Values under attack globally
The Constitution of India begins with a preamble which mentions four values – Justice, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. We will later consider why Liberty, Equality & Fraternity are “Natural Rights” of every human being.
However, even casual consideration shows that the political system which most espouses these values is liberal, secular, inclusive democracy.
Globally this system is under attack. Globally these values are reeling from the blows they have received from conservative exclusivist ideology. Be it Brexit or Trump in USA or Modi in India, the pattern is visible. European nations have somehow managed to hang on to secular liberal values by the skin of their teeth.
So is this a cause of concern? Should this be a cause of concern? Why has something that is obviously very good in essence come to this defensive state?
Declaration of Independence of America, the values of French Revolution and Indian Constitution all essentially speak the same language. Although American declaration is not as succinct as the other two, it is still on similar lines. This is natural as one of the chief ideologues of American & French revolutions was the same person – Thomas Payne.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité – as the French say.
If we understand why these are natural rights, we will also understand why they will be eternal. Of course, eternal, in this case, means till humans exist.
Why are Liberty, Equality, Fraternity the natural rights of every human being?
One only needs to look deep into oneself. After your basic livelihood is assured in a reasonable or socially acceptable manner, what do you look for?
- That I should be allowed to live freely, on my own terms – so long as I do not harm others.
- I should be treated well by others – not be downtrodden or trampled upon.
- Let me live in harmony with others.
Of course, we are talking about sensible normal people here … not those having delusions of grandeur.
These sentences, or phrases, when expressed in single words are Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
And this is the core human nature – regardless of any restrictions of caste, creed, religion, race, language, etc.
So however repressive a system is, ultimately it will collapse under revolt or movements upholding these values. This was evident in collapse of Soviet Union, in the Arab Spring.
Yes, those movements failed and gave rise to some wicked forms of governments. There were socioeconomic, political reasons for those failures. But even those new repressive regimes will eventually be overthrown. Rest assured. It will happen. The natural rights of humans cannot be suppressed for long.
When Liberty – the first and most crucial Natural Right goes berserk
We need to observe various societies in history. Human greed has always been a huge factor and the motive force behind these.
And this greed combined with extreme personal liberty is a lethal combination. We see it in the Corporate greed world over where the entire ideology becomes grab and snatch. We see it as extreme economic imbalance.
And extreme public expressions of personal Liberty are often rather “unpalatable” to puritanical, conservative mindsets.
The “filthy rich” with accompanying “degeneration of society” as the extreme conservatives from all sides call it.
We can take ample examples of such viewpoints and the movements they started.
Take the Egyptian school teacher Sayyid Qutb – the inspiration of Ayman al-Zawahiri (co-founder of Al Qaeda).
Or consider the case of neoconservative ideology of America which viewed the extreme liberalisation of the society more as a bane than as a boon.
Consider the Nazis who were terribly angry at the degenerate German society post WW-1, led by Weimar Republic.
See how the extreme inequality and supposed degeneration of Shah regime in Iran gave backlash rise of Ayatollah Khomeini and his ideology.
Look at how the Hindutva forces keep on lamenting the destruction of Indian culture under Mogul and British rules. (Of course, caste system in India is essentially based on inequality within the society. But within that layered inequality, socioeconomic injustice is enforced with an eerie sense of Equality by one section on another.)
Reaction – Correcting the imbalance by force
When such imbalance in the natural rights occurs, forces within the system tend to create movements which forcibly remove inequality and strike a balance.
It is easy to observe that Fraternity is invoked and it tries to enforce Equality.
When this happens with Religion as the basis, we call it Surge of the Right Wing.
When this happens with Class as the basis, we call it Surge of the Left Wing.
But in both cases the enforcement of Equality is easily observable.
Take any extreme right or extreme left movement. Set aside the basis (Religion of Right or Class of Left). You will see the common factor i.e. attempt to enforce Equality in all of them.
- Consider their insistence on uniforms (what does the word UNIFORM mean!)
- Look at their attempts to make everyone look alike
- See how they all use some sort of salutes & slogan-like greetings
- Observe how they attempt to make everyone conform to “a standard” by force
Consider the hardcore versions Nazis, Communist Regimes, Ku Klux Klan, Taliban, etc. Or consider the softer versions such as the Aryan Nation or Hindutva forces in India. The pattern will be immediately visible – whether it is right or left.
The entire attempt is to enforce Equality. This happens as a reaction to misused Liberty. It is a reaction to Liberty gone berserk.
Liberty Resurgent – The Cyclic Twists & Turns
But this enforcement of Equality through invocation of Fraternity does not last long.
The very word “enforcement” is anti-Liberty.
Enforcement indicates imposition by a higher power i.e. dictatorial, authoritarian rule.
So power centres get created under such regimes. These may be individuals or groups of individuals. These power centres are “holy”, “untouchable”, “above the notions of mistakes”, “beyond criticism”. But below them everyone is equal – a mental slave – but equal.
Look at the intense reaction from Trump or Modi supporters when their holiness, their mistakes are questioned and criticised.
And of course, Liberty is brutalised by such approach. Freedom of Speech is evidently the first casualty by “You cannot criticise the holy one” norm.
Therefore, sooner or later Liberty raises its head again. And this leads to Arab Spring (extreme forms of right regimes collapse). Or this leads to collapse of Soviet Union (extreme form of left regimes collapse).
Societies where notions of Liberty are deeply ingrained, the backlash is immediate – they way many Americans are responding to Trump. But even otherwise, Liberty cannot remain suppressed for long – whatever name one may give to the political ideology.
Is there a way out?
The liberal secular ideologues are bewildered world-over and reeling under the blows. But it will not last long. Liberty will take over again, much sooner this time as people have tasted enlightened political setups and governance models. Renaissance has occurred and is visible worldwide.
But is there a way to assure that this tussle between natural rights does not go on? Logically it should not go on.
The immediate thought that would come to mind is “Those libertarians should at least self censor”.
But censor, even self-censor is again anti-Liberty in its very invocation.
What may help is coining a new term and start educating children right from school days. The new phrase can be “Responsible Liberty”.
With great freedom comes great responsibility.
Censorship has an unmistakable negative suppressive connotation to it.
But, responsibility has a positive value and connotation.
I am neither an education expert and nor a social scientist. But just keen observation of human nature can bring about lot of insights.
The onus on finding out ways and means to promote and inculcate Responsible Liberty … a Liberty which is grounded in assuring Equality & Fraternity … is on the secular liberal lot across the globe. Only then can the tag “degenerate” be removed from libertarian values.
Or the cycle would continue.