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They say that politics is the art of the possible. That is because politics involves power relationships, and power is the ability to get something accomplished. We are all born into a society and grow up to discover what those power relationships are in our governments and other social institutions. Political structures are not created from scratch like a building but are traditions that are passed on and altered by each generation, occasionally in revolutionary ways. Whereas we can establish new schools, businesses, art, and religion, to make innovations in government and laws we must pragmatically deal with the current institutions that are exercising dominion and sovereignty. In discussing the educational principles of government and law I will analyze and criticize broadly our current range of institutions, formulate theories of good government, and then show how we can learn to act in ways that will most successfully bring about beneficial reforms.
Spiritual power that comes from virtue is a divine principle, but power without virtue corrupts and decays. Political power is a combination of these two. As long as it is in harmony with justice, love, and wisdom, power is beneficial; but power that is unjustly used becomes exploitation and oppression. Every person as a spiritual being has the ability to act and therefore power. Some people attempt to exert their power over other people. In the organizing and ordering of social interactions power relationships are established. Social relationships began with consent and cooperation—procreation and caring for children, gathering food, hunting, and mutual protection. Some of those individuals used physical force or coercive threats to get their way; others submitted to those threats for the cooperation gained; and sometimes resistance led to violent conflicts. Eventually the sense of justice among equals and the desire to protect the privileges of the stronger developed unwritten codes of conduct and patterns of revenge and punishment to maintain the security of the established social system. Thus arose leaders, rulers, laws, and law enforcement.
What are the principles of these relations? and how can we live together best in harmony, justice, and happiness? To begin with I believe we each can recognize our own spiritual power and God-given abilities to understand, communicate, and be creative in the world. At the same time we need to realize that everyone else has the same birthright. Thus the principle of equality is fundamental to all political relations. The freedom of our will enables us to consciously choose our actions and creatively affect other people. Because of the spiritual law of justice, we are each responsible for our own actions and collectively responsible for the actions of our group. In our oneness we need to learn how to relate to each other in harmony, health, happiness, and peace. Since we live socially with various power interactions, an important part of our social evolution and education is learning how to live according to these divine principles so that each person’s human rights to life, liberty, security, and justice can be protected and valued.
Nothing can be more basic than the right to live. Thus murder is prohibited, and murderers are punished or prevented from killing again. Yet occasionally societies organized as states kill people by execution or in wars. Can these violations of this principle be justified, or are their better ways to solve these social problems?
The right to liberty by individuals cannot be absolute because in our interactions our wills can conflict. Because we are spiritually one, to inflict against someone else’s freedom is to limit our own. Thus liberty must be balanced by justice. We can be as free as we choose as long as we do not limit others’ freedom. Within that harmony each person’s liberty can be protected by controlling the abuses of freedom that inflict against others.
Not only do we have the right to live and express our freedom, we thus have the right to be safe, secure, and protected from violence, dangers, and other inflictions against our health and well-being, whether it be by criminal individuals, groups, corporations, or nations.
The means used to protect these rights is the social system of justice. Because of equality every person has the right to obtain justice through the social system, and no person deserves the privilege of being exempted from the process of determining what is just. To secure these rights and to establish a process for maintaining just social relations, governments and laws are instituted and applied.
Although various forms of government have developed over the centuries, in the closing years of the second millennium virtually every nation has a constitutional form of government or at least claims that it does. A constitution, whether written or an unwritten tradition, contains the principles and rules most fundamental to the establishment and operation of a government and its code of laws. This principle of rule by law as the basic guideline for decisions rather than the unfettered whims of rulers is now widely accepted. Thus everyone can know how the process is supposed to work and can act under the assumption that there will or ought to be some consistency, order, and stability in legislative, administrative, and judicial procedures and decisions. Constitutions and laws represent a collectively agreed upon rational order. They are universal reference points that the society has decided by consensus are fair for everyone. A good constitution outlines the powers of government, the procedures for preventing or rectifying the abuse of those powers, and the human rights that are to be protected without prejudicial discrimination for race, sex, ethnic origin, religion, age, social class, economic condition, or political belief.
Democracy means rule by the people, and in a town or small city people can assemble and vote as one body. However, in a larger society direct voting has been replaced by elected representatives who vote on behalf of the people who elected them in a republican form of government. In either case good government depends on the enlightenment and education of the people making the decisions. In the world today most every nation claims that it has some process whereby the people are able to choose their leaders at selected intervals in elections. In a one-party system, participation in the party politics of selecting candidates determines the outcome. In two-party or multi-party systems the general public can exercise the determining choice in the general election, and with open primaries they can help choose the candidates for their parties. Yet in unregulated capitalist countries money contributed to political campaigns can exercise a larger influence for the wealthy and financial interests.
