The Subject and Power by Michel Foucault — A Summary

Foucault, Michel. 1982. “The Subject and Power.” Critical Inquiry 8 (4): 777–95.

“My objective, instead, has been to create a history of the different modes [of objectification] by which, in our culture, human beings are made subjects.” p. 777.

If this statement is accessible to you, you can skip this rather protracted introduction (to the first section of the article). If not, do not proceed without first reading this.

The word ‘subject’ has many meanings. The Oxford Dictionary lists as many as fourteen. As such, it is easy to get confused when you encounter its numerous derivatives, mixed with its opposite, i.e., object, which comes with its own set of meanings and derivatives.

Here is a brief introduction to the subject–object dichotomy in philosophy penned with a view to clarifying the myriad ways in which their derivatives — subjective, objective, subjectivity, subjectification, objectify, objectification, and so on — are used in mundane [as well as?] philosophical discussions. Clarity in this regard is particularly crucial for understanding Michel Foucault. Their use and connotations outside of philosophy are mentioned where necessary.

Very crudely, a subject is conscious and an object is unconscious. We, humans, as conscious beings, are subjects. Whatever is external to us — stones, buildings, colours,  etc. — are objects.

In this last paragraph, a crucial gap has opened up. The gap is this: how should I, as a subject, treat other humans, who, even if they are subjects in their own right, are nonetheless external to me, and therefore, objects as far as I am concerned? One straightforward way is to objectify them. But what if you can determine their very subjectivity (see next paragraph)? Foucault argues that this is what power does. Of course, in Foucault, the ‘you’ doing the determining is not the individual person but rather the whole complex of the modern state and the ‘they’ being made subjects is everyone.

What creates the distinction between the subject and object is the ability of the subject to experience, feel, or think (or, in other words, to be conscious). To use jargon, subjects possess subjectivity. Objects, on the other hand, do not. Rather, they are experienced and felt. Put another way, subjects are active, i.e., they have agency, while objects are passive. (It is easy to see the reason behind the distinction made in grammar between active and passive voice.)

The following might throw some light on the way we use objectification, subjective and objective — words which have philosophical significance — in daily conversation.

  1. To charge someone of, for instance, objectifying women, is to say that that person is treating women as if they possessed no subjectivity, i.e., as if they were passive objects unable to determine themselves what they are. This points to the gap I mentioned above.
  2. To say that someone is merely expressing a subjective viewpoint is to simply say that the truth of that viewpoint depends on the subject himself/herself. That viewpoint may not be shared by somebody else, i.e., another subject. This is common while making aesthetic judgements. What is beautiful for me may not be to you.
  3. To say that someone is stating an objective fact is to say that the truth of that statement depends on the object. If proper care was taken in formulating that statement, other subjects would have to agree with it. This is common in scientific inquiry. The inexorable march of science is built, we are made to believe, upon its obsession with objective facts. [Objective, as a noun, also means a goal, a purpose. But this meaning is unconnected to what is described here.]

In relation to Foucault, the word ‘subject’ has two broad meanings. First, it connotes the thinking, feeling, conscious being possessing subjectivity, as is understood in philosophy [and also in the senses in which it is understood in grammar and logic]. We have encountered this already. The origin of this connotation goes back to (the Latin translation of) a Greek term coined by Aristotle. In many important instances, this is what Foucault means by ‘subject’.

Second, the word ‘subject’ also ordinarily means a person or thing towards whom or which action, thought, or feeling is directed.  It is in this sense that the sentence “I was the subject of a police investigation” can be understood. As a verb, in this sense, ‘subject’ would mean the process of directing actions, thoughts and feelings. Consider the sentence “I was subjected to torture during the investigation”. The origin of this connotation is, the Oxford Dictionary informs us, Middle English.

The problem — and I grappled with this when I first encountered this article about two years ago, often ending in despair — lies in figuring out which of these senses is meant. Often, it’s the former. Other times, it’s the latter. These two uses are usually obvious. But sometimes, and this is where it becomes tricky, both are meant simultaneously while, rarely, thankfully, the derivatives are used consecutively in different senses. See the last two complete paragraphs at page 781 for examples of these two uses. These issues of usage will have to be kept in mind while reading the text.

Let us now consider the sentence that I opened with: “My (i) objective, instead, has been to create a history of the different modes [of (ii) objectification] by which, in our culture, human beings are made (iii) subjects.” p. 777.

(i) Objective means purpose in this context. That’s obvious.

(ii) By modes of objectification, Foucault is referring to the ways in which the agency, self-knowledge, or individuality of the subject is determined or controlled by, to use his examples, the sciences, by institutions, or even by the subjects themselves.

(iii) But at the end of all this, human beings still remain subjects possessing agency except that whatever agency or subjectivity they have is not really their own.

Why Study Power?
The Question of the Subject

My goal has been to analyse the ways in which human beings are made subjects. There have been three modes of objectification which have made this transformation possible.

First, there are the sciences such as grammar, philology and linguistics, economics, and biology whose classificatory endeavours have objectified the speaking subject, the labourer and the very living being. Second, there are dividing practices which have objectified subjects by dividing them within or from others. Consider the division between the mad and the sane, the sick and the healthy, the criminals and the “good boys”. Third, there is the process of subjectification whereby humans turn their very selves into subjects. Consider the identification of people with certain forms of sexuality.

The general theme of my work thus has been “the question of the subject”. But I have had to “study power” because the existing legal model (the question of what legitimises power) and institutional model (the question of what is the state) of understanding power were insufficient to account for the objectification of the subject.

The dimensions of power have to be expanded.

It is important in this regard to start from forms of resistance against power and analyse power relations through the “antagonism of strategies”. “For example, to find out what our society means by sanity, perhaps we should investigate what is happening in the field of insanity. And what we mean by legality in the field of illegality.”

