Politics Beyond Liberalism
The experience of contemporary history has exposed the fallacies of cherished social, political and economic ideas, classical as well as revolutionary. As the world is full of opportunities – material, mental and spiritual – building a better and freer society is a practical possibility. However, we are observing a process of social decadence, moral degeneration and a collapse of values which is corroding the springs of human action and corrupting the ideals of civilized life. Failure and disappointment are bound to follow if we attempt to solve the problems of our time with the ideas of previous centuries. These ideas of the past emphasized material progress and scientific development. However, the mental makeup and moral standard of the civilized community have not matched the level of material progress. In other words, the development of civilization – refined cultural progress – has proven far slower than scientific development.
In this century, the civilized world has been confronted with new problems that seem to baffle human intelligence; an inevitable occurrence if solutions are defined on the basis of old ideas and theories. Communism, which promised material well-being and security in a socially regimented and spiritually enslaved life, has collapsed, creating disillusionment about revolutionary ideals.
The great promises of the industrial nations have been broken because of their psychological premise of radical hedonism. Radical hedonism postulates first that happiness can be achieved by the fulfillment of any material or sensual desire whatsoever, and secondly, that in order to fulfill these desires, egotism, greed and selfishness have to be encouraged. This, according to hedonistic belief, will lead to harmony and peace. Radical hedonism, it should be known, is the philosophy of rich people.
The ideals of intellectual liberalism and intellectual refinement have failed to check unbridled passion. Faith that the spread of reason would abolish irrational outbursts has all but disappeared. Antagonism between ethnic, racial, religious and liberal groups has become the fundamental reality of the nation-state, which is absorbing huge amounts of social, ethical and religious energies and emotion expressed through unprecedented oppression, violence and enmity. The disconcerting experiences of the contemporary world compel thoughtful people to reconsider the fundamental philosophical principles from which different political theories – of the Right and the Left, conservative and liberal, reactionary and revolutionary – are all deduced.
The capture of power, irrespective of the means advocated, is the common postulate of all political theories. Today, the so-called free world heralds the victory of liberal democracy and its corollary the capitalist economic system. Through modern liberalism the individual became ‘economic man’, allured by the glittering projections of consumption psychology. This degeneration of the humanist tradition of modern democracy contradicts its basic tenets, which hold individual freedom as an article of faith. ..“But in the context of capitalist society, people exist mainly as “cogs” in the bureaucratic machine, with our thoughts, feelings and tastes manipulated by the government and industry and the mass communications they control.”1
Simultaneously gaining momentum is a tendency to relapse into medieval obscurantism in search of illusory safety in the backwaters of dogmatic faith. With the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the movement for self reliance is being sentimentalized with slogans from religious fundamentalism, slogans presented to gullible people as an antithesis to pseudo-culture, economic domination and secular values.
This represents a new flare-up in the age-old struggle between religion and science – between the religious and scientific modes of thought, between faith and reason, between mystic agnosticism and empirical knowledge, and between religious dogma and the spiritual essence of life. This is probably the last gasp of a life and death struggle which has lasted long, and has always placed civilized humanity in a dilemma.
The scientific mode of thought, having driven religion from pillar to post over a period of several centuries, is meeting the final assault of a hitherto vanquished adversary. Denying humans the possibility of ever knowing reality through experience, religions preach a neo-mysticism and a teleological view of life which is the expression of humanity’s loss of faith in itself. This is in contradiction to spiritual enlightenment, which leads the human mind to experience the real essence of freedom and the organic wholeness of creation.
Science, attempting to free the mind from the shackles of dogma, emphasized that truth is contained only in that which can be recognized clearly and distinctively. Knowledge is defined as the result of the intellectual analysis of what our senses experience. In this way, however, science created a new barrier beyond which the mind could not elevate itself to higher levels of consciousness. Hence, science could not prevent the emergence of a materialistic dogma that devalues human potential, encourages the mechanization of life, and curtails freedom of thought.
