Thursday, March 5, 2015

M.N.Roy - Radical Humanist; Selected Writings- by Kavneet Singh

M.N.Roy - Radical Humanist; Selected Writings by Innaiah Narisetti (2004) [209P]

ISBN:1-59102-141-3 Prometheus Books

Book Review by Kavneet Singh

Innaiah Narisetti, a man with impeccable courage who fought through the Indian Court

system for 12 years, to finally receive his PhD in Philosophy is a diehard humanist.

Rationalist humanism is a very uncommon line of thinking among Indians in general and

an educated guess would be less than half of one percent proscribe to it. Dr.Narisetti has

been a journalist, written several books in English and Telugu on Humanism, Religion &

Politics. He has complied papers and lectures of M.N.Roy and published them in a

readable logical sequence.

Manabendra Nath Roy is the father of Humanism in the South Asian sub-continent. His

radical thinking brought to light several problems of rule of the people and the

democratic process in its current form. Many of his insights were uncannily well ahead of

his time and the solutions incisive. Born in 1887 into a Bengali Brahmin household, grew

up with no formal schooling, landed in the US and converted to Marxism in Mexico and

later formed the Radical Democratic Party in pre-India. Finding a dead end with all the

current systems he started ‘New Humanism’ which was simultaneously coming of age in

Europe and the US, unknown to Roy at the time.

Chapter 1:

The common cry of all is: back to the religious mode of thought. Their new religious

philosophy is differentiated from orthodox revivalism by a discriminating association

with rationalism and scientific knowledge. But yet another attempt to reconcile faith with

reason, theism or mysticism with humanism, mediation of moral values deserves

endorsement, but the morality of the modern man requires no transcendental

sanction.....[Page 21]

M.N.Roy clearly advocates rationality to be used as a moral guide for man versus religion

to guide man through this world. A free thinking individual’s mind should not be

cluttered and fettered to the obscure theological concepts of the various man-made

earthly faiths. The intellectual bankruptcy of men of faith has caused a moral crisis in

modern times.

I see no other way out of the crisis. It is the creation of people who were to lead mankind.

They have failed. A mighty resurgence of the common man and woman only can save

modern civilization. To inspire that resurgence, organize it, and guide it to fruition-that is

the mission of New Humanism....[Page 28]

Roy is convinced that all religious systems have failed mankind to get ‘him’ out of the

quagmire of our present human condition and unless and until individuals can completely

free themselves of the chains of religious indoctrination there is little chance of freedom

of the utopian kind.

Chapter 2:

A cosmopolitan commonwealth of free men and women is a possibility. It will be a

spiritual community, not limited by the boundaries of national states-capitalist, fascist,

communist, or of any other kind-which will gradually disappear under the impact of

cosmopolitan humanism.....[Page 33]

Roy insists that every individual be educated and use his discerning intellect to

understand and make sound decisions for the betterment of mankind.

Chapter 3:

No political philosophy or a scheme of social reconstruction can have more than a very

limited revolutionary significance if it dismisses the concept of individual freedom as an

empty abstraction.......Politics cannot be divorced from ethics without jeopardizing the

cherished ideal of freedom.......[Pages 36-37]

The heart of New Humanism lies in the freedom of the individual being the absolute

beachhead of this radical thought. But in order to practice democracy the current form of

simply counting heads especially when the heads are devoid of proper information and

sovereign intellect. The herd mentality persists because the individual has not matured

enough to do independent thinking due to the peer pressure of the masses to toe the line

of religious fascism and hyperbole.

What is suggested is not a rule of the “intellectual elite,” but such an organization of

society as will give unlimited scope for the unfolding of the creative genius of man, by

placing the executive power of the state under the control of free individuals.....[Page39]

Roy’s suggested style of Democracy is ideal and indeed Radical but not novel in its form

because the Sikh Gurus coined the concept of “halimi raj” [benevolent rule] more than

three centuries earlier which was the original radical democracy where every Sikh was a

sovereign free thinking individual with a voice which made a difference. It is uncanny

that the World Sikh Council-America Region organizational setup is based on the Sikh

religio-political concepts yet they happen to be exactly the way Roy envisions an ideal

democracy. Furthermore the Sikh rule by Maharaja Ranjit Singh where the Sikhs being

only 13% of the entire population ruled with the full backing of all the people and is on

record to be the most benevolent ruler in Asia in the last many centuries. Even though

there is no reference to it in the book, it is quite possible for Roy to have studied the

concepts of Sikh theological governance to have come up with this idea as Bengali

writers were the first non-Sikh/non-Western writers to study the Sikhs.

Chapter 4:

It has been elected by less than 12 percent of the people....Because a large majority of

these 12 percent did not vote consciously and intelligently for those particular gentlemen.

