Let me say it once again, the AAP victory cannot be understood outside the post-ideological moment. I have argued earlier on Kafila (here and here), that one of the key features of AAP was its post-ideological character – one that moved relentlessly beyond many verities of 20th century ideologies and binaries like state versus market, or religious/communal versus secular and so forth. To reiterate, this formation represents the spirit of the moment that is itself post-ideological.
But it is also time perhaps, to underline that post-ideological does not mean post-political. At least, not any longer. There is no doubt that a politics of AAP is gradually and clearly coming into view – but it is a politics whose edifice is being built from the bottom up. It does not derive from any settled ideological blueprint that comes ready-made – a blueprint around which a politics is then sought to be constructed. That was the project of all 20th century ideologies, which had already divided the world into neat camps and made the divisions into permanent battle lines. Ideologies became repositories of Truth – universal and unchanging, taking away from politics the very contingency and fluidity that defines it. Ideology, in other words, was fundamentally anti-political. In parenthesis, it may be relevant to point out that that is why, perhaps, Marx himself celebrated the Paris Commune by underlining that the workers “had no ideals to realize, no blueprints to which the world must conform”; they merely had to set free the new forces that were challenging the old order. Socialism in the 19th century was not yet an ideology in that sense.
Politics, once freed from the shackles of ideology, liberates itself also from the party-apparatuses that embody them. That is when it reconnects with life itself. In fact, politics ceases when ideology takes over. Politics must take place only by interrupting / disrupting the ideological moment. It is therefore always an adventure – open ended and without the comforts provided by ideology.
This politics sans ideology has rightly left behind the carping ideology-warriors – not caring even to respond to their smug and self-satisfied ‘critiques’. This politics has rattled not only the ideology-warriors of the Left but also of the the economic and cultural Right. Witness the cultural rightists of the Hindutva brigade desperately trying to paint this self-professed nationalist, waving the national tricolour, as a ‘traitor’, a Pakistani agent (remember Modi’s ‘AK-49’ speech in Banaras), as anti-national (see the video of Hindu Mahasabha leader Omji who has threatened to kill Kejriwal). There is clearly something deeply discomforting about this nationalism that unsettles the Hindu Right. Similarly, witness the warriors of the economic right, Surjit Bhalla and Tavleen Singh, unable to decide whether to rant against Kejriwal or praise him. Bhalla of course, was trying to convince us that it was ‘advantage BJP’ all the way, till he discovered ‘Dilli ko gussa kyon aayaa. Like the ideology-warrior that he is, Bhalla is keen to separate out the ‘economic performance’ of the Modi government from the list of issues that may have affected what is clearly a vote against the Modi government. He thus zeroes in exclusively on ‘love jihad’, ‘haramzade’ and such other matters as factors responsible for BJP’s unprecedented defeat. (On a different level, I too would like to believe these issues had some effect). Tavleen Singh has long derided ‘Kejriwal’s nautanki‘ and predicted the “end of the road for Kejriwal“. She too comes out more nuanced now than ever before, conceding that though she is ‘far from being a povertarian’, she is ‘sickened to see shiny malls rise out of squalid slums’ or ‘see the finest private hospitals and schools sit beside government schools and hospitals that are a public disgrace’. One is not sure what to make of this change of heart but it is perhaps not correct to rule out a genuine rethink on the part of these two commentators. If the AAP victory could make right wing ideology-warriors re-examine even a few of their assumptions, as it has prompted many on the Left to do, it will be no mean achievement.
Beyond the ‘Secular’ versus ‘Communal’ Divide
One arena where such a stance of the Aam Aadmi Party was evident was in the sphere of what has been called the secular/ communal question. This is by far the most difficult issue to deal with. In the heyday of secular-nationalist hegemony, this never managed to become a politically or electorally salient issue. But since the mid-1980s, and especially since the mobilization for the demolition of Babri Masjid began, liberals, leftists and secularists of all hues have been fighting a rearguard battle, conceding more and more ground to the Hindu Right.
