The qualifications, characteristics as well as the ideal values of rulers has been debated by various philosophers for ages. These philosophical debates have informed modern day democratic setups and they continue to catch the eye of those who seek to engage in the relationship between the ruler and the citizen. The following piece, published in the December 1961 edition of the Indian Libertarian magazine elucidates on the characteristics of rulers vis-a-vis ideas from ancient Indian thinkers.
Now that the principal parties in all the land have published their manifestos and there is but a short period for the voters to digest their programmes and assess their merits before the general elections in February 1962, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of what qualifications and wisdom we wish the rulers to possess to deserve our choice and approval.
It is usual in a democracy with adult franchise to consider the qualifications of the voter and to feel that at least literacy should be universalised as soon as possible. But though literacy in the sense of the bare capacity to read and write in the native tongue is necessary, it is not enough by itself.
This will take decades more to compass at the slow rate at which primary schools are being increased under Congress rule. Meanwhile, the more important question is the qualification of the candidates for election i.e., for the right and power to rule.
Yatha raja, tatha praja: as is the king, so will be the people. It is not mere time that makes the yuga or time spirit but it is the king that determines the entire “progress-and-happiness conditioning” climate of society and state at any time. These sayings in Sanskrit literature bring out the critical importance of the character and ability of the rulers and governing class generally in any society and state.
Every considerable civilisation has developed its own nations of the model to be followed by the rulers- Greece, Rome, Medieval Christian Europe, the modern Eur-American civilisation of the present day as well as Indian and Chinese cultures. In Indian tradition, accepted treaties on raja dharma like the code of Manu in part, Arthasastra, Sukra Niti and a host of lesser ones lay down the type to which rulers were expected to conform.
The qualifications are twofold: one group refers to knowledge and wisdom. The raja or ruler together with his counselors should be trained in the highest sciences and arts then extant. First of all, they should have a knowledge of philosophy i.e., a knowledge of the vedas by which they meant a vision of the universe as governed by spiritual forces. They should have a view of nature as the field of natural enemies ultimately dominated by spirit.
But by the time of the Arthashastra of Chanakya, it was realised that it is possible for the ethical aspects of government to be pursued satisfactorily by kings and rulers and administrators even without faith in a spiritual reality pervading the universe. Chanakya himself was a lokyata or materialist in philosophy. But what was insisted upon was a clear and passion-free attitude to moral values i.e., dharma. The aim of the state was the maintenance of dharma or social morality through law and custom and danda, police and magistracy and defense against foreign aggressors.
Even in the Upanishads we have a glimpse of such a view. Narada in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad asks Sanatkumara for instruction in the highest knowledge. We profess to have a mastery of many sciences and arts but lack knowledge of the final unity of reality and value.
This synoptic vision is emphasised in Manu as essential to the education of the ruler. The vision of order and unity in the cosmos is held to be essential to help the ruler to stir his imagination and conscience to motivate his duty to maintain order and unity in the human society entrusted to his care. Dharma refers to the translation of such cosmic order in the social sphere.
In addition to such a synoptic view of the universe and of society, the ruler should have a high character. The first requisite should have mastered the passions of greed, miserliness, selfishness, indulgence in sense pleasures to the neglect of duty, such as women and wine and vice. Positively, he should have a high sense of duty to society and state and devote his entire energies to the tasks of administration without fear or favour. He should be above class. The welfare of the people in every sphere of life should be his sole care.
Justice should be his ruling emotion. In addition to knowledge and justice, he should have respect to the ethos of the society-respect to men of wisdom, of experience, followers of the sciences and the arts.
He should consult the elders in these lines everyday. He should develop ingrained habits of tapas by constant practise, that is, meditation for short spells everyday so that the great values can sink into the subconscious mind. The attitudes and conduct expected of the ruler and his subordinates in high administration, civil and military, were held in solution as they were in a keen and living public opinion of the society of the governing class. It was known to the people at large that the governing class were held responsible by public opinion and popular expectation.
To what extent such codes were actually effective in practice is another question that needs a historical investigation for answer. Turning to the western world, we find in Plato’s delineation of the philosopher kings a close approximation to the Indian ideas mentioned here. “Until philosophers are kings or until the kings and potentates of the world imbibe the spirit of philosophy, the world will not cease from ill.” This is the famous sutra or key sentiment of the treatise of Plato called The Republic. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the Indian and Platonic ideas of the ideal rulers but that would require more room than can be taken in this article. But the main approaches can be indicated briefly which would be if current interest in choosing our democratic rulers in the general elections.
Plato also puts synoptic knowledge of philosophy and science in the forefront of the qualifications of the ruler. In order to bring about a harmony of values and to adjust the claims of classes in society both feel that the ruler should have a vision of harmony in the cosmos and in society. The guardians should have transcendent devotion to social good. To fortify them in this spirit of service, Plato is not content with the public opinion as a cheque and stimulus. He proposes the abolition of private family and private property for the rulers! They can have all necessaries and comforts but no individual property. But instinct is not altogether suppressed, for Plato provides for sex and children in seasonal hymenial festivals when guardians of different sexes can unite in temporary marriage. Children are brought up by nurses without knowledge of their own parents. All the children are regarded as children of all the guardians. Women are given full equality and guardians are chosen among them also through educational sifting like men.
