Examples of Ancient Precursors

I Ching: One of the most ancient works, if not the most ancient known work in the present days. The fundational principles of the “I Ching” are totally related to the principles of Humanitarianism, as we can easily see in its hexagram nº. 10 (Lu the Conduct):

Lu – the Conduct

Lu  (The Conduct, the Path) – Hexagram nº. 10 of the “I Ching”, which is a multi milenial synthesis of the doctrine of Humanitarianism:

Heaven above, the lake below: The image of CONDUCT
Thus the superior man discriminates between high and low,
And thereby fortifies the thinking of the people.

Heaven and the lake show a difference of that inheres in the natures of the two, hence no envy arises.

Among mankind also there are necessary differences of elevation; it is impossible to bring about universal equality.

But it is important that differences in social rank should not be arbitrary and unjust, for if this occurs, envy and class struggle are the inevitable consequences.

If, on the other hand, external differences in rank correspond with differences in inner worth, and if inner worth is the criterion of external rank, then people acquiesce and order reigns in society.” [I Ching, R. Wilheim, pp. 46-47. (Lu – The Conduct; the Path – Hexagram nº. 10 of the I CHING: the Book of Mutations. p. 56); bold characters are ours]

– Vaivasvata Manu:

“Caste is the character.”

– Lao Tze:

“The great Tao (the Path) is easy to follow, but people wander off on the bypaths.” (Tao-Te-King, 53)

– Confucius:

“The superior man thinks of his character; the inferior man thinks of his position (…). The superior man seeks what is right; the inferior one, what is profitable.” (Analects, IV. Gaer, p. 101, n. 34-37)

“The good and the bad government both depend on the leaders. The posts should be trusted, not to the favorites of the prince, but only to the capable men. The functions should be trusted, not to the vicious men, but to those eminent by their virtues and by their talents.” (Chu-King, VIII, II, 5)

–  Buddha:

“A fool may associate with a wise man all his life, but perceive the truth as little as the spoon perceives the taste of soup. An intelligent man may associate with a wise man one minute, and perceive the truth as the tongue perceives the taste of soup.” (Dhammapada, 64-65. Gaer, p. 17, n. 38a)

“Look upon this world, glittering like a royal chariot! The fools are immersed in it; but the wise are not attached to it.” (Dhammapada, 171. Gaer, p. 21, n. 87a)

– Jesus:

The Parable of the Talents

For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.” (Matthew, 25:14-15)

– Plato: Author of several works related to the principles of Humanitarianism, as in the example of The Republic”, which is a fundational work of the Western culture, and in fact one of the classics of the world literature as a whole.

Examples of Modern Precursors

– Francis Bacon: Author of classical works related to the principles of Humanitarianism, as in the cases of The Proficience and Advancement of  Learning Divine and Humane”, “The New Atlantisand “Novum Organum: Instauratio Magna.

– Thomas More: Author of the work Utopia, another classic of world literature, whose principles are deeply related to Humanitarianism.

Thomas More

Examples of Contemporary Precursors

– Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland:

Above All Things Teach the Doctrine of the Spiritual Grades or Levels, Which Have No Relation to the Outward Condition of Life

Above all things teach the doctrine of the Spiritual Grades or Levels. The Christians made a serious mistake in requiring the same rule of all persons. Spiritual levels are as ladders whereby to ascend from the lower to the higher. They are properly spiritual grades, and have no relation to the outward condition of life. Like all other doctrines, that of Caste has been materialised.” (Anna Kingsford. Clothed With The Sun. Being the Book of the Illuminations of Anna Kingsford, p. 50; bold characters are ours)

– Annie Besant: Author of several works whose principles are deeply linked to Humanitarianism. Likewise, we have the example of her political participation in the life of India; above all the model of Constitution she led to an autonomous administrative India, which is known as The Commonwealth of India Bill [1925], which in itself is a great precursor, as an attempt to apply the principles of Humanitarianism in practice:

Universal Brotherhood Is a Law in Nature, Not Only an Aspiration

Brotherhood, then, in its full meaning, is a law in nature. Stress has more than once been laid on this in our meetings, but not too much stress has thereon been laid. For it is the very object, the desire, of our work that brotherhood shall become practical in society, and it will never become practical until men understand that it is a law, and not only an aspiration. It is a common experience that when men have discovered a law of nature they no longer fight against it. They at once accomodate themselves to the new knowledge. They at once adapt themselves to the newly understood conditions, and in that very way we have preached brotherhood. And yet brotherhood is but so little known in our world.” (Annie Besant. The Spiritual Life, p. 113; bold characters are ours)

