Essays in Life and Eternity
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 11: The Phenomenon of Society

The word 'society', for all outward look, would just mean nothing more than a group of people come together on account of their common ideology, cultural values, religious outlook and kindred characteristics which unite them as a bond commonly linking them into the pattern of a whole. The question is: Does society consist of individual personalities, as human beings, or does it consist of the bond mentioned, which is ideational? A society of people can be there even if their constituent members happen to live geographically away from one another, but even a group of people sitting in a single room may not form a society if among them there is nothing to call a common cause. Actually, the common cause is what can be called society, and not merely the persons. A large number of people travelling in a railway compartment do not necessarily form a society.

What then is society? A society can constitute itself into an administrative organisation, such as a government, and frame laws and rules to restrain and order the life and conduct of people. Who makes the law to administer whom? It is clear that people make the law to administer people. Here a second question arises: How could law restrain people since its very source is the people whom it is expected to restrain? If law is something totally man-made, it cannot, obviously, have a restraining influence on the very man who made it. Do we see laws being made by people in such rostrums as a parliament? Are they not making rules to bind themselves at the same time, since the lawmaker, at least in a democratic sense of values, makes the law applicable to himself also? Does this sound like a quandary, that the maker of law is bound by the very law he makes? The enforcement of law seems to be associated also with physical force, without which there would be no means of seeing that it is implemented by people. But, where is the source of this power that enforces law? It will very uncomfortably appear to be hinging upon the appurtenances of exercising power, the methodology of which is a matter of common knowledge, all which will point to the interesting conclusion that even right cannot be established without might. This, however, would reduce the principles of law to a dependence entirely upon non-conceptual means of action, such as physical force, though law itself cannot be identified with anything which is physical, material or tangible.

The above observation only highlights the difficulty in understanding society and law, but it does not answer the question: What exactly is the law of society? May be that the difficulty itself will open up a window for us to behold, a beam of light that can shed its rays on the inner meaning of law, order and society. An example, further, we may find helpful: Suppose that the supreme law-making body of a country, known as the Parliament, consists of six hundred members, and suppose that five hundred of them unanimously decide that something has to be done. This decision becomes an Act of Parliament, since it is an opinion of a majority. But, if the very same majority goes for a picnic in some remote village and then makes the same decision, that would not be an Act of Parliament. But why should it be so, if an Act requires nothing more than the will or the wish of the majority? It may be said that it is not enough if the majority says something; it has to say it in a particular place, in a particular circumstance in a particular manner, and so on. But, place, time and circumstance are not persons, these are not members of the Parliament. The situation boils itself down to the Parliamentary Act being an organisation of several conceptual and ideological principles operating in the minds of people and not the people themselves. The Parliament, then, would be riot a body of people but a body of ideas.

Is the Idea prior to man, or is man prior to the Idea? Nominalists are fond of affirming that there cannot be an idea without a person having the idea, as there cannot be a quality without a substance. But, great philosophers of the East and thinkers like Plato in the West have held that Ideas are prior to their embodied forms; verily, they have held that Ideas are super-physical realities and form a sort of eternal pattern of the structure of the universe. An idea is not something that is projected by the mind of a person, but it is, rather, something which is there requiring to be embodied in form as mind and body. If this were not to be so, a law that is an Idea cannot have any influence upon people, if people are the originators of the Idea. People are afraid of law though there should be no reason for this fear if the maker of law can also unmake it to his own advantage, since he is the maker of law. There seems to be some super-personal cause, super-individual and super-physical, which is the reason why it becomes necessary for people to conceive such a thing as law and order. The acceptance of the fact of a regulating law that supersedes the individualities of persons is a spontaneous acceptance of the source of law being a kind of a universal requirement beyond personalities. Do we not hear that even the final form of the universal continuum is not anything physically measurable or conceivable, and the universe seems to be more an organisation of law and order than a material conglomeration of physical particulars? The philosophy of law will reduce law in the end to the operation of an Absolute Idea. This would incidentally negate any final value to be attached to the individualities of persons, even to the visible form of the world itself, lifting Principle above every personal or material consideration.

The administrative system, therefore, would be, if it is to be true to the ultimate principle of law, a replica of the way in which Nature as a whole works, or the Universal works in its entirety. Civil and criminal laws have to bear relevance to the purpose of the life of each individual and the purpose of even the group of individuals. People do not live for nothing. The life of an individual is a link in the longer process of the development of the soul from its present condition to its larger possibilities in a higher Selfhood. The government of a nation would not complete its duty to its citizens if it merely protects it from external attack and internal social disorder, but at the same time does not provide for the needs of the inner development of the individuals in their ascent towards the higher achievements of life, culturally and spiritually. The administrator, call him a king if you so like, is declared by the ancient law-givers of India to be a representation of Divinity (navishnuh prithivipatih), in the sense that the administrator is an organisation in himself, the significance of which provides the whole country with a rule like the universal principle of God being immanent in creation. The administrator is not merely a protector of people and their caretaker but has to be endowed with a capacity to enter into the very spirit which is embodied in people – the country is the large body of the Administrating Principle, which is no more a person but a pervading law of cohesion and integration.