POLITICAL SYSTEM: PART I
I. Primitive Age
ANTHROPOLOGY does not support the view that man
ever lived a solitary life like the tiger or the lion. He was weak and
defenceless against the powerful beasts that roamed about him. He could survive
only through some form of group life. A band of men could survive under
conditions in which a single individual had no chance, so early men
naturally lived in groups. Some form of social Organisation is necessary for
group life. Men can co-operate with each other only at the cost of their
egoistic impulses. The dictates of group life invade individual liberty. The
first social ties came from blood relationship. The groups were almost overgrown
families. The authority exercised by the father passed into the hands of the
patriarch, the head of the tribe. Custom regulated the conduct of the members,
of this group. Primitive man believed that the customs of his tribe were
unchangeable and inviolable. Patriarchal authority and rigid customs protected
the social order and were an effective check to all kinds of anti-social
activities in which individuals might be tempted to engage. However, a new
authority enlarged in the group—this was the priest. His supremacy was founded
on his expert knowledge of the religious ritual, and of correct behaviour in the
temple and on solemn occasions. Ritual had gradually become very complex, and
the patriarch had to place it in the charge of a professional man.
Superstitious, a factor to be reckoned with in primitive life, lent powerful
support to the authority of the priest. In a changing world no form of social
organisation can be permanent. The tribal organisation dissolved giving place to
a purely political organisation. The Raja or King supplanted the patriarch. He
was usually a man who had organised a military force which had enabled him to
extend his dominion over several tribes. The political system that arose was
composed of different tribes. A consequence of this change was that the hold of
tribal customs on man was considerably weakened. People saw their
fellow-citizens observing different customs, and hence any particular custom
could no longer be regarded as sacred and inviolable. The social order had now
to be maintained by physical force. If the king was powerful, he usually
succeeded in this task and held the straggling group together He usually relied
on officials whom he had personally appointed. The new social order, however,
could not be as stable as the tribal order which was based on blood-ties and
time-honoured customs. Men could not be held in check for long by mere brute
force. Risings and rebellions often shook the king's authority. In this
predicament he sought for an ally and such an ally was close at hand. The priest
also had vested interests which he was not willing to relinquish. Any social or
political upheaval would endanger the vested interests of both the king and the
priest. The result was that the king and the priest made common cause, and each
gave the other mutual support. The king bolstered the power of the priests in
the religious domain and took steps to protect the interests of the sacerdotal
order. The grateful priest cloaked the king with sanctity and awe. The obedience
of the people was now enforced both by force and superstition.
Struggles Between the Rulers and the Subjects
There is something in man which chafes at external
compulsion. In the heart of man the flame of freedom may sometimes
flicker, but is never extinguished. The patience of man is not inexhaustible,
and subjected to the double tyranny of priest, and king, he became more and more
discontented. He longed for intellectual as well as political freedom. It was
not long before he rose against the hold of the priest and the authority of the
king. History has recorded the long drawn out and sanguinary struggle of the
masses to regain their freedom and over-throw both spiritual and political
yokes. The participants in this struggle could be identified as:
1. The rulers, temporal and spiritual, who
strove hard for the status quo.
2. Ambitious elements who tried to carve a
slice of their own.
3. Common people who tried again and again
to, throw off their oppressing weights.
4. A few men of reflective type of mind
who set themselves to the more difficult task of devising a political system
which would reconcile authority with individual freedom. They wanted to protect
the social order as, above all, they feared political chaos ; but they also
wanted the individual to enjoy the freedom which is his birth right.
Full of interest is the history of man's attempts
to devise a socio-political system which would concede man's basic human rights
and at the same time would place social order on a secure basis. One such
attempt was made by the Christian priest. They evolved a system which is known
as Theocracy. It did not go very well, mainly because of the fanatical and
oppressive demands it made on human liberties. It was a tyranny sanctioned by
religion. It was done in the name of Christianity, although Christianity claimed
to stand only for the "spiritual" freedom of man. In the words of Viscount
It (Christianity) has supported the doctrine of
the 'Divine Right of Kings' and must bear responsibility for all the evil
consequences of that doctrine in the history of Europe. 1
The doctrine that might is right also had its
advocates. It was defended by specious arguments. It was said that a social
order which had not the support of the powerful, could not last long. Throughout
human history, those who had power had ruled over the weak. To make the mighty
and the weak equal is to fly in the face of nature, argued the opponents of
Right. Reasonable men have always found this doctrine of Might revolting and
Theory of Contract
The doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings was
challenged by some great thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth. centuries.
Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and others developed a rival theory to account for the
rise of kingship and to justify the king's claim to the obedience of his
Subjects. The theory of social contract is based on a myth. It is supposed that,
at first, there was no restraint placed on man's action. Law and order did not
exist and men had no conception of rights and duties. The law of the jungle
prevailed and every man fought for his own interest. This condition of
lawlessness soon became intolerable. The sense of insecurity became too painful.
Even the strong man was assailed by the fear that a stronger one might come any
time and deprive him of his possessions. Men eventually came together and agreed
to pay any price for social security. They agreed to relinquish their freedom
and put themselves under the absolute authority of a king. The king's duty was
to enforce the laws and see that no injustice was done to any of his subjects.
The king's right to rule had, therefore, its source in the consent of the
people. That consent might be withdrawn if the king failed to discharge the duty
assigned to him. Kingship, thus, came to be regarded as a man-made institution.
Popular will had made him the king and popular will might dethrone him.
The theory of social contract was not, however,
based on a conscious historical fact. Nevertheless, it was ingenious in its own
way. It divested kingship of its celestial power and made the general will of
the people the source of authority. The way was thus paved for the advent of
With the rise of democracy, the problem of
sovereignty came to the fore. To whom does sovereignty belong ? Different
answers were given but they all agree in vesting it in the people. Rousseau
maintained that sovereignty belonged to people as a whole. Locke held that it
belonged to the majority of the people. Karl Marx vests it in those who control
the means of production. Capitalism vests sovereignty in the capitalist class
while Socialism vests it in the labouring class.
Democracy is now generally regarded as the best
form of government. It developed chiefly in the West, but people in Asia and
Africa also regard it as the last word in political wisdom. Let us examine its
claims carefully and see how far the praise showered upon it is justified.
Democracy has been defined as the government of the people, by the people, for
the people. It is chiefly the second factor in this definition that calls for
comment here. It means that in a democratic state there is no distinction
between the rulers and the ruled. The people are supposed to rule themselves.
They cannot do so directly, so they elect their representatives. These
representatives, in turn, select the ministers who actually run the government.
The laws and policies of the state and the principal measures adopted by the
government do indeed reflect the will of the people, not of the whole people but
of the majority of them.
This in brief is democracy. There is no doubt that
this is the best system man has been able so far to evolve for himself.
The basic concept on which it rests, namely, that nobody has a right to rule
over another, is ideal. But the point is whether it has achieved, or is capable
of the achieving the aim it has laid before it. The West has been the cradle of
democracy, so we may ask what the thinkers there have to say about it.
In his book The Crisis of Civilisation,
Professor Alfred Cobban of London University, discussing the causes of the
decline of Western civilisation, says :
Considering politics in terms of actual facts and
not of abstract theories, it must be acknowledged that the identification of
ruler and the ruled, assumed in the theory of the sovereignty of people, is a
practical impossibility. The government is one set of people and the governed
another. Once society has developed beyond the smallest and the most primitive
communities, they never have been and never can be the same. The pretence that
they are can only lead to the worst excesses of power in the state (p. 68).
Professor A. C. Ewing of Cambridge University has
discussed democracy in his book The Individual, the State and World
Government. The following quotation from the book shows the trend of his
Had Rousseau written now, and not, as lie
did, prior to any experience of democracy in the modern world, he
could not have been so optimistic
A similar view has been expressed by another
thinker, Rene Guenon, in his book The Crisis of the Modern World. The
relevant passage, though long, (reserves to be quoted in full :
If the word ‘democracy’ is defined as the
government of the people by themselves, it expresses an absolute impossibility
and cannot even have a mere de facto existence in our time any more than
in any other. It is contradictory to say that the same persons can be, at the
same time, rulers and ruled, because, to use the Aristotelian phraseology, the
same being cannot be `in act’ and 'in potency' at the same time and in the same
circle of relations. The relationship of the ruler and ruled necessitates the
joint presence of two terms ; there could be no ruled if there were not
also rulers, even though those be illegitimate and have no other title to power
than their own pretensions ; but the great ability of those who are in control
in the modern world lies in making the people believe that they are governing
themselves, and the people are the more inclined to believe this as they are
flattered by it and as they are in any case, incapable of sufficient
reflection to see its impossibility. It was to create this illusion that
'universal suffrage' was invented. The law is supposed to be made by the opinion
of the majority but what is overlooked is that this opinion is something that
can very easily be guided and modified; it is always possible by means of
suitable suggestions to arouse in it currents moving in this or that direction
as desired. 2
All these writers have taken pains to show that
the belief that in democracy sovereignty or the absolute and unrestricted right
of law-making belongs to the people, has no basis in fact. It has been supposed
that the law enacted by the majority vote of the representatives of the people
embodies the unanimous decision of all the citizens of the state and that,
therefore, it is based on justice. This assumption is the chief cause of the
decline of democracy in the present day. This view has been supported by
Meneken, as the passage given below shows.