The quest for freedom can be referred back to humanity’s struggle for existence. This quest accounts for the human triumph over nature in the course of efforts to satisfy biological needs. It provides the basis for the constant search for knowledge, which enables people to be progressively free from the tyranny of natural phenomena and social environments. Guided by the dictum of ancient wisdom that man (sic) is the measure of everything, the philosophy of the future should judge the merit of any social organization or political institution by the actual measure of freedom it affords to the individual in the physical, mental and spiritual spheres.
After the collapse of communism in the erstwhile Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it has been argued that liberal democracy is the ultimate evolution of the socio-economic system. These proponents of western liberal democracy also promote the idea that the West has a moral duty to promote liberal democracy worldwide. The globalization of economy flourished in the background of liberal democracy, arousing a deep question about the political and philosophical justification of liberalism.
The idea of liberalism began to gain intellectual and political importance in various parts of Europe since the 17th century. Liberalism considers the individual as the ultimate and irreducible unit of society. The view that the individual is conceptually prior to society and can in principle be conceptualized and defined independently of society, is called individualism. This is the basic concept that lies at the heart of liberal thought and shapes its political, legal, moral, economic, methodological and epistemological aspects, et al.
“In the liberal view, individuals define their individuality in terms of their separateness from others and feel ontologically threatened and diminished when the boundary of their individuality overlap with those of others…Liberal individuals seek to run their lives themselves, to make their own choices, to form their own beliefs and judgments, to take nothing for granted or as given…They remain suspicious of, and feel nervous in the presence of, feelings and emotions, especially those that are deep and powerful and not fully comprehensible to reason or easily brought under its control…How an open society can be created out of closed selves is a paradox to which no liberal theorist has paid much attention. Unless the self learns to open itself up to the thoughts and feelings of others and maintains both an open mind and an open heart, thereby creating the basic pre-conditions of a genuine dialogue, society can never be truly open.” 2
The idea of individual freedom was the article of faith during the European Renaissance, but this idea of individualism could not fully transcend the influence of nationalism. History has witnessed the ruthless suppression of individual liberty in Afro-Asian countries by the champions of individual liberty. Europe itself suffered two devastating world wars under the influence of nationalism.
Liberal democracy asserts that the State should not engage itself in any large-scale social, political and economic goals and welfare programs. The duty of the State should remain confined to ensure security and allow liberty of individual to accumulate property and to control the means of production and to maintain law and order.
It needs to be mentioned that the idea of individual identity differs in different parts of the world. In Afro-Asian countries the identity of the individual is connected with the community — tribal, caste, religious, ancestral, etc. For this reason, in most parts of the non-western world, democracy in the sense of free elections, free speech and right to equality, has proved far more attractive than the concept of liberalism. Millions in non-western societies demand democracy, but in a suitably localised form, whereas they tend to reject the influence of liberalism, considering it to be subversive of what they most value and cherish. According to their understanding, liberalism breaks up community, undermines the shared body of ideas and values, and places the isolated individual above the community. It also encourages the ethos and ethic of aggressive self-assertion, rejects traditional wisdom and common sense in the name of scientific reason, and weakens the spirit of mutual accommodation and adjustment. Trying to force these societies into the standard liberal democratic mould is bound to bring disaster.
The Athenian democracy was grounded in a sense of community, whereas liberalism is individualist and finds it difficult to offer a coherent account of community. Liberals define liberty in individualistic rather than communal terms, and see little value in active political involvement as was promoted by Athenian democracy. Democracy in the Athenian sense does not satisfy liberals’ deepest aspirations, and has at best only a marginal place in their conception of a good life. The Athenian democracy trusted the masses, whereas the liberal is deeply suspicious of them. For these and other reasons, liberalism neither can accommodate nor has a need for classical democracy.
What kind of democracy do the liberal democrats want? James Madison (1751-1836), an American liberal democrat, gave the following definition during the Constitutional Convention: “Democracy is to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” Actually, in America and in many other countries, democracy does not exist in the real sense of the term. What is followed is actually polyarchy. In this system, a small section of the population is in control of decision making for the economy, political sphere, cultural sphere, etc. In other words, the power should be placed only in the hands of those who are ‘responsible men’ or the ‘wealth of the nation’. The rest of the population is supposed to be passive and acquiescent.
