What Kingdoms Are But Great Gangs Of Criminals!

Dr. Khandakar Qudrat-I Elahi
NEWS FROM BANGLADESH, 15 November, 1997

A gang- a band of criminals- is organized and commanded by one whose wickedness supersedes that of other members in the group. The only motive of the gang is to acquire riches through plunder. The gang is abhorred and abjured by the society and punishable by laws.

A political party in democracy is organized by like-minded citizens interested in politics, which is led by the person whose integrity, wisdom and generosity excel those of other party members. The primary purpose of the political party is the most important task in the society- running the government. Thus, a political party, which is a purely voluntary and non-profit social institution, is approved and supported by the state.

When a political party behaves more like a gang, the differences between them tend to disappear and the democracy resembles a political system "of the few gangs of criminals, by the few gangs of criminals and for the few gang of criminals."

Alexander the Great, "Pirate, what is your idea in infesting the sea?" The Pirate, "The same as yours in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a small craft, I'm called a pirate; because you have a mighty navy, you're called an emperor."

These dialogues took place, legend says, between the Macedonian King Alexander the great and a captured pirate. St. Augustine, honoured as one of the four Doctors of the Western Church, quotes these dialogues in his famous book, The City of God

St. Augustine was born at Thagasate in North Africa in 354 A.D. The son of a pagan father and a Christian mother, he was brought up as a Christian. In 375, he became deeply interested in philosophy after reading Cicero's book, Hortensius. (Cicero was a Roman orator and statesman of first century B.C. who is widely respected in Philosophy.) He was converted to the Manichean religion, but become catholic again and was baptized in 387. In 391, he was ordained priest and was chosen the Bishop of Hippo five years later.

St. Augustine was prolific a writer; among his vast written works, there survive 113 books and treatises, over 200 letters and more than 500 sermons. Two of his longest works are Confessions and The City of God, which have made abiding mark not only on Christian theology, but on the psychology and political philosophy of the West of the Dark Ages.

This great man died in 430 A.D.

In 410 A.D., when Rome was sacked by the Goths (members of a Germanic tribe that invaded the Roman Empire in the 3rd-5th century A.D), the Pagans attributed this disaster to the abandonment of the ancient gods. They accused that Rome remained powerful so long as Romans worshipped Jupiter, but he withdrew his favours for the Romans when the emperors turned away from him, and embraced christianity.

This pagan argument called for an answer that was exactly what St. Augustine gave in The City of God. In his own words:

At that time, Rome was overwhelmed in disaster after its capture by Goths under their King Alaric. Those who worship the multitude of false gods, whom we usually call pagans, tried to lay blame for this disaster on the Christian religion and began to blaspheme the true god more fiercely and bitterly than before. This fire me with zeal for the house of god and I began to confute their blasphemies and falsehood.

He very cogently argued that Rome's fall to its slaves had a multiplicity of causes, but acceptance of Christianity by the Roman emperors was certainly not one of them. He held that the most vital cause of the fall of Roman Empire was its wickedness: Rome was an out-and-out wicked kingdom that practised little justice; kingdoms without justice are like gangs of criminals:

Remove Justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms? A gang is a group of men under the command of a leader, bound by a compact of association, in which the plunder is divided according to an agreed convention.

If this villainy wins so many recruits from the ranks of the demoralized that it acquires territory, establishes a base, captures cities, and subdues peoples, it then openly arrogates the title of kingdom, which is conferred on it in the eyes of the world, not by renouncing aggression, but by the attainment of impunity.

In St. Augustine's time, the political system in the known world was monarchy. In other words, the sovereign authority of the state rested with the hereditary monarchs who ruled according to laws established by religious and social traditions and superstitions; the non-members of the royal family were their subjects. Whatever laws there were, St. Augustine insists, if the monarch does not obey them and perpetuates atrocities and injustices, then the difference between a gang and a kingdom vanishes except that a gang must work under the law and therefore punishable if caught; but the monarch operates above the laws and has no fear of being punished.

Long gone are the days of St. Augustine; we now live in a world that is very modern and much more civilized. The political systems responsible for managing the state affairs have also perfected significantly, although not in the same rate all over the world. And the dominant political system now reigns the world is democracy.

The ideas of democracy is indeed very old; the system flourished in the ancient Greece during the 5th century B.C. But, the conception of modern democracy is fairly recent; it originated in the immortal work of the seventeenth century English Philosopher John Locke, Treatises on Government.