To the sinking secularist morale, the rise of Dalit and Backward Caste politics in the early 1990s appeared like a straw they could hang on to. It was hoped that the Dalit-bahujan discourse of caste could be used as an effective counter to the homogenizing discourse of Hindutva. Even though the BSP was not averse to alliances with the BJP whenever it felt the need to do so, secularists, leftists and liberals of different hues did not give up hope. OBC politics, especially in the form of Samajwadi Party in UP and the Janata Dals in Bihar, took on the mantle of secularism and did indeed show some guts in the initial phases to take a firm stand against the politics of the Hindu Right. Very soon, however, that degenerated into another version of Congress politics that the BJP labelled ‘vote bank politics’. This politics was fundamentally about making periodic symbolic gestures about minorities and minority rights without actually taking any steps in the direction of addressing their substantive issues. Periodically, you could show the minorities the fear of the RSS and make them fall in line. They became a hostage of this so-called secular politics. For the OBC parties this strategy could work as long as a Muslim-OBC alliance was assured – for that could be a winner in numerical terms. However, effectively that amounted to surrendering to the Hindutva brigade by allowing it to set the terms of politics. The division of the political space along Hindu-Muslim issues basically meant a reordering of the terrain. This was Hindutva’s turf and sooner or later, if it could manage a majority-minority divide, they would be sure to win. And they did manage it this time.
For any party or political formation wanting to avoid the pitfalls of that secular-communal or majority-minority political division, the challenge was huge. It had to be nothing less than the changing of the political terrain itself – taking the battle to another terrain where the majority of Hindus (that is also to say, the poor) could make common cause with the majority of Muslims (also the poor). It was the fashioning of a new discourse where economic and ‘class’ issues were brought to the fore without recourse to the cliches of ‘class politics’. This was a new discourse of a specifically urban politics that could draw in everyone – including the Dalits, the poor Muslims and the poor non-dalit Hindus – on issues of infrastructure and good government. The audacious rejection of the appeal of Imam Bukhari to Muslims to vote for AAP was an element of this understanding. The fact that the Bukhari’s appeal was widely believed to have been orchestrated by the BJP itself, shows how deeply BJP politics is invested in this secular-communal game. This game has over the decades suited both sides of the secular-communal divide making the Muslims (and minorities in general) hostage to this brand of politics.
A word here about the Kejriwal as a ‘believer’ that came across, once again, yesterday at the speech delivered by him at the swearing-in ceremony at Ramlila Grounds. He invoked God – uparwala – repeatedly when he talked about the massive victory of AAP. ‘This kind of victory, this performance cannot be due to any human effort’ he said, much to the derision of Facebook radicals for whom nothing really is at stake except their own purity. In my understanding, Kejriwal’s invocation of ‘the universe’ and ‘uparwala’ has to do with the stupendous nature of the task that confronts anyone who wants to deal with the vexed inter-religious issue that one is confronted with in India. That was how Gandhi – Kejriwal’s spiritual ancestor – too fashioned himself once he came to India, though he too had been close to becoming an atheist when in London. How do you convince millions, if you do not yourself believe, that the task of inter-community unity is nothing short of divinely ordained? How do you address the believer if you are not yourself one? This is not simply an instrumental use of religion. My sense is that Kejriwal has himself begun to believe that this is a divinely ordained task where he and his cohorts are mere nimittas, as he put it at the swearing-in – the medium or the modality – of a larger purpose.
But the difficulty does not end here as AAP’s own experience shows. The Trilokpuri violence for example, did not show AAP in a particularly good light as far as intervening in the situation was concerned. Neither the local AAP MLA nor other AAP activists could ‘afford’ to be seen standing in defense of the minorities who were clearly the wronged. Now, I do think that AAP tried in other ways to make up for it but that really is not of much help, if one loses the ability of standing on the side of the wronged, simply because it might be electorally damaging. One has to be able to delink and identify at least some level of politics that is not determined by the electoral calculus. Can we think today of a Mahatma Gandhi undertaking a lone trek for communal harmony or sitting on hunger strike demanding that the violence be stopped? Perhaps there are no Gandhis among us today. But we can think of another model where we have a network of organizations and outfits, relatively autonomous of each other – not all of whom have to be sensitive about electoral results. As a matter of fact, that is to some extent how the Hindutva organizations function, where BJP is only the electoral-parliamentary wing as it were. Of course, we do not need an RSS replica but it is useful to think of other levels of organizations that maintain their own autonomy of the electoral-parliamentary party and act in tandem when necessary. This requires a different imagination of the party-form itself.
