The New Idols of the Market Place


Five hundred years ago Francis Bacon,arguably a pioneer of what later became the European Enlightenment,had mooted the idea of four major sources of error and obstacles to clear thinking about truth.He called them idols.For instance ‘idols of the cave’ or ‘idols of the mind,on which we need not dwell at the moment.The ‘Idols of the marketplace’ with which we are concerned are words which pass for thoughts but are actually empty of any real thought.The marketplace is the place of exchange where debased coins are passed on the unwary customer and inferior goods are made to fetch a higher value than they warrant.There are plenty of such examples around us.Same with words in the marketplace of ideas.

Consider the festival of flags.What could it conceivably mean!We are to display,honor and worship them like never before in a heady atmosphere of pious inebriaion.But why ?Raising it is honor enough.How can repeating it or multiplying it accord it more honor?A friend says his friend who is in business is angry that he has been commanded to honor it and in chagrin he let this year pass without hoisting it for the first time in his life.

The nation’s flag stands for its freedom,self-respect and legitimate self-confidence.For fulfillment as well as its dreams.Above all it stands for the citizens’ creative potential,and by no means for mindless obedience.But when the nation becomes an impressive but inert idol shorn of those virtues,it may become an instrument of brute power and intimidation.At the dawn of freedom it was an harbinger for freedom from hunger and fear.Now it seems to carry an overtone of threat and coercion.Imperceptibly the word has changed.Flaunted too often it is drained of its original value and may be filled with other alien content,

The circumstances that have brought this change about have compelled the miscellaneous opposition to hurl the term ‘Fascist’ at the rulers.They believe they have scored off the enemy with such precision as to disorient it for some time.But the general public dismiss it as sheer name-calling.For there is little in the defiant gestures of the opposition to show that they realize the implication of a grim life and death struggle the for democracy the word invokes.Of course the use of the term is not inane.A political force has arisen after long gestation and secret nurture that can seize power to wipe out democracy.All independent institutions that could have checked its progress have been suborned.It still needs the democratic façade to cover the last lap of that route.The courts themselves sometimes appear to serve that mission and in public remarks by sitting judges outside the courts there are unexpected strange illiberal noises that mar the harmony of liberal ideas associated with law.But the opposition has been rendered complacent and careless by long habitation in an environment of liberal democracy.Their endless squabbles,sudden somersaults and stop-go efforts do not inspire faith in their unity,without which it will come a cropper.The public is not to blame if they think they are accomplices in the intrigue that has been going on right under their noses.People are busy learning the reflexes that the emerging new order requires for the commands it barks out from time to time.Unless more vigorous and less indrawn responses and initiatives from the opposition suggest a willingness to fight together till the bitter end,the public are unlikely to cross over from the sidewalks to join the march.

The opposition,it has to be said, had had too good a time.Did not they also in their time bask in power and flaunt it insolently,bend and break the norms when it suited them,though perhaps not in such a brazen,flagrant manner?Democracy is a prize whose worth one seems to sense when it is about to be lost.Liberal intellectuals and academics too,who felt nothing could ever touch them in their eagles’ nests and who looked on in serene detachment when the common man jostled and hustled for a few more rupees in their wages and raged and fumed when his  hard-won rights were ‘reformed’ into thin air,  now realize that their security had been tied to the interests of those wretched ragged crowds.

How to breathe life and vigour into those worn-out empty shells of words that are in danger of being filled with toxic brew of state-worship,communal hatred and mental slavery? The liberal ideas that once permeated the constitution and laws in a self-fulfilling manner,and now seem so empty,  had been given life by the spontaneous collective aspirations of the masses who had turned out in their millions to thwart imperialist designs.The constitution had  come riding on their shoulders.They now feel it does not protect their interests.Rather it is being used to plunder them of the fruits of their labour.

How can ideas associated with it be expected to bestow any blessings on them.Reforms are called for and executed with the courts’ benediction to rob them of their earnings and their dues,their hopes and their dreams.How can they trust such words and concepts?

But that has come about during the last thirty years and particularly in the last eight years.

Intellectuals and scribes who were couriers of those deserts and dues,rights and opportunities, hopes and dreams,had not warned them that something had been amiss.They have been cheerleaders of such reforms.And now they themselves appear at a loss,and are crying ‘Foul!’ or ‘Sold!’.A national gathering of scholars were celebrating a fruitful year of scholarship and research and someone had the temerity to remind them the security of their high-minded pursuits depended on support of the masses,and the intruder was sternly put in his place by a lady guarding the door that he had no understanding of the real business of disinterested research.Two years later she was howling to the press that her personal laptop has been seized and her study raided for making just such a disinterested remark.The spoilsport had gone on to search out links between revolutionary movements that put in place the core liberal principles in politics and government and ideas of social democracy that uphold the core of social security,and was tastelessly lampooned in verse for his pains by another stalwart.Such experiences only highlight the purist enterprise of social research devoid of concern for working people,which was bound to lead scholars to the present quandary.

Independence had promised everybody a fair deal.And within everybody there were disguised vested interests like feudal landlords,caste elites and worshippers of a congealed lifeless past.Little was done to isolate and deal with them according to their deserts.And they too had taken upon their shoulders the task of upholding,carrying forward and expounding the core values of the constitution.And quite naturally they diluted and adulterated the heritage to suit their own interests.In the process the coinage got debased and denuded of real value.

Gramsci had in the first flush of enthusiasm for workers’ soviets had led factory councils of Turin to occupy the factories.Ten to twelve years later he found himself and many of his comrades thrown into jail by fascists who had suddenly stolen upon the revolutionary scene.He spent years in pondering on the mystery in his priceless prison notes.How the Italian Resorgimento which had inspired and carried through the democratic revolution had not been thorough-going enough,and how the vital hegemony in the moral and intellectual spheres had left wide gaps,thanks to tenacious feudal survival,and how weakened the democratic current had grown in consequence.And a lot more.But for us this is of immediate relevance.That is how general currency of liberal democracy had become debased and how it has now threatened to become putty in the hands of subverters.(The End).

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator


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