Plebeian Democracy in India

by Harasankar Adhikari

Frontier | Jun 29, 2017

“In the world there is no one but the vulgar.”

Politics in Indian democracy is a business of power, authority and wealth making. Party dominated democratic government rarely reveals grassroots empowerment in politics. Overall system of democracy makes people advantageous to ruling party from lower houses to upper houses. Unfortunately, we see that it teaches ‘how not to be good’. Indian democracy might be considered as a “plebeian” model of democracy in late republican Rome. Plebeian democracy teaches to combat hierarchical social structures based on differentiated socioeconomic classes through equal right to voting and participation in government. Purposively, Indian democracy is empowering plebeians in all respects. Patrician reshapes themselves as plebeians for the sake of gaining power and authority. According to McCormick, it breaks ‘economic elites’ hold on electoral power, and an expanded capacity for ordinary citizens to deliberate and make public judgments’.  As per the view of Machiavelli, there is the fundamental discontinuity between political ethics and ethics as such. The  transvaluation of moral values has been described : “[A] man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards must come to ruin among so many who are not good. Hence it is necessary to a prince, if he wants to maintain himself, to learn to be able not to be good, and use this and not use it according to necessity”.  

And a successful political leader is not needed to have a political ethics distinct from traditional accounts of virtue which we truly face in our daily life. Daily gesture and posture of the head of the government and his/her sub-ordinates tells it as evident.  That’s why, responsible political leaders and their actions are necessarily the violation, and not the indirect realization, of traditional moral norms which we use to experience almost every day.  There is rarely need of fortitude, temperance, justice, and wisdom in political affairs. There is the gap between politics and morality. They usually violate moral norms for the sake of politics. They teach how not to be good. For this they “generate fear, to lie and deceive, to break promises, to put on a fake display of piety, to remain focused on the military underpinnings of legal orders, and to administer “well-used cruelty”.

They speak for “the trustworthy motives of the people,” and their ‘tendency to use aggression and violence not at all or only in retribution to evil from the nobles, their superior capacity to embody norms of goodness and decency’. In such type of democracy, “republics, democracies, and popular governments have eternally suffered attempts by wealthy citizens to manipulate politics to their own benefit.” This populist-democratic is feature of correlation of a political wisdom which understands that political ethics are discontinuous with ethics as such and therefore require certain transgressions of conventional moral norms.

It is also evident that their commitment to this plebeian democracy is to facilitate ‘democratic life simply in terms of an undifferentiated notion of free and equal citizenship’ and that indicates ‘fundamental and formal division between the few and the many, sullies the idealism’. Thus, ‘this differentiation signals that plebeian democracy can provide only a disenchanted and compromised version of the commitment to free and equal citizenship’.

Comparing with monarchy, feudal aristocracy, or authoritarianism plebeians democracy is ‘straightforward, perfectionist, fully-idealized fashion as political and legal equality’. ‘But when the threat to democracy comes from within democracy itself—from powerful elites who win power in a democracy and threaten abuse of less powerful citizens, or from the impossibility of fully realizing core principles like fair equality of opportunity—then democracy progressively proceeds, paradoxically, by taking a step back from its own ideals and insisting on the reintroduction of the few and the many’. Therefore, the differentiation between the few and the many are ‘not only a demoralized account of democracy, but a demoralized account of ordinary citizenship. Self-identifying plebeians in our democratic model endure certain socio-psychological costs as a consequence of plebeian democracy’. We observe everyday in India that

“the people . . . must be provoked into . . . indignation, and are done so, with beneficial political results, by formal political inequality that, counter intuitively, inspires more substantive political equality in practice.”

Socio-psychological burden of plebeian democracy is illusory because according to McCormick, ‘plebeian institutions are meant to embody and cultivate—indignation(an important feature of plebeian ethics) —indicates a more onerous inner life for the ordinary citizen than that advertised by leading paradigms of democratic citizenship, whether the rancor-free rational psychology of deliberative ethics or the rancorous yet egalitarian psychology of so-called agonistic models. It might be seen as the plebeian or democratic contribution to the longstanding tenet of political modernism that any authentic political theory must presuppose the human being to be fallen’.

Will political leaders and their rule save our people’s democracy when we face conflict and violence everyday among common mass? Their own interest of gain power and authority is the pain in Indian plebeian democracy. The grass root empowerment and political participation is vague and it is motivated for self-interest. We should rethink the way of peace among common mass. Swami Vivekananda viewed that there is need of vigil of working class/lower class for progress of the country as an experience like many other economic and political system. But it would be danger when it would lose its features of working class/lower class identity, because the plebeians would be empowered as patricians. Above fact should be remembered and we should rethink what would be next in our democracy.



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