How can we be sure democracies work in Islamic countries?
Is India secular?
Is liberal democracy the end of history or are we on our way to form communist societies anytime even in the distant future?
All the words in bold are not conceptualised by most of the nation states on their own. Yet, individuals of these nation states inspired by these western ideals have tried to imbibe these virtues on their fellow citizens or at times these have been forced on nation states sometimes ignoring their social-political-cultural context. This post will concentrate on the last question which I believe has had enormous ramifications in the countries and regions which either ‘tried’ or are ‘trying’ variants of Socialism or liberal democracy.
Both these Anglo-Saxon thoughts which dominate the world today come from some basic set of assumptions. This post will merely look at the assumptions that have shaped our worldview. Karl Marx asserted that economic forces are the primary forces that propel mankind through history as social classes interact. As economic forces develop (through technology/skill upgradation), class struggle intensifies eventually resulting in a ruling class (bourgeois) and a lower class (proletariat). Again from this ruling class, a new lower class emerges and new cycle of class struggle ensues till the end of history. In the current setup, capitalists are the ruling class and industrial workers are the lower class. The resistance of ruling class to prevent improvement of economic forces of the lower classes lead to revolution. The lower classes stuck in the role of wage labour prevents them from freedom to “do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or a critic”. He believed this as communism, a utopia one can achieve post-capitalism.
Thomas Hobbes on the other hand without getting into history of mankind or societies believed that humans by nature were animalistic with finite collection of needs, instincts, wants and passions. Other men came in their way of attaining these basic collection of needs. If man’s life was protected, he can set about reaching these material aspirations. John Locke took this forward and set about to conceptualise a liberal democratic state which guaranteed self-preservation and also provided rights to acquire abundant wealth (private property). This also sought man to be educated to subdue his desire for recognition and acquire all the material wealth he wants. This warranted a capitalistic economic system to facilitate production and a democracy to facilitate (re)distribution.
The sharpest critique of liberal democracy came from aristocratic traditionalists like Nietzsche. Nietzsche despised a liberal democratic order that created a society of bourgeois (a rare agreement with Marx) which aspired for nothing greater than own comfortable self-preservation. In other words, he loathed the materialistic tradition devoid of any excellence in culture, art and stripping down man into shamelessness of purely desiring his wants.
I made a rough sketch (see below) to map the schools of thought and their tradition. These labels and their positions (and the clubbing of political and economic systems) maybe somewhat debatable, but they should be largely agreeable and are useful to make my point.
As an Indian reading the thought process of their conception of man, I am often at a loss if any of these assumptions actually correlate with the Indian conception of humankind. A few examples in order –
- Our history and our people are rooted in Dharma, which is far from the materialistic tradition espoused by these scholars.
- Our history is not unidirectional, but cyclical, closest to ancient Greek beliefs (Aristotle, Plato).
- Historical process has not resulted in changing social or historical relationships. Rather, it has resulted in juxtaposition which is there for us to see – Caste system, feudal relationships, capitalist relationships, marginal tribal societies etc.
- Historical process is not as continuous as assumed in the western schools of thought, again there is a juxtaposition of various times within India.
- Individuals live their entire lives following religious and cultural traditions to fulfil their karma and attain moksha.
- While there have been social reform movements at different times, the ‘radical’ thought has been absorbed into the polytheist sanathan dharmic fold, rather than ‘resolution of contradiction’ process. Moreover, economic values have been subservient to morals in most of the oral traditions that one is aware of.
With these assumptions being questionable, one should have wondered if these political and economic systems which we have imposed on ourselves are valid or if the context made sense.
The result in my opinion is the wide distance between the four pillars in the sketch. Largely traditional society has to come to terms with modern urban society, modern state, modern constitution and disconnected Indian establishment represented by the elites in academia and media. The forced modernisation program is still in progress, but the society trudges along in a perpetual flux.