In the introduction to the book Profit Over People by Noam Chomsky, Robert W. McChesney wrote:
“Neo-liberalism is the defining political economic paradigm of our time — it refers to politics and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit… For the past two decades neo-liberalism has been the dominant global political economic trend adopted by the political parties of the center and much of the traditional left as well as the right.” 3
Neo-liberals prefer only electoral democracy, and ignore democracy in all other spheres of life, especially economic democracy. This type of political process can be termed ‘political fundamentalism’, where a small ruling clique impose their will over the mass, with impunity. It is no different to religious fundamentalism in which the priest class impose their authority over the masses with the dogmatic assertion that it is “ordained by God”. No democracy is possible under the influence of such a dogmatic environment.
Prout emphasizes that besides the political sphere, collective decision making in economic, social, institutional and other spheres, should be the norm. Before defining Prout’s concept of democracy it is essential to define the idea of political philosophy, as well as political and economic objectives. (See the next chapter for the concept of democracy.)
Prout philosophy is founded on the assumption that matter is not separate from consciousness, but is rather a metamorphosed form of it. Consciousness, on the other hand, is not the result of mental activity but is independent of it. Consciousness is the inspiration for moral integrity, a rational view of life and wisdom.
Spirituality and morality should not be equated with religious ethics and faith in God. All religions are basically dualist systems that separate humans from their Creator and the creation. The rationalist rebels against theology – Descartes, Leibnitz, and Kant – also failed to escape the vicious circle of dualism. To offer security, religion impressed upon people to submit before the imaginary will of God or a theological ethical code sanctioned by the scriptures and defined by religious institutions. Morality in this sense, however, is the absence of freedom. A philosophy based on spiritual and moral values, on the other hand, will explain human existence – including desire, emotion, instincts, intuition, will and reason – as an integrated framework and in a way that is accessible to human comprehension. A new social organism and political institution should emerge, promoting not only the harmonious relations of all races and cultural groups, but also that of human beings with all animate and inanimate objects.
According to Prout, human existence is physical, psychic and spiritual. Progress is defined as evolution to higher consciousness and ultimately to the state of absolute freedom. Simultaneously, it is emphasized that “spiritual progress can only be attained on a firm physical and mental base…This physical and intellectual base has to be progressively adjusted to changing conditions of time and space.”4 The natural human aspiration is to achieve freedom in all three spheres.
In our march towards freedom we cannot neglect other living beings. We have to develop a social system in which all living beings can live securely, and where people can move towards emancipation by freeing their minds from superstition and dogma. This universalistic spirit is Neo-humanism or spiritual humanism. Human history thus far is a story of the ruling classes trying to enhance social and material values at the cost of human values. That is why temples, churches, scriptures, laws and constitutions have become more important than human values. However, cardinal values must cement the social system, rather than changing and often arbitrary social values. Spirituality is not a mystic speculation of life after death, but is realized in relation to the manifest universe. The philosophy of monism, which postulates the self to be in union with the rest of the universe, is the essence of spiritual humanism. Regarding the priority of human values over government, Shrii Sarkar wrote in his book Neo-Humanism in a Nutshell: Part 1:
“What does the state stand for, what is the use of these regulations, and what is the march of civilization for, if human beings don’t get a chance to build a good physical well-being, to invigorate their intelligence with knowledge, and to broaden their hearts with love and compassion? Instead of leading humanity to the goal of life, if the State stands in the way, then it cannot command loyalty, because humanity is superior to the State.”5
Security for all the members of the society should be ensured without depending on the bureaucratic structure. Security does not only include a guarantee of food, clothes, housing, health care, education and other minimum requirements of life, but also security in a psychological sense. People want to live in an environment free from overt and covert violence. In any dogmatic social environment, people of other faiths feel insecure. Fundamentalist societies that believe in domination over political power, wealth, and women, will create insecurity in all rational people who do not belong to the power circle. The economic factor is one of the main cause of insecurity in Third World countries.
