Monday, December 24, 2007

Politics and Hypocrisy (2)

Politics and Hypocrisy (2)

Ali Asghar Kazemi

In our previous commentary on this subject we argued that the marriage of religion and politics in pursuit of power gives birth to hypocrisy. Simple explanation for this phenomenon is that complex problems and functions of society can not be carried by supra-natural order as interpreted by ideology.

Common sense dictate that political leaders should be truthful to people whom they need their support for reelection. To that end, they have moral responsibility to rely on reason and logic in political process for the fulfillment of people objectives. This requires science, technical know-how, material and moral capital. Naturally, religion can not supplant these requisites since they are not accessible through mere pretension and ideological rhetoric. In this respect our political leaders are part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

On the other hand, with respect to religious role as the Indian philosopher Radhakrishnan once said: “It is the function of religion to turn the world upside down, to make revolutionary demands. If religious men take interests in secular problems, they are convicted of a gross betrayal of religion.” [1]

Political power has an implied connotation of coercive influence, whereas spiritual and religious power relates to persuasive influence. Religion exerts influence over human behavior. But a great deal of religious or spiritual power that we observe in political life is carried under the auspices of nominally religious persons, groups or institutions, may well be a kind of secular power which is hiding behind religious symbols or garb.[2]

On the assumption that power is not an end in itself, how then the two spheres, competing for influencing man in his material and spiritual world can come to an agreement? If man were driven by an insatiable greed for power, as Thomas Hobbes asserts in Leviathan,[3] and Machiavelli had suggested earlier in The Prince,[4] then the world would experience an endless war, and every one would live in permanent fear and frustration. But, presumably the ethical and religious dimension of the” political man” tend to restrain human being from behaving by mere material obsession and desires.

Prophets have come to world in order to show man the right path to truth and salvation. But, few of them however, have been successful. Machiavelli observed that all armed prophets have conquered and unarmed prophets have failed. Realistically, power can be thought of as “the instrument by which all other values are obtained.”[5] Since many people consider power as a value in itself, it is safe to say that power functions both as means and ends. Thus, men can share power over nature, but power over human mind is something for which men must compete.[6]

If we perceive the religious sector and the political sector as two actors engaged in competition in some sort of “zero-sum-game,”[7] whatever one side gains equals the losses of the other side. This is more or less the Machiavellian view of power that once said “the Prince who advances another prince’s power, diminish his own.” This is a non-cooperative game as opposed to cooperative game in which the two parties may in fact gain in their interaction, provided they start up with such intention. This makes the difference between an authoritarian dictatorship and democratic political system.

When a spiritual leader sets out to compete with the temporal sector in gaining political power, the case immediately represents as a zero-sum-game, leading to non-cooperative and antagonistic behavior. The problem therefore is whether it is possible to discover elements and situations in which the religious and political sphere can play a game that eliminates antagonism, conflict and hostility, and enhances cooperation, construction and compassion.

Secularist ideal claim that the only way to strike a balance and to reach a mutually constructive solution is to delimit the domain within which each sector can maneuver in order to direct human being toward the path of material welfare as well as spiritual salvation. The two sectors shall then cooperate in using their persuasive and coercive influence for common objectives of people. But in practice the matter is not so much clear and history of mankind has proven that it has never been possible to strike the desired balance.

The hundred year’s war of fifteenth century resulted continuous conflicts over the distribution of power between religious and temporal sectors, church and the state or popes and the kings. In the seventeenth century the same issues provoked the thirty years war. The resurgence of secularism replaced the medieval theocratic paradigm and ushered the age of enlightenment.

The secular consideration of power began its reappearance with Machiavelli’s doctrine of pragmatism in political theory. The basis of this doctrine was to answer the question of what needs to be done by a ruler to remain in power. That is to say that the necessity of political life often required the breaking of moral low. [8] Machiavelli’s princes, unlike Plato’s philosopher-kings, ruled because they were shrewd in manipulating power. Thus, power became devoid of virtue. For Machiavelli, good and evil were traits of all human being and a successful ruler had to be “part lion and part fox.” [9]

Bertrand Russell wrote that faith, ideology and religion as a whole are undisputed elements in forming the power of a state.[10] Indeed ideas influence the development and use of command over power and violence. In cases were nations are not fully developed from a political-democratic standpoint and party politics as well as other social institutions lack the necessary appeal to unite people in the pursuit of their objectives , religion can fill the gaps. Translated into ideology when put into motion, religion may assume a determinant role in a society, provided it is properly used.[11] It can also weaken a state, and deteriorate its internal and external relations if its potential power is not directed toward constructive path and is used in the pursuit of evil objectives.
We shall continue this discussion in our future commentaries.


[1] S. Radhakrishnan, Religion in a Changing World, London, George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1967, p.51
[2] Cf. J. Milton Yinger, Religion in the Struggle for Power, Durham, N. C. Duke University Press, 1946, p.15
[3] Thomas Hobbes work Leviathan appeared in 1651. The biblical title, which means a monster of the sea, was a suggestive symbol of England’s rising sea power.
[4] The Prince was written in1513. Its main characteristics are its complete abandonment of morality and consideration of politics entirely in terms of causes and effects.
[5] See Karl Deutsch, Politics and Government, How People decide their Fate? P.31.
7. Idem.
[7] A zero-sum-game is a game in which the payoffs of all players add up to zero. See e.g. Martin Shubik(Ed) Game Theory and related Approaches to Social Behavior, New York: John Wiley & Son, 1964; Steve J. Brams, Game Theory and Politics, New York: Free Press, 1975.
[8] . See e.g. David E. Apter, Introduction to Political Analysis. (Pretice Hall of India, New Delhi, 1981, p.77.
[9] .see: Friedrich Meinecke, Machiavellism. (New Haven: Yale University press. 1962), Quoted in David E Apter, Ibid.P.78.
[10].CF. Bertrand Russell, Power, A New Social Analysis, (New York: Norton, 1938), PP.145-156.
[11]. This is especially true in the case of the Third world states where political parties as key organizations for uniting people of different and rather immature opinion can not perform social and political results. A party, said, Edmond Burke, is a group of men united to promote, the common good in accordance with a principle upon which they are agreed. In the Third World the most widely accepted principles belong to religious teachings.