‘Development’, ‘Populism’ and the Popular
The change of terrain discussed above could be effected because the appeal was not a simple ‘class’ directed one. Kejriwal’s (and AAP’s) discourse was not positioning itself as a the sworn enemy of the rich and of business. It was rather, suggesting that it is not business itself that is the enemy of the poor but certain practices of big corporations and government that lead to the loot of the commons.
This issue is important because, in the coming months the really big battles will unfold around questions of ‘development’, ‘reform’ and the economy more generally. ‘Populism’ has generally been a term of abuse in elite circles and carries the connotation of pandering to the ‘people’ and all their ‘illogical demands’ without any consideration. As illiterate media anchors are fond of asking: where will the money come from? (paisa kahan se ayega?) Do we have any name yet, in either the hallowed discipline of economics or of any other social science, that describes the pandering to corporate capital and the elite (malls, freeways, luxury living) and all their illogical demands? These demands, we know, can include anything from demanding the most fertile, multi-cropping land for setting up their industry at throwaway prices to doing away with environmental clearances even though an ecological disaster stares us directly in the face. Yet, neither social science disciplines nor media anchors have found a word to describe this madness. Not one of them has to my knowledge cared to ask: where will the resources come from? Who will pay for our polluted air and depleting water resources?
(It seems that promoting the interests of the poor is ‘populism’ and promoting the interests of the rich, ‘development’!)
There is one term that has acquired some popularity lately, namely crony capitalism. But that is grossly misleading, for it conveys the idea that there is something like a clean capitalism as well that functions according to the rules of the game. True, not all capital is like the Ambanis and the Adanis but all capital functions by influencing government decisions on taxation, finance, labour laws, environmental clearances, land acquisition and so on in ways that are not above board and transparent. A better term for this tendency perhaps would be corporate-cronyism, i.e. acting as capitalist buddies. Once again, in parenthesis, I should add that I distinguish here between two kinds of businesses – capitalist and noncapitalist – and and not all businesses function like corporate capital. I shall return to that issue in a moment.
One thing that Kejriwal was clear about in his swearing-in speech was that in the last brief stint in office, they had realized that there was no shortage of money. He did not add but I suppose that if one were to compute all that goes in ‘leakages’ and pay-offs to corporations, or in giving special privileges to them, one would find a very different picture emerging
There are some matters where AAP’s 2015 election Manifesto makes a refreshing break from corporate-cronyism, which, in conjunction with neoliberal wisdom, decrees everything a commodity. It is refreshing therefore to read that: “Water is not a commodity or an economic good…AAP has an important concern in the context of the right to water being part of the fundamental right to life.” (p. 14) Thus, it says, AAP’s water pricing policy will remain tied to its commitment to providing universal access to potable water to all citizens. For those of us who need to be reminded, in many countries like Italy almost the entire water supply has been privatized and an attempt was also made by the CPI(M) led government in Kerala to privatize water in 2006-7. In Bolivia, the massive movement against the privatization of municipal water in 2000 led to the legendary Cochabamba Water War, following which the government had to reverse the decision. Here is what a recent report by Emily Achtenburg says about the fallout of the struggle that followed the sale of the municipal water company to the US-based transnational consortium, Bechtel. It needs to be also remembered that this idea of selling the municipal company SEMAPA to Bechtel was done “in exchange for debt relief for the Bolivian government and new World Bank loans to expand the water system.” Thus, says, Achtenburg:
This iconic struggle crystallized a growing demand for popular control of Bolivia’s natural resources, leading to the Gas Wars of 2003 and 2005, the overthrow of two neoliberal presidents, and the subsequent election of Evo Morales and the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) party as a “government of the social movements.” A second water revolt—this time by neighborhood organizations in the sprawling indigenous city of El Alto—ousted the French multinational Suez company from the recently-privatized La Paz-El Alto water district. Bolivia’s new constitution, enacted in 2009, proclaims that access to water is a human right and bans its privatization.