Under all such failures there is a greater one :
the failure of man, the most social of all the higher animals and by far the
most intelligent, to provide himself with anything, even remotely described as
good government. He has made many attempts in that direction, some of them very
ingenious and others sublimely heroic, but they have always come to grief in the
execution. The reason surely is not occult ; it is to be found in the abysmal
difference between what Government is in theory and what it is in fact. In
theory it is simply a device for supplying a variable series of common needs,
and the men constituting it (as all ranks of them are so fond of saying) are
only public servants ; but in fact, its main purpose is not service at all, but
He proceeds on :
Of all the varieties of government, it is probably
democracy that has fared worse at the hands of these brethren. Knowing very well
as a cardinal article of their art, how little people in general are moved by
rational ideas and how much by mere hullabaloo, they make common cause with
every pressure group that comes along, and are thus maintained in office by an
endless series of public enemies.4
Arnold J. Toynbee writes (in his recent book,
The Present Day Experiment in Western Civilisation, 1962) :
Democratic parliamentary government is a less
efficient and, therefore, a more wasteful regime than oligarchic parliamentary
Government, and even a parliamentary oligarchy is inefficient and extravagant by
comparison with a well-managed authoritarian regime
In 1947, UNESCO, the cultural organ of the U.N.,
set up a research committee to study and report on the working of the democratic
system in different countries. The Committee invited some great scholars to
contribute articles to the proposed volume on democracy. All shades of opinion
were represented in the volume which was published under the title Democracy
in a World of Tensions. "What is the meaning of democracy?" was the first
question that they were asked. Most of the scholars admitted that the word was
vague and its precise sense had not been determined. A few went so far as to
call it "one of the most ambiguous words in current usage" (p. 460).
The next question asked was, "Is the majority vote
always correct, and a protest against it is a protest against democracy" ? The
answers was :
It does not, however, imply that the judgement of
the majority is inerrant ; and it, therefore, allows freedom to minorities to
agitate and vote for the reversal of previous majority decisions (p. 504).
While pointing out its defects we must be fair and
recognise the merits of the democratic system at the same time. The democratic
form of government would pass muster in any comparison with kingship, despotism
*Theocracy is the worst form of despotism.
Under this system, people are exploited in the name of God. There
is no place for priests in Din.
It is a bold advance on the earlier forms. By
asserting equality of all men, by requiring the state to advance the
interests of the people and by enlarging the area of individual freedom, it has
rendered remark able service to humanity. The criticism levelled against it
really applies not to democracy in general, but to its typical form developed in
the West. This form of democracy is based on secularism and, therefore, suffers
from a fatal weakness. It is built on the shifting sands of changing human
interests and beliefs. Because it is not grounded in permanent values, it is at
the mercy of every gust of wind. Secular democracy is in fact a reaction to
theocracy which, directly or indirectly, had disturbed the very basis of peace
and freedom in Europe. Theological disputes continually threatened internal
peace. Secularism tried to solve the problem by excluding morality and religion
from the purview of government and making them matters of private concern of the
individual. The unfortunate result was that man in his political life was left
with no stable frame of reference and no objective standard to guide him.
Political decisions could be made not on the basis of any established principle,
but under the influence of passing national mood. "To err is human" was proved
to be too true. Men often judged wrongly and acted wrongly, both collectively
and as individuals. The supposition that people as a whole can never go wrong
received little support in actual practice. Collective wisdom has been as
imperfect and fallible as individual wisdom. The governments that evolved
reflected the individual failings. According to Lord Snell :
Governments are always composed of men who share
the general imperfections of mankind, with the result that they can never be
more noble or more enlightened than are the human beings who administer their
laws and shape their policy.5
Aldous Huxley makes the same point in his book,
Science, Liberty and Peace, when he says :
There has never been a time when too much power
did not corrupt its possessor, and there is absolutely no reason to suppose that
in this respect, the future behaviour of human beings will be in any way
different from their behaviour in the past and at the present time (p. 41).
