9, 2009 at 9:47 pm

      # “Why would the court cases be nonsense ?”
      I think of it as nonsense in terms of the bigger picture.

      The Indian republic was a broken one right from day one. Consider how the power given to the US Congress to “regulate” interstate commerce has morphed into a totalitarian nightmare which revolves around the concept of “systemic risk” (which isn’t limited to economics). Something similar has happened with India. In an atmosphere of ideological bankruptcy, the word “surprise” doesn’t make sense. In a democracy that revolved around a personality cult, the personality in question is bound to become all powerful, is bound to make ample use of her powers. So why would the charges against her surprise anyone? And why would anyone expect her to obey the HC order in spirit?

      # “I was under the impression … remain PM to declare an emergency?”
      From AP, June 25, 1975-

      Mrs. Gandhi’s opponents first called for her resignation after a trial court convicted her on June 12 of illegally using government officials in her 1971 campaign for Parliament against [Raj] Narain and barred her from electoral office for six years, the mandatory sentence under the corrupt practices act.

      Mrs. Gandhi refused to quit because the trial judge stayed the sentence for 20 days so she could appeal to the Supreme Court. With the Supreme Court in recess until mid-July, one of the justices ruled Tuesday that she could continue as prime minister until her appeal was decided by the full court, which will take several months. But he refused her the full stay of sentence she requested, ruling that she could not vote in Parliament…

      So she was PM. And she declared an “emergency.” Absolutely legal. After all the constitution does allow a “temporary” dictatorship in terms of crisis.

      # “MISA…”
      Laloo’s daughter is named after that act – Misa. All these socialist politicians, the younger lot, went to jail during that period. But the people who suffered the most were ordinary folk, poor folk.

      # “They might have erred on the side of caution during that period.”
      Their balls were with IG. In the notorious habeas corpus case, only one judge had the will to do the right thing, H.R. Khanna.

      ## “Freedom comes second whenever compelling state interests present themselves”
      Its a circular argument. The State exists to protect freedom. It cannot curtain freedom claiming to protect it. A jurist who falls prey to such an argument is a prize idiot.

      # “So what about the future and the chances of a re-occurrence ?”
      We’ ll descend into chaos. But I don’t think an Emergency can be imposed again. The polity is too fractured now for that to happen.

      # “Do you agree that chances are less for an emergency to be declared when ppl are more economically empowered than perhaps was the case during the emergency with a bad economy.”
      Its got nothing to do with the state of the economy. Its blood lust (or lust for power), plain and simple. Human history says that people will give up all their freedoms for the sake of some imagined security. Put the fear of some enemy into people and they will beg you to rule over them. And there are people who enjoy ruling like that.

  • blr_p  On October 10, 2009 at 2:58 am

    Thanks for the news clip, did not know newspapers were archived as far back on google.

    # And why would anyone expect her to obey the HC order in spirit?
    There is no expectation even from an ordinary person unless compelled to. Which would not have happened until the Supreme court returned from recess.

    Your PUCL link reinforces the view that she called an emergency to beat the charges against her, while she still had the powers to do so.

    That the court case and her losing acted as one of, if not THE main causes for her to call an emergency. This is why i found it surprising you would dismiss a court case that appears to be pivotal in the cause of the emergency. Would you agree ?

    The counter to that view is what you said about ‘cult of personality’. If she was all powerful then she would have beaten the charges in the end and if so why declare an emergency to begin with :)

    Blood lust ?

    Her family had been in charge since independence that it was absolutely necessary to continue at any cost. But she lost the 1977 election and was out till her return in 1980.

    # But the people who suffered the most were ordinary folk, poor folk.

    How so ?..assume you mean other than the sterilisation fad in vogue at the time.

    # The State exists to protect freedom. It cannot curtain freedom claiming to protect it.
    True provided an emergency does not exist.

    But i find this phrase ‘compelling state interest’ seems to crop up in many places as a justification even in normal times, Article 19(2), POTA, UID etc. The last seems to have completely bypassed any public debate about whatsoever. There is to be a talk at the NLSIU law uni in Bangalore sometime in mid-november about privacy rights & data protection issues regarding this grand project whose value i as yet cannot determine.

    All to say that the case has already been made & exists for the curtailment of individual freedoms if the freedom of the majority is perceived to be under threat for whatever reason.

    Yes, all depends on the spin and if enough are convinced then freedoms will willingly be given up for perceived security. However, one then expects a subsequent evaluation of this ‘increased security’ and if found lacking questions would be raised.

    Otherwise there would be no free societies around today but autocracies.