AAP’s recognition of water as a fundamental to the right to life thus connects itself to this cutting edge 21st century politics. It is part of the global recognition that businesses and corporations cannot be allowed precedence over people’s livelihoods and control over the natural commons.
It is trifle amusing, therefore to read two former World Bank Directors warn AAP (in The Hindu) of the ‘negative consequences’ of its ‘populist’ economic agenda. “It must backtrack from its populist promises made during the campaign that are bound not to be fulfilled” opine the wise men of the World Bank. Perhaps these gentlemen and the neoliberals in general, need to remember that this is not the 1990s, the decade of neoliberal ascendancy. We are in the second decade of the 21st century and the battle that is currently on, is over regaining popular control over the natural commons – for starters.
It is important to remember that Kejriwal was responsible for stalling the surreptitious bid by the Delhi government to privatize water in 2005. It was as an RTI activist that he had managed to get all the relevant information and make the matter a public issue. As can be seen, the video below, uploaded in May 2011, details the way the World Bank was dictating not just the privatization of DJB and intervening in support of PricewaterHouse Coopers. Scandalous as it is, it also shows the extent of work done in making this expose.
The AAP Manifesto’s concern with water thus, is not simply a throw-away line of cheap ‘populism’. No less than 6 pages of the Manifesto are devoted to the detailed plan that the party has regarding water. Clearly, Kejriwal has not stopped thinking about water since 2005 and every bit of the discussion in the Manifesto reveals detailed homework and is not simply a ‘promise made during the campaign’ as our World Bank officials seem to think.
This is not the place to go into an examination of the AAP manifesto or its larger vision but we can say that there are issues that the party has clearly thought through, drawing on the long years of research and alternative policy thinking done by organizations and institutions working in different fields like education, health, alternative energy, waste management and sewage disposal. This is perhaps why the BJP insisted on calling AAP an ‘NGO party’ – for its has thought about issues that political parties are not supposed to concern themselves with.
All this is fundamentally different from the so-called ‘Development’ slogan of the BJP and the Congress, both of whom have completely swallowed the neoliberal common sense of corporate-cronyism: the pernicious but powerfully peddled logic that without corporate capital the world would be heading toward extinction; that the God of Capital must be propitiated at all costs – else the world would simply die of underdevelopment! The reality of the 21st century is just the reverse. Capital and businesses will have to function not as God/ gods but as players in a larger universe where the rules of the game will apply to them as much as they will to anybody else. If that means that the business elites have to do without 27 storey Antillas, so be it.
22 thoughts on “AAP Victory and the Challenges of a New Politics”
the citizens of this country is fade out from the recent political systems and the prime minister of this country unable to find out corrupt bureaucracy till to date and no team for cracking the corruption,the bureaucracy every day selling and buying the plumb posting through Hon’ble prime minister officer, AAP has en cashed the present failure of the government, 1000 modi cannot crack down corruption with corrupt mind set, one AAP will do better than this Government.
Shri Aditya Nigam should have referred to the New Left initiatives in Latin America and Southern Europe (specifically Greece and Spain) to build a democrative alternative, what Istvan Meszaros calls as Participative Democracy. May be AAP intellectuals have taken a leaf out of these experiences. It has got everything to do with ideology and as you know very well, there can not be politics without ideology. AAP will reach a cross roads, when they have to travel either right or left. There is no middle way. I earnestly hope Indian mainstream(?) Left will realize this and start a new initiative. If not, as you once said, a new left will emerge, but the people will not for wisdom to dawn on our high and mighty Left leaders. Hoping against hope!
