Averred infallibility imperils democracy

Can there be infallibility in political and social discourse or in matters related to social or political organisation

Sahibzada Riaz Noor November 25, 2022
The writer has served as Chief Secretary, K-P. He has an MA Hons from Oxford University and is the author of two books of English poetry 'The Dragonfly & Other Poems' and 'Bibi Mubarika and Babur’


Can there be infallibility in political and social discourse or in matters relating to social or political organisation? That various political ideas and systems have evolved is proof that none has claims to being unblemished or beyond melioration. Democracy has stood the test of time yet it too needs safeguards against constant bonapartist onslaughts turning it into authoritarianism.

Unlike mathematical truths, no certainty accrues to matters social or political. Those claiming otherwise must be viewed with mistrust and disquiet since, unfortunately, history is testament to the appearance of many such purveyors of political and social inerrancy who in actual practice have proven to be deniers of individual or social freedoms.

Many people in the garb of self-proclaimed democrats have in real life displayed grave doubts about the worth or necessity of such fundamental values like individual rights, freedom of speech and dissent. Many elected leaders make appeals to ultra nationalist or religious issues and slogans diverting people’s attention from their socio-economic reality.

The magisterium of the concept that power has constantly to be held to answer is discarded.

Authority is disregarded as a trust that people confer upon its leaders, constantly being brought to bear upon the bar of public opinion and accountability to usher social welfare.

Discussion and debate, by dissipating dogma, lead to an enriched understanding of individual and social life in its cultural, political and economic dimensions making for human progress.

In social questions that impact a community, there are so many theories and prescriptions relating to their proper resolution, that hardly any one of these can claim any undisputed superiority or precedence over the myriad other similar attitudes or policies.

Social sciences or practical politics, since they relate to issues mundane to the organisation and operation of a social entity, necessarily partake of the variety of life in all its multifarious dimensions. Each one of these may offer a part of the solution to social, political or economic problems, but none can hold any prior right or claim to providing a final or true answer to the many questions or issues that confront any society at any given time.

Crucially, no policy, attitude proposal or prescription that relates to practical politics and issues, being essentially human, is without an essential element of personal ambition, bias or desire to attain power so as to implement an agenda or ideology ostensibly for common good.

A thin line divides the aspiration to power and the altruistic intent of social welfare. No science or philosophy has or can provide a definite answer. This is a matter of actual observation and assessment of human ambitions as they play out on the stage of history vis a vis the desire to serve society for its good.

Similarly, no party in a political context can claim any precedence as to the content or strategy it professes to resolve practical issues confronting a society. Each party is in a relative status or position to each other.

The actual performance of a party in resolving the problems of a society, the extent to which it has, in contexts such as ours, led to economic growth as well as poverty alleviation, the degree to which education and health facilities have been expanded and improved, how much state revenues have been increased and properly spent and how foreign relations have been improved form the yardstick by which the relative claims of different parties must be measured.

The inability to claim finality of approaches to resolving social questions cannot but be considered as a given, since so varied have been the different attitudes in scholarship or practical politics to such questions over the course of history.

This is so since such theories, prescriptions or practical political strategies cannot but proceed from the fundamental presumption of their possible fallibility and the likelihood that one or the other may not result in the greater good of the greatest number that in the last analysis must be the goal and deseridatum of all human endeavour in the social context.

The delusional perfectionists who claim infallibility have in practice proved unreceptive to plurality, dissent or multiplicity of views and perceptions about a given social reality and are often the most disdainful of difference of opinions. Intolerance is the greatest danger to democracy.

Authoritarianism or despotism and other similar brands of social postulations and political organisation take their incipience in the bosom of such presumed infallibility that is lethally destructive in its communal and social consequences, repressive and restrictive of all individual or social freedoms and human rights.

Culture and civilisation need a fresh breath of human freedom for variety of intellect and energy to prosper and flower.

Since such claimants of infallibility are averse to differences of views and attitudes towards social questions, they are not averse to sacrificing democratic norms at the altar of the imagined ‘higher good’, ‘ true freedom’ or ‘ greater glory ‘ of the nation. Trump, Bolsenero, Viktor Orban, Putin, Modi and the local populist wave are typical recent examples. A ‘pristine’ past is invoked as an anodyne palliative to existing deprivations and fears.

A monopoly over truth is claimed. Rather than social and political debate which is the soul and lifeblood of democracy, politics assumes the shape of a brutal battle to the end, a divine crusade between the ‘good’ and the ‘evil’. Messianic, crusade-like movements, rather than resort to tried methods of democracy and rule of law, against perennial social deviations like corruption and graft are often used as subterfuges for suppression, elimination or engineering of opposition.

In such a context there is hardly any room for compromise, consensus, dialogue or discourse involving malleability to allow of give and take.

The striking of balances and accommodation, making gains here and giving way there, within legal and constitutional parameters, are strategies and methodologies that make democracy such a potent and resilient system at protecting the individual from the tyranny of majority and resolving regional differences.

Only in this context is it possible to resolve the great contest between individual rights and freedoms to attain progress, balanced by the needs of a tenable federalism. This is the only viable answer to cultural and economic inclusivity in a varied landscape.

Only such conditions can lead to an egalitarian social construct where the weak are both protected as well as enabled to enjoy the fruits of culture and civilisation that mankind has been able to attain.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2022.

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