“As a starting point, let us take a series of oppositions which have developed over the last few years: opposition to the power of men over women, of parents over children, of psychiatry over the mentally ill, of medicine over the population, of administration over the ways people live.”

These struggles cut across state boundaries. They are against the effects of power as such as opposed to the exercise of power. They are immediate struggles — both temporally and spatially. They assert individuality. They are opposed to the privileges of knowledge and forms of imposition on people. They ask “Who are we?”, i.e., they are directed towards determining ones own subjectivity.

“To sum up, the main objective of these struggles is … to attack a technique, a form of power. This form of power applies itself to immediate everyday life which categorizes the individual, marks him by his own individuality, attaches him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him which he must recognize and which others have to recognize in him. It is a form of power which makes individuals subjects. There are two meanings of the word ‘subject’: subject to someone else by control and dependence; and tied to his own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge. Both meanings suggest a form of power which subjugates and makes subject to.

“Generally, it can be said that there are three types of struggles: either against forms of domination; against forms of exploitation which separate individuals from what they produce; or … against subjection, against forms of subjectivity and submission.” While the struggles against forms of subjection have become salient, struggles against domination and exploitation have not disappeared.

They reason why this form of struggle has become salient in this century is the rise of the modern state. The state totalises its power in the sense that it seeks to look after the totality of its subjects, i.e., the population. [For more on this aspect, see his essay “Governmentality”, summarised here.] But it also individualises.

Never, I think, in the history of human societies ... has there been such a tricky combination in the same political structures of individualization techniques and of totalization procedures.

In saying that the state power is individualising, I mean that the state exercises a form of power which is seeks the production of truth of the individual. This is a form of power that is analogous to the role played by pastors in Christianity, and hence may be called pastoral power. Pastoral power, in its religious context, aims at salvation, is sacrificial, is oriented towards the individual, and demands that the individual reveal his conscience and his innermost secrets. The modern state exercises secularised versions of these aspects of pastoral power. The welfare state with its commitment to the health and well-being of its citizens is engaged in ensuring worldly salvation. The surveillance state with its hunger for data on its citizens is analogous to the Catholic priest who has access to the innermost details of those who come to confession.

The conclusion would be that the political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to try to liberate the individual from the state and from the state's institutions but to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualization which is linked to the state. We have to promote new forms of subjectivity through the refusal of this kind of individuality which has been imposed on us for several centuries.

How Is Power Exercised?

Analyses of the question of the “how” of power are generally limited to inventorying its manifestations. But are not these manifestations or effects of power linked to its origin and basic nature?

How is power exercised?

The “how” I have in mind is not the question of how power manifests itself but the question of the means by which power is exercised. Power implies an objective capacity to exert force over things and the ability to modify, use, consume, or destroy them. Power also implies relationships between individuals or groups in that in any discussion of the mechanisms of power, we suppose that certain persons exercise power over others.

There are relationships of communication, i.e., transmission of information by means of a language, a system of signs, or any other symbolic medium, through which persons act upon others. However, if the objectives or consequences of such relationships have results in the realm of power, it is only incidental. The point is that objective capacities, power relations, and relationships are not to be confused for one another. At the same time, they are not to be treated as three separate domains. In fact, they “always overlap one another, support one another reciprocally, and use each other mutually as means to an end”.

The application of objective capacities in their most elementary forms implies relationships of communication (whether in the form of previously acquired information or of shared work); it is tied also to power relations (whether they consist of obligatory tasks, of gestures imposed by tradition or apprenticeship, of subdivisions and the more or less obligatory distribution of labor). Relationships of communication imply finalized activities (even if only the correct putting into operation of elements of meaning) and, by virtue of modifying the field of information between partners, produce effects of power.

Across different societies, the coordination or relation between these three types of relationships is neither uniform nor constant. Rather, there are diverse specific models.

“But there are also ‘blocks’ in which the adjustment of abilities, the resources of communication, and power relations constitute regulated and concerted systems.” Consider an educational institution whose constituents constitute a block of capacity–communication–power. “The activity which ensures apprenticeship and the acquisition of aptitudes or types of behavior is developed there by means of a whole ensemble of regulated communications (lessons, questions and answers, orders, exhortations, coded signs of obedience, differentiation marks of the ‘value’ of each person and of the levels of knowledge) and by the means of a whole series of power processes (enclosure, surveillance, reward and punishment, the pyramidal hierarchy).”

Blocks like this constitute a ‘discipline’. Disciplines provide a view into the ways in which the constituents components — the capacity–communication–power triad — are welded together as well as the varied ways in which their interrelationships are articulated.

“To approach the theme of power by an analysis of ‘how’ is therefore to introduce several critical shifts in relation to the supposition of a fundamental power. It is to give oneself as the object of analysis power relations and not power itself.”

What constitutes the specific nature of power?

“[S]omething called Power, with or without a capital letter, which is assumed to exist universally in a concentrated or diffused form, does not exist. Power exists only when it is put into action.” That’s to say that power exists as a relation. What defines this relationship is that it is a mode of action which acts only indirectly; it is an action upon an action, on existing actions or on those which may arise in the present or the future. This requires that the one over whom power is exercised be thoroughly recognized and maintained to the very end as a person who acts, i.e., as a subject.

In itself the exercise of power is not violence; nor is it a consent which, implicitly, is renewable. It is a total structure of actions brought to bear upon possible actions; it incites, it induces, it seduces, it makes easier or more difficult; in the extreme it constrains or forbids absolutely; it is nevertheless always a way of acting upon an acting subject or acting subjects by virtue of their acting or being capable of action. A set of actions upon other actions.