    # We’ ll descend into chaos.
    Hah, ultimately everything descends into chaos, lowest entropy level and all but a time period isn’t mentioned :P

    Now, in the context of the near future i hope you have something credible to back that line up with. Maybe its got to do with this ‘idealogical bankruptcy’ you alluded to earlier. To which i ask is this a new development in the last 200 years ?

    Nature abhors a vacuum :)

    In the last cpl thousand years, we’ve gone from…

    cities–>kingdoms–>states–>?

    Some think the tendency now is to go towards super states. As the number of individual units of adminstration have decreased from the several thousands of antiquity to several hundred kingdoms to even fewer hundred countries and therefore the trend is towards even fewer entities aka bigger unions of states.

    The only way for that to happen is if individual rights are maintained and not otherwise. In essence a necessary precondition of joining a bigger union is the implicit recognition of a member state’s individuality.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On October 11, 2009 at 12:57 am

      # “Would you agree?”
      What I am saying is, if not this, then an emergency would have been declared over some other reason. India was, for all practical purposes, a one party state until ’91. Everything was under government control. Its only when the “license raj” based “planned economy” collapsed under its own weight that the country became liberal, satellite television came in and so on. The main issue is that of control. And, in many ways, the government today has less control over the lives of people as compared to the ’60s-’80s.

      The emergency was a bad period but it was not the _only_ bad period.

      # “Blood lust?”
      Hyperbole. The love of power, and everything that comes with it.

      # “How so ?..assume you mean other than the sterilisation fad in vogue at the time.”
      It wasn’t a fad. Read this to know how the episode impacted people. And in this, an IE reporter reminisces about its impact on the press. This is a story on attempts made to bribe judges, and how many capitulated, while others didn’t.

      The other points, I will reply tomorrow.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On October 11, 2009 at 3:59 pm

      # “True provided an emergency does not exist.”
      I no longer buy the “emergency,” or “national security” argument. If the government cannot handle an emergency without trampling on individual rights (there are no other rights like group rights, rights of the majority etc etc), it should dissolve the union. Let it be formed again after the emergency is over. Its nothing but politics of the worst kind.

      # “Otherwise there would be no free societies…”
      There are no free societies. There never were, ever. All we have had is groups of scared people pretending to be free and civilized, people who revert to their stone age avatar the moment something spooks them. That’s why there are so many oppressive regimes throughout the world, and that’s why even democracies are not immune to Caesar worship.

      # “all but a time period isn’t mentioned”
      It can’t, because no one is omniscient. One can, at best, only predict the conditions under which something like that will happen.

      # “i hope you have something credible to back that line up with.”
      Absolutely nothing.

      # “Maybe its got to do with this ‘idealogical bankruptcy’ you alluded to earlier. To which i ask is this a new development in the last 200 years ?”
      It isn’t new. Its how societies and empires crumble. Greece did. Rome did. America will, if it continues on its present course. Old civilizations collapse, new ones take over. If one wants a stable, rich, prosperous society however, one which lasts for a “thousand years,” ideology matters. Warmongers, egalitarians and the like have to be kept away from power.

      # “Some think the tendency now is to go towards super states. As the number of individual units of administration have decreased from the several thousands of antiquity to several hundred kingdoms”
      One has to consider how stable they were. India might have had thousands of smaller kingdoms and a few empires, but they kept fighting amongst themselves. Now, though its a single country, it hardly homogeneous. There are still multiple power centers, multiple satraps, and a thousand other considerations. These “super states” haven’t exactly survived in the past. We are just 60 years old.

      # “The only way for that to happen is if individual rights are maintained and not otherwise.”
      Probably. But then the concept of “rights” has been devalued over the years. I don’t want to speculate on all this for there isn’t much to go on. But I don’t think any major realignment will happen within this century.

  • blr_p  On October 11, 2009 at 3:15 am

    # The main issue is that of control.

    Thats a good point. It adds to your counter view of her omnipotence but could also be construed as supporting her reasons for declaring emergency in the first place ie ‘internal security issues’ and not what is perhaps suggested by the opposition that it was to beat the charges. Maybe this is why you said the case was nonsense earlier ?

    She could have called it at any time but chose to do so only at this point. She had all the control anyway, this was an attempt to grab even more now with a convenient, justifiable & completely legal pretext.

    Teach her opponents a lesson, tinker with & pass some choice laws, have the playground all to herself :)

    But there was an end to it, things would go back to normal one day. So just a temporary taste of absolute power then ?