Out of these Differences Grows Up All the Possibilities of an Ordered Society

“That great principle (or Law) of Reincarnation must ever go hand in hand with the principle (or Law) of Brotherhood if Brotherhood is to be applied, if it is to be made a working principle of ordinary life. For it is out of these differences of age that grows up all the possibilities of an ordered and happy society amongst ourselves.” (Annie Besant. The Changing World, p. 80; bold characters are ours)

Annie Besant

– Sri Ram and Jai Prakash Narain: 

Proposal of a System in Harmony with the Law of the Universal Brotherhood (Annie Besant, N. Sri Ram and Jai Prakash Narain)

“Some time ago Pandit Nehru, in one of his speeches, threw out rather vaguely the idea that some day, instead of the present manner of elections to the Indian Parliament, some system, less direct and more suited to conditions in India, might be considered.

Since then, Mr. Jai Prakash Narain (…) has more definitely proposed, in the place of the present form of Democracy in India, a system somewhat similar to that proposed by Dr. Annie Besant in the days of her agitation for Indias Freedom.

She did not think that the rule one man, one vote’ was good for any country, and least of all did she favour it for India. Therefore she outlined, in her The Commonwealth of India Bill [1925], a system which would be broad-based at the village (and corresponding town) level, with adult suffrage and a very large measure of autonomy, and then gradually taper like a pyramid through the District and State (or Province) levels, up to the Central Government. The franchise for the Councils at these higher levels was to be based on increasingly higher qualifications of service, experience, education, etc.

Her scheme, if it had been backed up by the other political leaders of the time, particularly by the Congress party, would have been acceptable to the people of India as a whole. The principle of a reasonable qualification for the vote and for membership of the Councils would have been firmly established. But her pleadings went in vain. Mr. Gandhi stood for mass suffrage, and that decided the question.

Mr. Jai Prakash Narain also envisages a strong and practically self-sufficient village base to consist of Village Councils, village meaning also a town, ward or borough, but indirect elections from these Councils to District Councils, from the latter to State or Provincial Legislatures, and from these to the Parliament of all India.

Mr. Jai Prakash Narains is as yet a lonely voice in the wilderness of the present political conditions in India. The description of them as a wilderness may seem an exaggeration but when one looks at the various sectional interests which are so clamant and the variety of councils on different matters to which it utterance is given, one cannot but feel the truth of Dr. Besants description of democracy in its present form as government by multi-headed ignorance.” (N. Sri Ram. On the Watch Tower, p. 86; bold characters are ours)

– Jiddu Krishnamurti:

Why, at home, in class and at the hostel, are they always telling you what to do and what not to do? Certainly, it is because your parents and teachers, like the rest of society, did not realize that man exists for the sole purpose of discovering Reality or God. If even a small group of educators understood this and applied their full attention to this search, a new kind of education and a completely different society would be inaugurated.” (A Cultura e o Problema Humano, p. 192; bold characters are ours)

– Maurice Duverger:

Organizational Structure of the Communist Parties Has Contributed More to the Success of Communism Than the Marxist Doctrine

“(…) they developed a yet more original structure, resting upon very small groups (a factory, a neighborhood, etc), strongly united by the processes of the ‘democratic centralism,’ and yet closed due to the technique of vertical connections: this admirable system of organizing the masses has contributed more to the success of communism than the marxist doctrine, or the poor standard of living of the working classes.” (Maurice Duverger, Os Partidos Políticos, p. 40)

The Communist Party Developed a Pyramidal Structure of Remarkable Organizational Efficiency: We May Regret the Application of the Tool, But We Have to Admire Its Technical Perfection

“We may think many things of the Communist Party: but we must recognize that the mechanisms it developed are of remarkable efficiency, and that we cannot deny them a democratic character, due to their constant care in keeping in touch with the bases, and of always ‘listening to the masses.’ (…) The strength of the Communist Party is that of having structured a scientific method that is able to achieve these results, with the double advantages of the scientific method: greater accuracy and availability to every one after satisfactory training. More deeply considered, the value of this method comes from the fact that its strength is not purely passive; it does not limit itself to registering the reactions of the masses, but permits acting upon them, orienting them gently, prudently, but in depth. We may regret the application of the tool, but we have to admire its technical perfection.” (Maurice Duverger. Os Partidos Políticos, p. 93)

– E. F. Schumacher: 

XIXth-Century Great Ideas Deny or Obliterate the Hierarchy of Levels in the Universe