The specificities of power relations can be better understood through the word conduct which means both (as a verb) to lead others and (as a noun) a way of behaving. The question of power is a question of government. Government in this sense refers not only to political structures or to the management of states but also the structuring of the possible field of action of others.

To understand power in this way — as a mode of action upon the actions of others, or as the government of men by other men — is to presuppose free subjects over whom power is exercised, and that too, only insofar as they are free subjects.

[S]lavery is not a power relationship when man is in chains. (In this case it is a question of a physical relationship of constraint.) Consequently, there is no face-to-face confrontation of power and freedom, which are mutually exclusive (freedom disappears everywhere power is exercised), but a much more complicated interplay. In this game freedom may well appear as the condition for the exercise of power (at the same time its precondition, since freedom must exist for power to be exerted, and also its permanent support, since without the possibility of recalcitrance, power would be equivalent to a physical determination).

“At the very heart of the power relationship, and constantly provoking it, are the recalcitrance of the will and the intransigence of freedom. Rather than speaking of an essential freedom [then], it would be better to speak of an ‘agonism’ — of a relationship which is at the same time reciprocal incitation and struggle, … [of] a permanent provocation.”

How is one to analyze the power relationship?

[This section has extracts only.]

“One can analyze such relationships … by focusing on carefully defined institutions. [Institutions] constitute a privileged point of observation, diversified, concentrated, put in order, and carried through to the highest point of their efficacy. It is here that, as a first approximation, one might expect to see the appearance of the form and logic of their elementary mechanisms.

“The analysis of power relations demands that a certain number of points be established concretely:

  1. The system of differentiations which permits one to act upon the actions of others: differentiations determined by the law or by traditions of status and privilege; economic differences …
  2. The types of objectives pursued by those who act upon the actions of others: the maintenance of privileges, the accumulation of profits …
  3. The means of bringing power relations into being: according to whether power is exercised by the threat of arms, by the effects of the word, by means of economic disparities, by more or less complex means of control …
  4. Forms of institutionalization: these may mix traditional predispositions, legal structures, phenomena relating to custom or to fashion (e.g., a family); they can also take the form of an apparatus closed in upon itself, with its specific loci, its own regulations, its hierarchical structures which are carefully defined, a relative autonomy in its functioning (e.g., military institutions); they can also form very complex systems endowed with multiple apparatuses (e.g., the state) …
  5. The degrees of rationalization: [to what extent the play of] power relations as action in a field of possibilities [are] more or less elaborate in relation to the effectiveness of the instruments and the certainty of the results …

“[Thus,] one sees why the analysis of power relations within a society cannot be reduced to the study of a series of institutions, not even to the study of all those institutions which would merit the name ‘political’. Power relations are rooted in the system of social networks. … In referring here to the restricted sense of the word ‘government’, one could say that power relations have been progressively governmentalized, that is to say, elaborated, rationalized, and centralized in the form of, or under the auspices of, state institutions.

Relations of power and relations of strategy

“The word ‘strategy’ is currently employed in three ways. First, to designate the means employed to attain a certain end… . Second, to designate the manner in which a partner in a certain game acts with regard to what he thinks should be the action of the others and what he considers the others think to be his own… . Third, to designate the procedures used in a situation of confrontation to deprive the opponent of his means of combat and to reduce him to giving up the struggle… . These three meanings come together in situations of confrontation … where the objective is to act upon an adversary in such a manner as to render the struggle impossible for him. … But it must be borne in mind that this is a very special type of situation and that there are others in which the distinctions between the different senses of the word ‘strategy’ must be maintained.” (emphasis added)

There can be no relationship of power without the potential for a strategy of struggle. This is because, to quote again what has been said before, “at the very heart of the power relationship, and constantly provoking it, are the recalcitrance of the will and the intransigence of freedom”. A capacity for struggle (for freedom) is the precondition of power.

This relationship of confrontation between power and struggle is an unstable one and if it attains stability, it would mean that one of the two has won out. When the confrontation is stabilised, the power relationship becomes at once its (the confrontation’s) target, fulfillment, and suspension while the strategy of struggle becomes a limit, a frontier for the relationship of power.

Which is to say that every strategy of confrontation dreams of becoming a relationship of power, and every relationship of power leans toward the idea that, if it follows its own line of development and comes up against direct confrontation, it may become the winning strategy.



A Discourse on the Method by René Descartes — Extracts

Descartes, René. [1637] 2006. A Discourse on the Method. Translated by Ian Maclean. Oxford World’s Classics. London: Oxford University Press.

This is a very short and readable book written from an informal first person perspective. I don’t see any reason why anybody would be looking for a shortened version.

My purpose here is to reproduce the ‘method’ of, to quote the full title of the book, Correctly Conducting One’s Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences. This is achieved in the first three sections. (There are six in all.) If your modern scientific sensibility finds the ‘method’ trite or obvious, remember that it is because of the triumph of this book that it is so.

“[T]his short, informally presented introduction to his work threatened the very foundations of many prevailing philosophical beliefs, and set an agenda for enquiry into man and nature whose effects have lasted up to the present day.” (p. vii.)

Part One

Good sense is the most evenly distributed thing in the world … [T]he power of judging correctly and of distinguishing the true from the false (which is what is properly called good sense or reason) is naturally equal in all men … [C]onsequently, the diversity of our opinions arises not from the fact that some of us are more reasonable than others, but [because] we have different ways of directing our thoughts, and do not take into account the same things. For it is not enough to possess a good mind; the most important thing is to apply it correctly.

[S]ince my early youth I have had the great good fortune of finding myself taking certain paths that have led me to reflections and maxims from which I have fashioned a method by which, it seems to me, I have a way of adding progressively to my knowledge and raising it by degrees to the highest point that the limitations of my mind and the short span of life allotted to me will permit it to reach.