On the other hand, Western countries are facing a sense of psychic insecurity due to the influence of quantitative materialistic monoculture, having embraced the philosophy of liberalism that promotes individualism. Individualism provides a sense of freedom in life, but simultaneously creates a sense of alienation and loneliness in the emotional sense. Extremely alienated individuals standing before the high wall of organised power structure feel helpless. A spiritual awakening of the self is an essential start to eradicating this sense of insecurity and alienation. Human beings must restore their sense of unity with their fellow beings, other living beings, nature, and society. Secondly, the bureaucratic power structure should be replaced by humanistic management.
Liberation is not an inborn treasure of human life, but an innate desire for freedom is an integral part of human psychology. Millions of years of struggle against the vagaries of nature, and a few thousand years of struggle against the artificial bondages created by society are the testimony of that aspiration. In this relative world the history of the struggle for freedom is an inevitable human aspiration.. As the policy of domination changed in each age, so did the strategy of the freedom struggle. In every era, the struggle for ‘freedom from’; the battle to overcome various bondages such as hunger, poverty, exploitation, superstition, dogma, and others, continued to demonstrate the inner spirit of humans.
The mere attainment of socio-economic freedom and some political rights does not ensure real freedom. Psycho-economic freedom or the freedom of intellect is also an essential factor in realizing freedom. It should be remembered that besides ‘freedom from’ , there must be an idea of ‘freedom to’, which so far has been denied by the society as its collective goal. It is the responsibility of the society and its political institution to create an environment where besides persuading the goal of ‘freedom from’, humans must be inspired to move towards ‘freedom to’. This is the essence of a real progressive march in the spiritual sense. In other words, freedom is a gradual awakening of consciousness that elevates the human status from humanism to Neo-humanism. If any social, political or religious institution tries to strangle freedom, the masses will ultimately revolt against it. After all, to reach the ultimate state of Absolute freedom is the inherent desire of the human mind.
Stability can be achieved only with the harmonious and homogeneous growth of the society. The prejudicial distinctions between majority and minority, rich and poor, literate and illiterate, men and women, have to be abolished. The weaker sections of society should not feel neglected. All forms of political, economic and psychic exploitation must end. Even in modern democratic society we find that there is a gap between the oligarchy and the general mass. As a result, bureaucracy is becoming more and more powerful. In so-called communist countries, the ruling class cannot continue for a day without depending on bureaucracy or the state apparatus. Proper stability can be achieved with the evolution of higher levels of social consciousness and the decentralisation of economic power. Narrow group psychology, economic exploitation and psychic suppression all threaten political stability.
Today, an all-devouring economic monopoly and political hegemony by the only super-power is threatening the stability of the world. The UNO has become ineffective and powerless to curb the monopoly of power by nation states and economic oligarchies. It is essential to change the structure and the charter of the World Body.
Widened Political Participation
To counter the threat of authoritarian rule, a wider number of people should participate in decision making processes in political, economical and social spheres. The very act of participation sharply increases individual identification and responsibility with that process. The framework of that participation, whether democratic or dictatorial, single party or multiparty, may be of less importance than the increased role of sharing responsibility actively by the polity. To make it successful, the threat of victimisation for expressing contradictory views must be eliminated. The only way is to replace professional bureaucrats with a humanistic management process. Contrary to the “spectator democracy” where people’s opinions have no value; in “participatory democracy”, community affairs are bound to become as meaningful and important to the citizen as their own personal matters. The local political community must be allowed to derive the plan for economic development projects of the community.
The development of a decision making process is an important feature of a sound political system. According to Prout, the decision making process can be divided into two parts. Firstly, for the day-to-day affairs which are localised in nature, a system and structure needs to be developed to enable the maximum number of people in the community to participate in the decision making process. Of course, these people must have a minimum level of social consciousness. Secondly, the responsibility for vital decision-making should be given to people who are moralists, intellectually and intuitionally developed. In so called democracies we find that all too often, policies are the product of a random, haphazard or even irrational process of events. Generally, it is found that an uneasy compromise formula precludes any rational judgement. Often what appears on the surface as a nation’s settled course of action, may be due to indecision, unwillingness or inability to act. It may be no policy at all, but simply a drift of events, as evidenced in world-wide unemployment, poverty in Third World countries, and their debt problems due to concentration of wealth. However, there has been no serious effort in any of the so-called democratic countries toward taking strong measures to reverse the situation.
