There has been an ongoing debate in the circle of social and political scientists whether an organized society should be responsible to serve the individual citizen’s true end, i. e. , his real needs and rights, such as freedom, growth, peace, security, privacy, etc. Or, is it the citizen who is to be held responsible for and made subservient to the society’s needs, “in the interest of the common good”? Such “either-or” ideological confrontation is created mainly by doctrinaire philosophers, if not by the politicians with vested interests. In reality, both these claims are artificially projected.
They could be made mutually complementary when properly balanced in a truly liberal and enlightened community. For, nothing and no one exists in complete isolation. At the same time, a healthy and truly civilized society thrives on co-operation between citizens, office-bearers, and authorities in any institution where an individual’s voice is respected and valued. However, these ideological stands can be analyzed and understood in the light of the universal teachings of Theosophy and of some social philosophers like Plato, Socrates, Hegel, etc.
Take, for instance, what appears to be the now defunct “Socialist” doctrine. Its advocates often go to the length of saying that the individual has to be subordinated for the welfare of the community, and by community is often emplied the monolithic state authority. Sometimes a citizen is just a fodder to fatten the economy and the power of the State so that his claims or even his freedom may be sacrificed if the power of the State is questioned!
The State is supposed to play the sovereign role of a so-called benevolent Father, a King and a Protector, and all must assume their proper place in the system without a whimper! On the other hand, “Individualism”—a politico-economic doctrine that advocates complete freedom for the common man—can go to the other extreme. For instance, sometimes its advocates interpret “freedom” as license to think and freely express unconcerned as to its adverse impact on others! This is the danger of bringing any concept “to its logical conclusion”—good and well meaning, at the origin—when the end is selfishly motivated.
When the inherent role, duty and responsibility—either on the part of the common man or society—are diluted, either of the above-mentioned ideologies fails to serve what Socrates calls the “Common Good,” or individual well-being. An enlightened social philosophy has to take into account the basic facts relating to the nature of man and the universe. Human society is a body of free and independent “Souls,” each soul being an individual unit of life, having to fulfil his own destiny and obligations.
The Society, with which he is morally bound, should be able to afford opportunities to fulfil his powers and destiny, thereby sharing and enjoying the fruits of the individual’s achievements, talents and progress. This implies the mutually supportive relationship between man and his race. Man is a miniature cosmos, “a microcosm of the great macrocosm. ” What affects one affects the other, since “interdependence is the law of life,” within the whole. We must address these facts, just mentioned, to arrive at the proper stand on philosophical, social and moral issues.
There is a “spark of humanity” [humaneness] in man as well as in the collectivity. Theosophy rejects the idea that mankind as a species belongs to the animal kingdom, only more intelligent and acquisitive! To fulfil his Dharma, man as an intelligent, self-conscious being, as also a moral chooser, must recognize his obligatory role in the natural order of things. Any debate of the kind mentioned in the beginning of this article must not mislead us into sharp dichotomy by pitting an individual against the collectivity of men, and vice versa.
After all, man is part of the whole, and all men have a common origin, possibilities, needs and also a common destiny as a race. An individual’s fate is inextricably linked with the immediate society to which he belongs, leaving out of consideration the destiny of humanity in its totality. Conversely, the plight and the tone of the society are very much affecting and are affected by the quality and the karma of the individuals at any given period.
The history of humanity shows that a group of individuals, like a family, an institution, a society or a nation, emerged and rose to its pinnacle or deteriorated, when a few individuals rose to the occasion or failed ignominiously. In crises, it is sometimes the individuals of substance who rise to the occasion and help turn the tide of events. On the other hand, calamities such as revolutions, wars, epidemics, storms, floods, etc. , do not spare even powerful individuals who formerly took their cozy corner for a safe haven! None can live or act in isolation, without affecting and also being affected by the destiny of other beings.
Instead of asking which social system, whether capitalism, socialism, democracy, etc. , is most suitable in a given society, we should rather inquire what is an ideal or a healthy social life. Such a state is ideally possible where an individual’s presence and dignity are valued, as also the collective or common welfare of others is recognized as the sacred responsibility of the individual citizen. Besides, it is risky to ignore the rights and interests of others for long if one wants to avoid jeopardizing one’s personal interests.