My aim here is not to teach the method that everyone must follow for the right conduct of his reason, but only to show in what way I have tried to conduct mine.

I was most keen on mathematics, because of its certainty and the incontrovertibility of its proofs; but I did not yet see its true use. Believing as I did that its only application was to the mechanical arts, I was astonished that nothing more exalted had been built on such sure and solid foundations; whereas, on the other hand, I compared the moral works of ancient pagan writers to splendid and magnificent palaces built on nothing more than sand and mud.

I shall not say anything about philosophy except that, when I realized that it had been cultivated by the best minds for many centuries, and that nevertheless there is nothing in it that is not disputed and consequently is not subject to doubt … ; and that seeing how different learned men may defend different opinions on the same subject, without there ever being more than one which is true, I deemed anything that was no more than plausible to be tantamount to false.

As for the other disciplines, in so far as they borrow their principles from philosophy, I concluded that nothing solid could have been built on such shaky foundations

Part Two

I came to believe that booklearning, or at least learning whose rational foundations are no better than generally approved, and which contains no real proof, is not as close to the truth, composed as it is of the opinions of many different people, as the simple reasoning that any man of good sense can produce about things in his purview. And so, although I came to believe that, because we were children before we were men, and because for a long time we were governed by our appetites and our teachers (the former being often in conflict with the latter, with neither giving the best advice in every case), it is almost impossible that our judgements are as pure or as solid as they might have been if we had had full use of our reason from the moment of our birth, and had been guided by that alone.

In earlier years I had made some study of logic in the philosophy course, and of geometrical analysis and algebra in  mathematics, three arts or branches of knowledge that seemed destined to contribute to my plan. But, on examining them, I noted, in the case of logic, that its syllogisms and most of its other techniques are employed more to explain things to other people that one knows already. … And although logic really does contain many very true and excellent precepts, there are so many others mixed in with them that are either harmful or superfluous, that it is almost as difficult to separate the former from the latter.

As for ancient geometrical analysis and modern algebra, even apart from the fact that they deal only in highly abstract matters that seem to have no practical application, the former is so closely tied to the consideration of figures that it is unable to exercise the intellect without greatly tiring the imagination, while in the latter case one is so much a slave to certain rules and symbols that it has been turned into a confused and obscure art that bewilders the mind instead of being a form of knowledge that cultivates it. This was why I thought that another method had to be found which retained the advantages of all three but was free from their defects.

I came to believe that … the following four [precepts] would be sufficient for my purposes, provided that I took a firm and unshakeable decision never once to depart from them.

  1. The first was never to accept anything as true that I did not incontrovertibly know to be so; that is to say, carefully to avoid  both prejudice and premature conclusions; and to include nothing in my judgements other than that which presented itself to my mind so clearly and distinctly, that I would have no occasion to doubt it.
  2. The second was to divide all the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as many as were required to solve them in the best way. [DIVISION]
  3. The third was to conduct my thoughts in a given order, beginning with the simplest and most easily understood objects, and gradually ascending, as it were step by step, to the knowledge of the most complex; and positing an order even on those which do not have a natural order of precedence. [SIMPLIFICATION]
  4. The last was to undertake such complete enumerations and such general surveys that I would be sure to have left nothing out. [ENUMERATION]

Part Three

Finally, just as it is not enough, before beginning to rebuild the house in which one lives, to do no more than demolish it, make provision for materials and architects, or become oneself trained as an architect, or even to have carefully drawn up the plans, but one must also provide oneself with another house in which one may be comfortably lodged while work is in progress; so also, in order not to remain indecisive in my actions while my reason was forcing me to be so in my judgements, and to carry on living from then on as happily as I could, I formed a provisional moral code for myself consisting in only three or four maxims, which I should like to share with you.

The first was to obey the laws and customs of my country, and to adhere to the religion in which God by His grace had me instructed from my childhood, and to govern myself in everything else according to the most moderate and least extreme opinions, being those commonly received among the wisest of those with whom I should have to live. For, having begun already to discount my own opinions because I wished to subject them all to rigorous examination, I was certain that I could do no better than to follow those of the wisest. … [Also] it seemed to me that the most useful thing to do would be to regulate my conduct by that of the people among whom I was to live; and that for me to know what their opinions really were, I had to take note of what they did rather than what they said.

My second maxim was to be as firm and resolute in my actions as I could, and to follow no less constantly the most doubtful opinions, once I had opted for them, than I would have if they had been the most certain ones. … This maxim was able from then on to free me from all the regret and remorse that usually troubles the consciences of weak and vacillating minds, who are inconsistent and allow themselves to follow certain practices as though they were good, that they later judge to be bad.

My third maxim was to endeavour always to master myself rather than fortune, to try to change my desires rather than to change the order of the world, and in general to settle for the belief that there is nothing entirely in our power except our thoughts, and after we have tried, in respect of things external to us, to do our best, everything in which we do not succeed is absolutely impossible as far as we are concerned.

Finally, as a conclusion to this moral code, I decided to review the various occupations that men have in this life, in order to try to select the best one. Without wishing to pass judgement on the occupations of others, I came to the view that I could do no better than to continue in the one in which I found myself, that is to say, to devote my life to the cultivation of my reason and make such progress as I could in the knowledge of the truth following the method I had prescribed for myself.

Once I had established these maxims, and set them aside in my mind with the truths of the faith which have always held first place in my beliefs, I took the decision that, as far as the rest of my opinions were concerned, I could freely undertake to rid myself of them.


Equality and Justice by David Miller — A Summary

Miller, David. 2002. “Equality and Justice.” Ratio 10 (3): 222–37.


