The human sweats for the means of living since he walks the earth. His primitive existence illustrates a painful process. Everyone wishes to satisfy wants with greater ease and less pain.
The polity today has many forms. But the prevalent form of polity in ancient and medieval times is monarchy where a monarch becomes the supreme ruler with the title of king, queen, emperor or empress. Monarchy remains the dominant form until the late eighteenth century. Once the thinkers and scholars of the Age of Enlightenment in Europe successfully challenge the age-old polity of monarchy, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries witness growth of many forms of polity. We need to understand the polity of monarchy for it gives humanity the generally accepted form of government for a long, long time. In fact, it remains in existence in contemporary societies and firmly competes with modern polities.
The ancient social arrangement begins with settlement of migrating families in fertile areas mostly along waterways. We trace, for example, settlements along the Ganges in ancient India. Families grow into clans settling in a cluster of villages and clans grow into tribes living in a combination of clusters. The tribes are in violent competition for conquest of land, which constitutes the original source of wealth for agrarian communities. A kingdom is set up once territorial identity transcends tribal identity and a victorious tribal chief becomes the monarch. He assumes sovereign power, owns all land and makes laws. He alone has the authority to distribute land but the modern idea of public domain helps him retain ownership of the land he distributes. We discover in the political map of ancient India small kingdoms ruled by monarchs. The polity of monarchy establishes the lord-slave, master-servant, ruler-subject relationship. The monarch creates in landed aristocrats and commanders of army the elites of his kingdom. The elites serve the monarch and exercise power he delegates to establish his sovereign authority. The subjects obey the monarch, work on his land as peasants for meager sustenance and fight his wars as soldiers to glorify him.
The monarch makes laws for his subjects but he and his elites remain above laws of the kingdom. The monarchy is finally institutionalized to secure sovereign authority for the family of the monarch. Hereditary rule thus becomes legitimate for monarchy. The history of dynastic rule regardless of geography evidences ostentatious lifestyle of royalty, nobility and aristocracy for the determined minority as well as oppressive condition of slave, servant and commoner for the majority. The monarch and the elites waste surplus produce for civil glory and wars with neighboring kingdoms for hegemony. Therefore, monarchy by design gives rise to class struggle between the ruler and the ruled. The majority remains weak and powerless though sporadic struggles occur for freedom, dignity and prosperity.
The class struggle is the basis of resistance by the majority, resulting in rebellion, guerilla warfare and revolution. The monarch deals with resistance in several ways. He creates police force to supervise and control conduct of subjects. Secret police and undercover agents operate to spy on subjects. Subjects are hired as informants in lieu of special favors. If the kingdom experiences armed resistance, it deploys the army to quell the rebellion. Occasionally, a successful rebellion or revolution overthrows the monarch but only to install a yet another monarch for a fresh start. The ancient and medieval history thus records the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires.
Our task now is to explain the nature of monarchy in terms of the secular perception of life. The secularist empowers the rational animal to make intelligent choices. The secular perception defines intelligent choice as one that is expedient. An expedient choice is advantageous, not right or just, by definition. Confucius in ancient China agrees with the definition. “The superior man is concerned with virtues; the inferior man is concerned with land”¦The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what is profitable.” Self-interest guides choice making where intelligent choices do not have to be beneficial choice. Hence, an expedient choice can and does cause injury to self and his fellow.
The rational animal is not concerned with injury that his choices can cause because secular perception rids him of his soul. As long as he alone bears the consequence of the choices he makes, his fellow does not experience conflict. The conflict arises once his choices cause injury to his fellow or the choices of his fellow cause injury to him. He or his fellow does not have to experience injury; the perception of injury is enough to give rise to conflict. They live in society and life is about making choices every step of the way. If they are to live in harmony, he and his fellow must find a way to reconcile conflicting choices.
We find in conflict resolution a perennial issue that occupies people who strive for social harmony. The human and his fellow find in force the arbiter to resolve conflict in choices. They harbor inter-generational enmity and avenge past injury by inflicting harm on one another with vengeance. This explains the retaliatory behavior, which does not resolve but perpetuates conflicts. And force continues to exist as arbiter in and between contemporary civil societies threatening coexistence necessary to building a community of citizens and nations. The qualifying adjective of civil for a well-ordered, well-governed society is no longer meaningful.
Competition defines rules of the game designed to create winners and losers. What brings advantage to some does not bring advantage to all. The use of force displays the tendency of one to deprive the other of his freedom of choice. This is a dangerous tendency for it prompts the strong and the powerful to overpower the weak and the powerless. The human sweats for the means of living since he walks the earth. His primitive existence illustrates a painful process. Everyone wishes to satisfy wants with greater ease and less pain. The secularist offers him the way to fulfill his wish. The rational animal is asked to compete and overpower his fellow if he can in order to live and prosper at his expense. This is how a determined minority regardless of age and geography prospers and experiences leisure at the expense of people it overpowers. The civil societies evidence this tendency in slave owners, feudal lords, monarchs, empire builders, colonizers and imperialists. The history equally evidences in this tendency anxiety, alienation and misery of slaves, servants and subjects.
Obviously, the weak and the powerless are always looking for an arbiter in lieu of force. Even members of the determined minority on occasion champion the cause of social harmony and reject force as the arbiter. But the monarch, who assumes power by force, remains the arbiter in lieu of force. An arbiter in lieu of force is one who meets the following conditions.
He has the authority to arbitrate
He can enforce his decisions
He commands trust of all
He applies generally accepted standards
The monarch certainly meets the first two conditions because he is the supreme ruler of his kingdom. Does he command trust of subjects? The monarch is the architect of secular perception of life. He makes expedient choices and competes with rivals to assume sovereign authority. It does not matter if the subjects trust him because he prevents them from exercising the freedom of choice. The monarch however protects and acts as guardian of customs and traditions because they serve as generally accepted standards of conflict resolution. A customary practice is a pattern of thought or action commonly accepted and observed whereas a tradition is a long-established custom handed down by word of mouth or by example. He of course applies customs and traditions expediently. Read more about secular polity and its performance in the next column.
(The writer is based in Texas, USA and can be reached at [email protected])