Affirmation of Diversity through Political Contract

By Ahmad Qisa’i


Pluralisme politik merupakan tipe pemerintahan partisipatori dimana politik negara tersebut didefinisikan berdasarkan kebutuhan dan keinginan banyak orang. Pluralisme politik adalah pemerintahan dari rakyat, oleh rakyat dan untuk rakyat. Dalam lingkungan politik yang plural tidak ada mayoritas atau minoritas, dan ide dasar pemerintah dapat dilihat dari ide-ide individu dan grup untuk memastikan bahwa semua kebutuhan dan keinginan dari masyarakat terpenuhi. Jadi, dalam politik masyarakat plural toleransi dan saling hormat menghormati atas perbedaan pendapat cenderung berkembang dengan mudah sebagai cara untuk mengakomodasi perbedaan aspirasi. 

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) argued in his famous book Leviathan that all humans are driven by two and only two impulses: fear of death and desire for power. If left unchecked, human beings would act on these impulses and live violent, brutish, inhumane, and solitary lives.

Living in a society, which is diverse, complex and multi faceted is quite tricky and complicated at a time. Every member in the society must understand the nature of diversity and heterogeneity in it. Mutual respect and tolerance are the keys of successful co-existence in such diversity. The absence of these features would only lead to chaos and anarchy. Violence and anger would dominate the nature of relation among its members. Various bloody conflicts throughout human history are clear examples of this phenomenon. The tendency of each and every member in the society to resort to certain forceful method of personal assertion to achieve his/her intention only aggravates the matter. And to use the words of Thomas Hobbes, this situation is known as the “state of nature” which is brutish, solitary, violent and anarchist.

To avoid this unfortunate situation, according to Hobbes, all members in the society must collectively participate in the social contract that will guarantee the security and community. Hobbes did not care what form this single rule might take, whether a monarch or a dictator, as long as the society is kept together. This Hobbesian social contract could not be revised and if people attempt to regain some measure of sovereignty or power that has been lost in the contract, society will fall into violent chaos.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), however, radically revised Hobbes’ social contract. He proposed that the people agreed to cede authority to some group in order to gain the benefits of community and safety. If those in power refused to guarantee community and safety, the governed were free to disobey and establish a new political contract. While Hobbes believed in absolute rule, Rousseau believed that absolute rule was a perversion of the original intent of the primordial social contract. In his two famous works, The Social Contract and the Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau argued that modern human society is built on an imperfect social contract, because it fosters inequality and servitude. Thus there is a great need for a rebuilding of the social contract from the ground up in order to ensure equality and freedom.

To ensure this equality and freedom, all members in the society must accept the fact that human being is different in nature and diversity is natural. Acceptance of this kind of political contract that observes equality and freedom of individuals is in line with the concept of political pluralism in which diversity of human nature is celebrated as an utmost consequence of humanity. Political pluralism is the manifestation of the concept of unity in diversity. The aim of political pluralism is being ultimate in diversity.

Unfortunately, not all members in the society fully accept this fact and chose to stay away from it. At a time, they have their own concept and wish to implement it believing that their concept is more superior to the one agreed upon by the general populace. As a result clash of interest becomes unavoidable, a return to a Hobbesian state of nature. A lot of contemporary history of human relation, especially in a diverse, complex and multi faceted society, reflects this situation.

Let’s take a brief look at the history of violence in
India to reflect this phenomenon.

India is a diverse, complex and multi faceted country. But it is very unfortunate that from the very first day of Indian independent in August 1947, violence between different communities is not an uncommon phenomenon. The bloody Partition of British India into India and
Pakistan in 1947 saw millions of innocent people killed mercilessly. The rejection of the concept of an independent India as the home for all Indians regardless of their creed, color, sex, caste or any other distinctive social affiliation and the assertion that India or
Hindustan is the promised land for certain group of people belonging to certain creed and race group led to this tragedy. It is very unfortunate that such a Mahabharat should have taken place in human history just to satisfy the greed and lust of certain personalities.

Fast forward, this bloody tragedy in the 1947 was repeated in a secular, democratic and independent India meant for all Indians regardless of their creed, color, sex, caste or any other distinctive social affiliation. There were bloody clashes in the early 1990s and early 2000. The main reason is the same:
India is meant for a certain group of people belonging to certain creed and race group. People outside of this group must go, expelled or be punished if they insist on staying and living in India. Once again, the victims in these clashes were innocent lives, trapped between the conflicting factions.

This tragic cycle of humanitarian tragedy, however, does not belong to India alone. Diverse, complex and multi faceted societies around the globe experience this tragedy at one point of their national history. It is not uncommon in these kinds of societies to have clashes of interest involving different groups in their societies. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, just to name a few, have had their own version of communal tragedy at one point of their national history. This phenomenon is unfortunate but it really has occurred, not once but repeatedly.

One thing should be noted here, however, that even though there was some kind of cycle of humanitarian tragedy in the form of communal conflict and clash of interest in these societies, they remain united as an entity. The diversity in these societies does not somehow hinder their desire to remain united. They are united in diversity.