Capacity to think on the highest level is thus secured in both Indian and Platonic systems. In addition to pure theory, Plato’s guardians are put through practical experience in different branches of administration and are given military service as well. Their character and integrity are tested through fires of temptation while holding positions of power in the administrative hierarchy. They should be able to resist both pleasure and pain and to maintain their loyalty and devotion to duty unsullied.
Turning to the modern world, we find that the communist system as developed in Moscow approximates in several important respects to these ancient ideals so far as form and devotion to the state are concerned. The governing elite consists of the members of the communist party which numbers a few millions among the huge population of more than 200 million. There is a rigid hierarchy among the members of the party, tier on tier, rising from the recruits at the bottom to the top power-holders in the executives of the party and government.
Recruits are trained in the ideology of Marxism-Leninism which is developed as a closed system of dogmas or truths held to be final. This view of history and materialism as used by Lenin in the guidance of the October Revolution takes the place of the philosophy and sciences in the older systems of India and Greece. One difference is that theory is held in the spirit of final truth unmodifiable by anyone except in the way of practice. Such practical adaptations are to be made only by the authorised top masters in the Kremlin. The rest in the hierarchy should accept them in toto in a spirit of loyal devotion. The spirit recalls Semitic theologies in its rigour and intolerance. Deviations however honest are not allowed and are punished with savage cruelty if persisted in. Just as the Bible built its authority on current notions of creation with their false geology and ethnology and crude legal system, today communism has built itself on the theories of Karl Marx. To doubt the theory is to shake the throne of the Kremlin rulers which they cannot of course tolerate.
It is like doubting the theological doctrines of the Incarnation of Christ, his resurrection from the cross on which he was implied and of the Trinity. Such doubt shakes the throne and authority of the Pope, the sole Vicar of Christ on earth, lord of men and rulers! Catholic theology and law prescribes death by fire for heresy. More than 30,000 heretics are said to have been burned by the authority of the Inquisition Court in the centuries of Catholic supremacy in Europe! The liquidations of the Nazis and Communists run into several millions for a similar offense against authorised belief. This is a return to the Dark Ages.
But the kernel of truth behind this insistence on dogma refers to the need and value of a philosophy or total vision of affairs, natural and human, for the purpose of governing nations.
Communists take over Marx’s view of history as a gradual development of classes through different stages of organisation of property ownership and economic production- the primitive horde, nomadic cattle owners, landlords, industrial craft guilds, and finally the capitalist class of machine production. A change in the mode of property and production introduces a change in the relationship of the classes. New classes of owners arise with new classes of workers who are exploited by them, slaves, serfs and wage labourers in today’s factories.
There is a dialectic in these changes, each system provoking its opposite and giving place to it in a synthesis. Today’s stage of wage labour and factory ownership has provoked and trained the property-less class of the proletariat. They will seize power in the next stage of socialism and communism by the immanent law of dialectic history. It is also a law of materialism. The idealism of Hegel is repudiated and his spiritual dialectic is stood on its head and turned upside down by Marx. The next stage is regarded as inevitable and that no effort of will on the part of any group of people can prevent the revolution from emerging. It can hasten it or delay it but ward it off it cannot, by any means. This is the historical and economic determinism of Karl Marx.
This belief gives communist rulers an inexpugnable assurance of final victory, since history and the entire process of the cosmos is supposed to be on their side. This theory gives communists their orientation on the present social world and defines to them their mission of world revolution. They hold to this theory with marvelous tenacity since it is bound up with their fortunes as individuals and as a group holding supreme power. It gives them the feeling of being engaged in an exalted purpose tending to save humanity in the future from the dark ages of exploitation forever. They envisaged an earthly paradise through their ideology and rule.
Communist ideologies reproduce the fanaticism and fervour and deathless devotion and social cohesion of semitic faiths in their prime. It has the force of a living religion. Knowledge and character, faith and devotion of a particular kind are therefore inculcated by the communists system in their elite. The knowledge of Marxism-Leninism gives them a blueprint for revolution and world conquest.
To set against the formidable rival entrenched in the Kremlin spreading its powerful tentacles throughout the world through its subordinate conspiratorial communist parties, the free world needs a philosophy and character of comparable power and scope.
What are the motive forces of such a saving system available to the free world?
The rival includes the whole of humanity in its province. The free world should do no less. We need therefore a strong and lively vision of humanity progressing in freedom and unity on the planet for our philosophy. Within its universal range, as a practical stage, we should harness the forces of nationalism and democracy for the substance of value-making faith.
Our mission should be to prevent the calamity of mechanisation and robotisation of man under communism. Positively, we should develop the vision of a free world of nations cooperating as a world commonwealth pursuing the sciences, the arts and the philosophies in a spirit of free reason and universal sharing and goodwill.
We should have the ideal of using science and technology to create abundance of the necessities and comforts of life for all members of the human family, not merely for a small class of governors.
The rulers should have sufficient knowledge of nature as can be pictured from time to time from a synthesis of scientific results. The open mind should be retained. “Order” which is common to all possible scientific views is sufficient without commitment to matter or spirit.
A new scale of moral values like humanism, nationalism and democracy such as the new Declaration of Human Rights should be expected of electoral candidates amongst us.
The original piece appeared in the December 1961 edition of the Indian Libertarian Magazine which can be accessed here.