This article is akin to a whiff of fresh air. Congratulations to the author for recognizing what so many “ideologues” on both the left and the right have been ignoring: adherence to some mythical ideology does not matter to people any more, what matters to them is the “truth” on the ground the they have to face everyday, and not what ideologies claim must be the “Truth”.
Another important point the article highlights is the rejection of cast politics in favour of a politics based on actual economic needs. One example of this is the decrease in the number of BSP’s votes (from about 4.2 lakhs in 2013 to ~1.2 lakhs in LS14 and the assembly elections).
Here is another point which might be interesting for the thesis that ideology does not matter anymore. Many in the media have claimed that the AAP’s victory is “merely” a result of anti-BJP votes consolidating in favour of the AAP. A simple look at the actual data suggests that nothing could be farther from the truth.
The total number of votes polled in Delhi increased from 82.7 lakhs to 89.4 lakhs from LS14 to the Assembly elections. In LS14, BJP polled 38.4 lakh votes; this dropped to 28.9 lakhs this time, while Congress decreased from 12.5 lakhs to 8.7 lakhs. (The other parties and independents are not so significant; they went from about 4.3 lakhs to 1.75 lakhs. It is also interesting to note that the number of votes polled by Independent candidates decreased sharply from 2.6 lakhs in LS14 to a measly 9180 in the current elections).
On the other hand AAP went from 22.7 lakhs to 48.8 lakhs from LS14 to the Assembly elections. People moving from Congress could only have contributed about 4 lakhs to this number. If we further assume that everyone moving from from other parties and all the new voters also voted for AAP, we can still account only for about 15-16 lakhs out of this increase of more than 26 lakhs. The largest chunk of new votes for the AAP has indeed come from roughly 10 lakh voters who voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. Adherence to the BJP’s ideology clearly did not matter for these voters who formed about 25% of the BJP’s total vote in Delhi in LS14.
Sorry, there are some numerical errors in the last part of the above post, but they don’t change very much the final figure that more than 20% of the BJP’s LS14 voters moved towards the AAP in the current elections.
AAP’s votes in LS14 were about 27.2 lakh (and not 22.7 lakh as given in the post: that was a typo). The total contributions from new voters and voters moving from Congress or other parties is about 6.7 lakh + 3.8 lakh + 2.5 lakh = 13 lakh. The total increase in AAP’s votes is about 21.4 lakh, more than 8 lakh of which must have come from the 38 lakh voters who supported BJP in LS14.
There is no Leftism in what the narrative above is intended to delineate.It is sheer staus quoism with a vengeance..Not only that it only means further entrenchment of the existing structures what to talk of alternatives of any kind whatsoever.To deny that it is post-ideological moment is to be deceptive in presentation.The ideology is definitely hidden in it.One can simply draw the conclusion from thelines which inter alia read :”Capital and business will have to function not as God /but players in larger universe where the rules of the game will apply to them as much as to anybody else.”The AAP would work as facilitator and smoothen the functioning of the corporate -crony capitalism under new brand of politics which is in no way is a challenge to it what to talk of overthrowing it.
Well written, sir! But you don’t really dwell on why so many businessmen and upper middle class people voted AAP. The fact that in nearly a year, the BJP has not changed even a comma or a full stop in Chidambaran’s draconian revisions to Company Law shows that the BJP’s so called ‘pro-business’ stand is nothing but a sham. They’re only interested in the few businessmen who can make huge donations. The rest of us, who struggle day to day just to make sure we can pay salaries – we mean less than nothing to them. If those learned World Bank men studied the German economy more, they might be able to figure out what’s wrong with this picture. Just to give you an example, over and above the penalties and interest for late payment of service tax, if a company even fails to submit th details of this on time, the penalty is Rs 1 crore, regardless of the size of the company. How can small companies afford this? The answer is, they can’t, and the people who made this rule are well aware of it. But they can somehow find Rs 10 lakhs to ‘settle’ this matter, especially if they sell their wife’s jewelry. The fact that the BJP is quite happy to let the babus feed at will shows how completely fake their ‘business friendly’ approach is. To view parties like them through the lens of ideology is really stretching it. Their only ideology is, keep the gravy flowing. If the AAP can even marginally control this, they’ve got my vote, now, and in the future.