They voted in many instances simply because they were dragged to polling stations like

dumb-driven cattle and voted as they were told by those who dragged them.....will have

the privilege of being ruled by a minority government representing a very small

percentage of the people.....[Pages 51-52]

Nothing has changed since the supposed independence of India as the same is truer today.

Roy’s prophetic insight to the Indian mind gave him a unique foresight as all his

predictions have pretty much come true. No wonder Roy’s Politics of Freedom is the

need of the hour not only for India but for all; albeit it requires rigorous training of honest

inquisitive humble men in order to build a legitimately solid foundation upon which

Radical Humanist democracy can thrive!

That is the relation between philosophy and politics. We believe that politics, in theory

and practice, is related to certain human values and ethical concepts........[Page 58]

Roy’s appraisal is very similar to the ‘miri-piri’ concept a precursor to the ‘halimi raj’ of

the Sikh theology. A ‘Just’ religion or a Philosophy governs politics and not vice a versa,

otherwise like Roy states politics becomes a dirty scramble for power and success.

Chapter 5:

We have had the experience of previous elections. There were many cases of voters going

to polling booths as if they were going to the temple.......With universal suffrage things

will be worse....Consequently, demagogues will have a greater chance to come to power

by appealing to the prejudices and superstitions of the people.....Demagogues will vie

with each other to sway the people.....The future of democracy in India, therefore is not

very bright......[Page 66]

Absolutely nothing has changed since the Independence of India, except for ratcheting up

the level of corruption hundredfold. Roy’s vision of educating the individual and freeing

the Indian mind to make independent ethical decisions is still a distant dream. Today’s

game of power and pelf is no different from 60 years ago as Roy saw except its worse.

Chapter 6:

Thus the electorate will gradually become critical and discriminating; the time will come

for the voters of a locality will tell candidates of all parties to leave them alone; among

themselves they will find men in whom they can have confidence and who will remain

responsible between two elections........In the process, we shall already have laid down

the foundation of a decentralized state of local republics......power will remain with them,

to be wielded directly by the individual members of small communities. Being thus reared

upon a broad foundation of direct democracies, the state will really be democratic.

Usurpation of power will be out of question.......[Page 77]

Roy’s intellect shines through with his clear thinking. Again Roy’s ideas are completely

akin to the theo-political state envisioned by the Sikh Gurus and uniquely Sikhs are

running a few organizations on very similar lines already.

Chapter 7:

A little analysis will reveal......the large bulk of the Indian population, have not risen to

the level where democratic practice is possible, since it belongs in the 16th if not 15th

century......therefore its argued the institutions of the bygone days would be more

suitable for India.....the advocate’s of India’s “special genius” argue: don’t try to

introduce modern political institutions into this mediaeval atmosphere, but let us glorify

medievalism and give India the equivalent of medieval institutions......[Page81]

Roy clarity is still relevant today. Instead of progressively building the common man’s

mental makeup, institutional parties have inundated the minds of the public with

retrograde “Hinduvata” instead; taking Indians further back into a medieval morass.

Once a representative is elected, he is no longer under the control of his electors but of

his party.....You may have noticed that during the debate of the constitution in the

Constituent Assembly, many members advocated in the beginning a point of view of their

own which they suddenly abandoned simply because the party whip had cracked, and

they voted against their conscience......[Pages 83-84]

This is precisely the problem with the present form of election process due to which the

sovereignty of the voter is over immediately upon his representative being elected.

Anything done for a good end is right, morality disappears, and that is the main evil in

the public life of all countries ....Morality has disappeared because it is forgotten or attribute of men, and men have been lost in the masses....because men

merge into masses on the lowest denominator......[Page 86]

Ethics and morality are thrown to the winds because it has no place in the flesh market

where politicians are free wheeling traders.

History has proved that if the French Revolution were to be traced to a single cause, it is

this book. Through this book, Enlightenment spread to the farthest corners of spread enlightenment in all the dark corners of our social life, where

superstitions lurk and prejudice breeds, is the most fundamental task of all....But once3

the theory becomes a live integral part of my existence, all my actions will be practical

expressions of that theory......[Pages 89-91]

To a very large extent Roy is correct in thinking that through the dissemination of written

ideas people can get enlightened to push for positive change to better their lot.

Unfortunately in India the illiterate masses are not the only ones, but also the educated

that are carrying the virus of blind faith in umpteen kinds of ritualistic digressive

religious philosophies. In a country where there is a state sanctioned department of

Astrology what can you expect from the uneducated masses? It is a long uphill battle.

Chapter 8:

The result would be that America acquires a stake in our country, Thus, on one hand, in

association with American capital, which today dominates the world markets, India

might get a share in world trade.......[Page 98]

As a political economist Roy was visionary. It took over 40 years for India to realize the

potential of allowing America and other western countries to invest capital with strings

attached but nevertheless helping greatly advance its foreign currency reserves, its image

but only very limited advancement in creating jobs for the teeming rural poor.

