Limited Government is one of the cardinal principles of liberalism. Although there has historically been a debate among liberals on where to draw the line on government interference, there is unanimity on expanding individual freedom. Produced below is a piece published in the August 1958 issue of the Indian Libertarian magazine. It discusses the principles behind State Interference.
We are being led speedily along the paths of a revolution made elsewhere. The social, economic and political ideas forming the substance of our revolution, of which the masterpilot is Jawaharlal Nehru, have been based on European experience and European speculation. They have no doubt some universal application in as much as all humanity has something in common. But ideas have to be assimilated in terms of our own experience and thought if they are to be beneficent in practice. Such relation to national experience is indispensable, especially where revolutionary ideas changing the governing ideals of society at breakneck speed have to be put into force in a democratic setup with the understanding and consent of the people.
The socialistic pattern of society that is being imposed on our people by the “idealism” of Jawaharlal Nehru is in fact the end-result of a distorted reading of Eur-american experience and thought extending over a century and a half between the French Enlightenment and Revolution of the eighteenth century and the Marxist revolution of Tsarist Russia in October 1917.
To the political freedom of the democratic revolution in France, the Russian revolution of 1817 added, in intention, the goal of economic freedom. Mere external freedom at law was found to be equivalent in practice only to the freedom to starve, and political equality was found to be surprisingly compatible with extreme inequality in economic condition.
The two branches of revolutionary thought that arose in response to this situation, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary, evolutionary and catastrophic, one relying on rational persuasiveness and peaceful moulding of public opinion, and the other relying on class war, conspiracy and mobilisation of the working class for a final war on the capitalist class and their governmental agents, have influenced leaders of opinion ,everywhere, and came to be known as socialism. In our country, the advent of independence brought Pandit Nehru the opportunity at last to put his vision of socialism into practice.
UNWILLING AND UNCONVINCED
Today this situation has created a lag between the mind of the nation and the plans of the leaders. There is also a gulf between the socialism of the leaders and the ruling ideas and feelings of the bulk of persons in the administration and the ruling party. The socialistic pattern of society is being hustled into shape by the drive of the Prime Minister, without the understanding and willing consent of the bulk of the intelligentsia and the rank and file of the middle world between them and the masses.
Sri Hanumanthaiya, former chief minister of Mysore, compared this situation to the artificial religion of Din-i-ilahi imposed on his court and subjects by Akbar the Great Moghul. It disappeared like mist at sunrise after the emperor’s demise. The socialist faith of our intelligentsia and administrators is largely a matter of outward conformity supported by sentiment and deference to authority.
So too the opponents of socialism do not resort to any serious analysis of socialism and do not seek to defend their libertarian views concerning the freedom of the vocations (including that of economic enterprise) through rational criticism and constructive suggestion. They just demur faintly to the ideological nature of Government’s policies and urge the authorities, with decreasing success, to let business survive on the empirical ground that it is making a success of its job, that it is fulfilling its targets in the Five Year Plan, and that Government will do well to use its own money for starting new industries instead of locking it up in the acquisition of existing units, and so on.
This position is extremely unsatisfactory, both for the realisation of socialism as a permanent and beneficent revolution and for a safe and practicable return to a better basis or order of society if socialism should fail after all and not achieve the plenty and progress that it promises.
ALL ROUND RE-THINKING
From this point of view, the lacuna in thought between policy and experience should be bridged by fundamental thinking on all the issues involved in the socialistic pattern of society. Many aspects of social life are involved – political: concerning the nature of the State, of its legitimate sphere of action and of the conditions of successful democracy; economic: concerning the role of private enterprise, the nature and limits of Governmental intervention, the destiny of the capitalist class, the status of the working class; social and individual ideals: whether a rising standard of living can be the be-all and end-all of social evolution or whether limitation of economic development may not be necessary to keep the pace of progress from corrupting the quality of human life; the role of equality as a social ideal and its apparent conflict with the equally indispensable ideal of liberty etc. The great issue of freedom versus totalitarianism throws its sombre colour over the whole scene of social life and organisation, and invests every question with the utmost gravity.