However, I have a little doubt that this ‘myth’ of unity in diversity will remain forever. The fact that there is now a continuing pressure from certain groups in these societies to abhor diversity and to enforce uniformity is quite an irony. The fundamentalist groups in the majority community in these diverse societies seem to prefer the idea of uniformity instead of unity in diversity. And if they succeed in their propaganda of uniformity, it would a tragic end for the idea of political pluralism, the idea of unity in diversity.

How do we preserve this idea of unity in diversity amidst the increasing pressures of those groups who advocate uniformity? Isn’t there any method or concept that might be used to save innocent lives from this situation?

In the beginning of this article, I quoted Thomas Hobbes’ description of the state of nature: brutish, solitary, violent and anarchist. Driven by fear and lust of power, it is natural for any human being to satisfy his/her personal desire regardless of any objection and contradictory reaction from others.

The ambitious, egoistic desire of human being reflect those groups of people who advocate uniformity amidst diversity and the rejection and objection of others perfectly describe the natural diversity of human beings. They have diverse interests yet they feel vulnerable at a time. This clash of interests can be described as the state of nature, which is unfortunate but not unavoidable. It can be prevented through a social contract, which will guarantee the freedom, equality, security as well as the community of the members in the contract.

According to Rousseau’s concept of social contract, the participants are allowed to enjoy security and community without losing his/her liberty and individuality. The contract is not an absolute contract as the one proposed by Thomas Hobbes. Rousseau’s concept of social contract is more flexible in nature and it can be revised from time to time. The contract also ensures equality and freedom of the participants while at the same time the participants enjoy security and community. This kind of social contract, I assume, will guarantee the diversity of a pluralistic society. The contract acts as a platform for political pluralism to achieve unity in diversity. Rousseau’s social contract allows the participants to define the shared values that will preserve the diversity of its participants while at the same time they can enjoy the benefit of protection from the contract.

But what are these shared values in this contract anyway? How do these men come to an agreement of these shared values when they are egoistic and greedy?

The shared values vary from one community to the other. But I believe that all of us agree that there is one common universal value that is acceptable, regardless of our creed, sex, race, caste or any other distinctive social affiliation. Moreover, even though men are egoistic and greedy in nature, but they also have that natural instinct as a social being in which the rational thought works to the service of their fellow beings. So it is not an improbability for them to actually act and think rationally for the benefit of his/her fellow beings and sacrifice their personal greed.

Let’s take for an example democracy as one social value that we all share.

Broadly speaking, in democracy, all members have interests that are affected by collective decisions. Everyone is capable of reaching a view about what the best of least bad decision would be, both for themselves and for the association or society as a whole. The best decisions over the long run will be ones where all such views have been publicly aired and debated. And where debate and discussion fail to produce a single agreed outcome, decisions should be taken by a vote of all participating members. Finally, the principle of ‘one person, one vote, one value’ reflects a wider conception that all persons are of equal worth.

If we can agree that democracy is the minimal common shared value, we can create a common platform for the political contract to accommodate the diversity in the society with the help of other factors like secularism, social justice as well as humanitarianism. This common platform will act as the middle path or the core value of interaction between individuals that will accommodate the diversity of interests in the society. It will balance the pulls and pressures from the diverse elements in the society. It is on the basis of such common platform that regardless of countless conflicts, a communally divided country like India is capable to stay united. The social contract signed by the Indian people in the form of its national Constitution has acted as the catalyst in preserving the unity of India’s diverse society. Moreover, this agreement has permitted the resolution of conflicts more peacefully.

In conclusion, human being is diverse in nature. They are also greedy, egoistic and always ambitious to achieve his/her goals regardless of rejection or objection from others. Driven by two impulses of fear of death and desire for power, human beings can sometimes act as destructive force when he/she must live in a society. The clash of interest between individuals in such a society leads into what we can describe as the Hobbesian state of nature: brutish, solitary, violent, and anarchist.

To avoid being in this kind of state of nature in perpetuity, human beings must realize that they have to accept their natural diversity. They must also formulate some kind of shared values that will act as a common platform of interaction between individuals that will accommodate the diversity of interest. They must formulate some kind of a social contract, a Rousseauan concept of social contract, in which they will be guaranteed safety, security and community without losing their liberty and equality. This kind of contract will preserve political pluralism in which there is an affirmation of diversity in the interests and beliefs of the citizenry. 

Political pluralism is a participatory type of government in which the politics of the country are defined by the needs and wants of many. Political pluralism is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In a politically pluralistic society there is no majority or minority and the basic ideas of government are seen through the ideas of individuals and groups to ensure that all the needs and wants of society are taken care of. Thus in a politically pluralistic society tolerance and mutual respect for divergent thinking tends to develop easily as a way to acdxcommodate the differences in aspiration. The experience of the Indian people who live under such type of contract is worth noted as a reflection of this affirmation of diversity.***

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