Brilliantly written narrative, I sometime why do mainstream media doesn’t do detailed research based reporting, they seem to do just in your face – superficial reporting at best !
I can’t say for sure if I’m convinced with the post-ideology bit, but after reading this I’m beginning to see there might be more clarity in AAP’s thinking than what is obvious
Don’t understate the power of mango people..
The AAP’s policies clearly do reflect ideology, very familiarly for the contemporary UK, the differentiation between good and bad business parallels Ed Miliband. There is a name for this – social democracy. Having said that, water is indeed a crucial issue, but if you really think that it is post-ideological, have a look at the current massive campaign against water charges in Ireland.
The notion of justice can never be empirical; possibly, it can only be derived from some moral maxims or axioms. As it is axiomatic, you may call it ideological.
Also the notion of justice cannot be localized in post-modern/post-ideological sense, if not transcendental, it has to be universal in some sense.
Sorry guys this idea of post-ideological politics may sound very profound and fashionable to you, I find it philosophically bunkum and sociologically impoverished.
It seems Trilokpuri incidence and AAP’s approach to it has morally disturbed the author to some extent, but he has quickly found a strategic way out from his moral dilemma. Sad to see that political philosophers in and around CSDS are gradually becoming strategic thinkers.
Barry Pavier, Manoj Kumar,
Thanks for your comments. Just a few clarifications in response to some of the points you have raised in different ways.
1. Since this was not an academic treatise, I have used ‘ideology’ without elaborating what I mean. Elsewhere, I have discussed it in greater detail but we can let that be for now. I distinguish between ‘ideology’ (in lower case) to refer to specific ideologies like socialism, neoliberalism, nationalism, Hindutva and so on. These are closed systems of representation and function as if they have all the possible answers to all questions, in advance. There are no surprises – an ideologist always already knows everything – malaise, diagnosis and prognosis for every situation. This sense of ideology is related to but distinct from Ideology (in upper case), which refers to its more philosophical meaning (as for instance used by Althusser, Laclau or even Zizek). Even if we argue that twentieth century ideologies have exhausted themselves, we are perhaps never far from Ideology in this sense. As Althusser would say, all critical thought is always pursued, besieged and occupied by Ideology. It therefore, requires a relentless struggle to fight its overgrowth on critical thought.
2. I do not believe that the mere differentiation between good and bad business is enough to label it ideology. Moreover, the distinction I make is not between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ businesses in the moral sense but between what I have referred to as ‘capital’ and ‘noncapital’. Here I am referencing a body of scholarship in India, notably in the work of the late economist Kalyan Sanyal (but also some others), and not to a history that has always already taken place elsewhere. And, no, emphatically, this is not about social democracy. Social democracy was the name of a current that basically meant an integration of the working class movement into the system, into a truce with capital. That was late 19th and early 20th century European history reborn after WWII in the form of the welfare state. What we are witnessing in the India today but also in a large number of Latin American societies today has nothing to do with the capital/ labour conflict. The labour movement that once existed has long become irrelevant. New struggles of labour are now breaking out defying the old unions but that is another issue. What we have here is a battle for reclaiming the natural commons. It is about asserting that everything cannot be made into a commodity or an economic good with a price tag. It involves a different way of being. It is a battle of capital versus the rest of society and there are no signs of a compact of truce anywhere in sight. There may be reversals but the struggle is only going to intensify. Parties and organizations may come and go but I do not see any social democratic moment of truce or compromise here.
3. Manoj, you are right that principles of justice cannot be empirical. But in my opinion, it is a non-sequitur to take the next step that you do. It is a popular ideological prejudice to think that philosophy is reducible to ideology. Yes, principles of justice have to be established through ethical argumentation and philosophical reasoning but there is nothing ideological about this. Indeed, such philosophical reasoning can only establish itself by fighting against ideological modes of thought.
