More on Dynasties and Modernity

We have received more comments from our reader whom we had quoted in the previous post (How Modern is Modern?). 

On dynasties and the new generation:

A more nuanced argument is required on both sides, either to support or refute the position that the next generation is likely to be less tolerant of dynasties. It is possible that those who benefit from dynasties and also those who do not are not willing or able to protest such practices. What can an individual reasonably do if the son of Benazir Bhutto or Sonia Gandhi is inducted into politics? Sonia herself was a reluctant inductee. So, the absence of protest does not mean such practices are readily accepted by everyone. Indeed, there is some evidence that the younger generation is less willing to accept nepotism in business where it is more common than politics. Perhaps the writer has not taken the argument that dynastic rule is a systemic phenomenon far enough: the lack of protest does not necessarily imply uniform acceptance by the electorate but more likely a complicated structure of partial acceptance, partial indifference, and barriers to the formation of protest amongst the rest. In any case, more details on both sides are required to make the case either way. 

On how culturally modern is modern society in South Asia: 

This is admittedly a speculative arena and the following remarks should be taken as such. The writer has put their finger on the key question: what exactly constitutes modernity in this era, globally? Just as Descartes, the “father of modern philosophy,” and his pronouncement may be taken as one marker of the separation between traditional and modern worldviews, so Galileo, the “father of modern science,” may be taken as another. Modernity itself may be said to be constituted by the twin dimensions of inner belief and outer action, Descartes contributing primarily to the modernity of the former and Galileo primarily to the latter. Modern physics and modern science led to the rationalization of the sphere of action just as modern philosophy led to the rationalization of the sphere of belief. But, as has been pointed out above, the two need not go together. So it is possible to be religious in one’s private beliefs but act rationally in the public world. 

If this speculative characterization is reasonable, it may be arguable that the younger generation, especially in urban areas, is increasingly influenced by the successes of modern science without necessarily the successes of modern philosophy. 

This discussion is splitting into two different topics and we would like to bring them together again. The safest approach would be to step back from the labeling of pre-modern and modern because there is something not quite right about being so categorical and also because we lack the domain knowledge to say much more on that topic with conviction.

We would like to confine ourselves to the issue of dynastic succession and the parameters of its acceptance in South Asia at this time. An example might help to illustrate our line of thought. Suppose something happens (God forbid) to Nikolas Sarkozy and it is discovered he has left a will bequeathing the leadership of his party to Carla Bruni. There will be no place in the system to effect such a transition and there probably wouldn’t be a single person in France who would not find the situation entirely beyond comprehension. The only conclusion for a French citizen would be to doubt the sanity of Nikolas Sarkozy—love can do such things to people. 

Since we are talking about France we recall that Foucault laid a lot of stress on what happens at the extremities (the fingertips, he called them) of systems. And at the extremities in France, we feel sure, this would not make any sense.

South Asia is quite different. From what we understand, it was the mass of Peoples Party loyalists in Pakistan who were clamoring for the leadership to be passed on to a Bhutto after Benazir—hence the addition of Bhutto to Bilawal’s name. And Sonia Gandhi, being an Italian, must indeed have been a very reluctant inductee. But the bosses must have felt, whether they themselves believed it or not, that only she could hold the party together—which conclusion would have followed from their assessment of the most acceptable candidate to the electorate.

The reader is quite right in suggesting that this is really an empirical proposition. In Haiti, Papa Doc’s anointment of Baby Doc might have been accepted out of fear; in North Korea the Great Leader’s handing over to the Little Leader might have been due to years of brainwashing. But in South Asia, no such fear or coercion can be adduced as a reason. Rather it seems a rational response by powerbrokers to the demand of the electorate. So, the empirical question is what proportion of the population finds the practice of dynastic succession quite normal (unlike in France), how this proportion is distributed in the population, whether it is increasing or decreasing, and at what rate? One empirical clue can be provided by the trend in a party’s vote bank after such a dynastic succession has occurred. We doubt the Peoples Party would suffer any negative fallout, other things remaining the same. 

Personally, we are comfortable with individuals being religious in their private beliefs and rational in the public world since that is a matter of personal choice. I guess we should also be comfortable with individual preference for dynastic succession—after all that was the norm in monarchical societies and there was nothing really wrong with monarchical societies for a very long time. 

We only got started on this train of thought because Ramachandra Guha, while extolling the rooting of democratic governance in India, felt very concerned at the transition to dynastic succession after twenty years of independence. 

The empirical question that remains to be answered is whether, at its fingertips, the ethos of Indian society is democratic or monarchical? And how is it changing, if it is changing at all?

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