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Plato’s Ideal State And Basava’s Kalyana State



Political thought ever since the days of Plato has theorised about the ideal state-a political organisation of society in which the relations between man and man would be governed by justice.

"Throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, political thought was dominated by abstract notions which served either the harmless purpose of building Utopias or the sinister design of hiding the concrete realities of life. Plato was not quite the utopian that he has been made out by many uncritical historians of political philosophy. Never-the less his doctrine of the Ideal State rests on a postulate which still holds good. His definition of the notion of justice, which confounded thought throughout the ages, was bitterly criticised by his opponents, particularly the Sophists. But Plato did give a definition of the notion of justice, which set a concrete ideal for politics. Justice is good life; to establish good life; therefore, is the purpose of politics. In other words an ideal state is that which establishes the good Life."

The general character of the Platonic State is the sacrifice, the exclusive abandonment of the universal, to the political element- the reduction of moral to political virtue. The principle of sense shall everywhere be checked and subjugated to that of intelligence. But if this is to be so, then a universal, a political authority must undertake the training of all to virtue, or the conservation of public morals; all subjective self-will, every egotistic end, must disappear in the collective will and end. So powerful is the principle of sense in men, that only by the might of common institutions, only by the suppression of all subjective activities for private interests, only by the disappearance of the individuals in the universal, can it be neutralised. Virtue, and consequently true well-being, is possible only by these means. Virtue must be real in the state, only so will it become real in the individual citizen. In a perfect state all should be in common to all-joy and sorrow, even eyes and ears and hands. All men shall have scope only as universal men social beings. For the realization of this perfect unity and universality there must be a disappearance of all individuality and particularity. Private property and domestic life (in place of which a community of goods and women appears,) education and instruction, the choice of profession and other vocations, even all the individual's remaining activities in art and science- all this must be sacrificed to the end of the state, and entrusted to the guidance and control of the presiding authorities, the individual must be contented to claim only that good which belongs to him as a component part of the state. As Prof. Edward Caird sums up the idea:

"Thus the ideal which Plato sets before us is that of a perfectly unified society in which each individual, confining himself strictly to his own function, shall in that function be a pure organ and expression of the general will. Plato has thus risen to the organic idea of the state as a union of men which is based upon the division of labour according to capacity, and in which the citizen is united to the whole by the special office he discharges"

The state is for Plato a huge educational establishment, a single family on the great scale. Even lyrical poetry Plato will have practiced only under the supervision of Judges. Epic and dramatic poetry (nay Homer and Hesiod themselves) shall be banished from the state the one because it excites and misleads the mind, the other because it propagates debasing representations of the goods. With like rigor the Platonic state proceeds against physical defects; feeble children, or children born imperfect, are to be cast out; the sick are not be tended and nourished.

The political institutions of the Platonic state are decidedly aristocratic. Grown up in aversion to the extravagances of the Athenian democracy. Plato prefers an unlimited monarchy to all other constitutions, but still only such a one as shall have for its head a consummate ruler, a perfect philosopher. The saying of Plato is familiar, that only when philosophers shall become rulers, shall philosophise fully and truly and shall unite political power and philosophy together, will it be possible to elevate the state to its true purposes. That there should be one ruler, this appears just to him, because there are so few men possessed of political wisdom. In the Laws Plato renounces this ideal of a perfect ruler who as a living law shall have power to govern the state according to his own unrestrained authority, and prefers as the best those mixed constitutions which combine in themselves something of monarchy and some thing of democracy.

It is the aristocratic tendency of the Platonic political ideal which gives rise to the sharp distinction of the various classes and the entire exclusion of the third from any share in political life proper. Psychologically Plato in strictness has only a bi-partition into the senses and the intellect, into mortal and immortal; politically also he has only a similar division into the government and its subjects. This distinction is proclaimed the necessary condition of every state; but by analogy with the psychological middle term of the heart, there is interposed between the ruling class and the working class, the middle term of the fighting class. We have thus the classes, the rulers corresponding to reason, the warriors corresponding to the heart and the workers corresponding to appetite. To these three classes belong three several functions: to the first the function of legislation; to the second the function of defending the common wealth against enemies from without; to the third the function of providing for the material requirements, for daily wants as in agriculture, the grazing of cattle and the building of houses.

