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A world of order and stability belongs to the graveyard

Democracy is the only form of government that privileges the notion of a public realm where citizens can think of ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’.

A world of order and stability belongs to the graveyard

Tirade: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat recently attacked ‘cultural Marxism’ or ‘wokeism’. PTI

Neera Chandhoke

Political Scientist

IN his Dasehra address at the Ramlila Maidan on October 24, PM Narendra Modi called for the uprooting of casteism and regionalism that threatened to fracture the unity of ‘Maa Bharati’. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, while addressing the Sangh’s annual Vijaydashmi event in Nagpur, attacked ‘cultural Marxism’ or ‘wokeism’ that presumably controlled the media and universities. These forces, he said, were selfish, discriminatory and deceitful; they disrupted social cohesion, orderliness, morality, beneficence, culture, dignity and restraint in the world; they plunged education, culture, politics and social environment into confusion, chaos and corruption.

The script sounds familiar. It seeks to suppress alternative perspectives, and thus make room for only one ideology, one sort of politics and one worldview which does not tolerate challenges. Ironically, thinkers who sought ‘a better world’, from Greek philosopher Plato to Sir Thomas More, to the utopian socialists from Robert Owen to Saint Simon, were sceptical of politics. They disapproved of factionalism, instability and contingency. Karl Marx’s socialist society and Gandhi’s notion of Swaraj are held to be utopias. The difference between an authoritarian project and a utopia is one of intent. The former seeks absolute power. The latter yearns for an ideal society in which humans can live a full life.

In 1516, Sir Thomas More coined the term utopia to denote a society better than the one he lived in — in the court and then the jail of Henry the Eighth in 16th-century England. This work reflected the concerns of classical political thought that strove to seek the best order of human life. Gandhi’s search for a village republic was motivated by a sharp critique of Western industrial civilisation, which focused on materiality and bodily well-being. This prevented self-knowledge and thus self-governance or Swaraj.

Authoritarians do not seek a society in which individuals can realise the good life. They leave society as it is, unjust and unhappy. They only want a society where rival perspectives do not enable people to dream of a world that is far, far better than the one they inhabit. Curbing of imagination and the banning of dissent, even if society needs to be critiqued, distinguishes an authoritarian project from a utopia. True, both political projects result in a post-political society. But in political life, the consequences are often unintended. It is the intention that counts. So, let us set aside utopia and examine what authoritarianism does to a plural society.

In a plural society, humans are distinct in their particularity. Even though ‘I’ am part of the ‘we’, I am distinct because I have different ideas of how our world should be organised. Therefore, some of us join political formations, others social movements, still others associations in civil society, and some rest content with expressing their opinions through social media, op-eds or letters to the editor. Each activity is fulfilling because, as Greek philosopher Aristotle had theorised, human beings are political animals.

Politics is not only about elections and ascending to power. It is about agreement and disagreement, and more importantly, about the institutionalisation of processes that enable conversations between individuals, groups and the state. Unless I express my particularity and you express yours, we will not realise ourselves as humans who have thoughts, ideas, ideologies and who agree to resolve differences through reasoned public debate. This is what Aristotle sought, a society marked by not only disagreement but also deliberation on how to resolve disagreement.

Therefore, as eminent philosopher Hannah Arendt suggested in The Human Condition, attempts to subordinate plurality of ideas and action are against ‘democracy’. This inevitably turns into an argument against the essentials of politics. Plurality manifests itself in the public realm of debate and discussion. Attempts to do away with plurality is tantamount to the abolition of the public realm itself. The most obvious escape from plurality is a one-man rule in its many varieties, from outright tyranny of one against all to benevolent despotism. The problem with these forms of government is not that they are cruel, but that they might work too well. Tyrants may be kind and mild in everything. What they have in common is banishment of citizens from the public sphere and the insistence that whereas people mind their business, only rulers should attend to public affairs. Escape from the frailty of human affairs into the solidity of quiet and order has much to recommend it, Arendt suggests, but it is an escape from politics: “The hallmark of all such escapes is the concept of rule, that is, the notion that men can lawfully and politically live together when some are entitled to command and the others forced to obey.”

Democracy is the only form of government that privileges the notion of a public realm where citizens can metaphorically come together to think of ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’. The process of participating in a discussion is what ancient Greek philosophers called doing politics. Think of how dismal and dreary a world without contestation will be. We can think of such a world in concentration camps, not in the rich plurality of India with its many traditions and varied philosophical doctrines, its colourful religious festivals and regional variety. We would never trade this messy but creative world for a world of order and stability. That world belongs to the graveyard.

#Democracy #Mohan Bhagwat #Narendra Modi #RSS

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