"THE MORE CORRUPT THE STATE, THE MORE NUMEROUS THE LAWS" - TACITUS
There are certain books which drastically change the way you look at the world. They...more"THE MORE CORRUPT THE STATE, THE MORE NUMEROUS THE LAWS" - TACITUS
There are certain books which drastically change the way you look at the world. They will shook you down, call you a fool at your face, pass a quiver through your spine and give you goose bumps.
This is one such book.
Although written in the 19th century, every word this book utters, holds good even today. It is a strong argument put forth to defend the 'Liberty' of man. The author chides away every attempt to apply the instrument of law to anything other than to promote justice and sharply details out how the law is increasingly "perverted" for the purposes of "legal plunder". He argues that the law, instead of protecting the "personality, liberty and propery" of man, is being framed and organized to promote the interests of few group of individuals or of the state itself by depriving the interests of other group of men, all in the disguise of philanthropy and common good.
What enthralled me more is that every argument, warning, consequence of "legal plunder" is more applicable to my country, India, in its present day. For example: We have the 'National Rural Employment Guarantee Act' which guarantees 100 days of work to every citizen. It is up-roared as a triumph by the media and the ruling party although it contradicts the very logic that more the citizens are dependent on the government for work, more true that the government has failed. We have the 'Right to Education Act' (passed on April 1) but nowhere quality education is provided. The ruling party is vehemently proposing to bring-in "Food Security Act", which could dent our fiscal bills and escalate our debts, to provide food at the lowest cost possible to nearly 65% of the population, when our very system of Public distribution system is itself full of loopholes. The greater the number of laws passed everyday, the bigger is the magnitude of corruption perpetuated by people occupying the higher offices, as it increases the sphere of authority of bureaucrats and parliamentarians.
What are the consequences of such legal plunder? Bastiat answers, "It would efface from everybody’s conscience the distinction between justice and injustice". This is once again true, especially among youngsters, and the number of people engaged in plunder,corruption is increasing day-by-day and the one who stands uncorrupted or holds truth is being constantly rebuked as 'stupid, impotent and unwise' instead of being saluted, honoured and followed.
Another remarkable quality of Bastiat is, unlike Rousseau and his counterparts, he envisions a government which is stable and a society which is progressive, self-correcting and peaceful as against the one which is ever-active to go for revolution to overthrow the administration.
With the extreme clarity of thought and simple language, Bastiat singularly questions everything which we leave unquestioned and take for granted. It certainly gripped me as a fever and made me to 'Think' and 'See'. Its no wonder that it has reached us today, enduring all the test of time.
As I read through this book, I was imagining, which followed me as a motif until the end, the figure of Dostoevsky laughing heartily, with his heart f...more
As I read through this book, I was imagining, which followed me as a motif until the end, the figure of Dostoevsky laughing heartily, with his heart filled with infuriation, and his eyes studying me, steadily and gracefully, at the way I got transfixed with his ideas and prose; the way I was shuddering and smattering to pieces, yet remaining hapless; the way he has made me go naked by telling the truth about myself(and everyone of us); and above all, how in spite of all his attacks and concrete blows, I am reeling inside under intense pain, yet finding pleasure in my own despair proving him once again true. If true liberation means not to be ashamed in front of oneself, then it is this book which liberated me.
'Notes from the Underground' is a thorough and a convincing argument against 'Rational egoism'. To be simple, it is against the philosophy of holding reason as the only absolute without taking into question the various other active forces like the fundamental individuality of human soul, complexity of human personality and the power of free will. To be simpler, it's a champion of Individualism, and is against all utopias, totalitarianism, any kind of dogmatism, and the evaluation of human beings on the basis of their intelligence alone(History says that Dostoevsky wrote this book as a response to the revolutionary novel titled 'What is to be done?' which was read by Lenin five times in one summer, and which eventually formed the emotional support of Russian Revolution and every blood shed that followed).