The relationship between equality and justice is both complicated and frequently misunderstood. Should they be kept separate as some who claim that justice has nothing to do with equality except in the purely formal sense advocate? Or are they one and the same — principles that exist simultaneously — as some prominent philosophers who advocate distributive justice contend? These are the two broad currents of thought with respect to the principles of equality and justice.

If the second understanding is correct, the fact that these principles draw such different reactions in political debate must be explained. To declare oneself committed to justice would be to indulge in an exercise of banality whereas to declare oneself committed to equality (unless qualified and specified) would be politically hazardous. This points to the danger of amalgamating the two. However, there does seem to be a strong connection — at least stronger than what those in the first camp are willing to admit —between the two.

“I want to suggest a third view: there are two different kinds of valuable equality, one connected with justice, and the other standing independently of it.” The first is distributive and concerns distribution of benefits of a certain kind. The second is social — one might call it equality of status — and identifies a social ideal which stipulates recognition of persons as equals.


Justice is not always egalitarian. To render each her due, to use the classic formula, might require unequal distribution. There are cases, however, where justice has to be egalitarian.

For one, justice does require equal distribution when no one can lay claim to all or part of whatever it is that needs distribution. That’s to say that the benefit to be allocated is a divisible good whose existence no one can advance a claim for. Such cases may be called manna-from-heaven cases.

A second case where justice requires equal distribution is when a distribution has to be made in conditions of uncertainty about people’s respective claims. This may be extended to cases where the relevant criterion of distribution is need, but there is no sure way of knowing what different people’s relative needs are. The point being that sharing resources equally will minimise the expected deviation from a perfectly just distribution. It may be applied even to cases where there is a scepticism about the feasibility of measuring desert, in practice if not in principle. The idea here is that in real cases, it is nearly always impossible to disentangle what someone is responsible for from the effects of factors like their native endowments for which they are not responsible.

These two arguments are negative in nature. The first supposes that there are no relevant differences to be considered while the second supposes that there exist no proper evidence or computational skill to reach the just solution.

A third argument would contend that there are certain social groups whose members are entitled to equal treatment by virtue of membership. The claim to equality flows from the very fact of membership and the intuition that to deny a member an equal share of the advantages is unjust. Such a group could be anything from a local squash club to the political community.

It might be objected here that membership does not entitle one to an equal distribution but only to an absolute amount of something.

As a response, we might consider the case of rights of citizenship. There are a range of services that come with citizenship as citizenship rights. To take one of these rights, we might think about public transport. It is difficult to start thinking about the language that would be required to articulate demands for some absolute level of public transport. It would be difficult in other words to define a right to some absolute level of free movement. From the perspective of citizenship, what is important is that whatever transport system is adopted should as far as possible treat people equally.

But is the equality that is demanded in these groups anything more than contingent convention? In other words, isn’t it the case that the political community — this is even more intuitive in the case of the squash club — happened to be created such that members have equal rights.

It might be replied, although the objection is not completely off the mark, that the value the groups have would be lost if they were stratified. “Associating as equals provides us with a kind of recognition that is essential to the modern self.” Of course, it is not a universal truth about human beings that they need recognition in precisely this form, i.e., of equality, which is why the objection is not wholly off the mark. “But for people like us recognition must take this form, and so we insist that our most important memberships — above all membership of the nation-state — should be on the basis of equality.”


Now, an exploration of equality as a social ideal independent of justice (see Section I).

Social equality concerns how people regard on another, and how they conduct their social relations. It has little to do with actual configurations of power, prestige, wealth or physical endowments. What is of consequence is that despite inequality in terms of particular dimensions, say physical strength, as a member of the community, each enjoys an equal standing. This idea of social equality is deeply embedded in the moral consciousness of contemporary societies. When people recoil from equality, they are recoiling from across-the-board distributive equality.

Social equality is a kind of equality because it identifies a form of life where people treat one another as equals; where they act on the assumption that each person has an equal standing that transcends particular inequalities. The reason why social equality is valuable is because it — the horizontal linking of people — is the only feasible basis for solidarity, dignity, and respect.

While not itself a distributive ideal, social equality has distributive implications. First, it requires that our most important associations — the political community, for instance — should be formed on the basis of equality such that citizens have equal voting rights, equal welfare rights, and so forth. Second, it might shape other practices of distributive justice in that it will impose constraints on practices even if it does not determine their form. For instance, it will prevent the emergence of large-scale, cumulative inequalities of advantage which make it difficult for people to live together on terms of equality.

“To conclude: I believe that neither the cause of justice nor the cause of equality has been helped by political philosophers who have run the two ideas together under the heading of ‘egalitarian justice’. Instead, we need to think about two kinds of equality: equality in distribution, which in some cases (but not others) is a requirement of justice, and the quite distinct idea of equality of status, or social equality. This too has implications for distribution, but they are much less direct and depend upon sociological claims about the way in which differences in income or education, say, are converted into inequalities of social class.”


Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory by Robert Cox — A Summary

Cox, Robert W. 1981. “Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory.” Millennium 10 (2): 126–55.

It is common practice in academic disciplines to divide social reality into different spheres. This is a necessary exercise if practical knowledge is to be acquired. Such a division however is simply “a convenience of the mind” and is determined by the “peculiar times and places” in which the social reality is situated, i.e., its context. This implies that such a division cannot be sustained when the social reality changes.

International Relations is a case in point. Traditional IR built itself on the base of the subdivisions of “state” and “civil society”. This division was relevant to the two centuries preceding the birth of IR as a discipline when the state with limited functions (maintaining internal peace, external defence, managing the market) was distinct from the civil society based on contract and market relations. But today, the division is no longer clear-cut. (“State and civil society are so interpenetrated that the concepts have become almost purely analytical.”) This has greatly increased the complexity of (and as a corollary, the confusion with) the interactions as well as the institutions within which those interactions take place.