I believe that political decisions ought to be based on a consideration of what is best for all, made by those who are truly wise rather than on the basis of vested interests in power blocs, whether they be capitalist or socialist. Thus education of the people is the first step toward good government. Even in a society that is not very democratic, increasing awareness of the people can help them to claim their powers and bring about needed reforms. When the people are well educated, knowledgeable, and informed on public issues, then they will choose leaders who are wise and just to represent them. Thus not only schools for all children but also widespread news media, publishing, public programs, and adult education are essential to a successful democracy. An unenlightened public can be led astray by demagogues using patriotic prejudices, false promises, and deceptive rhetoric to hide and distort irresponsible policies.
Not all nations are organized as federal systems. Many are centralized in national governments which rule and distribute power to provinces and localities. Small nations often do not require federal divisions of power. In large nations federalism is a way of balancing power between the national, provincial, and local governments so that the central government does not become too oppressive, and smaller regions such as states, provinces, counties, and cities can exercise autonomy in their own areas. Federal constitutions delegate various powers and responsibilities to the national and local levels. Thus all the power is not centralized as in a dictatorship or hierarchical as in a feudal system. Whether each nation uses a federal system is up to the people of that nation. However, I believe that for the sake of world peace and for the general welfare of mankind we need to develop world federalism under a world constitution so that the nation-state system can preserve national autonomy and internal sovereignty while conflicts and disputes between nations can be settled amicably by world institutions.
Another way of balancing and harmonizing political power is by means of the division of governmental functions into the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. In this way one group of representatives makes the laws, another group administers and enforces them, and a third group judges criminal behavior and settles civil disputes.
Laws are best made by those who are most enlightened and have the interests of all the people at heart. Since what usually prevents this is limited awareness and the selfishness of special interests, what generally works best is for all the people to elect their lawmakers in a free and open forum of debate. Again the ability of the people to judge who will be best depends on their knowledge and wisdom.
Too often economic and social classes, financial interests, vociferous pressure groups, and party elite dominate the discussion and the vote. The poor tend to be the most disenfranchised and exploited by the rich and powerful who manipulate events for their selfish interests. Thus to be fair to all, society must strive to widen the electorate and raise the level of discussion to a real concern of what is best for all.
Once legislators are chosen, the public is still responsible to keep them informed of their concerns and watch what they do. Open hearings, investigation, and research can help lawmakers become more aware of the people’s concerns, the facts of the issues, and the will of the people about what is best to do. Only the legislators can change old laws and make new ones with the exception of judicial review that declares laws unconstitutional.
Freedom and justice are generally the two principles that need to be harmonized. Negative laws allow everyone liberty except that violations of others’ rights and well-being are prohibited. Positive law attempts to organize society so that it is socially just for everyone, essentially telling people what they must do rather than what they must not do. Every society has both types of laws; but in capitalist countries the emphasis is on the freedom of the individual while in socialist nations the effort is to distribute justice to everyone. However, social evolution is moving both of them toward each other into a balance. In this century governments in capitalist societies have increased their social programs to promote the general welfare and have developed numerous regulatory agencies to protect the general public. From its inception the ideal of Communism was evolution toward less government and more freedom as justice is established and people cooperate. However, social and economic injustice still plagues capitalist societies, and freedom is still restricted in remaining Communist nations which are moving to toward free markets.
Fortunately bad laws can be changed, and the people always have the right to withdraw their consent and work for reform of the laws, whether by disobedience, elections, or revolution. In capitalist nations elections need to be protected against the disproportionate influence of money while in Communist countries more freedom and participation in elections is needed.
The executive branch of the government is responsible for enforcing the laws and carrying out the policies of the government. In domestic affairs under its jurisdiction the administration is obliged to follow the guidelines of legislation. However, in relation to other governments and agencies the administration must use diplomacy and often initiates policy decisions, which then can be ratified by the legislators.
Usually the administration is headed by one or more elected officials, such as a president or governor, who often is recognized as the main leader of the government. In parliamentary systems the leader of the legislators, the prime minister, may lead the government. Although the head of the government may suggest legislation, with the exception of a dictatorship, the legislators make the laws. Thus the administration must follow the constitution and the laws. In tripartite government all cases of suspected violation of the laws must be turned over to the judicial branch for judgment. Then the administration must implement and enforce the decisions of the courts as well as of the legislature. If officials in the administration fail to carry out the law or try to violate it, a suit can be filed against them in the courts. In the extreme case where the administration refuses to recognize a judicial decision against them, it should be the obligation of legislators to enter into a process of impeachment and trial to remove the violators from office. For the government to violate the law is far more threatening to the people than any group of criminals who can be controlled by the power of the government. These safeguards are the people’s best protection against any movement toward fascism or dictatorship.
