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:
- The rulers, temporal and spiritual, who strove hard for the status quo.
- Ambitious elements who tried to carve a slice of their own.
- Common people who tried again and again to, throw off their oppressing weights.
- 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 Samuel :
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
Might is Right
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 humiliating.
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 democracy.
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 thought:
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 inour 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 exploitations 3
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 (p. 35).
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 and theocracy.*
*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 Deen.
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 noted :
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 peace.9
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 observations :
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 constrained.17
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 you.18
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 (p. 8).
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 consideration :
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.”2122 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.”
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. 23
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 promised hereafter.28
The Spanish scholar, Dr. Falta de Gracia, writes:
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).
Search 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 different societies.33
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, pp. 106-109. 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. 729-30. 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. 17. 22. Ibid. 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