Objective standards based on permanent values take
a long-term view. Without them man cannot look very far beyond his immediate
selfish interests which may not, in the long run, be to his own best advantage.
His legislative efforts, all by himself, ultimately may not only prove
detrimental to himself but may also alienate him from his surrounding groups.
Social groupings have inevitably led to the
division of mankind. Each group promotes friendship between its members and
incites them to take hostile attitude towards other groups to maintain its own
interests. Feuds between tribes used to be bitter and recurrent. Tribes were
later supplanted by national states. Hostility to the outgroup is as
characteristic of nations as it was of tribes. Every nation has feeling of
ill-will and hatred towards its neighbour. The slightest provocation sends them
flying at each other's throats. Prof. Cobban's remarks on this point should be
Nationalism is a feeling which is born out of
hatred and lives on enmity. Nations become aware of themselves by their
conflicts with other nations and their feelings of hostility do not cease with
the completion of national unity. No sooner has a nation asserted its own right
to self-determination than it sets about oppressing other nations that make the
same claim. For all these reasons it may be concluded that nationalism is a very
dangerous foundation for a state.6
Fredrick Hertz, the historian of nationalism,
writes as follows in his book Nationality in History and Politics :
History shows that for the greater part the
quarrels between several nations had scarcely any other occasion than that these
nations were different combinations of people and called by different names. To
an Englishman, the name of a Frenchman, Spaniard, or an Italian raises, of
course, ideas of hatred and contempt. Yet the simple name of man, applied
properly, never fails to work a salutary effect (p. 328).
In his book, New Hopes for a Changing World,
Bertrand Russell has expressed the view that in the present age, the thing
which stands in the way of social contacts extending beyond the limits of the
nation and which, therefore, poses the. most serious threat to the human race,
is the cult of nationalism. We note with surprise that while Russell condemns
nationalism in general, he speaks highly of the nationalism of. his own people.
There is, however, a fundamental difference
between the tribes of the past and the nations of the present day. Nationalism
does not merely indicate a form of political grouping : it has developed into a
cult which arouses in the individual passionate devotion to his nation and
violent antipathy to other nations. It is odd that the West, which has
practically turned its back to religion as not suitable for rational men, should
have espoused the pseudo-religious cult of nationalism. Aldous Huxley’s comment
on this is worth noting:
Nationalism leads to moral ruin, because it denies
universality, denies the existence of a single God, denies the value of the
human being as a human being ; and because at the same time, it affirms
exclusiveness, encourages vanity, pride and self-satisfaction, stimulates hatred
and proclaims the necessity and rightness of war.7
The same writer makes the following remarks at
another place :
Twentieth century political thinking is incredibly
primitive. The notion is personified as a living being, with passions, desires,
susceptibilities. The National Person is superhuman in size and energy, but
completely sub-human in morality. Ordinarily, decent Behaviour cannot be
expected of the National Person, who is thought of as incapable of patience,
forbearance, forgiveness and even of common sense and enlightened self-interest.
Men, who in private life believe as reasonable and moral beings, become
transformed as soon as they are acting as representatives of a National Person,
into the likeness of their stupid, hysterical and insanely touchy tribal
divinity. This being so, there is little to be hoped for at the present time,
from genera international conferences. 8
A thought-provoking passage by Adam de Hegedus is
quoted below :
At the bottom of these two wars, there was the
same anarchic division of the world into sovereign independent nation states,
which by their very nature, are forced to compete and conflict with each other
and are unable to create a mutually healthy economic organisation. The worst
feature of this situation is not so much the recurrence of war as the absence of
Nationalism has implanted in the mind of man the
belief that patriotism is the noblest and highest virtue. The slogan of the
patriots is.: "My, country, right or wrong." Rumelin, Chancellor of Tubingen
University, wrote (in 1875) that :
The state is autarchic. Self regard is its
appointed duty ; the maintenance and development of its own power and
well-being. Egoism—if you call this egoism—is the supreme principle of all
politics. The State can only have regard to the interest of any other State so
far as this can be identified with its own interests. Self devotion is the
principle for the individual ; self assertion for the State. The maintenance of
the State justifies every sacrifice, and is superior to every moral rule.10
Rumelin is brutally frank, but Lord Grey
has expressed the same sentiment in milder language:
I am a great lover of morality, public and private
; but the intercourse of nations cannot be strictly regulated by that rule.11
While Burke was denouncing the Revolution,
Walpole wrote :
No great country was ever saved by good men,
because good men will not go to the lengths that may be necessary.12
Prof. C.E.M. Joad makes the following
The practical effect of idealist theory in its
bearing upon the relations between States is, therefore, to create a double
standard of morality. There is one system of morals for the individual and
another for the State so that men who, in private life, are humane, honest and
trust-worthy, believe that, when they have dealings on the State's behalf with
the representatives of other States, they are justified in behaving in ways of
which as private individuals, they would be heartily ashamed.13
Cavour has given this view in nut-shell :
If we did for ourselves what we do for our
country, what rascals we should be.14
The general acceptance by the West of the creed of
nationalism has had three unfortunate results :
1. Humanity has divided into a number of
Nation States with conflicting interests.
