Search

A Spiritual Perspective on Democracy and Dictatorship



According to several recent polls, an increasing majority of Americans believe that our democratic form of government is “in danger of collapse”. While our constitutional system has endured for nearly 250 years, it is now being severely tested from all sides.


This situation is not unique to the United States; it is a global phenomenon. The wars and upheavals of the twentieth century swept away the dynastic monarchies and colonial empires that had ruled most of the world for hundreds of years. But in many nations the former czars and emperors have now been replaced by dictators and demagogues. At one time, the global wave of popular uprisings seemed to herald a new era of democracy, but now that hope has considerably dimmed.

Authoritarian movements have been steadily gaining power and strength all over the world. “The long democratic recession is deepening”, according to the 2021 report by Freedom House, which has published an annual report on global democratic freedoms since 1972. The report adds that “the ongoing decline has given rise to claims of democracy’s inherent inferiority.”


In these times it may seem to us like the world is going backwards, especially when we consider the many ways in which God has nurtured this bold experiment in nationhood throughout our history. But I have said before that America would have to be “brought down”, so to speak, as other nations “rose up” in stature because Meher Baba intends to have a “unisphere”, one unified world, and such a “leveling” process would be necessary preparation for the role of spiritual leadership our nation is to have in the future.


We must bear in mind that even as we see so many stunning positive results of Meher Baba’s manifestation all around us, we are still living through what the prophets and seers in past traditions called the “end times” – for us that means not just the end of this age, but the end of a spiritual epoch, the end of the Kali Yuga, and the end of the great Cycle of cycles! That is a lot of endings, a lot of life’s residue from the deep past that must be brought to the surface, balanced, unraveled, and dissolved all at one time before humanity can move forward, a lot that must be once and for all carried out to the trash.


It should be understood that whenever new energy is brought in to amplify a new beginning, the old order is destroyed, or parts of it are destroyed. The forms that held the energy in those existing patterns are frayed, and there is the danger of chaotic over-stimulation. So the external world moves to solidify that energy, to tidy it up, to marshal it. This stimulation, this possible chaos, this change from within, can be terribly disbalancing on the inside. To correct for that, there will be increased social structuring of life on the outside. To hold and contain that stimulating force, to organize it in a productive way may require more kinds of stronger but benevolent social control. Often this takes the form of new a political wave of dictatorship – people being open to dictatorial methods. People will place their trust in a powerful ruler they believe is wise and capable, a “benevolent dictator.”


The term “benevolent dictator” in this context refers to what Plato, in the Republic, called a “philosopher-king”, a spiritually illumined ruler. One example from Indian history is King Janaka, ruler of the kingdom of Videha, a Perfect Master who was also the father of Rama’s consort, Sita. Other examples are many of the ancient, pre-dynastic rulers of Egypt described by Elisabeth Haich in her book Initiation. I have never found a specific reference to either of these terms, “philosopher-king” or “benevolent dictator”, in Meher Baba’s discussions, but Baba did talk about future forms of government. In the early 1940s, when the world was threatened by the extreme opposite of benevolent dictatorship, Baba told his close ones:


“After all the current chaos in the world, there will be a complete change. A new world order will arise in which all [are] equal. It won't be communism, socialism or fascism, which are all formed on a material basis. My plan will be on a spiritual basis, in which there will be no poor and no rich, but all given equal status communally. Great nations that have enjoyed a predominance of power for so long will now have a fall and will [be on par] with others.”[1]


On another occasion Baba said,


“Of what use is democracy if it cannot help? So neither it nor totalitarianism will remain. Both will go.”[2]


Baba’s statements indicate that we will see a fundamental change in the mode of government in the world for the coming age, as more enlightened forms of government supplant the ancient, established forms of empire – and of democracy.


You may recall that Plato was not fond of democracy, believing that when power was in the hands of the people, the loudest voices will dominate, irrational decisions will be made and, as he describes in the Republic, the “ship of state” will then become a “ship of fools”. Only the enlightened could rise above self-interest and guide the ship to safe harbor.


As we consider America’s spiritual history, it is helpful to keep clearly in mind that “the United States” as a nation, or even as an idea, is not synonymous with “democracy”. Note carefully the emphasis in our classes on principles of spiritual equality, spiritual freedom, and human brotherhood – “e pluribus unum”. These are not dependent on democracy, rather the reverse is true. A preeminent historian of the American Revolution, Gordon Wood, recently observed, “When the Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal, that is no myth. It is the most powerful statement in our history, and it lies behind almost everything we Americans believe in and attempt to do.”[3] It is fashionable now to say that America was “founded on slavery.” Professor Wood strongly disagrees. He points out that the first antislavery meeting in the history of the world took place in Philadelphia in 1775. The American Revolution unleashed antislavery sentiments that led to the first abolition movement. And it led to the abolition of indentured servitude. Such principles are not dependent on political democracy. They are motivated at their core by the inner recognition that all are One.


Sri Aurobindo noted that the French Revolution, which followed and was inspired by the American Revolution, failed because “they made liberty the basis and brotherhood the superstructure, founding the triangle upon its apex . . . but the triangle has to be reversed before it can stand permanently.”[4] These ideals, he explained, “can never be quite satisfactorily reconciled so long as man individual and aggregate lives by egoism, so long as he cannot undergo a great spiritual and psychological change and rise beyond mere communal association to that third ideal which some vague inner sense made the revolutionary thinkers of France add to their watchwords of liberty and equality. . . .


Fraternity [brotherhood] is the greatest of all the three, though till now only an empty word on man’s lips. Less sentimentally and more truly expressed, [it is] an inner oneness that no mechanism social, political, religious has ever created or can create; it must take birth in the soul and rise from hidden and divine depths within.”[5]


It is the seed of this Oneness that Meher Baba now brings to all in his world through the breaking of his Silence. In his Final Declaration he affirms:


“I have come to sow the seed of love in your hearts so that, in spite of all superficial diversity which your life in illusion must experience and endure, the feeling of oneness, through love, is brought about amongst all the nations, creeds, sects and castes of the world.”


In His Showering Grace,


Murshida


 

[1] Lord Meher, online edition, p. 2246. [2] Lord Meher, online edition, p. 2122 [3]Tom Mackaman, “An Interview with historian Gordon Wood on the New York Times 1619 Project”, November 19, 2019. World Socialist Website, wsws.org [4] Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 1, Early Cultural Writings, p. 512-13. [5] Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo, Vol. 25, The Human Cycle, p. 383.