    The ironic consequence of this event is that it actually united the opposition for perhaps the first time since independence to win an election. Too bad they could not hold it together themselves and had to concede in the following election. Anti-incumbency is not sustainable past one election.

    The venus link explains my elders reactions quite well, they never knew what was going on, nobody did, just the party line being repeated everywhere.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On October 11, 2009 at 4:01 pm

      # “Maybe this is why …temporary taste of absolute power then”
      I called it nonsense because the case against her was, though the judge in question (rightly) didn’t think so, based on technicalities. If she did what she did, and her actions were illegal as per the laws of the day, the judge will naturally rule against her. But given the politics of the time, the “ideological bankruptcy” something like this was bound to happen sooner or later.

      One needs to understand where India was heading, and what Indira Gandhi was. And the emergency, as well as the incidents surrounding it, are but a small part of all that. She had a vision for India, a socialist India, and she didn’t care how she got there as long as it was she who got there. What would you make of that famous statement attributed to her (“My father was a statesman, I’m a political woman. My father was a saint. I’m not.”) or Noorani writing that “the line between the party and the state never mattered to her”? Her actions bordered on the insane. It was she who, later on, added the words “socialist” and “secular” to the preamble, it was she who scrapped whatever rights the constitution still “guaranteed” to the people, it was she who went on a nationalization spree.

      Its not that the opposition were opposing the descent into full fledged socialism—they were socialists themeselves—its just that they believed in “democracy” and weren’t happy with the corruption rampant in the Congress party, and therefore the bureaucracy. The various problems, droughts, inflation etc, which irritates the common man to this day, and the opposition’s protests against the government rankled her-

      In the name of ‘reforms’ after the nationalization of Banks, Mrs. Gandhi, with authoritarian high-handedness followed up with the takeover of general insurance, the coal industry, the oil refineries and abolished the privy purses and privileges of the former princes.

      Events now took a new turn. Most of the Opposition parties joined hands with the Sarvodaya leader. There was indirect support from many Congressmen, including a Union Minister! Being a man of truth and having tremendous inner strength and courage like Gandhiji, JP finally gave his clarion call:

      Sampurna Kranti Ab Nara Hai,

      Bhavi Itihas Hamara Hai

      (Our slogan is: Total Revolution. The Future is Ours)

      A three-day Bihar Bandh called by JP from October 3 to 5, 1974 was most successful. Another massive demonstration took place on November 4, in which JP was hit by a lathi by the Patna police and the marchers were tear-gassed.

      For the first time since Independence, Opposition parties were moving closer together, under JP’s leadership to save democracy in India. On March 6, 1975, millions from all over the country joined JP’s “People’s March” to Parliament to present a memorandum on price stabilisation, need-based wages; effective land reforms, assurance of full employment, creation of a regimen for national austerity, education and civil liberties; eradicating political corruption … It was a spectacular ‘people’s procession’ the like of which Delhi had never seen before.

      The court case, and the judgment, was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. And she went crazy. As JP writes

      There is no choice between democracy and the nation. It was for the good of the nation that the people of India declared in the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949, that “we, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute into a Sovereign Democratic Republic … give to ourselves this Constitution.” This democratic Constitution cannot be changed into a totalitarian one by a mere ordinance or a law of Parliament. That can be done only by the people of India themselves in their new Constituent Assembly, especially elected for that special purpose. If Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity have not been rendered to “all its citizens” even after a quarter of century of signing of that Constitution, the fault is not that of the Constitution or of democracy but of the Congress party that has been in power in Delhi all these years. It is precisely because of that failure that there is so much unrest among the people and the youth. Repression is no remedy for that. On the other hand, it only compounds the failure.

      # “Too bad they could not hold it together…”
      As I say in the post about the Swatantra Party, “I think the demise was a good thing.” Its like cheering for someone who promises he will kill just 100 people in comparison to the incumbent who killed 1000. 100 is still 100 too many.

  • blr_p  On October 12, 2009 at 2:52 am

    # If one wants a stable, rich, prosperous society however, one which lasts for a “thousand years,” ideology matters.

    Do you see signs of a new idealogy emerging anywhere ?

    Or is it the two dominating idealogies of the last 200 years have somehow reached a status quo in a diluted form of their former selves. Unrestricted capitalism or socialism has proven to be harmful. The result is both borrowed from each other and ultimately ended up or will end up at the same place, everywhere in the world. In which case the chances of idealogical wars that plagued the 20th century will probably come to an end.

    # If the government cannot handle an emergency without trampling on individual rights (there are no other rights like group rights, rights of the majority etc etc), it should dissolve the union. Let it be formed again after the emergency is over.