“While the nineteenth-century ideas deny or obliterate the hierarchy of levels in the universe, the notion of an hierarchical order is an indispensable instrument of understanding. Without the recognition of ‘Levels of Being’ or ‘Grades of Significance’ we cannot make the world intelligible (…) Maybe it is man’s task — or simply, if you like, man’s happiness — to attain a higher degree of realization of his potentialities, a higher level of being or ‘grade of significance’ than that which comes to him ‘naturally’: we cannot even study this possibility except by re-cognizing the existence of a hierarchical structure. To the extent that we interpret the world through the great, vital ideas of the nineteenth century, we are blind to these differences of level, because we have been blinded.” (Ernst F. Schumacher. Small Is Beautiful, pp. 95-96; bold characters are ours)

– C. B. Macpherson:

Participatory Democracy (or Democracy of the Future), in the Vision of Professor C.B. Macpherson

“Let me turn finally to the question of how a participatory democracy might be run if we did achieve the prerequisites. How participatory could it be, given that at any level beyond the neighbourhood it would have to be an indirect or representative system rather than face-do-face direct democracy?

If one looks at the question first in general terms, setting aside for the present both the weight of tradition and the actual circumstances that might prevail in any country when the prerequisites had been sufficiently met, the simplest model that could properly be called a participatory democracy would be a pyramidal system with direct democracy at the base and delegate democracy at every level above that. Thus one would start with direct democracy at the neighbourhood (…) – actual face-to-face discussion and decision by consensus or majority, and election of delegates who would make up a council at the next more inclusive level, say a city borough or a ward or township. (…)

So it would go on up to the top level, which would be a national council for matters of national concern, and local and regional councils for matters of less than national concern. At whatever level beyond the smallest primary one the final decisions on different matters were made, the issues would certainly have to be formulated by a committee of the council. (…)

This may seem a far cry from democratic control. But I think it is the best we can do. What is needed at every stage, to make the system democratic, is that the decision-makers and issue-formulators elected from below be held responsible to those below subject to re-election or even recall. (pp. 108-109) (…)

To sum up the discussion so far of the process of a pyramidal councils system as a model of participatory democracy, we may say that in the measure that the prerequisite conditions for transition to a participatory system had been achieved in any Western country, the most obvious impediments to a pyramidal councils scheme being genuinely democratic would not be present, and, therefore, a pyramidal system might work. (…)

It is much more likely that any such move will be made under the leadership of a popular front or a coalition of social-democratic and socialist parties. (…) The real question then is, whether there is some way of combining a pyramidal council structure with a competivie party system.

The combination of pyramidal direct/indirect democratic machinery with a continuing party system seems essential. Nothing but a pyramidal system will incorporate any direct democracy into a nation-wide structure of government, and some significant amount of direct democracy is required for anything that can be called participatory democracy. At the same time, competitive political parties must be assumed to be in existence, parties whose claims cannot, consistently with anything that could be called liberal democracy, be overridden.

Not only is the combination of pyramid and parties probably unavoidable: it may be positively desirable. (pp. 111-112) (…)

One question remains: can this model of participatory democracy be called a model of liberal democracy? I think it can. It is clearly not dictatorial or totalitarian. The guarantee of this is not the existence of alternative parties (…). The guarantee is rather in the presumption that no version of the model of participatory democracy could come into existence or remain in existence without a strong and widespread sense of the value of that liberal-democratic ethical principle (which is the heart of its main models): – the equal right of every man and woman to the full development and use of his or her capabilities. (…)

As long as there remained a strong sense of the high value of the equal right of self-development, the model of participatory democracy would be in the best tradition of liberal democracy. (C.B. Macpherson. The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy, pp. 108-115)

– Philip Converse: 

The Decisive Role of Elites

Another conclusion of a general nature, also of the greatest importance, both theoretical and practical, is that the broader social conscience groups (the so-called elites) have a decisive role in the development of socio-political processes in general, a fact that imputes to them a enormous responsibility, which is almost always not well enough recognized. Philip Converse referred to this immense responsibility in the following terms:

“The broad contours of elite decisions over time can depend in a vital way upon currents in what is loosely called “the history of ideas.” These decisions in turn have effects upon the mass of more common citizens. But, of any direct participation in this history of ideas and the behavior it shapes, the mass is remarkably innocent.” (Philip E. Converse. The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics. In: APTER, D. E., org. Ideology and Discontent. New York, The Free Press of Glencoe, 1964. p. 255)