The influential trends of IR — neorealism which subordinates the state to anarchy, and neoliberalism which subordinates the state to transnational and intergovernmental interaction networks — have continued to maintain their focus on the traditional understanding of the state (“a state was a state was a state”). The result is that in IR, the plurality of the forms of the state expressing different state/society complexes have not been considered.

On Perspectives and Purposes

“Theory is always for someone and for some purpose.” That is to say, all theories have perspectives which are derived from the ‘peculiar’ social and political reality, and that there is no such thing as theory in itself.

The social reality imposes constraints (which manifest as problems) upon the perspective of a theory. It is the duty of theory to come to grips with these problems. When the reality changes, as it inevitably will, theory has to adjust or reject its old concepts and/or forge new ones. This is the dialectic between the perspective and the problematic which has to evolve as the context evolves.

Given a particular problematic, theory can either offer simple and direct diagnoses to the problems in terms of the particular perspective or it can also be reflective upon itself and attempt to open up new perspectives. In short, theory can be either problem-solving or critical.

“[Problem-solving theory] takes the world as it finds it, with the prevailing social and power relationships and the institutions into which they are organised, as the given framework for action. The general aim of problem-solving is to make these relationships and institutions work smoothly by dealing effectively with particular sources of trouble.”

Problem-solving theories are fragmented into different spheres or problem areas as they do not question the general patterns of institutions and relations. Their fixity on specific problem areas makes them more precise and enables them to arrive at strong inferences and prescriptions. However, this fixation on specific problem areas and on a continuing present makes them ahistorical.

 “[Critical theory] stands apart from the prevailing order of the world and asks how that order came about. It, unlike problem-solving theory, does not take institutions and social and power relations for granted but calls them into question by concerning itself with their origins and how and whether they might be in the process of changing.”

Critical theories, although they start from a particular sphere, are broader in that they are concerned with the political and social complex as a whole. They seek to understand processes of change meaning that they have to continually adjust their concepts and the methods of enquiry. As a result, critical theories lack the precision of problem-solving theories. Despite this, or rather because of this, they are able to deal with the vicissitudes of history.

Problem-solving theory … aims to solve the problems arising in various parts of a complex whole in order to smooth the functioning of the whole. This aim rather belies the frequent claim of problem-solving theory to be value-free. It is methodologically value-free insofar as it treats the variables it considers as objects; but it is value-bound by virtue of the fact that it implicitly accepts the prevailing order as its own framework. (emphasis mine)

If critical theories see problem-solving theories as conservative, problem-solving theories accuse critical theories of not having practical application. If problem-solving theories accept the prevailing order, critical theories transcend it. If critical theory can inform strategic action for bringing about an alternative order, problem-solving theory is a guide to tactical actions that sustain the existing order. If periods of stability, like the Cold War, favour problem-solving theory, periods of uncertainty, like the 1970s, require critical theory.

Realism, Marxism and an Approach to a Critical Theory of World Order

Realist thinking about IR began as a historical approach going back at least to the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli. So long as realist thought studied the conduct of states as a reaction to specific historical circumstance, it was a contribution to critical theory. The works of Friedrich Meinecke and E.H. Carr belong to this mode of thought.

However, post-war American theorists such as Hans Morgenthau and Kenneth Waltz turned realism (hereafter, neo-realism) into problem-solving theory. This form of theorising assumes three levels of reality, namely (a) the self-interested nature of man, (b) the security-oriented nature of states, and (c) the anarchic nature of the state system. Having assumed all these, history then becomes, for the neo-realist, a quarry from where convenient examples may be mined.

Moreover, neo-realism presumes that such a characterisation of reality will be accepted by all actors. Neo-realism not only depends on the adoption of this neo-realist rationality but actively advocates the adoption of such a rationality. And it is precisely this advocacy, this “proselytising function”, which invalidates neo-realist claims about its value-free character.

The error … consists in taking a form of thought derived from a particular phase of history and assuming it to be universally valid. This is an error of neo-realism and more generally, the flawed foundation of all problem-solving theory.

For our purposes, it is necessary to distinguish two divergent Marxist currents … There is a Marxism [historical materialism] which reasons historically and seeks to explain, as well as to promote, changes in social relations; there is also a Marxism [structural Marxism], designed as a framework for the analysis of capitalist state and society which turns its back on historical knowledge in favour of the more static and abstract conceptualisation of the mode of production.

By contrast, Marxism in its approach to history, i.e., historical materialism, is a foremost source of critical theory and it corrects neo-realism in four important aspects.

First, through its use of the dialectic (in the Hegelian sense of the term), historical materialism sees conflict as fuelling the change in human nature and the social relations that govern human existence. In contrast, neo-realism sees conflict as inherent in the human condition.

In other words, neo-realism sees conflict as a recurrent consequence of a continuing structure, whereas historical materialism sees conflict as a possible cause of structural change.

Second, historical materialism adds a vertical dimension to power by examining imperialism whereas neo-realism is almost exclusively concerned about the horizontal dimension of rivalry.

Third, historical materialism engages with both the state and civil society, and in thinking about ‘structure’ and ‘superstructure’, it sees the state/society complexes as constituent entities of a world order.

Fourth, historical materialism treats the production process as a critical feature of the state/society complex. Neo-realism virtually ignores it.

This discussion has distinguished two kinds of theorising as a preliminary to proposing a critical approach to a theory of world order. Some of the basic premises for such a critical theory can now be restated:

(1) an awareness that action is never absolutely free but takes place within a framework for action which constitutes its problematic.

(2) a realisation that not only action but also theory is shaped by the problematic. Critical theory is conscious of its own relativity but through this consciousness can achieve a broader time-perspective and become less relative than problem-solving theory.

