Integral Humanism and Constitutional Change

Integral Humanism and Constitutional Change

Photo : Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay

In Guyana, while the Government seems to have lost its appetite for constitutional change, it has seemingly become the victim of its own rhetoric and several international and local organisations have been making persistent (if discreet) interventions to remind them of their promise. At the submission by its “Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform” back in 2015 to PM Moses Nagamootoo, President David Granger expressed reservations about suggestions garnered in a cloistered “room”. He impressed the need for wider consultations and towards this end, a Bill was laid in Parliament and sent to a Select Committee for scrutiny. It proposes a “Constitutional Reform Consultative Commission”, comprised of representatives of a wide cross section of Guyanese society, and will be mandated to take the widest possible societal submissions.

Coincidentally, over the past year, in India, there have been countrywide seminars, conferences and other events to consider the ideas of a seminal, but relatively unknown, Indian political visionary - Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, on how a state ought to be constituted along lines different from those bequeathed by the British and the United States. In language that ought to resonate in Guyana, where we have been wrestling to write a more autochthonous constitution to deal with our unique circumstances, Upadhyaya in 1965 had proposed a paradigm that was rooted in Indian perspectives on man, society, state and nation.

In a critique that is now commonplace in our “post-modern” era, Upadhyaya outlined his theory of “Integral Humanism”. He reasoned that even in Europe, the institutions of governance take into cognisance the nature of the specific societies. Continental democracies, for instance, are much more aware and make provisions for “national/group” characteristics than England, where their history made them much more sensitive to the imperatives of “individualism”. Context, it is now accepted, is as important as ideals and why should India (or Guyana) do otherwise?

Upadhyaya pointed out that the ideology of Fabian Socialism introduced by Nehru in India, and that of the more explicitly Marxist-Leninist Communist parties (Russian and Chinese influenced), were based on a Marxist analysis of society. This was premised on a view of human nature that accepted conflict between man and society and between groups in society as inevitable; yet did not have an approach to eliminate it - excepting for it to teleologically end in the utopian “dictatorship of the proletariat”. But this view of human nature as “homo economicus”, said Upadhyaya, was incomplete and led to distorted policies and institutions - and unhappy and unfulfilled citizens.

Harking back to Indian philosophy honed over thousands of years, he pointed out the individual is the composite of body, mind, intellect and soul. Each aspect must be catered to for progress of the individual - and ultimately the society - since there is no “society” without the individual. Such an arrangement of societal functions Upadhyaya called, “Integral Humanism”. Each aspect of the individual generates specific needs, that are respectively: individual bodily/material needs; societal status/wealth/power needs; peaceful social relations needs; and finally identification with an ultimate reality (“spiritual”) need. In Hindu philosophy, as Upadhaya pointed out, these are four “Purusharthas of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha, which must be fulfilled for the achievement of the joint objectives of individual advancement and social welfare.

In the end, since the individual is constituted by his societal relationships, the arrangement of the institutions in society that mediate these relationships - marriage, family, property, caste/class, community, guild, schools, state, etc. affects the achievement of all the other ends of man, and is thus seen as fundamental. In Indian philosophy, these arrangements are one aspect of what is called “Dharma”. A tremendous amount of confusion has been created by the west equating “Dharma” with “religion”. The latter has elements that are PART of the former but barely scratches its surface and because of this “religion” has caused so many conflicts.

Dharma encompasses those eternal principles which sustain an entity – individual or collective -and inevitably, each entity has its own Dharma. For a state, Hegel referred to its “Geist”. In modern constitutional law, as we were informed by Justice Chang recently, there is a “basic structure” that can be altered only by the will of the people. This is the Dharma of the country,that must be autochthonous.