Monday, 23 July 2012

So i just wrote an essay based on what Voltaire said : 'I would rather be ruled by one lion than by a hundred rats". So here goes.........................


It took me forever to finally settle down to writing this for several reasons. First I was just plain scared of making a mess and second I was just plain lazy.
Making a personal start, I begin with my family. When I was younger, my father was rather like a lion in ruling the family. A despot if I may use the term, it seemed to me. I had no say in running my life, he had all the say. And when you crossed him, retribution was swift and painful. Illustrated by my thinking that if I had a cedi for each time he lashed me, I would be rich by now. And he lashed me often because I was one of those kids who is headstrong from the start and never outgrows it. So he made all decisions for me, then I strongly resented him but not so now. Today I greatly appreciate all he did. Why? At that age I was not prepared to take certain decisions, to understand certain outcomes. So today I appreciate the lion I was ruled by and I am glad I wasn’t ruled by one hundred rats of my own species.
Presently, I make my decisions and to date they are not completely error-free. I ask advice from friends and what I get is rather scary. Their advice is usually rather skewed, in that there is always some bias towards themselves so that they end up being the ones with the most to gain if I do end  up following that piece of advice. It’s strange I know.
Then I turn to the bigger picture- world both past and present and its quite interesting what the great thinkers; then and now had to say:
In John Stuart Mill’s book On Liberty, he is of the view that if individuals are given liberty they will generally know how to pursue their interests and potentials better than will anyone else. So, society generally will become richer and more intelligent if individuals are free to choose their own life ends rather than if they are forced towards betterment by the powers that be.  The most radical expression of these ideals was liberal and social democracy. The period of Enlightenment was when all these ideas were expressed. However, even though it is assumed that the Enlightenment supported his theory, the actual facts are different.
In fact, Enlightenment philosophers were intensely conflicted about the virtues of powerful monarchies and technocratic elites versus popular democracy. Some believed an absolute state was the best form of governance. Thomas Hobbes argued that political absolutism was necessary to prevent the war of “all against all.” Voltaire said that he “would rather obey one lion, than 200 rats of his own species.”
Other Enlightenment thinkers argued against absolutism and the divine right of kings, but held out for the desirability of “enlightened despots” who had political legitimacy because they were pursuing their people’s interests. Free peoples, as individuals and democracies, often do not choose the ends that are in their best interests. As Spinoza said, “the masses can no more be freed from their superstition than from their fears…they are not guided by reason”. The benevolent rationale for authoritarianism has always been that rulers and their advisors understand the needs of the people better than the people do themselves.
Their argument was basically that the masses were not very reasonable; hence it would be far more prudent to rationally reorganize society from the top to enable the masses find their way to Reason much more easily.
The legacy of enlightened despotism is actually found in the reign of modernizing dictators like Napoleon Bonaparte and his many successors through to today like Vladimir Putin. Bonaparte established schools and scholarships to attend them. He promoted meritocracy and thoroughly rationalized French law in a way that institutionalized Enlightenment values of universalism and egalitarianism. He promoted religious tolerance and ended the hostility between Church and state by putting the clergy on the state payroll.
Enlightenment arguments for benevolent modernizing dictatorships also were used to rationalize French and British colonialism and the expansion of both the Soviet Union and Pax Americana. Bentham, Condorcet, Diderot, Kant, and Adam Smith were all early critics of imperialism but even their attacks on Western arrogance and exploitation were muted by their support for ethical universalism, which hoped to see everyone eventually benefit from the Enlightenment. Since de-colonization and the rise of Vietnam era anti-imperialism, arguments for beneficial, enlightening colonialism sound like thin excuses for exploitation, unless you are a fan of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. But both respect for the noble savages and their national self-determination and the idea that primitive peoples could benefit from a period of tutelage by the enlightened nations are woven together throughout the history of Enlightenment thought.
A faith in the possibility of progress through liberal democracy is certainly difficult to sustain in the wake of the failure of a Democratic super-majority to pass health care reform in the United States, the collapse of meaningful climate change negotiations, the hand-wringing impotence of international institutions to intervene against genocide and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the persistence of myriad forms of popular ignorance and superstition.
 I am certainly looking forward to new forms of governance of myself in the future as an evolving, open-minded human being. For now, however, I actively seek an enlightened despot to govern me.