2. A powerful nation was tempted to
exploit the weaker nations on the pretext of safeguarding its interests.
3. The absence of moral restraint turned
the world, as Wakeman has rightly observed, "into an arena of beasts, with only
one principle in view, that- is, might is right."15
It is in fact the Machiavellian spirit which had
dominated the Western mind in the modern age. The Western rulers have
taken to heart Machiavelli's cynical advice in his Prince :
A prince being thus obliged to know well how to
act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect
himself from traps and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must,
therefore, be a fox to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those
that wish to be only lions do not understand this. Therefore, a prudent ruler
ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest and
when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist.16
After mentioning a few good qualities of conduct
he says :
It is not, therefore, necessary for a prince to
have all the above named (good) qualities, but it is very necessary to seem to
have them. I would even be abold to say that to possess them and always to
observe them is dangerous, but to appear to possess them is useful. Thus it is
well to seem merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, religious and also to be so ;
but you must have the mind so disposed that when it is needful to be otherwise
you may be able to change to the opposite qualities. And it must be understood
that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things
which are considered good in men, being often obliged, in order to
maintain the State, to act against faith, against charity, against humanity, and
against religion. And, therefore, he must have a mind disposed to adapt itself
according to the wind, and as the variations of fortune dictate, and as I said
before, not deviate from what is good, if possible, but be able to do evil if
No apology is needed for quoting at such length
from the book as it is well known that the Prince has been the Bible of
Western politicians and rulers ever since it was written. It was the constant
companion of Charles V, his son and his courtiers. Thomas Cromwell brought a
copy from Italy and kept it under his pillow when he went to bed. Catherine de
Medici, the daughter of the prince to whom the book was dedicated, brought it to
France and her political views were deeply influenced by it. Her son, Henry III,
always carried it in his pocket. When he was murdered, it was found on his
person. The same was the case with Henry IV. Several Popes and kings admired it
and approved of its political philosophy. Frederick who invariably acted on its
principles in his dealings with other rulers, wrote in his Political
Testament as follows :
The great matter is to conceal one's designs and
to cover tip one's character ......Policy consists rather in profiting by
favourable conjunctures than in preparing them advance. This is why I counsel
you not to make treaties depending on uncertain events, and to keep your hands
free. For then you can make your decision according to time and place, and the
conditions of your affairs, in a word, according as your interest requires of
Politicians who follow Machiavelli believe that
moral rules are not binding on them. They reject moral considerations as
irrelevant to political affairs. Even in the present age there are many
enthusiastic followers of Machiavelli. John F. Kennedy (in his book, Profiles
In Courage,, 1963) quotes Frank Kant, saying :
Probably the most important single accomplishment
for the political ambitious is the fine art of seeming to say something without
doing so...... The important thing is not to be on the right side of the current
issue but on the popular side . . . . regardless of your own conviction or of
the facts. The business of getting the votes is a several practical one into
which matters of morality, of right and wrong, would not be allowed to intrude
Kennedy continues :
But this is no real problem, some one will say.
Always do what is right, regardless of whether it is popular. Ignore the
pressure, the temptation, the false compromises. That is an easy
answer-but it is easy only for those who do not bear the responsibilities of
elected office (p. 11).
Machiavelli's views cannot, therefore, be
dismissed as obsolete.
No social group is free from inner conflicts. The
main source of all conflicts is the clash of interest among the members of the
same group or between different groups. No political system has, so far, been
devised that eliminates internal conflict. Democracy is no exception. It has
even intensified internal stresses and in the international sphere has given an
impetus to power politics. Nevertheless, modern thinkers have not lost
faith in democracy and believe that its defects are not, irremediable. Let us
see what remedies they have suggested.
