Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Democracy and Hero Worship : The place of charismatic authority in a rationalised world

Democracy and Hero Worship : The place of charismatic authority in a rationalised world
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत ।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥४-७॥
परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् ।
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥४-८॥
Whenever there is decay of righteousness, O Bharata,
And there is exaltation of unrighteousness, then I Myself come forth;
For the protection of the good, for the destruction of evil-doers,
For the sake of firmly establishing righteousness, I am born from age to age.
Bhagavad Gita
What is the place of hero (charismatic personality) worship in modern democracy? A group of enlightened people are against hero worship in democracy, because the cult of personality weakens the institutionalisation of democratic structure and process. Power should be tied to the institution and not with its occupant, and the yardstick of a mature democratic institution, they rightly opine, is that its functioning is not affected by the personality of its occupant. Since the origin as well as legitimacy of democracy rests, to large extent, upon its opposition to aristocracy; the denial of hero worship (that is one of the traits of aristocratic culture) becomes even more important. The basic question is whether charisma (or hero worship) is an aberration, a residual trait of the pre-democratic culture that will vanish as the world becomes more rationalised, or an inbuilt feature of modern democratic culture.
Marx, arguably the most celebrated social scientist, accorded primacy to institution over individual (heroes). Marx was categorical that “men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past”. Charismatic personalities don’t possess any special qualities, but are the product of time. If there was a hero, for Marx, it was not an individual but a class – proletariat (even this one-time exception).
It was Max Weber who was directly concerned about the place of charisma in modern rationalised world. Basically, for Weber, man by nature was irrational and he wanted to understand the limit and scope of rationality in an increasingly rationalised world. Weber not only foresaw the space, but also need for a charismatic authority in democracy. Like Marx, Weber was also fascinated by the achievements of modernity, particularly the systematic, rational and orderly manner in which a mission is accomplished in modern organisation. But he was concerned about the ill-effect of rationality whereas in course of time, Weber feared, the logic of an ‘efficient’ institution or system will make the man subservient to the system. Weber though that the way rationality is encroaching various walks of life one by one, a time will come when man will be called insane simply because he behaved like man.
Who will break the stranglehold of the system, that becomes an utmost necessity sometimes? The biggest problem in democracy is that the leader must constantly do something as well as not do many things to legitimise his/her authority. This urge to legitimise one’s authority that can be possible only with people’s support, stops the leader from taking many decisions that are imperative for the well-being of the society. A time comes when policy paralysis begins and a dichotomy between the system and life-world starts unfolding. Under the circumstances, for Weber, only a charismatic person, or a hero, not bound by the logic of the system and not bothered about gaining legitimacy from the people, because his followers never question his acts or intention, would have enough power to establish a balance between the life-world and the system. This is the reason that even in most established democracies, periodic birth of heroes (charismatic personalities) has remained a norm rather than exceptions.
Sociology, the discipline I practice, as the study of institution accords primacy to institution over individual. But then I look at history, whereas the history of history is nothing but the way heroes have changed the system. Democracy itself is the product of a long struggle, in which many heroes questioned the erstwhile institutions that preceded democracy. I wonder, but for these heroes, whether we had any chance to enjoy the fruits of democracy. While institutionalisation is always good for the society; heroes are inbuilt part of the modern rationalised world.
Tulsidasji writes:
जब जब होहिं धर्म की हानि। बाढ़हिं असुर महा अभिमानी।।
तब तब प्रभु धरि मनुज शरीरा। हरहिं शोक मम सज्जन पीरा।।
Heroes are very much part of our culture and civilisation
Long live our heroes who have sacrificed everything for the sake of the society.