Through each of three classes and its functions, there accrues to the state a special virtue: through the class of rulers wisdom, through the class of wardens courage, through the class of workers temperance, which as securing obedience to rulers is peculiarly the virtue of the last class. From the due union of these three virtues in the general life of the state there arises a virtue, consequently, which represents the systematic articulation of the totality, the organic distribution of the whole into its moments. With the lowest class, that of the manual laborers, Plato occupies himself the least, for the state it is only an instrument. Even legislation and the administration of justice in reference to the labouring mass of the people he considers inessential. The distance between the rulers and the wardens is less marked. Rather as if reason were but the highest development of courage, Plato allows, by analogy with the fundamental psychological bipartition, the two classes to pass over into each other, in providing that the oldest the best of the wardens shall be selected for rulers. The education of the wardens, therefore, shall be carefully planned and administered by the state, in order that with them the principle of courage, without forfeiting the energy peculiar to it, may be imbued with reason. The most virtuous and dialectically the most accomplished among the wardens are immediately on completion of their thirtieth year, to be taken apart, tried and ordered to the discharge of offices. When in these again they have proved themselves, they are in their fiftieth year to be raised to the highest rank and to be held bound in duty, if they have realised the idea of the good, to substantiate that exemplar in the state, yet so that each only when his turn comes shall undertake the control of the state, but shall devote to philosophy the rest of his time. By means of these dispositions the state shall be exalted into an unconditional sovereignty of reason the guidance of the idea of the good.

Coming to the critique of Plato's state in the light of Basava's Kalyan state, we may boldly assert that Basava like Plato based his state on the notion of justice which implies the good life. Basava develops his theory of society and defining the notions of justice and injustice, truth and falsehood, the heavenly world and the human world etc. He defines religion as a matter of mercy, since mercy is the root of religion. That which is true, good and beautiful is heavenly, and that which is otherwise is earthly. To speak the truth is heavenly, to tell a lie is worldly. Good character is a heaven itself, whereas bad conduct is a hell. Basava at last concludes the basis of his thesis that a Sharana is one who wishes good to all creatures including birds and beasts and acts accordingly.

Basava also distinguishes the world of sense from the world of spirit. He deprecates the play of passions and advocates their sublimation through social service. Mortal existence is not Maya. Worldly life is not an illusion; but the greed of a man's mind is Maya. The passion of man should be curbed and turned to the good of humanity. The individuality of the person is retained in the universality of society. But Plato's State does away with the individuality and particularity of persons so that the mortal world loses its identity in the ideal world. In Plato there is no reciprocity of individual good and social well being. Hence the relative freedom of an individual is sacrificed at the alter of the social good. Moreover Plato regards the mass of people like workers and agriculturists as instruments of society. As Prof. Caird remarks:

"On the one hand, sharing, as he does, in the Greek view that the higher life is only for the few for those who are capable of intellectual culture and in proportion as they are capable of it, he is unable to conceive the lower classes, those engaged in agricultural or industrial labour, as organic members of the state; he is obliged to regard them as the instruments of a society in whose higher advantages they have no share. And on the other hand, he is so solicitous to exclude all self- seeking and directly to merge private in social good, that he deprives even the forward citizens of personal rights and destroys the family lest it should become the rival of the state. He thus seems to secure the unity of the state, not by subordinating the personal and private interests of its members, but rather by preventing any consciousness of such interest from arising, and the result is that he reduces it to a mechanical, instead of raising it to a spiritual or organic unity. In the reaction against the individualistic tendencies represented by the Sophists, he finds no way to maintain order except by the absolute suppression of individual freedom."

Since the Lingayat movement is based on the uplift and equality of the masses by abolishing the class- ridden society of Brahmanism, Basava fought for the right of the common man. Hence he retained the relative freedom of the masses in struggle for the common good of mankind. Unlike Plato, Basava did not divide society into the class of intellectuals and the mass of manual workers. He did not advocate the social maxim of philosophy for the few and mythology for the many but held philosophy to be the right of the rabble. Hence Basava's Aubhava Mantap, was composed of scholars and philosophers mostly from the rank and file of the populace.

There is a great difficulty in admitting such a division between two classes of citizens in the same state a division in which the higher class possesses the esoteric truth of philosophy, while the lower class is fed with mythological fables. This aristocratic State of Plato certainly resembles the class-ridden society of Vedic Hinduism. The upper intellectual class of Brahmins had access to the spiritual knowledge of the Vedas. The women and untouchables including the manual workers were prohibited from studying books on religion and philosophy. The wanior class combined with the intellectual class of Brahmins exploited the downtrodden masses in all possible ways. The Varnashramadharma is a relic of Indian slavery and backwardness. Plato trod in the footsteps of the ancient Hindu philosophers and made a blunder. Like the Brahmin rulers of old, Plato decreed that the masses existed for the intellectual upper class. The idea of a class of philosopher-kings who are to keep the keys of knowledge for themselves and act as a kind of earthly providence to other men, sins, like Carlyle's conception of hero-worship, against the solidarity of humanity. A secret doctrine of philosophy is almost a contradiction in terms: for philosophy can not live and refuse to communicate itself to any one who is capable of receiving its lessons.