Democracy is based on two fundamental
suppositions. The first supposition is that sovereignty is vested in the people
and the second is that decisions arrived at by majority vote are always right.
Prof. Cobban's remarks on the basis of democracy are worthy of careful
The traditional justification for the sovereignty
of the people is that the government must be founded on either force or consent,
and that since force cannot make right, rightful government must be based on
consent. But this is neither logical nor is it true. The fact that a million
people consent to an act which is wrong, does not make it any the less wrong. If
words have any meaning, the rightfulness of any government's authority depends
on its objects and on the way in which it is exercised. A will ought to prevail
only if it is a good will; but this is dependent not upon whose will it is but
upon its content.19
Prof. Cobban has proposed "Moral values" as the
standard for judging right and wrong, instead of the majority vote. Locke calls
it an "immutable"- or Natural law." We quote from Mabbott :
There is an immutable law governing the
just relations between man and man, independently of any society or state to
which they may belong. This natural law would serve like natural rights as a
limitation on the absolute rule of governments, however constituted and whatever
other ends they may pursue. 20
Locke put his trust in Natural Law, to guide
aright. He argued that people followed the Natural Law as long as they lived
naturally and were without culture and civilisation. At this time reason was
their guide and not sentiment. Later on, they were guided by Sentiment and
ceased to live in accordance With the Natural Law. The revival and enforcement
of Natural Law was what society needed now. But when we ask how this Natural Law
can be discovered, Locke refers us to the "will of the majority." Here he seems
to be arguing in a circle. The decision of the majority is right if it conforms
to the Natural Law, and the Natural Law is manifested only in the will of the
majority. Natural Law cannot, therefore, serve as an objective standard for
judging the actions of, a nation. When Locke sees a government acting unjustly
he cries out a government has no right to thrust its will on the people; it must
conform to the immutable law of nature. "However, when he is asked to specify
the source. of the Natural Law, he can think of nothing better than the will of
the majority. This looks like "seeking protection from rain by standing under
the roof-gutter." The result was just the reverse of what he thought. His idea
was to free mankind from the shackles of ever-changing man-made laws but his
theory of Natural Law culminated in the modern Secular State. No doubt in the
first instance, "the Schoolmen joined this theory to Christian theology by
giving it a bias in Divine Will and thereby implanted it firmly in medieval
political thought."21 Subsequently, however, "the task accomplished
by the early modernisers of natural law theory in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries, and especially Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf , was almost the
reverse. " By extracting God from natural law they made it the foundation of the
modern secular constitutional State. They constructed. a theory of natural law
that would "carry conviction in an age in which theological controversy was
gradually losing the power to do so," thereby making the "existence of God
perfectly superfluous to the. doctrine."22
The general trend amongst modern thinkers in the
West now is that it is wrong to accept the majority, decision as right, in all
circumstances. We need an objective standard for judging human actions. For
Locke it was Natural Law. Cobban calls it the moral standard. .The Italian
patriot, Mazzini, however, puts it in a more definite shape when he says that
the principle of universal suffrage was a good thing inasmuch as it provides a
lawful method for a people for guarding against forces of destruction and
continuing their own government. However, in a people who have no common
beliefs, all that democracy can do is to safeguard the interests of the majority
and keep the minority subdued. We can, he adds, be subject to God or to man, one
man or more than one. If there be no superior authority over man, what is there
to save us from the subjugation of powerful individuals? Unless we have some
sacred and immutable law, which is not man-made, we can have no standard for
discriminating between right and wrong. A government based on laws
other than God's Will, he continues, produces the same result whether it be a
despotic or a revolutionary one. Without God, whosoever be in authority will be
a despot.. Unless a government conforms to God's Law, it has no right to govern.
The purpose of government is to enforce God’s will if a government fails in its
purpose, then it is your right and duty to try for and bring about a change.
