Thursday, August 14, 2008

Give Us Back Our Chains!

The International Herald Tribune, now an acolyte of The New York Times, laments the deaths of “–isms” in India caused by recent rampant individualism (In India, idealism falters in the face of power, by Anand Giridharadas, published: August 14, 2008). According to the author, when India was powerless, they were a land of idealists bent on reforming the world. Now that Indians are doing well, they just want to do better instead of spending a lot of time in government showing others The Way.

One can understand this turning inward. India has long been a land of external restraints. Families told you whom to marry, what to study, where to work. Bureaucrats told you whether you could get a phone line or start a business. A caste determined the amount of respect you could command.

Today millions of Indians, from maidservants to doctors, are revolting against those destinies. They share a new belief in the power of self-contained individuals: a belief that individuals must not slight elders but must no longer depend on them; must not forget their roots but must now stray from them; must not crave a government job like their fathers but must now survive as though the state did not exist.

And, in relying ever more on themselves, this group of Indians relies ever less on India.
It might seem uncharitable of me to mention that when Indians were full of ideas and dedicated to government service, i.e., were red hot socialists, almost all Indians led miserable lives mired in crushing poverty. Intellectuals spent copious quantities of time discussing almost everything and accomplishing absolutely nothing. As such they were prototypical intellectuals, knowing that they have the answers to all the ills of mankind, if mankind would just put them in charge.

Much to their chagrin, when socialism waned and individuals gained power formerly exercised by the state, individuals found that freedom empowered them in a way that following political ideologues never did. They discovered that people serve states, not vice versa, and that by relying on themselves they do better for India than they did when they placed their reliance on India.

Of course, that is anathema to liberal politicians, who understand that if the people realize they can take care of themselves, they won’t be beholden to politicians for special treatment and favors.

To a liberal politician, losing faith in the power of government to take care of you is a loss of idealism. It is also the first, best step to take to prosperity for both the individual and the state, and to gain true power for both.

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