Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The 'Brahmanic' Model of Developing Society

The second moral approach to civilization building is the creation of a moral elite. I call this approach the Brahmanic model, because in Hinduism this approach is conspicuous. The basic idea is that civilization is rather barbaric and so, to preserve some order, we may need barbaric interventions. In the Hinduist system the warriors, who form the second highest caste, take care of such barbaric interventions. The soldiering caste involves itself in law and order, in war and peace, in all the trappings of power and the use of force. The Brahmans abstain from all such activity. Brahmans are the people with clean hands who play a spiritual, civilizing role vis-à-vis the soldier caste.
Many cultures distinguish between a priest class and a soldier class, not necessarily by heredity. In those cultures, certain people do the dirty work that needs to be done, and a privileged group stays clean and has no operational responsibilities. The dirty ones go to the clean ones for education, enlightenment, absolution, or blessing, whenever they feel the need or whenever they are expected to do so.
In business enterprises the head of quality assurance has no line responsibilities but can influence production figures dramatically. In the same vein, it is difficult for a production manager to be under pressure to meet production goals and deadlines and still be all out for quality. So he may go all out for production while the quality assurance manager incorporates his quality conscience, just as Jiminy served as the external conscience of Pinocchio. The presence of a quality assurance manager means that someone has been set aside from the immediate heat and pressure to stay aware of less tangible or less immediate goals. Peter Drucker calls those the ‘conscience functions’ in organizations.
This model is all right as far as it goes, but some weak spots are inherent in this Brahmanic solution. Between the two groups, the operational elite and the moral or spiritual elite, all kinds of irritations arise quite easily. The power of the priests is subtle, while the power of the soldiers is not. Priests may easily fall short of real influence, because they may simply not be up to it. Soldiers may manipulate weak priests; strong priests may manipulate weak soldiers. The main danger is that priests may become involved in power politics. The theme of a corrupt and oppressing priesthood and an ambivalent warrior group permeates science fiction. Usually the men of action have to clean up the mess of false pretense and vicious manipulation. Revolt against a powerful priesthood is an old and prototypical tale.
Our time has its own priesthoods. Iran is an easy example. Other examples have been with us longer. The Red Army had its political commissars, who had no power of military command but who could influence the commanders. These political commissars had to ensure the orthodoxy of the soldiers, and especially the officers. Orthodoxy in this case equated to loyalty to the party. This example is that of a Brahmanic type of organization, though a perverted one. I do not mean that political commissars are mean or unreliable or perverted. The perversion lies in the system, as in the USSR the priests had all the power. The people who were involved in exerting force were the same as the ones who were involved with shaping minds.
Although the Brahmanic model carries its risks, it still offers a sane approach to civilization. In principle, the best people lead. The old Greeks called this ‘aristocracy’, the rule by ‘the best’. And they meant just that, without assuming that excellence is hereditary.
The privileges of the Brahman or aristocrat are, again in principle, compensated by duties, by noblesse oblige. Or, to turn around the old Roman saying: Quod licet bovi, non licet Iovi. Priests have to accept that they have no executive power, and must realize that other people are pulling the chestnuts out of the fire. This fact restrains their self-exaltation, while it provides a source of self-respect for the soldiers. Priests are special and should be revered, but soldiers guard civilization because they follow the priests of their own accord.
Finally, priests and soldiers are countervailing powers, and so there is negotiation, a kind of market. Priests may denounce soldiers and soldiers may denounce priests, and both have strong, but different sanctions. It is no wonder that the big seduction is to make the whole setup into a total institution. How marvelous it would be to get rid of all ambivalence and balancing acts, all restraints, all insecurities! Such an institution would be the utmost in administrative convenience: monolithic power over both bodies and minds. George Orwell’s 1984 is not threatening merely because it describes a situation that may happen in some future, but because it has happened so often already. It has happened in states that controlled and prescribed thoughts and actions. Doublethink is always around whenever an amalgam of priests and soldiers is present.
The seduction of an integration of executive and moral responsibility is so strong that it is almost a trademark of utopias, from Plato onward. Plato’s Guardians are prototypes; they are both wise and strong. If we want both power and wisdom, it is always good to have some counterbalance between the two.
The Prussian Army invented the Chiefs of Staff, experienced high officers with brilliant minds, to devise and assure the strategy of war, but without operational authority. Each Army corps had a representative for ‘strategic quality assurance’. In a sense these Chiefs of Staff were Brahmans, but their role was not perverted. They were priest-type soldiers, without spiritual (here political) ambitions and influence. Remember, we are still describing roles, not individuals. Political control belongs to the role of the Red Army commissar, not to the role of the representative of the Prussian Generalstab.
Something of a political quality assurance role has been emerging in our society. This role is called policy analysis. A book from Aaron Wildavsky about this subject bears the telling title: Speaking Truth to Power. I like to think of this ‘speaking truth’ as another aspect of civilization - less dependence on lies.
Western civilization has opted for mental anarchy, which manifests itself in religious tolerance, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. We have instituted in our judicial system the power of sanction on immorality, and we have made that system to some extent independent from the main political power systems. For the rest, our Western civilization seems less congenial to the Brahmanic model. Since the days of a dual medieval system of Pope and Emperor, dualism has not been especially strong. Ours is rather the solution of Protestantism: everybody his own priest. We even use Protestantism in our factories. Quality circles are the Protestantism of quality assurance in business.
This second approach, the Brahmanic option, is around wherever there are ‘conscience functions’ of one kind or another. Make your own examples. More conscience functions, better conscience functions, a better balance between conscience functions and executive functions, will all contribute to a more civilized society.

 From Chapter 2 in Humanity, Civilization and Politics - e-book at www.onlineorginals.com

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