The idea of a "higher law" is not newly born. The
ancient Greeks, among them Sopheeles, Heraclitus, Plato and Aristotle.,
contributed much to the emergence and development of the concept of a Divinely
inspired, universal, immutable and eternal natural law. They wrote for example,
that "all human laws are sustained by the one Divine Law, which is infinitely
strong and suffices, and more than suffices, for them all" (Heraclitus). Plato's
theory of human law as an imperfect replica of an ideal form that exists only in
the world of ideas, is another expression of much the same view. For Plato, and
Greeks general, the law of nature was no more than a basis of comparison—an
intellectual standard and—did not serve as a means for concrete juridical
decisions. As stated by Corwin' "Aristotle was led to identify the rational with
the general in human laws." Putting the question in his Politics whether
the rule of law or the rule of an individual is preferable, he answers his own
enquiry in no uncertain terms. "To invest the law then with authority is, it
seems, to invest God and reason only; to invest a man is to introduce a beast as
desire is something bestial, and even the best of men in authority are liable to
be corrupted by passion. We may conclude then that the law is reason without
passion and it is, therefore, preferable to any individual."25
It remained, however, for the Stoics in Greece
after 300 B. C., and later in Rome to erect on this philosophical base an
authentic natural law theory. Bracton, a judge of the King's Bench in the reign
of Henry III, prepared a monumental work based on the study of Roman law. We
find the following passage in his treatise which explains the view-point of the
Romans in respect of law. It says:
The King himself ought not to be subject to man
but subject to God and to the law, for the law makes the King. Let the King then
attribute to the law what the law attributes to him, namely dominion and power
for there is no King where the will and not the law has dominated.26
The point has, however, been stated very lucidly
by Cicero, the great Roman jurist and orator, in a passage in the Republic
which runs as follows:
There is in fact a true Law—namely right
reason—which is in accordance with nature, applies to all men, and is
unchangeable and eternal. By its commands, this law summons men to the
performance of their duties; by its prohibitions it restrains them from doing
wrong. . . . . To invalidate this law by human legislation is never morally
right, nor is it permissible ever to restrict its operation, and to annul it is
impossible. Neither the Senate nor the people can absolve us from
obligation to obey this law, and it requires no Sextus Aleius to expound or
interpret it. It will not lay one rule at Rome and another at Athens, nor will
it be one rule today and another tomorrow. But there will be one law, eternal
and unchangeable, binding at all times upon all people; and there will be, as it
were, one common master and ruler of men, namely God, who is the author of this
law, its interpreter and its sponsor. The man who will not obey it will abandon
his better self, and, in denying the true nature of man will thereby suffer the
severest of penalties, though he has escaped all the other consequences which
men call punishment.27
Modern Man in Search of Light
After centuries of unsuccessful experiments with
man-made laws, modern man is still in search of the kind of laws which Cicero
had so vehemently yearned for. The problem is where to find such laws—they are
eternal, unchangeable, immutable, inviolable—applicable to all and at all times.
The source would have to be supra-human, i.e., the laws given by God Himself.
The West had naturally to seek the help of religion to ascertain such laws. They
tried Christianity, but there was no response. Christianity has no laws to give,
and it is all other-worldly. In the words of Joad:
Christianity places man’s true life not in this
world but in the next. While the next world is wholly good this world is
conceived to be, at least to some extent, evil; while the next life is eternal,
life on earth is transitory. For man's life hereafter, this, his present
existence, is to be regarded as a preparation and a training; and its excellence
consists in the thoroughness and efficiency with which the training is carried
out. Nothing on the earth is wholly and absolutely good, and such goods as
earthly life contains are good only as a means to greater goods which are
The Spanish scholar, Dr. Falta de Gracia,
The notion of justice is as entirely foreign to
the spirit of Christianity as is that of intellectual honesty. It lies wholly
outside the field of its ethical vision.29
Prof. A.N. Whitehead writes:
As society is now constituted, a literal adherence
to the moral precepts scattered throughout the Gospels would mean sudden death.30
Dorsey, the historian of civilisation, has
asserted that today millions of people feel that Christianity is the religion of
the defeated. They accept the religion but admit solemnly its defeatist spirit.