Most people who have any political ideas at all, whether of the left or right, are obsessed

with notions of one kind of dictatorship or another, whether Ramraj or Soviet, or a

paternal despotism under the garb of formal parliamentarism. In India the experience of

imposing democracy from above will have worse results than elsewhere, because 90

percent of the electorate are illiterate.....this places a heavy premium on demagogy in all

elections.......[Page 104]

India has had an admixture of nepotistic, autocratic, socialized, with a heavy dose of

paternalistic democratic structure which is completely self serving the elected that have

done very little other than lining their pockets. Recent investigations have revealed that

Indian bureaucrats among other Indians are the world’s biggest secret Swiss bank account


Chapter 9:

But modernity is not a chronological concept only......Some my be living physically in the

20th century but culturally perhaps in the prehistoric age.........the average Indian is

religiously inclined – in fact, religion for him is nothing spiritual but sheer old inherited

prejudice – that he is therefore the representative of mankind as a whole, more spiritual

than the rest, as is often claimed by Indian Nationalists......[Page 111]

Roy has hit the nail on the head and is being pretty sarcastic about it, and rightly so! The

bane of the Indian mindset has been the casteism, racism and really age old prejudices

which have handicapped them and in their own convoluted thinking; and all that is

genuine spiritualism. Unless all that dross is discarded, humanistic values become very

hard to inculcate into anyone.

The individual being the starting point of New Humanism, its practice must necessarily

start from the actions and behavior of individuals. A number of individuals who feel the

necessity....will begin by themselves becoming moral....Naturally, when a hundred of

them will be guided by the same ideal and will be engaged in the same practice, there

will be cooperation among them. A humanist movement will develop among such groups

of humanists......[Page 116]

In theory Roy has an excellent idea but in the real world this is a utopian concept. One

possibility is to implement this book immediately into every higher learning institution in

the country and make it mandatory which would enlighten the impressionable young

minds and would hopefully start a mass crusade, like the one Roy envisions.

Chapter 10:

Free and compulsory primary education is considered a great democratic are trained to salute a flag or the picture of a man; books are

prescribed and cannot use any other book than the ones prescribed by a particular

government.....the result is a high degree of conformism and sub-democratic system in a

backward country......the possibility is extremely remote-to raise the intellectual and

cultural level of the people through government sponsored education......[Page 126]

Roy’s insight through practical experience is, to either change the system; which is

extremely difficult or to start a system outside the existing one. Since the affairs of big

communities have to be administered and that administration is politics. Politics cannot

be relegated to the background instead a humanistic approach should be used to solve all

of those political problems.

If a philosophy is lived instead of being only preached, it has much greater influence than

one which is preached but mostly denied in the living o those who preach such I

appeal to the innate reason and morality of my fellow human beings....This new can be

lived and practiced everywhere in the world. By its spread the political life of India also

can be changed for the better.......[Page 135]

Again Roy is setting an extremely high bar for a humanist to reach. Living an honest

ethical life is exactly what the Sikh Scripture teaches its followers yet they are also

lacking in many ways because ‘that’ path is a difficult one but the right one. Similarly

Roy’s ideas can work wonders provided a group of humanists actually practice before

they preach and in one or two generations maybe there is hope if there are no disruptions

or the humanists themselves don’t give up because this will take a very long time to solve.

Chapter 11:

Revolting against organized religious faith, which had become a spiritual tyranny, the

philosophers of the Renaissance declared man to be sovereign. But the defect was that

the people who had talked about man as the center of all things and attached such a high

value to the human being kept the concept of man himself clouded in mystery....Therefore

the, this view of man was bound to degenerate into some form of mysticism and even in a

new religion......[Page 141]

Roy has given up on organized religion and looks down on any such spiritual philosophy

which involves superhuman and supernatural agencies. There will be continued debate on

this point for the foreseeable future, because spiritually inclined humanists will have their

own take on this! But coming from an ex-Brahminical perspective I can understand

Roy’s vehement distaste to organized religion being the administrator of society since

Brahminism has been the bane of society since time immemorial.

New Humanism is a scientific integral philosophy. The human being is taken not only in

the context of society but of the whole universe. It is not anarchic individualism, because

a point has no existence in space. Similarly, individuals cannot exist independent of

society.....that led to the theory....we must capture power first and that this end justifies

all means. At this point all “goodness” goes by the board. To make a good society even

bad means are justified. But bad means spoil good men. In the process good men become

bad. And bad men cannot make a good society......[Page 149]

Roy’s New Humanism is based on a highly disciplined group of individuals who will

stick by their high ethical code of conduct and not waver at all. This could work but its

being pretty idealistic. Every pessimist is a secret optimist and I for one hope Roy’s

vision comes to fruition for the betterment of all societies. Unless and until a society like

India where people are first brainwashed completely of the existing ignorance and then

through mass literacy programs inculcated the right ideas to germinate, such fantastic

ideas will remain a utopia.