Democracy as it stands today, is showing signs of cracking, even in so called developed countries. Economic totalitarianism will ultimately be the cause for the failure of democracy. In underdeveloped countries it has already failed to fulfil the aspirations of the people and has become a tool of domination by the capitalist oligarchies. Democracy in the real sense of the term, can be successful only in a state of high social consciousness.
Social Boards (Civic Society)
For the smooth functioning of the society and to balance the monopoly of power of the political structure, a social structure needs to be developed. The relation between the two structures needs to be defined in the clearest language, in terms of set goals and the co-ordinating function of the entire system. The system must work as an organised body so that each component will supplement the other. Ultimately, however, the success of the social institution depends on the evolution of a proper social culture based on the values of spiritual humanism.
The materialistic orientation of life and the marketing character of modem industrial religion has created an extreme form of alienation, isolation and identity crisis in the affluent Western world. The Third World countries, besides the economic crisis, carry the psychological burden of passive psychology, inferiority complexes, religious dogmas and other group sentiments. These narrow and stagnant ideas are threatening the integration of their societies. The powerful nations and their political institutions are trying to dominate the whole world. These national chauvinists control and manipulate nuclear weapons, and impose their will with impunity over weaker nations. The invasion of Iraq to in order to control its oil resources, the inhuman suppression of Palestinians, and the suppression of the Tibetan people, demonstrate the hegemonic character of the powerful nations.
The creation of social institutions as a world body, with subsequent organs in lower levels can eliminate the threats imposed by the superpowers and other national chauvinists or religious fanatics. The members of the social institutions must promote the spirit of universalism, as this is the only way to create social unity. Value oriented intellectuals and spiritually oriented, altruistic people, who have not mortgaged their moral integrity to economic oligarchies and self-styled political or religious leaders, should organise themselves to form the social structure as an instrument of civic society.
The idea that “maximum consumption will give pleasure” has been challenged. It is interesting to note that both capitalist and socialist camps actually adhere to the same principle and goal of maximum consumption. Erich Fromm writes in his book To Have or To Be:
“Western social democrats and their bitter opponents, communists within or without the Soviet Union (now defunct), have transferred socialism into a purely economic concept, the goal of which was maximum consumption, maximum use of machines. The idea is to give the pleasure of consumption to all as capitalism gave only to a minority. Socialism and communism were built on the bourgeois concept of materialism”.6
He further adds, “Blueprints of such general aims as ‘socialisation’ (meaning nationalisation) of means of production have turned out to be socialist and communist shibboleths mainly covering up the absence of socialism. ‘Dictatorship of the proletariat’ or of an ‘intellectual elite’ is no less nebulous and misleading than the concept of the “free market” economy, or, for that matter, of the “free nation”.7
According to PROUT
Economic development is only a means for survival and fulfilment of physical needs. It must maintain balance with nature and other aspects of social and cultural development. The spirit of all-round collective welfare should guide the economic development programme.
Considering the above we can project the following goal of economic development (already detailed in previous chapters):
- Minimum requirements for all should be guaranteed
- Economic power should be decentralised and economic democracy has to be introduced.
- Production should be designed for meaningful consumption and not for profit motivation.
- The gap between the rich and poor nations needs to be narrowed.
- Production should serve the real needs of the people and not the demand of the economic system.
- A harmonious relation of cooperation with nature has to be established.
- The psychology of greed and envy must be replaced by collective welfare and cooperation.
- Economic fulfilment cannot satisfy the infinite desire for happiness.
- Supra-mundane and spiritual potentialities must be explored and utilised to balance the mundane character of economy. Psycho-economy must develop as a branch of economy.
- Erich Fromm – The Sane Society, Holt, Rhinehard &Winston, N.Y 1982
- Bhiku Parekh – Cultural Particularity of Liberal democracy, Prospect for Democracy, Polity Press U.K. 1994
- Noam Chomsky – Profit Over People, A Seven Stories Press, NY
- P.R Sarkar – Prout in a Nutshell, AM Publication, Kolkata, 1986
- Erich Fromm – To Have or To Be, Sphere Books, London, 1985