29 November, 2020

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Plato Called Those Who Resisted As Brave Men & Others Cowards. Which Of These Are You?

By Mass L. Usuf

Mass Usuf

This is not about which party, which symbol or which person. This is about Democracy, Sovereignty of the People and the Parliament, Rule of Law, Independence of the Judiciary and Governance.

Was Plato prophetic when he famously said, “O, men of Athens, if I was engaged in politics, I would have perished long ago and done no good either to you or to myself?” Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher had the desire to be in active politics but the death sentence passed on his teacher Socrates by the then ‘so called’ Athenian democracy disappointed him.

Having closely followed the trial of Socrates, Plato lost faith in democracy and he started to question everything related to state and social life. He began to understand what is nepotism and corruption within the State. Most importantly he realised that it was difficult to take part in public life and retain one’s integrity. In this sadness he wrote the famous lines: “The troubles of mankind will never ease until either true genuine philosophers attain political power or the rulers of states by some dispensation of providence become genuine philosophers”. (Plato, Phaedrus and Letters VII and VIII). 

Sophistry Of The 20th

Strangely and frighteningly are we revisiting this epoch in ancient history? Aristotle in his Politics distinguished the forms of ruling as by One (meaning the Monarch), by the Few (meaning the Oligarchy, Aristocracy) and by the Many (Democracy). Are we in the period of reverse transition from being a democracy regressing towards an Oligarchy and, finally, to a modern Monarchy via the sophistry of the Twentieth amendment?

Neighbouring India is making efforts to keep pace within the context of modern progressive democracies. The Indian Supreme Court in relation to oversight responsibilities of government organs was keen to expand into divergent interests. Part of the scrutiny and monitoring procedures to include even the ‘non-performance’ or ‘omission to act’. The Supreme Court of India said in this regard. “… traditionally the checks and balances dimension were only associated with governmental excesses and violations. But in today’s world of positive rights and justifiable social and economic entitlements, hybrid administrative bodies, private functionaries discharging public functions, we have to perform the oversight function with more urgency and enlarge the field of checks and balances to include governmental inaction. (Dr. Ashwini Kumar vs Union of India Ministry of Home (619, para 83) (2019).  

Resist or Surrender?

The judicial willingness of the Indian judges to expand the embrace of modern constitutional jurisprudence to greater transparency, accountability and dispersal of power is a positive development. Lessons for us to learn. In contrast, the 20th amendment bill is aimed at constricting the monitoring mechanisms and the inbuilt checks and balances. What is the role of our politicians in keeping with this change vis a vis the 20th amendment?  Will they resist or surrender? 

Think sincerely about the impact your (politicians) decision will have not only for today but for the future generations. Think seriously about your own future as politicians.  Will you like to submit your ‘self’ or be an independent person having your own say? The politicians have two options to choose from. Firstly, the progressive approach. Secondly, the retrogressive path.

Role of Supreme Court  

It was crystal clear from the very first day the 20th amendment bill was made public that no force could stop its passage. Moving the Supreme Court will have limited effect since the Supreme court can only determine if some clause has to be passed by a 2/3rd majority or by a referendum. It does not have the power to order the non-passage of the bill in Parliament. It shall state whether the Bill or any provision thereof is inconsistent with the Constitution. For details see Article 123 of the Constitution.

Lesson To Our Politicians

In a letter to Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru once wrote: “Ordinary politicians have no principles to stand by and their work is governed by day-to-day opportunism.” The time is opportune to do an interesting analysis of the psychological disposition and the correlated individual differences among the Members of Parliament. Our representatives, especially, those in government consists of those who are intelligent and intellectual but their demeanor does not always reflect on these qualities. There are those, most of them some would say, who have low levels of self-esteem in the presence of the oligarchy. The class in which there is a dime a dozen are those who are either easily persuadable or volitionally submissive. Then, of course, the peripherals who are in a constant state of anxiety, fear and uncertainty of their fragile and selfish political future. They would avoid anything that would harm them in any way. 

There are people who are conscientious but not so conscientious. Those who are scrupulous but malleable. There are also principled persons but pliant. How many conduct themselves guided by or, in conformity to one’s own conscience, self-dignity and with integrity is anyone’s guess? 

