Were I to name the one human act most responsible for the wrongs in this world it would be, hands down, the abuse of power.
As far back as our history books can relate, the strong have exploited the weak. From time to time, the exploited, energized by resentment, rise up and overthrow their exploiters. In this way, the strong and the weak periodically exchange places. Even so, the principle of exploitation remains inviolate.
In an attempt to end this ceaseless conflict, some idealists have constructed political programs designed to eliminate, by one means or another, the differences between the strong and the weak. These attempts have met with little success.
The strong persist in spite of everything, hiding or disguising themselves when necessary. They may remain entirely concealed behind the public stage, pulling strings as invisible puppeteers. Or they may don, as their cloak of invisibility, the rhetoric of equality, their camouflage of power.
The lesson of history is that we must accept as a given that people will always differ in their powers of action, and that any competition will naturally reveal those who are stronger and weaker.
And so some will always exercise power over others. And those wielding such power will have a tendency to abuse it.
What to do? When we establish special agents to guard us from abuse by the powerful, eventually we find ourselves asking: who will protect us from our protectors?
The problem, stubbornly resistant, still plagues us. In modern times we continue to oscillate between the poles of the political right and left. The right openly promotes the interest of the strong and justifies its dominance. The left abhors the inequitable distribution of power and goods, and advances social and political programs to abolish the differences between strong and weak.
In my judgment each side has something essential in its favor, and each side has a fatal defect. Because of this, neither side can succeed for long.
I believe that Srila Prabhupada has offered a resolution to this intractable problem. From the point of view of contemporary politics, his politics is simultaneous right and left, both conservative and liberal.
Prabhupada presents his position in a succinct form in the course of answering a letter from Sri Govinda dasa, the president of the ISKCON Chicago temple.
At that time—in December, 1972—the Chicago temple was engaged in a fierce competition with the other temples in North America to distribute books during the Christmas shopping season. It appears that the temple president wrote to Prabhupada to express some misgivings about the strong competitive spirit among the temples.
Prabhupada’s reply characteristically rises to the highest theological and philosophical considerations. The result is a political science founded on ultimate spiritual principles.
Here is Prabhupada’s answer to Sri Govinda’s question:
My dear Sri Govinda,
Please accept my blessings. I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated December 5, 1972, and I am greatly pleased to hear from you that you have increased the selling books five times more in Chicago centre. That is very good news to me. Yes, there must always be competition, that gives life, that cannot be separated from life. Sanatana dharma means the strong will utilize the energy of the weak, the weak must serve the strong, that we see everywhere, is it not? Who can deny? So that competitive spirit makes us strong, otherwise it is a society of weak men only, and what is the good of such society? But if you ask anyone are you weak or strong, he must answer that he is weak—he cannot control even his toothache, what to speak of his death. Therefore, in fact, it is a society of weak men—everyone is weak before Durga Devi or the material energy. If you see sometimes her picture, the foolish materialist is being held by the claws of her tiger-carrier, while she pierces him to death with her trident weapon. She has got ten arms, each with weapon, she is so strong, but we are so weak that simply by piercing with her trident, the three-fold miseries, adhibhautika, adhidaivika, and adhyatmika, the foolish materialists are all defeated! And before Krishna, Durga devi is very weak—Krishna is the controller of Durga. So Krishna is the strongest: sattyam sattvavatam aham, “I am the strength of the strong.” Therefore, being weak, it is the eternal occupational duty of the living entity to surrender to Krishna, that’s all. In the surrendering to Krishna, if everyone does it, still, the brahmanas will be served by the lower castes, the kings will be served by vaisyas and sudras, the vaisyas will be served by the sudras, and the sudras will serve all higher castes—there is still utilizing the weak by the strong—but feeling themselves always very much weak in comparison to Krishna, the whole society services the Strongest, therefore there will be no envy of the stronger by the weaker class of men. So perfect society, or Vedic society, does not eliminate competition—competition, stronger and weaker, must be there—but it eliminates envy, because everyone is weak before Krishna. Is that clear?
Is such a “perfect society” possible? Can there be a society of hierarchical class division, of stronger and weaker, which is devoid of envy and exploitation? Even if we accept that such a society would be ideal, is it possible in practice? Or is it a mere fantasy?
I will take up these and other questions next week.