Chapter 12:

The idea of philosophy deluded the best of men, the noblest of souls. In the quest of truth

and search for knowledge, they kept themselves aloof from the affairs of the world,

engaged in contemplation and introspection with the vain hope of finding the infinite in

their finite selves......bulk of mankind was not concerned with this sort of philosophy. If

philosophy was indifferent to their problems, they had no use for philosophy. The

artificial differentiation between the world of spirit and the world of matter led to the

belief that there is no place for the truth and moral values in the latter, which is therefore

destined to be ruled by the laws of the jungle.......[Page 167]

I agree with Roy’s above statement but on the same token I have to disagree that not all

enlightened noble souls have remained aloof from the mundane. The Sikh Gurus spent

nearly 239 years through practice and leadership; germinating a community, then a

society and finally a nation of ‘sovereign’, individuals who could think freely after being

trained through logic to drop all that was previously learnt. Administration of society

should be based clearly upon rule by honest, moral & ethical conduct albeit through the

form of “servant-leadership”. This was uniquely the Sikh Way! Some 225 years later Roy

has proposed ideas which have already been played out and a lot can be learnt from that.

Chapter 13:

Religion in the last analysis remained the only sanction of morality. But in proportion as

science undermined the faith in the supernatural, religion became a mere conventionality.

Consequently, the position of morality in public life became very precarious. With the

modern believing man, religion is the anchor or a mere preoccupation of private life.

Having no bearing upon the public life, it logically cannot dictate the norms of his social

behavior and political practice......[Page 172]

Again based on Roy’s own experience of primarily Brahminism, but Christianity and

Islam the prevailing faiths of his time; it seems like his disenchantment is real. But the

anomaly happens to be again the Sikh Faith where the empirical world is real. Man’s

public life and politics is part and parcel of his personal life to be governed by the moral

dictates of his faith. All political life is to be governed and guided by religion provided it

is wholesome and betters everyone’s lives but with the explicit permission of all those

being governed. The spiritual and the temporal go hand and hand without being divorced

from each other.

In the last analysis, education of the citizen is the condition for such a reorganization of

society as will be conducive to common progress and prosperity without encroaching on

the freedom of the individual. New Humanism advocates a social reconstruction of the

world as a commonwealth and fraternity of free men, by the cooperative endeavor of

spiritually emancipated moral men......[Page 184]

It is difficult to disagree with Roy who is so profoundly logical. Yet, Brahminism and the

modern Democracy of India have stifled the élan of a highly spirited society of

individuals who have practiced and strived for all those great ideas which Roy so

eloquently proposes. If only the Sikh people were allowed to breathe the “liberty” which

is the birth right of all free men as Roy states; Roy would have a readymade model for

others to imbibe and make profound, radical changes which he so desires. That is why

Dr.Ambedkar was very seriously considering that he and his followers convert to the

Sikh Faith in 1930’s except to be blackmailed into submission by the infamous Gandhi.

Chapter 14:

“Man is the measure of everything”....and advocates reconstruction of the world as a

commonwealth and fraternity of free men, by the collective endeavor of spiritually

emancipated moral men......[Page 194]

What Roy is advocating is exactly what the genius of the Sikh Gurus created in a final

culmination of the egalitarian Sikh Faith. The very core of the theological concept of the

Sikh Faith extols to its followers to live and function within society by highly ethical

moral honest means but ultimately serving (all) ‘others’ through selfless service. Further

one of two pillars of the Sikh Faith is that the entire collective of followers have the

power vested in them to wield as they deem fit through collective deliberation for the

benefit of everyone in all facets of the religious and political arena. The Sikhs are a

fraternity of equals who do not consider anyone their master except the Creator. Finally

governance of all would be through the benevolent rule where the power is vested in the

ordinary (Sikhs) people who would nominate not elect a “servant-leadership” which

could be removed as easily if corrupted.

This is the first time in a long time I have come across a man with great intellect on

subject such as this and even rarer is the fact that Roy was a Hindu-Brahmin with ‘ethics.

This book should be standard text to be read by every university student at least in India

and any other third world country whose leaders practice medieval chicanery to rule the

people. Roy’s ideas if studied in depth can make deep changes in the impressionable

young who normally are the torch-bears of change anywhere in the world to gain justice

and freedom from the mental shackles proscribed by various governments. If this book is

really understood by Indian readers they may start questioning the morally and physically

debilitating faith of India which is followed by the majority. The editing author

Dr.Narisetti must be highly commended for bringing out this fantastic book.

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