But then, just like the Buddhist political philosopher, these thinkers were primarily concerned with what kind of human being was produced by a particular set of political institutions. In other words, although usually lacking the lofty spiritual aspirations of Buddhism, they also saw the purification of character as the goal of human life.
Escaping the Prison of "Reality"
To many readers, all of the above must seem hopelessly Utopian, doomed to founder on the rock of "reality." However, it must never be forgotten that social reality is created. Different times and different places have had vastly different "realities." The ancient Athenians, for example, despised the merely wealthy. The only way to earn their respect was by excellence in the service of the community; not surprisingly, most citizens devoted themselves to public service, not private acquisition. Our current "reality" of selfishness is largely the product of a self-fulfilling prophecy: people have believed the world views of Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, and their ilk into existence, and this actuality can be dissolved by a willed suspension of belief. To propose a radically different, but not inherently unworkable, set of values is therefore not Utopian after all, but a highly practical — indeed, indispensable — prerequisite to meaningful social and political change. (Indeed, no greater — or more successful — Utopians than the founding fathers of the American republic ever walked the face of the earth, and what they did can be done again.)
On the other hand, it is evident that all actual polities will necessarily fall well short of the Buddhist ideal. What matters, however, is not perfection, but the basic value orientation of the polity. Decisions are now made according to whether they will make us more secure, richer, more powerful, better off than our neighbour, and so on. When they are instead made by asking whether simplicity and the other tenets of Buddhist politics will be enhanced or not, then we would be on the right path. Above all, anything that aggrandizes the power of government, so that it begins to look after us instead of helping us to look after ourselves, must be examined with deep suspicion, for this seems inevitably to lead to bigness and complexity.
Naturally, "The Middle Way" is not easy to tread, and merely reducing the size of communal institutions to the appropriate level will not banish evil from the world — but it would reduce the massiveness of the evil that could be done and bring us back into the realm of personal evil, which we can understand and deal with. By contrast, the impersonal, faceless, "banal" evil and violence that have led to the large-scale extermination of racial and political deviants and to a potential nuclear holocaust are ineluctable consequences of great size, complexity, and interdependence. Nor would smallness per se always guarantee freedom. However, the tyranny currently exercised over our lives by impersonal forces — "the market/' ' 'efficiency,'' ' 'technology," and the like — beyond any individual's ken, much less control, should not be overlooked. With smaller-scale tyranny, flight is usually possible, and one at least knows whom to revolt against. In any event, says the Buddhist philosopher, although the two are not completely independent, more fearsome than any political tyranny is the psycho-social tyranny of the selfish ego and its paranoid view of the world, for it locks us in a prison of our own making.
The Search for Models
Unfortunately, there are no useful models of Buddhist politics that we can readily apply to our current historical circumstances. But in the thought of Thomas Jefferson Americans, and even many Europeans will find most of its essential features. (Others, especially in the Third World, may prefer to follow Gandhi.) Perhaps it is time to pit Jefferson's vision of republican simplicity against Alexander Hamilton's rival vision of national power and commercial complexity once again — but this time decide in favour of Jefferson, now that we have learned the hard way the truth in his famous maxim, "That Government is best that governs least.''
Of course, to a Buddhist philosopher, Jefferson's vision, although firmly grounded in Christian ethics, lacks a certain spiritual depth. Perhaps the thought of Henry David Thoreau can repair some of this lack. Wolden, the record of his symbolic critique of a society that had spurned Jefferson for Hamilton y is an extended sermon on the necessity of natural simplicity as the only way to avoid living the quietly desperate life of those weighed down by selfish striving for power, possessions, and position. Additional inspiration can be found in Thomas More's Utopia, still unexcelled as a description of a social order in which individuals are spontaneously obedient to moral law. Nor need the Christian tradition be neglected; indeed, Schumacher, who is not a Buddhist but a Catholic, has pointed out that the "Four Cardinal Virtues" of Christianity — prudentia, justitia, fortitudo, and temperantia — could. serve as readily as Buddhist principles as the foundation for social and economic sanity. In short, Buddhist politics accords totally with the highest teachings in our own tradition. It could not be otherwise, for there is only one dharma, however differently it is expressed by different cultures.
So it appears that small is indeed beautiful. Moreover, this would be true even if one rejected totally the spiritual goals of Buddhism or the other religions. Following the principles of Buddhist politics would lead toward a more pleasant, harmonious, and humane worldly existence even without regard to ultimate spiritual consequences. So, now is not too soon to begin changing realities — starting, as always, with oneself. Ecblopy Party anew s
WHERE IS THE ECOLOGICAL
At the coming local elections at least a dozen candidates will be carrying The Ecology Party banner to the Polls. But at the back of all their minds will be the question "Why are there not a hundred or more Ecology candidates this year?
This is one aspect of the Question of the Decade: Where is the Ecological Power Base in Britain? Those of us in the Conservation Movement (a term which I use to cover everybody and every group with any belief in Conservation) know that it contains tens of thousands of people. A political party as large as this would rise into the league with the two big parties overnight.
Unfortunately, the Conservation Movement in Britain is as fragmented as it is possible for any movement to be. At its head, currently, are two large groups, which seem to study each other, Nelson-like, through their blind eyes. Dotted around them is a bewildering complexity of small groups all concerned with community politics, organic living, alternative technology or what-
have-you, some with names so similar it is practically impossible to tell them apart. And beyond them is a large body of potential conservationists who are confounded by the babble of voices coming from within the movement and, being uncertain what to do, do nothing. It is only necessary to imagine the Labour or Tory Party similarly fragmented to realise the disastrous effect fragmentation has.
Although most of these groups do some admirable work, it seems their members are missing a basic point. It is rare even for two people to agree on everything, so wherever two people work together a degree of compromise is necessary. As the number of people increases so does the degree of compromise. If we are to unite thousands of conservationists, all with their own particular personal and political beliefs, then the principles on which there will be no compromise will be few indeed. It is due to an attempt to hang on to a large number of principles simultaneously that most groups fail to co-operate or to merge.
Apart from the belief that the Conservation Movement must come out of the woods and into the polling stations, the Ecology Party holds solidly to only two principles: that ecological considerations must be paramount, and that democracy must survive. Our lengthy manifesto is not a document for new members to sign on the dotted line, but a basis for future discussion and improvement, to which even more compromises will be made by an increasing number of people. Most of these people will probably retain their membership of other groups, as most current members have done, to give them plenty of scope for activity away from election times.
Compromise may not sound very dynamic, but since we are all in the same boat we must decide which way to sail out of the storm. I f we come out safely our children can decide how to decorate the cabins.
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Ecologist Vol . 7. No. 3.
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