Most of the people in the administration work in government as a career, but the elected head of the administration has the prerogative to appoint many top officials to carry out policies. To assure competency and integrity these appointments, as well as judicial ones, are best confirmed by the legislators. Civil service examinations, which were instituted centuries ago by the Chinese, are a way of screening for qualified and capable people to fill government service positions. Every effort should be made to encourage skilled and caring service for the general public by offering adequate salaries, promotion of the most capable, and dismissal of the irresponsible. Ethical standards in public service ought to be high and open to public view. Because government services are usually socialized as a state monopoly and are not in competition with private enterprise, fairness, sensitivity, and efficiency must be vigilantly promoted. Public complaints ought to be carefully investigated. Yet for universal human needs, such as law enforcement, government regulations, utilities, health care, education, and transportation, socialized institutions may be better and more efficient than private corporations that exploit profits for capitalists.
In foreign policy and diplomacy the administration is best advised to consult with legislators for the sake of national unity, for they must ratify agreements to treaties, conventions, and international laws, that is, until we develop a world legislative system. Career diplomats can be helpful in providing experience, expertise, continuity, and stability to a newly headed administration.
A rational and social process of determining justice according to agreed upon laws and principles is designed to prevent disputes and conflicts from degenerating into a cycle of violence and revenge. Thus socially recognized systems of jurisprudence are a primary means of preserving peace within a society.
Law enforcement officials are responsible for making sure that individuals accused of crimes are brought before the justice system. Also civil suits attempting to correct injustices can also be brought before the courts. Now universally accepted is the principle that every human being has equal right to due process of law. Judges, who may be appointed by elected officials or elected themselves, ought to be independent and not subject to removal for political reasons (except in the case of a general reelection). Most courts use an adversary system with attorneys for the prosecution representing the state or society as a whole and defense attorneys speaking in behalf of the accused. In many courts the judges ask most of the questions and are free to investigate the case, but in the adversary system the judges usually officiate as a judicial referee. Both systems allow for a full examination of the case within the relevance of the law, for either the attorneys or the judges are allowed to ask questions of witnesses if they feel something is being overlooked. The jury system is most prevalent in the United States but fairly rare elsewhere. Although it may seem inefficient, the democratic process of the jury can be a stimulating educational experience; and juries are usually remarkably fair and the best protection of the individual’s right against bias. Although in civil cases the jury may decide the award as well as the verdict, in most criminal cases the judges pronounce the sentence after the jury has determined the verdict.
All of these processes help us to learn how to function best as a society. However, in regard to sentencing and punishment I believe that great reforms can be made, which along with other improvements in preventing disputes and crime can help us to become a less litigious society. In the last century or so we have become much more conscious of the psychological and social factors which lead to crime. Although our penal system claims to be for corrections and rehabilitation, the sad fact is that punishment still remains uppermost in the minds of those in institutions and among the general public. Yet through psychology and sociology we can educate and train people to treat those who have psychological and social problems.
It seems barbarous to me for a society that condemns killing to execute murderers, thus lowering ourselves to that brutality which we wish to eliminate. What hypocrisy! It seems to me that the insanity defense draws an arbitrary line, that we ought to recognize that anyone who tries to kill a human being is perverted and psychologically confused and definitely in need of help. The same principle holds true for any harmful crime. At the same time we must acknowledge that these people may be dangerous to society until they truly are cured. Thus they may need to be confined in institutions separate from the general public, not as punishment but for appropriate treatment. Only when experts determine that their risk is at an acceptable level ought they to be released.
For minor crimes, especially first offenses, carefully supervised and counseled probation is usually the most healthy approach so that the individual’s social and economic relations are not disrupted and altered toward a criminal life-style. I recommend that skilled psychologists and sociologists ought to be involved in the sentencing decision and that jails and prisons ought to be converted into various types of rehabilitation facilities for different kinds of treatment. Also restorative justice allows victims of crime to participate in sentencing deliberations so that offenders can understand and compensate their victims. If there are violent criminals with severe problems difficult to change, let them be separated and not contaminate others who can straighten themselves out more easily. These reforms and broader social improvements in eliminating poverty and unemployment can greatly reduce crime by eradicating its root causes, but this requires radical changes.
The way of love is nonviolent and does not hurt anyone. Using the divine principles for guidance, we realize that the best way to experience love is by loving, that the way to peace is a way of peace, that justice is attained by just means, and that by exercising wisdom, will, courage, faith, and patience, we can be creative, responsible, healthy, harmonious, and whole, even as a society.