It would be untenable to maintain that events in India are being guided by the composite elite in power on the basis of knowledge and foresight. It is proposed in this article to suggest a point of view that may afford the right clues to the beneficent function of the State in relation to economic life. Such a vision of the right relation between the State and economic affair will resolve the conflict between individualism and collectivism, both of which are extremes and abstractions, bringing disaster if pressed into action in isolation unmodified by each other.
The philosophical background that the present writer has in view is the opposing theories of individualism represented by J.S. Mill and of idealism represented by T. H. Green and Bernard Bosanquet. These two opposing lines of thought cover the field of social policy in principle and help us to define the lines of fruitful policy in every field of social life and enable us to resolve conflicts arising from partial views.
If we take over the inspirations and conflicts of Marxism, as we are doing, we might as well (indeed we must) use the more comprehensive and wiser insights of these philosophers of the same period from the West to heal the wounds of class-war ideas. Indeed we may find it justifiable and useful to restrict the attractive term socialism to the golden mean between the extremes of individualism and collectivism and free it from undue and misleading association with Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Khruschevist Communism.
THE NECESSITY OF FREEDOM
Though the inherent inconsistencies of J.S. Mill’s view of liberty have been shown by his opponents, the enduring value of the core of his thought has been recognised all round. It consists in a clear demonstration of the necessity of freedom for the growth and fulfilment of individuality. Freedom. from this point of view, is not only a means but an integral part of the end.
No achievement in society-military power, scientific development, growth in the arts, etc is of any intrinsic value unless it issues from freedom and is assimilated in freedom by the individuals. This is the distinctive human quality, without which we will have only an ant-like society without independent self- reliant members, each a centre and efforescence of value-for-self as well as value-for-others. Freedom of thought and discussion, freedom of economic enterprise and political participation in public affairs, are all necessary for growth in individuality, self-fulfillment and realisation of the powers inherent in human personality.
This view is substantially identical with the core of thought in the later “positive liberalism” of T. H. Green, though the philosophical background is different, namely concrete idealism deriving from Plato and Aristotle, Rousseau and Hegel, as against the empiricism of Locke, Hume and Mill.
THE ANALYSIS OF FREEDOM
According to idealism of this type, freedom has meaning at two levels. The basic meaning of freedom is freedom from restrictions preventing or limiting self-prompted activity. Freedom in the higher sense includes this but expands to include opportunity to choose ways of self-realisation through law. Law is the liberator of the higher self which restricts the lower of narrower self and makes possible the emergence of the self into the larger life of morality and truth.
Morality is action which co-ordinates the activities of many to help their rise to more inclusive ways of life, reconciling their impulses into harmony and making possible the emergence of common good. Common good is good that synthesises the good of individuals and society. Self-realisation in society is achieved through contribution to common good through one’s “station and its duties,” to use the famous phrase of F. H. Bradely.
The value of individuality and freedom for its growth and fulfillment is therefore common to Mill and Green. To safeguard this value, Mill proposed a distinction between two spheres in the life of the individual, one self-regarding or private and other public. The self-regarding sphere has consequences for the individual alone, while the public sphere is that concerned with the social consequences of our actions.
In practice this distinction breaks down.as is pointed out by the idealist school. Society is an integral whole, such that every action of the individual has both self-regarding and other-regarding consequences. It is not possible to base law and State action on pure other-regarding consequences.
Even intimate experiences like married life, and religion, where the self is supposed to be alone with his God, have aspects in which individuals may impinge on society, bringing them within the legitimate sphere of Government. Excessive cruelty, dessertion, adultery are matters which bring married life within the sphere of the law, for they have social consequences. ·
In religion, Government will have to intervene if gurudwaras or mosques are used for anti-social activities such as the encouragement of treachery in the guise of religious addresses or for attacking other religious groups from the protected premises. Even sleeping can come within governmental notice if the sleeper is a watchman or sentry who sleeps while on duty!