    Yes, where was the need to call an emergency at all, go straight for elections. A very powerful indictment on the emergency which now appears just like a mere power grab. Nowadays tho one expects all it would take would be a no confidence vote.

    # There are no free societies. There never were, ever. ..That’s why there are so many oppressive regimes throughout the world, and that’s why even democracies are not immune to Caesar worship

    Let’s say that societes that are not beholden to personalities are freer than those that are which in turn are still freer than those that are not self-determined. In this sense ‘free’ is relative rather than absolute. I’d like to think we have become more free since independence and hopefully moreso in the future. That an emergency is less likely to be called on as frivolous a pretext as in the past reinforces this impression.

    What distinguishes the relative freedoms here is choice. Any idealogy that maximises choice will improve prosperity. This i think is the major factor between developed from developing countries.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On October 12, 2009 at 9:58 pm

      # “Do you see signs of a new ideology emerging anywhere?”
      Technically speaking, you don’t need a new ideology, only people adopting a good, existing one. But there are no, and have never been any, signs of that happening.

      # “Unrestricted capitalism or socialism has proven to be harmful.”
      I was planning to (and still might) write a post on this – human nature.

      Capitalism and socialism are politico-economic systems. If human beings stop interfering in the affairs of others, and respect their right to life and property, you get laissez faire capitalism. If you can somehow make human beings sacrifice themselves for the “common good,” you get “voluntary” socialism. Otherwise you get socialism of the mass murder variety.

      The key here is “human nature,” and its malleability. The ethical doctrine that a person adopts governs his behavior. That’s how one ends up with different kinds of people – individualists/ egoists, nationalists, people ready to blow themselves up in god’s name, pacifists, “policy makers,” racists, xenophobes, homophobes, warmongers, witch hunters, egalitarians, etc etc etc.

      So, to know where a society is headed, you must see what ideology, what ethical system, is practiced by the people. If a majority of them refuse to leave others alone and adopt a benevolent but otherwise hands off approach towards society, there can be no peace.

      # “go straight for elections.”
      I am referring to the larger concept of dissolution of the union of India itself.

      # “What distinguishes the relative freedoms here is choice.”
      I agree with that view, of the “relative” nature of freedom. But I am not, and hope others aren’t either, interested in being “relatively free” as compared to someone in North Korea. A permanent peace requires absolute freedom. I wrote about “freedom” some time back.

  • PG  On October 25, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Dear ATG,

    I have been an avid reader of your blog for some time now. I got here via Antidote.

    A few of us have been working to start a new political party based on an ideology that is different from any of the current political parties. I wonder if I could send you our philosophy statement for your comments. It would be higly appreciated.

    Thanks (especially for running such a wonderful blog).
    PG

    • Aristotle The Geek  On October 25, 2009 at 10:47 pm

      [I hope you don’t mistake my bluntness for rudeness.]

      I don’t mind commenting on any statement you may have, but I would like to know the reason behind your group’s idea of starting this party. Your ideological stance is important no doubt, but what’s more important is the fact that you believe that a political party is a solution to what you think is wrong with the country today. I have written some posts on this topic before, and my views on the subject have changed gradually to my present position that political involvement is not a solution, not under current circumstances (something else needs to be done first). I don’t know if you have read them, but I will list them nevertheless. In chronological order-
      * New political parties, dangerous ideologies
      * Ideology
      * Jokers, Voters, and Rockers
      * Democracy

      There are plenty of articles and books which I can suggest to support my position. But I will leave that for later. Answer my question first. Why do you think that a new political party is needed?

  • PG  On October 25, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    ATG,

    In response to your query, I have this to say (using first person as a mere representation).

    I want to be happy. I want to be free. There is no freedom in our country to be happy because the political governance structure does not allow for that. And to change that a new political formation is needed that is wedded to the idea to be free is to be happy.

    No, I have not read your previous posts that you link above. I will go through them.

    Thanks.
    PG

    • Aristotle The Geek  On October 26, 2009 at 4:13 pm

      I have always held the position that politics is the most important part of philosophy because it deals with society, and because an individual cannot live “the good life” outside the same. And I thus assumed that the problem we face is a political one—fix the politics, and we fix the problem. But this approach is flawed.

      The political party experiment has been tried many times before and if its objective has been to gain power, it has been a disaster. India had its Swatantra Party, and a bunch of new ones (I have talked about them in one of my earlier posts). America, the freest country on the planet, has had the ability to vote for the Libertarian Party. There’s even an Objectivist party which has adopted the principles of Rand. But none of them will ever come to power because they don’t have (and never will, under present cultural and political trends) a mass base. At best, they might take a municipality or two. But that isn’t going to solve anything. This is a pragmatic assessment. There is another problem here, one of principles.