This is well-nigh true within a family, a corporate body, an institution, or a nation. Indifference toward such well-established principles of social interaction leads to contradictions and even conflicts within the group or the society. When these anomalies and social abuse become intolerable, one of the two things, or both, seem to happen. Either there could be a leaderless mass uprising, even anarchy, or a few brave individuals stir up and take a stand in the cause of the oppressed at the risk of their own safety.
Pages of history are glorified by such moral “heroes” who strived for reforms against depravities such as slavery, corruption, exploitation, untouchability, or narrow sectarian practices in the name of religious customs. They may fail if their time has not yet come. But their sacrifice will bear a golden harvest in due season. Any progressive change in the social system must take into account whether the changed conditions are conducive to the growth of the higher part of human nature.
A “healthy” society alone can provide suitable opportunities to an all-round development of its citizens. Social order is not an accident, but the result of protracted and concerted labour and aspirations of the substantial units in a society. But ultimately it is the burden of the enlightened individual who pursues these ideals and strives to ensure their possibility. Therefore, Theosophists have a major role to play in arousing social conscience—first within the individual—on the basis of eternal Truths concerning man and nature. THE JUST SOCIETY
At the beginning of the new century, it can perhaps be said that the highest goal of a society’s achievement is to enable its individuals to be able to live in a free society. Since the beginnings of economics, and earlier, writers have been discussing the qualities that such a free society should bear. Traditional philosophical concerns about the goals of seeking a just human society can be considered as a combination of a number of approaches. Amongst the more important ones is “Utilitarianism” which focuses on seeking a sense of satisfaction or happiness achieved through the acquisition of tility goods in as much as they fulfill one’s desires. Such an approach does not consider the importance of the value of freedom or the nature of the distribution of the goods and happiness amongst the community.
The need to have recognised rights does not feature as a desirable goal. Thus an unjust society is one that is unhappier than it should be and the measurement of this unhappiness might indicate what needs to be done to rectify the situation. The other ideas about a just society defines, with various intensities, the importance of liberty. Libertarianism” preoccupies itself with liberties and rights of different kinds. Satisfaction and happiness are not regarded as important. Thus having rights of freedom, the right to own property, civil rights etc is considered an absolute necessity. Social goals have no priority in this view of a just society. Each of the proponents of these ideas put forward different ways to evaluate what they considered to be the goal of social stability. Current paradigms on poverty reduction and social justice have evolved from these earlier ideas.
These original concerns of seeking ways to form just societies remain pivotal to most development theories. Many subjective, qualitative and relative approaches aiming to incorporate the individual agent in the evaluation of poverty have been proposed since the late 1970’s. The better ones include the Human Development Index tailored by the UNDP, Amartya Sen ‘s entitlement perspective representing poverty as a failure to access resources, and a Social Anthropological notion of vulnerability as relating to poverty from which led to the Sustainable Livelihoods approach of Robert Chambers.
All these alternatives have in common an attempt at comprehending poverty in its complexity, diversity and subjectivity. Participatory means have helped to convey alternative people centred views of poverty so that the poor cease to be seen as a monolithic static and impersonal group of individuals but become to be considered as agents of change. Not recipients in, but accelerators of, the development process SIGNIFICANCE OF THE INDIVIDUAL CITIZEN Current approaches to urban aid and investment have shifted away from an almost exclusive focus on macro issues towards sophisticated approaches that address micro level intervention.
With the growing importance of the work of world wide NGOs, policy makers have begun to be better informed about micro sectors. This has resulted in a growing understanding of the multi-dimensional nature of poverty. Poverty is no longer regarded just as the absence of income but as a much more complex condition that varies from community to community and needs to be tackled with a multi-pronged approach. Thus policy directives as well as identification of goals and targets have widened considerably and social investment has become a crucial component of economic investment.
As a result of this widening, the role of the individual as the basic building block of change has gained wide acceptance in many policies. Sen’s recasting of the priorities of development has reinforced the pivotal role of the individual in any development strategy. Developing the individual’s potential capabilities is the ultimate purpose of improving the condition of mankind. The more unrealised his potential; the lower is his level of development. His potential and character are constrained by unfreedoms and are the components of his special and unique identity. This identity is expressed often through culture.