(3) the framework for action changes over time and a principal goal of critical theory is to understand these changes;

(4) this framework has the form of an historical structure, a particular combination of thought patterns, material conditions and human institutions which has a certain coherence among its elements.

(5) the framework or structure within which action takes place is to be viewed, not from the top in terms of the requisites for its equilibrium or reproduction (which would quickly lead back to problem-solving), but rather from the bottom or from outside in terms of the conflicts which arise within it and open the possibility of its transformation.

Frameworks for Action: Historical Structures

A framework for action or a historical structure refers to a particular configuration of forces. Three categories of forces interact in a structure: material capabilities, ideas and institutions.

Figure 1

Material capabilities can be productive or destructive. In their dynamic form, they exist as technological and organisational capabilities and in their accumulated forms, they exist as natural resources which technology can transform.

Ideas can consist of “intersubjective meanings” i.e., “shared notions of the nature of social relations which tend to perpetuate habits and expectations of behaviour”. Ideas can also consist of “collective images”, i.e., “differing views as to both the nature and the legitimacy of prevailing power relations”.

It is the clash of rival collective images which provide the potential for alternative paths of development that will challenge the relatively enduring character of intersubjective meanings.

Institutions are particular mixtures of ideas and material capabilities which influence their own further development. Institutionalisation stabilises and perpetuates a particular order.

Historical structures represent “limited totalities” i.e., “[they do] not represent the whole world but rather a particular sphere of human activity in its historically located totality”. For this discussion, the method of historical structures is applied to “three levels or spheres of activity: (a) the organisation of production, more particularly with regard to the social forces engendered by the production process: (b) forms of state as derived from a study of state/society complexes; and (c) world orders, i.e. the particular configurations of forces which successively define the problematic of war or peace for the ensemble of states”.

These three levels are interrelated. Changes in the organisation of production engender new social forces (to recast Carr’s argument, “the incorporation of industrial workers”) that alter the structure of states (“economic nationalism and imperialism”) which further helps determine the world order (“fragmentation of the world economy”). Transnational social forces affect the forms which states take. Forms of state also affect the development of social forces.

Figure 2

Hegemony and World Orders

How do we make sense of these reciprocal relationships in the current historical time?

Neo-realism reduces states and by extension the world order to a configuration of material forces. States are undifferentiated and the normative elements of world order are ignored.

Robert Keohane, in his theory of hegemonic stability, introduces “precise and well-obeyed” norms enforced by a hegemon as determining components of a hegemonic world order. The pax britannica of the mid-Nineteenth century and the pax americana of the post-war period are clear illustrations of this theory.

A third way is to view the world order as a coherent configuration of material power, the prevalent norms and a set of institutions which administer the order.

Dominance by a powerful state may be a necessary but not a sufficient condition of hegemony.

The marriage of power, ideas and institutions as explanatory factors of world order maps well to the historical stages of pax britannica and pax americana. The former comprised British naval supremacy, liberal economics and the ideological separation of politics from economics. The latter comprised American military might, liberalism embodied in the Bretton‑Woods system and the proliferation of formal international institutions.

Social Forces, Hegemony and Imperialism

If the world order is a fit between power, ideas and institutions, a theory is required that would explain how this fit comes about and why it comes apart when it does. The contention here is that such fitting together and coming apart can be explained by social forces shaped by production relations.

Social forces are not limited within but transcend state boundaries. The world order can be represented as a configuration of interacting social forces. The role of the state is that of an autonomous intermediary with social forces, and not material capability, constituting the bases of power. This perspective may be called the political economy perspective of the world. It explains the structural characteristics of the world order, its origins, growth, and demise, in terms of the interrelationships of the three levels structures, i.e., social forces, forms of state and world orders (see above, Figure 2).

The theoretical section of the paper, and with it, my interest, ends here.

The rest of the section maps the foregoing insight into the basis and demise of pax britannica along with the various stages of imperialism that came after: liberal imperialism, colonial  imperialism, and the imperial state system.

Subsequent sections try to, “[s]ince the practical issue at the present is whether or not the pax americana has irretrievably come apart and if so what may replace it”, answer two specific questions: “(1) what are the mechanisms for maintaining hegemony in this particular historical structure? and (2) what social forces and/or forms of state have been generated within it which could oppose and ultimately bring about a transformation of the structure?”.

The internationalisation of the state and the institutionalisation of hegemony (both through the Bretton-Woods system) is offered as a partial answer to the first. Supplementing this is the integration of production processes on a transnational scale which, “plays the formative role in relation to the structure of states”. At present, it is “international production is mobilising social forces, and it is through  these forces that its major political consequences vis-a-vis the nature of states and future world orders may be anticipated”.

Concerning the second question, three possible outcomes are offered. First, a new hegemony being based upon the global structure of social power generated by the internationalising of production. Second, a non-hegemonic world structure of conflicting power centres through the ascendancy in several core countries of neo-mercantilist coalitions. And third, the development of a counter-hegemony based on a Third World coalition against core country dominance and aiming towards the autonomous development of peripheral countries and the termination of the core-peripheral relationship.


Two Concepts of Secularism: Reason, Modernity, and Archimedean Ideal by Akeel Bilgrami — A Summary

Bilgrami, Akeel. 1994. “Two Concepts of Secularism: Reason, Modernity and Archimedean Ideal.” Economic and Political Weekly 29 (28): 1749–61.

This summary is part of a planned series on secularism. The subject of this particular article however is the “familiar dialectic between the concept of nation and that of religious community”. What this dialectic is and what it entails for secularism might not be ‘familiar’ at all to the clueless student! Given my aim to survey the debate on secularism in particular and also given the sophisticated, if general, philosophical issues that Akeel Bilgrami is considering, the summary will focus on the former (Sections II and III) but exclude the latter (Sections I and IV).

