Attaining Escape Velocity for Political Theory
You must have wondered, as I have, why there are only egalitarian ‘big book’ philosophers and liberal ‘big book’ philosophers? Why do only these two classes of political theories put out ‘tomes’ big and small, such as ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ and ‘Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith for the liberals and ‘Das Capital’ by Karl Marx for the egalitarians? But there are no right wing ‘big book’ philosophers. No right wingers put out books extolling the glories of strength and heroism for example and what holding such values as high ideals would mean for civilization in all its various expressions.
Now this was not always so. Certainly, Plato and Aristotle, the original political philosophers, put forth political theories that would certainly neither be left nor liberal today. Then there was Machiavelli in the late 1400’s to early 1500’s and even in the early 20th century there were political economists like Vilfredo Pareto (of Pareto Optimal fame) who challenged the dominant political consensus.
This dearth becomes a vacuum when it comes to Indian political thought. I have yet to read a ‘big book’ by any Right wing Indian political thinker. But before I expand on what I mean by ‘big book’ theorizing, I would like to appropriate a concept from Physics to explain the problem.
Escape Velocity is the speed any object has to attain if it is to escape falling back to the planet. Now escape velocity is dependent on the gravitational force of the planet, and speed and distance of the object; nevertheless the crucial idea being that if an object fails to attain the escape velocity it needs, then no matter how fast it is rising or how high it has already risen, in due course it will fall back down to the planet.
We can apply this idea in relation to a body of intellectual thought. If a thinker, no matter how bold or original, fails to ‘escape’ the ‘gravitational’ force of a previous intellectual idea, he will in due course fall back towards it.
This in essence is the problem that afflicts right wing thinkers. They fail to escape the gravitational force of the left which is ‘egalite’ and their philosophy over a period comes to a retreat or surrender. Same happens to them when they fail to escape the gravitational force of liberalism which is the maximum preference for all choices of all and sundry individuals.
Many start out instinctively or intellectually disgruntled with the left or with liberalism. They see that even after roughly 65 years of socialism, democratism and admittedly half-baked liberalism India is poor, chaotic, overcrowded with low quality of life for the most. They start questioning the dominant political ideologies. They start developing alternative ideas. But they don’t go far. And they come back to the left, believing in more social justice NGOery; or they fall into the orbit of liberals and believe full blown liberalism and free-market wonkery will move mountains where half-baked liberalism moved but a molehill.
They fail to attain escape velocity to go beyond the leftist or the liberal thought.
This is the reason I believe there has been no right wing philosophy created in India nor big books with right wing theories published. Now there have been polemicists who have published books advocating zealously for their particular religious sect, but as a scientific materialist that has not interested me in the least. Nor is theological bickering relevant to the ideas that go under the rubric of the political.
Coming back to the question of ‘Big Books’ of theory, I posit that it is this that allows a political movement to win: that is to come to power and implement its ideas of the political. And I claim that this victory is made possible because ‘big books’ allow a political movement to attain ‘escape velocity’ from whatever the previous political-intellectual class of imperatives were regardless of whether these imperatives were the result of traditions or diktats of ideology.
The quest for liberal democratism was simmering in England for a long time but it is when John Locke created his Second Treatise on Government, a big book1 of liberal democratic political thought that liberalism really took off. It allowed the liberals to break free of previous Monarchist political imperative and all its implications. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations did likewise for Capitalism. All throughout history there must have been merchants and traders who resented state controls over them for whatever reasons. But it was Smith’s big book that allowed the capitalists to coalesce, organize, push forward and onwards towards their victory.
The left followed the same path. They faced the ‘gravitational’ force of liberalism and could not really escape it till their ideologues like Karl Marx came along with his Communist Manifesto and his Das Capital. There were others as well with their big books of egalitarian ideologies. This in turn allowed Left to organize and discipline itself and drive its disciples with such fervor that they swept the whole world.
And as an aside, we have the examples of religions with ‘the book’ that have also expanded hugely with their ‘the book’ providing them with the discipline, organization and focus necessary to keep advancing.
Now if you agree with my hypothesis, and that is what it is for I have not yet upgraded it to a theory, you will see why the Indian Right is, to put it bluntly but humorously, llaalloo.
Rightists have not been able to attain escape velocity, leave the orbit of left and liberals behind and discover an entire universe of exciting new possibilities for political theories. What the right needs essentially are ‘big books’ that will lay out an alternate vision for the present and the future. Big books that will allow the right to attain escape velocity.
To me then this must be the first task of the right. We need to engage with the most fundamental questions. What is going to be our epistemology? Is it going to be scientific materialism and empiricism? Or rationalism? Or mathematical modeling? Or abstract thought? Or historical traditionalism? Or theological revelationism?
What is the role of the state, of the civilization? What is the proper way to live a life, and to what goals? What ideas are to be embraced and what are to be rejected? What is the role of politics? What methods and strategies are necessary to come to power? And which one of them are justified? What are the rights of the individual and the relation to state power? Are our political ideas universal or contextual? And how do we distill our complex philosophy into simple ideals and values?
That is only the first part, for there is a second part as well. After dealing with the question of political, we have to deal with the question of policy. How does our political thought translate into state policy? What is the rightist structure and functions of the state? What is the rightist military policy? What is the right savings rate? And the industrial policy and the nature and role of education? How do we define freedom and justice? What are the historical questions and future ambitions?
When we have wrestled with these, we have to integrate the answers into a coherent and consistent framework that will be put out to the world as big philosophical tomes. It will be a goal that many will have to attempt, but the task itself will be a solitary one for each individual involved as it has been for the great philosophers of the past. And all the labor will be worth it to the thinker who will be able to hold his big book in his hand. Then the Right will start acquiring the focus, the discipline and the organization needed to start tasting the sweetness of victory.
I implore you then to consider this as the most important task. Far more important than ‘current events’ or parsing and responding to other sides continuous dim of rhetoric.
Next time, I will lay out a process for how the right can go about getting its deep philosophical books with breath to match the depth…
1. Big Book: It is not the size but the comprehensiveness of the ideas tackled with that makes a book big.