Archive for February, 2021

Plato and the Indian thought

 “I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness, hopelessness..” was the clarion call given by the new US President soon after his swearing-in. That’s more like a sermon delivered by a spiritual master extolling his audience to face and confront the inner enemies than an inaugural address of a nation-head whose journey to the highest office was laden with unprecedented challenges, even when his election was endorsed by the vast majority of his countrymen. The idea of Philosopher King, propounded by Plato, conceptualises the ruler as a man of immense wisdom, a lover of truth and above all, an epitome of grace and humility. These qualities of the head and heart confers a commanding authority on the ruler to guide the populace to a purposeful life and Joe Biden, in his maiden Presidential speech exhibited traits, as depicted in The Republic, in amble measure.

Authored more than two millenniums ago, The Republic, concerns itself with the question of justice and ethics in politics and enunciate the necessary attributes of the ruler to ensure an enlightened administration. Through a long winding dialogue with his disciple Socrates, Plato conclusively establishes that a just rule is a prerequisite for happiness of the subjects and, that personal ethics cannot be separated from public good. This seminal work has since been the topic of countless scholarly thesis on politics and on its operation and continue to subject itself to varied interpretations. This is more so since politics, as an instrument to advance common good, has long been accepted as an established reality and many a political philosophies can trace their origins to the Platonic dialogues. But more than the intellectual idealism that Plato talks about, it is pragmatism and its clever manipulation that held sway the realm of politics for the last many centuries. While even progressive ideas of democracy and liberalism were tempered by the need to be expedient, fascism and colonialism were active state policies for outright subjugation though designed ostensibly to establish the rule of law for good part of the last two centuries..    .

Politics has always been torn apart by the idealism of universal welfare on the one hand and the more practical concern of effectively governing the state, on the other. Since all are not created equal, it is argued that all cannot be treated as equals and this opened up a plethora of possibilities for discrimination in the guise of race, colour, religion and gender. And with discrimination came the need to control and subjugate and they in turn unleashed counter forces of freedom and liberty. Towards the nineteenth century when democracy and liberal ideas took firm roots in many European countries, it also advanced competitive politics to gain state power and threw up in the process, many leaders with Machiavellian tendencies. Cunning and manipulative, these leaders deployed unethical means to gain and advance their political power. Modern history is replete with a long list of such calculative tyrants who while capturing power and advancing it marshalled grandiose theories of racial superiority and the like to explain their unethical forays. And the idea of justice and rule of the wise as propounded by Plato were all but forgotten.

But the Indian philosophical thought and thus the statecraft was always guided by the eternal principles of Dharma which is the bedrock of all the Vedas and the scriptures. Dharma implies a non-negotiable adherence to righteousness in all its ramifications and at all times and is independent to the preferences and prejudices of the practitioners of the statecraft. And we see Krishna, an avowedly compassionate Lord, extolling his disciple Arjuna to fight and annihilate his enemies for the establishment of righteousness even if it meant killing his cousins and more importantly, his own teacher. Thus the idea of justice, ethics and morality are long implanted in the Indian psyche much before they find mention in modern political theories.

As the Platonic idea of justice resonate with the Indian concept of Dharma, the elevation of the new US President augurs well for the practice of these concepts.

Yours

Narayanan    

February 1, 2021 at 1:01 am 15 comments


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