Lessons from Plato to our politicians. Plato confesses to his intense feeling of shame of the times he found himself in. People had abandoned the true principles of government and were reluctant to return to the right track. He called those who succumbed to unconscientious behaviour as cowards and those who refused to follow the wrong path as brave men. Can those who voted at the last elections rely on their representatives to decide using their conscience when it comes to voting for the 20th amendment bill? Will they be among the cowards or the brave like the people who Plato identified during his period?  

Prudent politicians with a minimum of social conscience, self-integrity and morality should be able to see and judge the value of the 20th amendment to the country and its future.  It is worth to remind ourselves of what Montesquieu said in ‘The Spirit of the Laws’, “Every man interested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far it will go.” 

Philosopher or Machiavelli?

While Plato spoke of a ‘Philosopher King’ who is just, moral and equitable, the 16th-century Italian political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli had different ideas. For Machiavelli a head of state ought to do good if he can, but must be prepared to commit evil if he must. It is recognized that Machiavelli was the only political thinker who advocated ‘a politics guided exclusively by considerations of expediency, which uses all means, fair or foul, iron or poison, for achieving its ends – while serving the country also using the fatherland in the service of the self-aggrandizement of the politician or statesman or one’s party’. Strauss (1987:297).  

Therefore, for Machiavelli qualities such as integrity and intellectualism are considerations far below in the list of expediencies. It is said that in the absence of these qualities and, with the deficiencies in morality and ethics, a world dominated by violence and crisis will be created.

If there are shortcomings in the 19th amendment, it is suggested to make changes to ensure its administration, implementation and co-ordination efficient. The integrity on limitations in the 19th amendment is not to be rewritten in a manner which will lose its purpose and compromise the sovereign intent. Therefore, it is a matter of principled politics (a rare commodity but need to be said) that has to be engaged in for the greater benefit of the country and its people.

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Latest comments

  • 9
    2

    The writer quotes rather famous ancient people; yet his article is mediocre in that he does not bring forth with conviction, his own views. Rather, he emptily speculates about what might happen. Perhaps he should express some opinions from a principled standpoint instead.

    • 6
      1

      Does not his last paragraph express his opinion and viewpoint ?

      • 0
        0

        Yes, Ferryman,
        .
        I’d narrow it further
        and say that it’s the very last sentence. That, by itself, achieves that objective.
        .
        Note also, that it is clear from the very beginning that the writer is a Muslim, but he chooses to focus on Ancient Greeks and brings in non-Muslim Indians and then the European (Christian background) Political Philosphers.
        .
        And he’s not the only Muslim whose comments are to be seen on this page. If only we could get these to be the political leaders of the Muslims.
        .
        Each of us must do what we can, and help other honest liberals. So thanks, Lasantha, who comments using his own name. For some this may not be possible. Let us respect that – provided they are consistent throughout.

  • 8
    1

    Depends on what you resist.
    I resist medieval dogma, child marriage (below 18), polygamy, FGM, one god concept, violence to advance religion, funny beliefs, etc. That makes me brave. But you may disagree. I disagree with you.

    • 0
      0

      I agree with you, GATAM.
      .

  • 3
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    Mass L Ysuf: That Plato’s Theory won’t work anymore in Sri Lanka. See what happened in both the Presidential and Parliamentary elections. That “RESISTANCE” to the “Yahapalanaya” shown at both those elections was not an indication of any “BRAVERY”, but simply “IDIOCRACY” and “COWARDICE”. Yet, I admit “Resistance” made of well “INFORMED and melted into” INTELLECT” will work. I don’t envisage that in Sri Lanka for many more years to come. The reason is “SLAVERY” (of all forms) has taken deep roots.

  • 5
    1

    “If there are shortcomings in the 19th amendment,”
    Of course there are shortcomings to the Rajapakse family.
    1. Mahinda Rajapakse couldn’t get another chance to become President.
    2. Namal Rajapakse couldn’t stand for Presidency.
    3. Gotabaya couldn’t keep his dual citizenship.
    4. Basil Rajapakse couldn’t become a Minister with his dual citizenship.
    Do you know that Mahinda Family only took the arms and were in the frontline killing 50000 LTTE to save this country?