Finally, one small but vital point. To say that AAP is post-ideological or that this moment is post-ideological, is not to celebrate the death of Left politics as such. In fact, I believe that much of the New Left thinking in Latin America is being articulated by rejecting the ideological prejudices of 20th century socialism. As one of the leaders of the Latin American Left once put it: ‘the Berlin Wall did not fall on us’! This Left is therefore able to think outside the productivist and progressist paradigm of the Old Left. Just to underline that this is not an afterthought, here is what I wrote in May 2014, soon after the parliament elections:
Here is the link for the full article
Thanks for sparing time from your schedule and responding to the comment. The distinction you have made between two different uses of the term ideology (with ‘i’ and ‘I’) has clarified certain confusion, but I am still not very clear about the third point. Possibly more careful philosophising from my part is expected. I would put my confusion here nonetheless. When you say that ‘ethical argumentation and philosophical reasoning can only establish itself by fighting against ideological modes of thought’ it sounds me like someone going back to a typical enlightenment notion of reason and truth- even to the the classical Marxist distinction of ideology as a ‘false consciousness’ and ‘scientific knowledge/truth.’
I personally have no problem with this position, but then one has to accept that certain ways of thinking (ideation) is more likely to get closer to the ‘truth.’ As we all know this is not at all post-ideological position. We also know that even Marxist notion of ideology has evolved in 20th century from the above mentioned distinction between ‘false consciousness’ and ‘scientific knowledge.’
Anyway, I’ll think through it. May be I am stuck somewhere.
I am not sure I agree with Manoj Kumar that “principles of justice cannot be empirical”. Once we accept the existence of empathy, I think it is entirely possible to provide a purely naturalistic and empirical foundation for the notion of justice.
On the other hand, a long line of work in evolutionary biology (an example being the work of Frans de Waal) has been devoted to showing that traits like empathy can indeed evolve by purely natural means even in non-human species, without any need of maxims or axioms. Combined with the (again, empirical) content of the so called “Golden Rule” empathy should be enough to lead to a robust notion of justice.
Possibly this requires a detailed discussion. But just as a pointer I would say that moral-ethical judgment assumes choices and human freedom. If we bind the moral act in the chain of natural causation the idea of morality – and therefore notion of justice- will get nullified.
Thanks for your response. I think I see where you are coming from, and I indeed agree with you that the notions of justice and morality as, for example, envisioned in most world religions, cannot survive in a “chain of natural causation”. Indeed, as you seem to be saying (and I apologize if I am misreading your opinion) a dualistic notion of free will is necessary for those notions.
However, we should perhaps keep in mind that dualistic free will sits contrary to everything we know about neuroscience, and so the original religious meanings of terms like “justice” and “morality” should perhaps be changed to reflect this development. In particular, I think we can fruitfully think of “justice” and “morality” in “operational” terms: we should just care if a given “judgement”* or “action” appears “moral” or “just” or not, and not try to distinguish such actions as arising from “free will” (which does not seem to exist) or a “chain of natural causation”.
The “Golden Rule” seems to be a good case in point. It is purely operational in the sense of being formulated only in terms of observable behavior without any reference to the source of such behavior.
On the other hand, I do agree that much of our current justice system is based on “religious” notions of free will and justice, which is why so many arguments in criminal cases hinge upon proving “intent”. I will confess that I cannot really think of precisely what reforms would be needed to make our justice systems amenable to our current understanding of free will.
* Note that dualistic free will is not necessary for preserving a notion of “judgement”.
Nigam’s distinction between ideology and Ideology makes sense up to a point. However, AAP will need to, sooner than later, tackle the issue of where it stands with regard to Ideology. If it looks at reality as disjointed and discrete sets of problems to solve, then it will eventually fall into the trap that Hargopal Singh refers to (i.e. at best, unwittingly serving the market).