In the seventeen century Europe, the political speculations that justified and upheld monarchism was the divine theory of government. This view sanctions the sentiments of immemorial antiquity; in almost all civilizations, the king is a sacred person. According to the theory: God, the Creator of the universe, had bestowed power on certain persons, or their heirs to rule the earth; they therefore alone constituted the legitimate government, rebellion against which was not only treason, but impiety.

John Locke dismissed this divine theory and originated the idea that the civil government is the result of a contract and is an affair purely of this world, not something established by a divine authority.

Before forming the political society, Locke postulated, men lived in the "state of nature", a state of perfect freedom to order their possessions and persons, as they thought fit, within the bounds of the law of nature; without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other than man.

The great defect of the "state of nature" was however that there was no authority to implement these laws: every man was his own judge because the laws were moral. Consequently, punishment, for the same kind of crime, varied from one case to another and the transgressors could not be put to justice if they were more powerful than the injured and refused to obey laws.

To overcome these inconveniences of the state of nature, men by common consents, which Locke called the "social contract", formed the politic society and instituted the government. "This is the original compact by which men incorporate into one society; it is a bare agreement to unite into one political society, which is all the compact that is, or needs to be, between individuals, that enter into or make up a commonwealth." 

The compact was not between the ruler and the ruled; the contract was among free men with equal rights. The fundamental aim of the contract was the protection of freedom and rights of all men in the society. Finally, the government was appointed with the legislative and executive power to implement the contract. But the real power remained with the people as they could dismiss the government if it violated the contract.

John Locke's philosophy of people's sovereignty and representative government gradually permeated in the social consciousness of the Western world and eventually led to the development of the current multi-party political system of democracy. The idea is simple: The sovereign authority of the state rests with the people who choose representatives to exercise that authority. The citizens of the state having interests in public affairs and political careers form groups and compete to win over the people's support. These groups are called "political parties" and the final stage of competition is called "election". The government is appointed for a fixed tenure and after the expiry of the tenure, it must participate in the election to get fresh mandate from the people.

The political parties in democracy have three very important attributes. First, they are supposed to represent and reflect the wishes of the people in general. Thus, their actions and activities are assumed to by guided by the perceived welfare of the members of the society. As John Locke says: 

The value of any social group consists in the happiness or self-satisfaction it produces for its members, and especially in the protection of their inherent right to own and enjoy property. Human beings are led to co-operate by enlightened self-interest and a nice calculation of individual advantage. A community is essentially utilitarian; in itself it has no value though it protects values; the motive on which it rests is universal selfishness; and it contributes mainly to the comfort and security of its members.

Second, all activities and policies of political parties are governed by their constitutions. One of the important elements of the constitution is the party convention. While nature of party convention differs from party to party both within and between countries, two ingredients are common: (i) election of party leadership and (ii) creation of party platform. The party leaders are elected in the convention by the representatives of basic party units who have to seek reelection after every defined period. This prevents the ruling leaders from behaving autocratically and at the same time provides opportunity the development of new leadership.

Third, the sacred trust is that politics includes very noble activities and is wholly unrelated to material considerations. Thus, political parties, by social consciousness, are voluntary organizations created to serve a very important social purpose- run the business of the government. Accordingly, the general expectation is that people choose political careers for making name and fame, but not for making money.

In short, the three attributes of political parties described above are: (i) political parties represent and reflect the wishes of the people, and therefore their actions and activities are guided by the perceived welfare of the people; (ii) they are ruled by party constitutions and leaders are elected in the party conventions; and (iii) people choose political careers not for monetary gains, but for social recognition. 

How would we characterise a political party that does not exhibit the above attributes? What if (i) people disapprove the activities and policies of the party because they mainly cause their sufferings; (ii) party constitution and party convention play little role in the management and functioning of the party; and (iii) the primary motives of the party leaders and members are to make money instead of serving the society? 

If the above are true, then the political party exhibits all the characteristics of a gang. If this is the case, then democracy as we are told to understand needs to be redefined.

Imitating St. Augustine, we may state: What democracy is but a political system controlled by a few gangs of criminals who have got a fair degree of impunity from laws. Or perhaps more appropriate will be the restatement of the definition that the great American President Abraham Lincoln has given: Democracy is of the few gangs of criminals, by the few gangs of criminals and for the few gangs of criminals.

Dr. Khandakar Qudrat-I Elahi writes from Canada.
His email is: elahi@css.uoguelph.ca


Update: 20 November 1997