    • 3
      2

      Ajith,
      “Do you know that Mahinda Family only took the arms and were in the frontline killing 50000 LTTE to save this country?”

      That is the reason why Sinhalayo who went through hell for three decades facing atrocities committed by LTTE Tamil terrorist barbarians respect Rajapakshe family and Demalu (aka Tamils) hate Rajapakshe family.

  • 1
    1

    Child marriage, polygamy and FGM are very important subjects sometimes definitely it will divert the people and help the government to pass the 20th amendment. Very constructive idea for the time being.
    Spas and Bars already helped the family wellbeing But unfortunately not more in Srilankan!!!!

    That is why, Machiavelli argues, “in a republic, it is not good for anything to happen which requires governing by extraordinary measures.”

  • 3
    4

    we will find at least 04 to 06 muslim MP,S who are very brave and will vote in support of 20TH AMENDMENT.they do not worry about their leaders and there is a well planed effort as leaders HOOKEEM AND RISAASU will not vote in support but will have some deal with other MPS to vote support of 20th dead warrant.

    • 0
      0

      One villain identified in “paragon” – remains anonymous, obviously.
      .
      The Presidential Election (manipulated many ways – blame Ranil Wickremasinghe for allowing it) settled who was going to dominate.
      .
      All votes that were cast for the SJB and the NPP (note that Harini Amarasuriya is not a member of the JVP) opposed Rajapaksa dictatorship, knowing that they were winning by a landslide. Kumar David (you’ll find his name in the National List sans prefixes) was also an NPP candidate without being JVP . There may have been others.
      .
      Nothing of political significance has happened since the General Election. COVID, of course. Nothing to justify crossing over.
      .
      The SJB was harassed for years (by Ranil & Co as well). Let them now attend to stable leadership – it is not for me to suggest names, but it could mean rationally and thoughtfully confirming Sajith
      .
      .
      Does a legal problem centre upon Mark Antony (not Brutus) Diana Gamage? Was the SJB a party registered in her name? Time and again it is pettifogging maneuvres that ruin our country.

  • 2
    1

    Instead of Plato, if you quoted from a religious text you know, your argument would have been convincing. May be next time.

  • 3
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    Today Old King said to his fellow thugs that 20A and a New Constitution have been promised to people. So he cannot disappoint them. That sounds like a principled stand. Same time, this morning Mathush was shot in the same way like many others -JMO Ananda Samarasekara, Sooriyachari, Kathirgamar, Premachandra, Gobi……the curry leaves. Mathush was taken out of prison to the murder site, early morning 3:00AM. JVP said he was shot because many government politicians are partners of this guy in the International drug smuggling ring. At same time of the early morning (3:30) of previous night, Rishard was arrested. Thank God, he is safe. Pillaiyan’s result is still pending. Ranil, when, he was taking the premiership from DMJ, promised to Old King that the Royal family will be protected from its murders, rapes, war crimes….. Still, after stealing Ranil’s PM position by a coup and when SLFP MPs asked him to resign, Old King said then who would save the Royal Family.

  • 2
    1

    The same man is now saying he has an obligation to people of the country and that has to be fulfilled. The promise is “19A is wrong and it has to be abolished”. 18A was brought in by him to seek him a third term. 18A was the intentionally treacherous, pervasive amendment. The People didn’t accept him on 18A. Yahapalanaya had its promise that the wrong 18A would be corrected. So in 2015 they passed 19A in an effort to correct 18A. They corrected with substantial drafting errors. If the people are not water buffalos, but know to think, they didn’t want 18A and they don’t feel 19A’s correction is enough too. By rejecting both, 18A & 19A, they up lifted them to a higher level democracy. Certainly they don’t want to return to 18A through 20A. If Old King discounts them treating as Modayas, there is danger waiting. If Old King forcefully passes the 20A, he is bidding for his departure again. Remember, PC election and parliament election can come within another one year. But presidential election is 4 years away. Old King should know what he should be doing, instead of asking Sumanadasa Abeygunawardena.

  • 3
    1

    Mass L. Usuf.

    Could you kindly take Jehan Perera under your wing and teach him about what Plato had to say about public affairs.
    Jehan is rather disoriented; For him the 20th Amendment is an instrument to modernize Government! ?

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