[Opinion] Ensnaring Ideas

Aziz Ali Dad

The study of the Platonic theory of forms leaves the reader wondering about Plato’s logic of keeping ideal realities, such as justice, equality, beauty and knowledge, away from the mundane world. His logic becomes clear when we read the Platonic theory of the world of ideals in the light of our own experiences. As social animals, we exist in the broader context of society where we are enmeshed in power relations and institutions that determine our ideas. The corruption of ideals precedes the corruption of individuals.

In modern times, the ruling group controls people by maintaining its hegemony over ideas through the cultural industry and different institutional arrangements, which help in the manufacturing of consent and legitimacy. According Antonio Gramsci, consent is achieved not by force but by the reproduction of a particular ethos in the public sphere. Modern societies are more vulnerable to manipulations of power than traditional societies, because their mode of operation in the realm of ideas is subtle. Owing to the current economic and political order, the world of ideas has been ensnared by the ruling group’s power to safeguard its interests. This is also true in Pakistan in the case of the interface between state and ideas.

The Pakistani state’s experiments with different ideas clearly illustrate the failure of ideas manufactured for the vested interests. Since its inception the rulers of Pakistan have experimented with different concepts to provide legitimacy for their rule. Despite the change in performers the script remains the same, which is to maintain the status quo. During the last 63 years we have ersatz ideas and botched experiments, starting from the industrial revolution of Gen Ayub Khan, the socialism of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Islam of Ziaul Haq, the social contract of Benazir Bhutto, to the enlightened moderation and national reconciliation of Gen Pervez Musharraf. These ideas failed to deliver because their real meanings have been leached out for the expediencies of power.

The industrial revolution in the West brought about drastic changes in the economic, social, intellectual and political domains. But the industrial development in Pakistan during the Ayub period enabled “the 22 families” of that time to amass the country’s wealth. Bhutto’s socialism in Pakistan had little in common with the socialism of the former USSR and China. During his rule, Ziaul Haq came forth with his definition of Islam in order to perpetuate his rule. Historically, enlightenment in the West was produced by great minds like Descartes, Kant, Voltaire and Diderot. In our country, Gen Musharraf’s idea of “enlightened moderation” was reportedly manufactured by a consultancy firm of Henry Kissinger.

It is an irony that these ideas were used by a class that is averse to ideas of change and enlightenment. Instead of replacing the feudal class the capitalists in Pakistan forged a nexus with the ruling groups to save the system that benefits both. In addition, some feudals morphed into capitalists. The complex interplay between the powerful actors in the state ended in “national reconciliation” which absolved powerful people from their crimes and corruption. The culture of loan write-offs and kickbacks has become possible because of the collusion between the state apparatus and the capitalist elite in Pakistan. One does not fail to see the qualitative difference between the idea of national reconciliation in South Africa under Nelson Mandela and his successors and what happened in Pakistan in that realm.

The growing influence of capital in the state machinery is symptomatic of global outreach and dominance of capitalism across the world. In his article in The Guardian, “The high price of freedom” (May 7, 2005), Nobel laureate Gunter Grass had this comment on the influence of capital on cherished ideals like democracy: “Global capital has ensnared parliament, and democratic progress is in danger of becoming a commodity to be bought and sold on the markets.”

If ideas like democracy become pawns to the dictates of capitalism, then we should not be surprised to witness some sections of the intelligentsia being ready to serve the expediencies of power politics. When the integrity of scholarship mutates with the mutations in power, there can be no truths, only deformations of ideas. That is why every dictator and ruler in Pakistan has found a sizeable number of intellectuals ready to give power interests the semblance of “ideas.”

After witnessing the corruption of ideas, in tandem with the vagaries of power, we can understand Plato’s logic of keeping the ideal principles in the world of archetypal forms. The objects in the world are copies of immutable forms or ideals. These ideal forms provide a yardstick for judging every aspect of life and society. Thus, knowledge of the form of justice allows us to judge what acts are just. The doctrine of necessity in Pakistan is an outcome of compromises on the ideals of democracy.

There is dire need for emancipation of ideas from the ruling class. We ought to reject the ideas that are manufactured to serve the interests of particular dominant groups. The models of scholarship should be the rebellious spirits who refused to toe the line dictated by power.

Edward Said provided us a common space where we can defend the cherished ideals of humanity. He urged everyone “to join in and not leave the field of values, definitions, and cultures uncontested. They are certainly not the property of a few Washington officials, any more than they are the responsibility of a few Middle Eastern rulers. There is a common field of human undertaking being created and recreated, and no amount of imperial bluster can ever conceal or negate that fact.”

The writer is associated with a rights-based organisation in Islamabad. Email: azizalidad

Originally published at The NEWS

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One Comment

  1. An interesting piece of writing!
    The writer has rightly narrated the fact that since emergence of this fragile state, the country has gone through series of experimentation or sometime calling it reforms. Whether it was economical, social or constitutional system, but soon it was found ineffective and inefficient by this confused nation. There are numbers of examples scripted in the infant history of this nation.
    Starting from the ‘trickle-down’ economy of Ayub Khan to the ‘ Islamic Socialism’ of Z.A Bhutto or the liberalization policies of Benazir Bhutto to the former Musharafian economics, all of these concepts and ideas have been witnessed vividly as a red carpet for the elite class and power lusty groups, who manipulated these ideas for their vested interests during their blessed time.
    Apart from this, one of the antagonistic factor contributing to the failure of state institutions is the ‘establishment’ reared from the last 6 decades by the intelligentsia with the help of the sizeable number of interest groups including feudal lords, bureaucrats, media men and politicians, with a sole purpose of legitimizing these vested interests upon this poor nation. Capitalism, on the other hand gave free hand and level playing field to exercise it.
    Thus in this scenario, expecting this state following the notion of justice, tolerance and equitable would be a lame perception of any audience.

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