To think that we can solve our problems by violence of any kind betrays a lack of trust in other people, self-righteous arrogance that we think we know better and must force our ideas on others, and a lack of patience for a social process to resolve conflict. We can acknowledge that injustice, oppression, and exploitation do exist in the world, but the best way to reduce them is through a sincere, honest, and dedicated quest for justice. We must always be careful that our own actions do not create more injustice, either by our means or our ends. Only in this way do we remain true to the love that is our real essence.
Since we are born into a political system that is not yet perfected, part of our educational experience on this planet is to learn how to improve our political processes. Many nonviolent methods can be used which can bring about lasting change because they are not forced on people but communicated and freely accepted. The basis of our social system is this consent or consensus. Everything social is the way it is because people have decided that it is to be that way and others have allowed it to remain so by their consent. When we find things in our society which we consider to be unjust and therefore unethical, then it is our moral obligation to do what we can to change them. What we choose to do is each person’s decision and education. If what we object to is not necessarily unjust, but is not our preference or to our liking, we are not morally obligated to act; but we are free to work for what we want. These moral decisions ultimately must be made by each person according to conscience.
How do we act for nonviolent reform? The first step is awareness. We must learn about the injustice, how it was caused, who it affects, what our part in it is, and how it can be removed. This process of awareness always continues on, since we are not omniscient, and we can always learn more. Yet at some point wisdom tells us that we must act upon what in our best judgment we believe to be right. This may be by helping to spread awareness of the wrongs by communication and education. Individually and collectively we must withdraw our support by not cooperating with the evil, though this may not mean the whole system from which the injustice arises, but as best we can from the perpetration of the wrong itself. Of course if we are in a position of power or influence where we can correct the problem by our direct action, then that obviously is the easiest situation. When others are causing the injustice, it is much more difficult. In addition to moral persuasion we can use economic boycotts and divestment and political sanctions and pressures by withdrawing our support from those cooperating with the evil and give it to someone who is not. Through communication these efforts will expand and grow if the cause is just and important to people. Eventually public opinion when it is enlightened will bring about policy reform. This can be done in any society, but is easier when it is free and open and has less entrenched power structures.
The government persecution of minorities in South Africa was transformed in the 1990s. Reforming the massive militarism with foreign intervention and genocidal nuclear arsenals of the United States, Russia, and a few other nations will require stronger and more extensive actions. The methods demonstrated and proven effective by Mahatma Gandhi in India include nonviolent civil disobedience of unjust and oppressive laws, economic noncooperation with an exploitative system, and other nonviolent protests. Getting governments to take action to reverse global warming has become another great challenge of the 21st century and will require massive changes stimulated by nonviolent methods. The third great crisis facing humanity is to learn how to share the wealth so that the basic needs of all people are fulfilled, and every person has equal opportunity to thrive in society. Given the urgency of these crises nonviolent methods and universal democracy are going to be needed on increasingly larger scales if we are to bring about the reforms needed to establish peace on Earth, a beneficial distribution of wealth, and lifestyles that protect the ecological integrity of the Earth.
I believe that we are evolving toward an integrated and holistic world society. Twentieth-century wars and genocidal weapons that have continued into the 21st century have demonstrated that nations are not able to live in peace at this stage of social evolution, and therefore we need effective international law to prevent nations from criminally violating each other. Justice in the world depends upon world law which can only be effective if it is established by some form of world government. Many people fear that a world government might become too powerful and oppressive, but the historical pattern of the League of Nations and the United Nations is that they are too weak and ineffective. Instead the world trembles before the threats of the United States and the other nations with nuclear weapons.
I believe that the principles of democratic constitutional federalism can be used to create world institutions which can oversee disarmament, prevent international conflicts, protect human rights and environmental resources, and facilitate economic development with free and fair trade without interfering with national sovereignty over internal affairs of economic systems and legitimate political institutions. This evolution depends on global education, attitudes and behaviors of world citizenship and cooperation, and active efforts to transcend our national and ideological prejudices and fears. The world will not remain indefinitely poised on the brink of a holocaustic nuclear war. We can and must eventually develop the political solutions to this crisis of human survival.
As people realize our unity and need for world cooperation, we will increase public pressure and strengthen the political will for these innovative yet logical solutions. I hope that we will be able to increase our awareness through communication and education so that the amount of suffering that occurs before we learn can be lessened. To me this process of global unification of the entire human race according to spiritual principles and laws is the most challenging and exciting step in human evolution.
LIFE AS A WHOLE:
II. The Individual