In place of Ideology, AAP has chosen to be content with a particular discourse – that of transparency, efficiency and more troublingly – surveillance-security. This move might be understandable given that it allows them to assume a coherence in their political campaign without necessarily having to traverse the contested terrain of Ideology. However, it would be fatal to forget that Ideology and discourse produce each other dialectically while being intertwined. If they are not careful, they will discover that phrases like efficiency and transparency etc are empty discursive fields which can lend themselves to vastly different forces.
The 60s revolutions are a timely reminder. Several people in the throes of revolution rejected sexism, racism, nationalism etc, but also rejected the collectivity of social democracy. In the quieter one or two decades to follow, the same individuals had found mobility, traveling steadily to the right. One can see this shift in terms of culture studies – just to give an example. (See Media and Cultural Theory, eds. James Curran and David Morley, Chapter 9, Pg. 132-138, 2006, Routledge:London)
Blanket rejection of status quo and the past frees one up to float along the ideological spectrum. Unfortunately, more often than not, it has been observed that the said floating veers towards the right. I endorse Nigam’s point of opportunities for the new kind of Left. One hopes that this new kind of Left learns from the lessons of Podemos and Syriza.
I think AAP has a very astute sense of what the term ‘ideology’ has come to connote in mainstream media and politics, and hence their disavowal. On the other hand, if they indeed mean what they say, then I fear they are on a dangerous path – one with short term gains but with many long term pitfalls.
Aditya, the write up is quite helpful to disentangle various threads in the AAP politics and its recent electoral victory. A brief discussion on issues related to water (that is central to AAP politics) is one such element. We only hope that in near future, we will be able to read more on it. The framing formulation concerning ‘post-ideological’ contours and characters of this politics has dominated the discussion thread but somehow a powerful articulation of new politics emerging, a hint to new imagination of political mobilisation (‘we can think of another model where we have a network of organizations and outfits, relatively autonomous of each other – not all of whom have to be sensitive about electoral results’) remains unexplored and deserve more analytical space. Perhaps, somewhere else you may explicate. How is this new imagination both rooted as well as different from its earlier constellations. Here, the immediate reference that comes into my mind is Nav Nirman movement of Gujarat in early 1970s and later J.P’s movement. After about 40years, it would be gross swiping and erroneous to call that phase as lacking any ideological frame. A streak of lineage of AAP, to my mind certainly goes back to those experiments of mid 1970s which later fizzled out in the maze of party politics of democracy giving shape to the politics of social justice and caste in 1980s. It will be interesting to observe how the politics of water, electricity and land will negotiate with the established forms of political mobilisation in coming years. Whether new technologies and forms of communication (a crucial agent in the political mobilization) will get co-opted by established parties and formats or will shape new practices (if not ideologies) of democracy.
Sadan, Thanks for this comment and the points you have raised. While I do agree with you that possibilities of a new kind of politics are emerging from within AAP’s practice, I do think we need to wait and watch. The point I raised about a different imagination of mobilization and intervention, is to my mind necessary if everything is not to be staked at the altar of electoral politics. I do want to write about this and other matters at some point later. The issues in my mind relate to the idea of exploring forms that go beyond the party-form itself – a coalition of forces or a network, maybe, where different forces can work in synergy but without giving up their own autonomy and equally, not falling into the trap of mutual acrimony. In the interim, it also means thinking differently about factions as well. I am not sure that AAP is thinking about all these things and along these lines but they will have to address the issues that arise from becoming a party.
As for the issue of Nav NIrman and JP movements as a possible lineage of AAP, I am a bit ambivalent. First, both the movements were either totally taken over by parties or ended with the demand for the resignation of the Chimanbhai Patel and Abdul Ghafoor governments. Their imagination was quite limited. AAP seems to have learnt one lesson from that experience quite well: That traditional parties constitute, as you put it, a maze within which a movement like this can easily lose its way. Also, that it is not a question of this or that party or government but of the ‘system’ – in a sense very different from the way in which communists use this term.
So, yes, I am thinking of these issues and want to come back to them at some point. AAP’s practice is a useful reference point for thinking around them.
While on this please do read my post – Deciphering the cAAPital Verdict! – http://wp.me/p1dZc2-od
Feedback most welcome. Thanks