But Plato had an ideal of a good life, whereas Brahmanism had no such goal. Plato was liberal enough to show concessions to the warrior class which should be admitted to the higher class after a few tests. Such is not the case with the Vedic society. Brahmins were the sole custodians of spiritual learning. At times they raised a war against Kshatriya kings to overthrow their sovereignty. But Basava's conception of society is better than either. Basava was a dialectician and foresaw in the anti-democratic class of Brahmins, the source of the slavery and misery of Hindu society. Though he was born a Brahmin, he was wholly opposed to Brahmanism which was reactionary and antisocial. Hence he renounced the Brahmanic cult and propounded his new democratic doctrine of Lingayatism.

Like Plato Basava banished from his state the Hindu mythologies like the Ramanyana and Mahabharat, because these were reactionary and could not lead society to freedom and progress. The Vedas, Shrutis, Smritis, etc. had no place in Lingayat society. The Manusmriti is a charter of Indian slavery. The Vedas speak of violence; all this literature is steeped in hero-worship and class morality. The Lingayat saints banned the reading of such books because of the dictatorial spirit embedded in them. Thus what do we learn from the Mahabharat but of the feuds between brother and brother? What does the Ramayana teach except the fight with demons? Thus observes Lord Basava:

May I regard the Shastra as great? It preaches Karma.
May I think the Veda superior? It teaches animal slaughter.
May I hold the Smriti to be great? It searches for the object by keeping it before us.
Since you are not present in all these,
You can not be found, O Lord Kudalsangama,
Except in (Trividha ) triple social service. (By Body, thought & money)

Basava on the other hand encouraged democratic literature based on broad ideals. Of course the basis of such scriptures leads to a belief in divinity, which is monotheistic. Basava reared society on the monotheistic background as against the natural religious and polytheistic bases of the Vedas and Agamas. Faith in God- a faith that good is stronger than evil, and even that it is all-powerful- is the necessary basis of our higher life, and without some such faith, morality is apt to shrink into a helpless striving after an unattainable ideal and must, therefore, cease to exercise its highest inspiring power. To hold that what we regard as best and highest is also the ultimate reality, the principle from which all comes and on which all depends, is the great religious spring of moral energy. From early times the social union has found its consecration in the idea that it is a union of men based on their common relation to God who is the guardian of the destinies of his people. On such a faith Basava founded his society. Plato's State too had such a basis.
There is a contradiction in the fact that Plato, who has carefully built up the system of the state as a social and political ideal to be realized in the immediate life of man, seems suddenly to soar away from such practical considerations and to regard all earthly existence as "less than nothing and vanity". This opposition, as a German writer points out, cannot be bridged over:
"Here we find a great rift in Platonism. It was as the moralising follower of Socrates, that Plato drew the first sketch of the Ideal state, but it is as the metaphysician- who looks beyond the changing appearance to the real being of things- that he completes it. These two tendencies meet in conflict, yet neither can free itself from the other. The reformer, who would heal the disease of his people. Must believe in the usefulness of his own art; but the speculative thinker must condemn the fleeting forms of life in view of the substantial reality that underlies; the rift in Platonism is however the rift that rends the life of all noble spirits."
But Basava's view of life is different. He does not hold life to be illusory and fleeting. He recognizes the reality of life and the world, when wedded to the divinity of God. The world as Shakti is associated with Shiva, which completes the Reality of Lingayatism. The world and life are real because they belong to God. Basava maintains the reciprocal reality of the world and God. In Plato there is a compartmental division between the illusory world and the ideal world. Basava bridges the gulf by ascribing reality to both. He was more deep, democratic and philosophic than Plato. He tried to solve social problems like cruelty, inequality, widowhood etc, through religion. He saw society through its religious aspect in those religion-ridden days. He tested every problem, social political and economic, by the standard of monotheism. Hence his message was:
Heaven and Earth are not different,

Speaking the truth is heavenly;
Telling lies is humanly;
Good conduct is heaven;
Bad character is hell;
O Lord Kudalsangama, you are a witness.

Source: CHAPTER-XIII from the book THE LINGAYAT MOVEMENT (A Social Revolution in Karnataka): By: S. M. Hunsal, B.A. (B. com); B.T., With forward by Dr. C. Ramlinga Reddy, Kt. Hon. D. Lit., M.L.C, Vice-Chancellor, Andhra University. 1947

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