Nobility and politics, it would seem, are immiscible.
Birds run a cosmic riot early morning. They fly at their will. And shout in explosive joy. Nobody tells them which path they should take. Their purposeless flight seems to have a meaning in itself. Till man interferes with their movement, their freedom is absolute. No king or queen has power over their freedom.
I was looking at pigeons and parakeets and was struck by the contrast in man’s life where the wings of freedom have no space to flap.
Birds on flight is not an uncommon sight and their freedom is not unknown to us. But today their impact was intense because of an essay I read in J.M. Coetzee’s book Diary of a Bad Year and about which I was mulling over.
In that essay, titled ‘On the origins of the state’, the protagonist Senor C laments man’s caged existence and his decision to create a state – what is now called government -- for his safety at the cost of his freedom and power.
We formed a state for our own protection, but we are powerless to roll it back when it doesn’t suit us, he says, quoting Thomas Hobbes who had said that our descent into powerlessness is voluntary
This powerlessness hurts Senor C deeply, prompting him to grope for a political freedom. He seeks a debate on politics and on the very existence of a government itself. Will anyone who has tasted power ever agree to his ideas of deliberation?
Knowing the futility of his thinking Senor C asks why it is hard to say anything about politics from outside politics.
To support his conclusion that there can be no discourse about politics that is not itself political, he quotes Greek philosopher Aristotle as saying that man is a political animal and that politics is built into human nature.
But Aristotle views politics differently -- not the way Coetzee's protagonist thinks.
According to the Greek philosopher politics is something noble. It is an enterprise that demands an expansive view of life. But Senor C talks about deteriorated version of politics which has been the reality for ages.
How do you infuse nobility into politics? Is it ever possible?
Asking the question is not wrong. The problem arises only when we seek an answer because the answer may not be to our liking and unpalatable.
Aristotle’s teacher Plato, who lived in 5th Century BC, gives a broader (Wikipedia says 'Plato' means broad) but somewhat embarrassing solution to our political dilemma. He says that unless a philosopher rules the state or the ruler himself/herself becomes a philosopher the political turmoil would continue.
This throws up another problem: which politician will read philosophy? And if they truly read, instead of quoting scriptures, will they ever like to rule? Even if they decide to rule for the good of the state will there be any takers?
It looks like Plato’s solution is worse than the problem. The mind that is used to witnessing scams and violence may find it difficult to accept a government which runs smoothly devoid of sensations.
This is not a condemnation or a judgment. The human mind is many layered. It has a conscious, peripheral, rational layer. It also has a sub-conscious depth containing darker contents. Unless they are exposed and healed changes at the political and personal level are impossible. The road to freedom is long and arduous – it is not a given. Nor is it a collective affair.
To earn such a freedom, the individual may perhaps have take to a contemplative life which Aristotle considers to be higher than the positive political life he spoke about.
At dusk, a flock of birds travels in utter silence, making a geometric arc of cosmic order – without a leader.