Nothing is satisfactory in life, they argue. "Desire for satisfaction is wrong
and satisfaction of wrong desires is sin" is a slogan which makes a true and
healthy life impossible. It destroys humanity." The German humanist, Gerhard
Szezesny, sees Christianity as a desert people's creed, basically incompatible
in its dualistic world-view with philosophy and science, and a brake on their
progress for two thousand years. 32
Declaration of Human Rights
The same is the case with other religious, both in
the East and the West. It is in fact fertile to seek in religion the laws of God
for standard of absolute right and wrong. Religion itself is man-made. In these,
circumstances, the modern man, a frustrated, helpless pitiable soul, had
perforce to seek objective standards outside the field of religion. He turned
for help to the United Nations Organisation. The U.N.O, appointed a Commission
to state and define the fundamental rights of man. On the basis of the
recommendations of the Commission, the U.N.O., published, in 1048, its famous
Declaration of Human Rights. This document listed the basic fundamental human
rights. The U.N.O., asked its member states to guarantee them to all their
subjects and to regard them as sacred and inviolable. The Declaration was hailed
as the biggest achievement of the modern age. It was hoped that governments all
over the world would, in future., desist from encroaching on these rights of
man. This hope, unfortunately, has not been fulfilled. UNESCO, an organ of the
U.N.O., had circulated a questionnaire on the draft of the proposed Declaration.
The answers to the questionnaire have been published with an introduction by
Jacques Maritain. His view I shat "rights, being human, should have some limits
imposed on them and be regarded as liable to amendments and change" (p. 15).
John Lewis, the editor of the Modern Quarterly, London is equally outspoken in
his criticism of the Declaration. He writes that it is mere fiction that "Human
Rights" area absolute, or are inherent in human nature and came into being
before man began living in organised society. (p. 51). Gerard, a professor in
the University of Chicago, writes that the Declaration is an attempt to
determine the proper relationship between man and society and the "Rights"
cannot be viewed as unalterable for all times to come (p. 20).
of Permanent Values
Such criticism has considerably dampened our
enthusiasm for the Declaration. The conviction that man possesses certain
inalienable rights does not seem to be justified. If men possessed a common
philosophy of life they might be expected to respect the ``rights" which that
philosophy supports, In the absence of such a philosophy, there is no guarantee
that the rights affirmed by one school of thought would be accepted by other
schools of thought. The first condition to be fulfilled is an agreed system of
values. Prof. Joad makes this clear :
I suggested that the good life for the individual
consists in the pursuit of certain absolute values. If I am right, if, that is
to say, it is by the pursuit of values that a man develops his personality, we
may add that the object of the State is to establish those conditions in which
the individual can pursue absolute values and to encourage him in their pursuit.
We are thus enabled to establish a principle of progress in society, which is
also a standard of measurement whereby to assess the relative worths of
Our first task therefore is to determine the
nature of absolute values. We will then see that it is the duty of the state to
provide conditions in which men can freely pursue them. Human Rights will then
be brought into a significant relationship to the pursuit of values and will be
regarded as arbitrary. This task has not yet been undertaken. Let us see if
Islam can help on this.
1 Viscount Samuel, Belief And Action, p, 39.
2. Quoted by A.C. Ewing, in The Individual, The State and World Government,
3. H.C. Meneken, The Treatise on Right and Wrong, p. 234.
4. Ibid., p. 35.
5. Lord Snell, The New World, p. 17.
6. Alfred Cobban, op. cit., p. 166.
7. Aldous Huxley, Science, Liberty and Peace, p. 34.
8. Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, p. 40.
9. Adam de Hegedus, The State of the World, p 11.
10. Quoted by R. H. Murray, in The individual and The State, p. 216.
11. Quoted by L.S. Stebbing, in Ideals and Illusions, p. 13.
12. lbid., p. 14.
13. C. E. M. Joad, Guide to the Philosophy of Morals and Politics, pp.
14. Cavour, Foreign Affairs, July 1952.
15. Quoted by Spalding, in Civilisation in East and West.
16. N. Machiavelli, The Prince and The Discourses, p. 64.
17. Ibid., p. 65.
18. R.H. Murray, op. cit., pp. 209-12.
19. Alfred Cobban, op. cit., p. 76.
20. J.D. Mabbott, The State and the Citizen, p. 23.
21. Constitutions And Constitutionalism, edited by William G. Andrews, p.
23. Quoted by Griffith, in Interpreters of Man, p. 46.
24. W.G. Andrews, op. cit., p. 13.
25. Edward S. Corwin, The "Higher Law" of American Constitutional Law, p.8.
26. Ibid., p. 27.
27. W.G, Andrews, op. cit., p. 16.
28. C.E.M. Joad, op. cit., p. 127.
29. Quoted by Robert Briffault, in The Making of Humanity, p. 333.
30. A.N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p. 18.
31. George A. Dorsey, Civilisation, p. 446.
32. Gerhard Szezesny, The Future of Unbelief, translated by Edward B.
Garside. p. 105.
33. C.E.M. Joad,
op. cit., p. 806.