The Underground man is an extremely intelligent one, conscious and has a sense of "beautiful and lofty"(a term borrowed from Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant)and considers himself a 'developed man'. Because of this exalted sense of his own self he considers the rest of the men around him with contempt, feeling of hatred although at the same time, paradoxically, he is also afraid of them and thinks that people around him are better than him. Throughout his life he remains in the dark cellar, day dreaming, spiteful, shameful, lazy, paranoiac and detached from every other human being around him. He tells us that, in his youth, he tried rather earnestly to live by the ideals he found in European literature and philosophy. He talks to us, or rather write to himself, after 40 years of underground life.
Full of monologues, confessions and ramblings he writes about the effects of the philosophy he chose in his early life. His problems are the problems of every thinking man; every intellectual; every individual who takes pride in his intelligence - his pettiness, his contempt for the people around him, his arrogance, his yearning for a recognition for his intelligence and moral goodness, his weakness, his doubts, ridiculousness, inaction, indecision. Is he a hero? Yes. Is he above ordinary folks? Definitely Yes. He is more self-aware, conscious, has literary merits in his writings and more articulate......Then why did he choose to stay in a corner, spiteful and contemptuous? Was he afraid? Yes. But afraid of what? His spite is a veil; a cover to protect himself; to protect his inner sanctity, purity, jaded innocence - above all his individuality, one of the few things he possess.
An individuality which he has grown around a philosophy(of course, its none other than but that of Kant) which takes reason as the only parameter to choose one's actions, and consequently led to him live a life of inaction. By holding reason alone as his standard he swept himself off to endless reflection for he came up with multiple motives to act and the sheer multiplicity drowned him in self-doubts. Action became impossible to him because he was unable to choose the best course of action. If reason alone be applied to the reality, what remains to us is just absurdity, vagueness and death.
I have never really realized the true meaning of these words of Bertrand Russell until I came to know of our underground man:
"Is not faith in reason alone a dangerous creed? No sensible man, however agnostic, has "faith in reason alone." Reason is concerned with matters of fact, some observed, some inferred. The question whether there is a future life and the question whether there is a God concern matters of fact, and the agnostic will hold that they should be investigated in the same way as the question, "Will there be an eclipse of the moon tomorrow?"
But matters of fact alone are not sufficient to determine action, since they do not tell us what ends we ought to pursue. In the realm of ends, we need something other than reason.....a realm which is not that of reason, though it should be in no degree contrary to it. The realm I mean is that of emotion and feeling and desire."
Man rebels as long as he remains conscious. Even our underground man is a rebel. He rebelled by staying in a corner protecting his individuality although it is already ruined by his philosophy he accepted long back."If you pretend, your whole body rebels", they say. Is that not true of him? Although he pretended himself a hero in front of the innocent whore giving long sermons on love, he later felt ashamed, trembled, agonized for them in his loneliness. And Is that not what we do? To think of ourselves as a hero, just because...just because we read books; not because we have understood life, but we understood books.
"...for we are all divorced from life, we are all cripples, every one of us, more or less. We are so divorced from it that we feel at once a sort of loathing for real life, and so cannot bear to be reminded of it. Why, we have come almost to looking upon real life as an effort, almost as hard work, and we are all privately agreed that it is better in books. And why do we fuss and fume sometimes? Why are we perverse and ask for something else? We don’t know what ourselves. It would be the worse for us if our petulant prayers were answered."
To act; to become a hero, man requires not only intelligence but something more - something more like courage, character, insight, sympathy. Not only to act but also to love. He could have fallen in love for the redeemed harlot but for his reasons; reasons he learnt from books alone. Reason is all enough to call a whore, a whore. But it requires something more to call a whore, a human.
Next time, when we choose our philosophy and ideals, lets remember our underground man. Lets remember that we are all human beings with a mind made of conscious, subconscious and unconscious layers. And that our consciousness is just one-third of our mind and the faculty of reason is just one-third of our consciousness.
Let us always remember these lines of Shakespeare(Hamlet),
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio Than are dreamt of in your philosophy"(less)