      An Indian political party planning to represent the people has to first swear fealty to the Indian constitution which is not worth the paper it is printed on. Since we are a “socialist” republic, it has to promise to work for “socialism.” By participating in the electoral process, not only does it legitimize the process, but it also endorses the principle that the majority has the right to, in Rand’s words, “vote away the rights of a minority,” that the law “is” what the majority “says” it is. Anyone who votes, even for “the lesser evil,” does the same thing.

      Rand held that the problem was not merely political in nature, but that it lay at a deeper level—at the level of epistemology and ethics. She said that the only way to fix the problem is to strike at its root, at the irrationality and altruism that is prevalent in society. An irrational and altruistic society will never adopt capitalism as its political system. A philosophical renaissance is necessary, she said. I thought she was being hypocritical, refusing to get her hands dirty and merely commenting on philosophy instead. I said as much in a comment on a “philosophical question” that I put some months back. But I thought about it for a some time and came to the conclusion that she was right. I was too impatient— wanting instant results. She knew that it was impossible. So much damage had been done to society that first aid was no longer enough.

      In my first comment I said that “political involvement is not a solution.” That’s not entirely correct. What I meant to say was political involvement of the electoral kind was not a solution. One can be involved in politics without fighting elections. Activism—spreading the right ideas and challenging wrong ones is an important way to do it. There are many ways it can be done, but that is not of primary importance. What is, however, is that an activist, just like a (good) politician, must be very clear in his mind about why he believes what he does, and he must be able to defend his positions. Otherwise, all his efforts will end in failure.

      Think about it for sometime. If you still think a political party is the way to go, I’ll provide an email address so that you can send me that statement.

      • Anonymous  On October 26, 2009 at 6:10 pm

        ATG,

        Thank you for the continued engagement.

        I agree with what you say but a beginning has to be made somewhere. We have been working on this for more than 5 years, reading, crystallizing our ideas, etc. Also, in the meantime, we have been working to lay the framework of a political party that is bottom up, largely decentralized, and yet cohesive enough to provide a platform for people to engage to the extent they desire and to the extent they are capable. We also realize that serious money is required in this enterprise and we do have a strategy to get there, small increments at a time.

        While education of oneself and others of the importance of liberal ideas is important, somewhere we need to strike at the root, as you rightly say. The question is how. In a one quick fix (i.e., a revolution, bloody mostly and never really results in the intended consequences) or in a slow and painstackingly manner, one person at a time until we reach critical mass and the proverbial tipping point, when suddenly what seemed impossible would become inevitable.

        Further, we are now provided with a wonderful technological opportunity to connect, just as you and I, which most Indians would not have even dreamt of even until a few years ago. What do we make of this opportunity?

        Also, even if we are to begin now, it will take a lifetime or at least the working life of a generation before we can hope to meet any success. One needs to be mentally prepared for that. And success, when it comes, will be termed overnight but like all overnight successes, it would be twenty years in the making.

        All the political parties that have tried to change the agenda were/are not even internally structured to reflect the ethos that they externally profess. Your linked posts give enough examples from the past to the current day.

        In our view, we need a new idiom, a new language, a fresh beginning to at least demonstrate to the people that something other than clones of the current major political parties is possible. None of the recent attempts at political formation even attempt to do that. As we all know, it is very difficult to change the culture of an existing organization. What can and should be done is to create a new one that is markedly different from the current ones so on comparison people say, this is a better way; for there is always a better way.

        So if you have a sufficiently long term plan, you are structured to reflect the ideas that you profess, and there is a growing awareness of kind of politics that ought to be (exemplified by blogs like yours), there is a reasonable chance of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Even knowing that the tunnel is very long and dark, one needs to begin with a solitary lamp and the first step.

        I hope you will still be interested in taking this conversation further.

        Thanks. It has been fun and educative to read your blog and to briefly engage in a conversation with you.

        Best,
        PG

        • Aristotle The Geek  On October 26, 2009 at 9:15 pm

          You now know my position vis-a-vis political parties. As for your ideology, from your comments I presume it is some form of laissez-faire capitalism (my second comment was made under that assumption). If my presumption is correct, then you can contact me at aristotlethegeek[at]gmail[dot]com regarding your statement.

  • Rahul  On October 26, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Priyanka Gandhi, is that you?

    [ATG – No jokes, not on serious posts.]

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