Atanu Dey On India's Development

Common Sense

Thanks to you all who wrote to ask why the hiatus in blogging. I was very busy with reading and thinking. The problem apparently is that I can either write or I can think — but not both at the same time :)

Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, is what kept me busy. Reading Paine is an intellectual delight for me because I keep marveling how closely my ideas mirror his. I was hooked from the first line in the introduction to the pamphlet:

Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

Upon reading that, I immediately thought of the system of education in India. We have been accustomed to thinking that the system is not wrong. Upon further reflection I realized that the education system is just a small (though important) part of the larger system. Even the system of governance is faulty. What is the foundation upon which the system rests? Undoubtedly it has to be the constitution. I guess is that the constitution of India is flawed.

It is easy to dismiss my opinion as that of a person who is not an authority on constitutions. True enough. But what would you say to the village idiot who witnesses the spectacular blowing up of a huge complicated machinery — a device that he could not ever have designed or created — and exclaims, “The guy who designed it is an idiot”? The problem with the machine is revealed unquestionably by the failure of the machine. One does not have to be a genius to observe the effects of faulty design.

Time indeed makes more converts than reason. One can reason with people till the cows come home but it will not sway them one bit if the present conditions favor them. Those who hold power in today’s government will be crazy to let go of something that they find so personally rewarding.

Moving on, here are the first bits of Common Sense:

Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and governments by our wickedness; the former promotes are happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government,which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities is heightened by reflection that we furnish the means by which we suffer. . .

A very topical example: the government funds jihad from the taxes it extracts from me.

Who was the man Thomas Paine whose pamphlet had such a profound effect on the colonists that they actually struck out for independence from England instead of continuing to be a colony? An Englishman born in 1737, he came to America in 1774. As late as end of 1775, the mood in the thirteen colonies was one of reconciliation with England. Common Sense was published in January 1776 and it was instrumental to a large degree in changing the mood of Americans. The declaration of independence was made on July 4th, 1776.

Here’s more from Paine:

I draw my idea of the form of government from a principle in nature . . . that the more simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and the easier repaired when disordered; and with this maxim in view, I offer a few remarks on the much boasted constitution of ________. That it was noble for dark and slavish times in which it was erected is granted. When the world was over-run with tyranny the least remove therefrom was a glorious rescues. But that it is imperfect, subject to convulsions, and incapable of producing what it seems to promise, is easily demonstrated.

That last sentence is so accurate about the Indian constitution that one would think that Paine was referring to India. He was talking about England. Here’s the continuation of the segment quoted above:

Absolute governments (tho’ the disgrace of human nature) have this advantage with them, that they are simple; if the people suffer, they know the head from which their suffering springs, know likewise the remedy, and are not bewildered by a variety of causes and cures. But the constitution of England is so exceedingly complex, that the nation may suffer for years together without being able to discover in which part the fault lies, some will say in one and some in another, and every political physician will advice a different medicine.

I think it is appropriate that a book titled “common sense” altered the course of history. I think the success of the US is attributable to basic common sense — which in our case we have not got.

The essential difference between the Indian and the US constitution (in my opinion, and I am not a constitutional expert) is that the former empowers the government relative to the people, while the latter empowers the people and puts restrictions on the power of governments. I attribute that difference to the difference in the value-systems of the people framing the constitutions. The Indian framers were setting themselves up as the rulers of the people of India; in the US case, they were aiming to take power away from the government and vest it in the people.

Related post::

The First Amendment

The Tangles Web–Part 4

Still laboring under serfdom

  • http://daily-poppycock.blogspot.com/ Aishwarya

    Nice post Atanu. (And yeah finally a post !)

    I like your inference about how our constitution might be flawed because the value-system of those who made it was questionable to begin with.

    But at the end of the day constitution is just written words – a book of rules. Can it really alter the course of governance especially where those in power never play by the rules?

  • pankaj

    India ‘Sadgaya hai’