Monarchy, Religion, Hierarchy and Modernity

The thing I like about a blog is that you can tap into individuals who can say things a whole let better than you can yourself. Here is a contribution from a reader, questioning our positions on monarchy and religion, that we can just lean back and admire. 

1. Monarchy and dynastic rule imply accepting hierarchy between human beings at a fundamental level. I think it would be wrong to assume that this hierarchy would be confined just to the relation between monarch and subject. It would have to presuppose the widespread prevalence of hierarchy between husband and wife, parents and children, among friends, at work, and in more diffuse social networks. What the Enlightenment did was to make all people fundamentally equal, whatever their attributes. By accepting monarchy and dynastic rule, I think one is ultimately accepting the continuance of such hierarchies that are morally highly questionable if not repugnant. I realize that the social psychology of many people in rural and urban areas is hierarchically oriented but this is the very thing that needs to change. I do not mean by this that individualism is the only alternative, just equality. In a democracy, political officials *represent* or stand in for their people in a particular role and are equal to them in fundamental ways.

2. The case of religion is a little more complex and depends on the nature of the religious views in question. Again, if the only way for a person to interact with God is through a priestly class, then we are back to hierarchy. I believe the Catholic faith is like this. The Protestant Reformation via Martin Luther allowed man to have a direct and personal relationship with God. This is a little better, though even this relationship is ultimately one based on hierarchy. The great advance of Humanism was precisely that it put human beings at the center of the universe.

3. Finally, one may ask: what is wrong with hierarchy itself? At a certain level and in limited spheres (e.g. a team effort with a leader like a cricket team with a captain) it may be harmless, but when it informs the very essence of social life, then given certain assumptions about human nature, it can be very harmful to the full growth and experience of the creative and productive and other powers of man that help him to reach a higher level of fulfillment. It also inhibits friendship, perhaps the most undervalued of relational forms in the modern world, as well as other such forms. 

4. Is there a way that avoids both hierarchy (and all its sociopolitical forms) on the one hand and Humanism and the Enlightenment on the other or do they exhaust the space? I do not know. But the way in which the latter can be realized can vary greatly from region to region. 

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  • Haris Gazdar
    Posted at 08:00h, 28 January Reply

    There is no unique correspondence between monarchy/dynasty and social hierarchy. European Enlightenment had a problem with monarchy because of its reliance on Divine Rights as opposed to social contract, and not because Enlightenment was unequivocally opposed to hierarchy or social inequality. Accepting the sanctity of private property, or the rule of a rational bureaucracy or the party apparatchik involves as much endorsement of hierarchy as accepting monarchy/dynasty. It is just that the source of hierarchy is no longer pegged arbitrarily to Divine Rights. It needs to be justified. (Though the South Asian “naseeb” view of wealth inequality under capitalism does actually refer to Divine Preferences).

    The institutionalised privileges of state officials in South Asian countries owe their origins to a racialised hieararchy of power. If you really think that opposing hierarchy and social inequality ought to motivate your politics – i.e. your politics derive morality from the normative position of opposing inequality – then be partisan for the socially and politically marginalized. And if these groups identify with dynastic politics for whatever reason, you are free to think that they have chosen badly, but at least acknowledge that they are choosing between various forms of hierarchy, some of which appear to them to be more impenetrable than others.

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