What is specifically of interest for this summary is Bilgrami’s engagement with Ashis Nandy’s critique of secularism (seen in such works as “The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance”, “An Anti-Secularist Manifesto”, and “Secularism on the Run”).

Bilgrami also engages with Partha Chatterjee’s Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse. He argues that Chatterjee fails to keep his promise “by creating a gap between the sort of critique which is offered in the book and the more distant philosophical target it had hoped to hit.” What Chatterjee’s philosophical target is, and what his critique actually turns out to be (according to Bilgrami, at least) are explored in Section I. How the gap between the two may be filled is tentatively teased by advancing some rather general (philosophical) considerations in Section IV.

To summarise Sections I and IV very briefly, Bilgrami expresses scepticism that “there is a determinate and determining conceptual tie between the paradigms of objectivist notions of reason on the one hand and the specifically technological and controlling frames of mind” — western liberal secularism is one of those frames, for Nandy — “that are exercised in the modern states and societies we have so appallingly and uncritically constructed.” More bluntly, Bilgrami asserts that “there is about as much connection between belief in the power of science and secular attitudes as there is between belief in god and moral behaviour. That is to say, none.”

If this scepticism about the alleged connection holds any water, the critiques of Chatterjee and Nandy must fail, for their diagnoses of nationalism and secularism respectively hinge on this assumed necessary connection. The general point is that “these pairs of things are composed of unbridgeably distinct propositions, and sometimes we should acknowledge that it is far more interesting to register a distinction than to make implausible connections.” This might seem like a remote philosophical point but it has significant consequences for political understanding and action.

It is the confidence in this connection that undergirds Michel Foucault’s attack on not this or that codification but on the very idea of codification itself which (i.e., codification) has created a monstrously distant and alienating form of power. Behind this codification lies conceptions of reason and knowledge. The influence of Foucault on Chatterjee is obvious. It coincides with the analysis of Nandy as well. However, Bilgarmi contends that “it is politically [emphasis mine] vital to resist this tempting generalising intellectual transition because at our historical juncture of unalterable post-enlightenment modernity, there is no possibility of political agency left that does not build upon counter-codes or resistance.”

Bilgrami adds: “The dismissal of the very idea of resistance that builds upon its own counter-codes to particular statist and capitalist exercises of power, is one of the more glib and uncritical legacies of Foucault’s influence on current thinking; and it yields unconstructive, nostalgist theoretical positions to counter the specific forms of power that he and those influenced by him have themselves often usefully analysed.”

If you find this interesting and even a little accessible, I’d recommend reading the paper in full even more than I usually would.


Given the extremity of recent communalist tendency [this paper was written in 1994 when, amongst many others, the memory of the riots following the demolition of the Babri Masjid was still fresh], the success of Nehru’s brand of secularism can best be described as a “holding process”. That’s to say, a success of a very limited kind.

Ashis Nandy’s explanation is that there was something fundamentally flawed about Nehru’s secular vision itself. He draws a distinction between religions as ways of life [“accommodating, non-monolithic and pluralist religious folk traditions of Hinduism and Islam”] and religions as constructed ideologies [“Brahmanical BJP and the Muslim League versions of them”]. The fundamental flaw, Nandy explains, lay in equating religion with the latter and not the former.

This is a critique of modernity by implication, the claim being that the modern conception of nationhood and its statecraft is the cause of the distorted ideological constructions of religion which overrun the innocent ways-of-life meaning of religions. This being so, the secular visions, such as the one advanced by Nehru, constructed to combat the communal and sectarian, that’s to say ideological, distortions of religion cannot but be ideological, oppressive, nationalist, and statist. This is a form of critique that is critical of Hindu nationalism as well. The logic is simple: Hindu nationalism is as much a construction of the modern as is this particular Nehruvian brand of secularism. The cure, it is easy to see where the argument is going, then lies in recovering religion is its pre-modern, accommodating, and non-monolithic folk avatars.

The claim is that [Nehruvian secularism] is an alien imposition upon a people who have never wished to separate religion from politics in their every day life and thinking, and therefore leaves that people no choice but to turn to the only religious politics allowed by modernity's stranglehold, i.e., Hindu nationalism. Thus secular tyranny breeds Hindu nationalist resistance, which threatens with the promise of its own form of tyranny. Such are the travails that modernity has visited upon us.

This critique and diagnosis, however, is greatly weakened by its “narrowing and uncritical anti-nationalism, its skewed historiography, and its traditionalist nostalgia”.

First, nationalism is hardly the transparent thing that Nandy assumes it to be. Its variety across and even within stages of its evolution makes its a frustrating concept to analyse. Consider the following nationalisms and see if they can be usefully analysed together as the same phenomenon: Palestinian, Zionist, Bismarckian and Nazi. Or closer to the purposes of the essay, consider Jinnah’s and the Muslim League’s nationalism in its first two decades with, his nationalism after several frustrated dealings with the Congress Party in the 20s and his return to India after his failures in England. The point is that we cannot diagnose the failures of Nehru’s secularism by mobilising some transparently grasped notion of ‘nationalism’.

The defence could still argue that for all its opaqueness, nationalism is clearly defined by an exclusivity. But what makes nationalism the opaque concept that it is is its neurotic inclusivity. It is inclusivity that’s the central defining feature. That nationalism is exclusive is merely peripheral.

It might still be contended, in defence of Nandy, that there often lie underlying exclusivities in most cases of inclusivism. However, this has mostly to do with a dominant economic centre finding it necessary to exclude the interests of the regional masses even as they are included superficially into the nation. This is the case with the dominant and centrist Punjabi ruling-elite in Pakistan doing its best to hold on to the investible resources of the economy by perpetrating an inclusivist, unifying nationalist image.

And in granting this form of exclusivism, the burden of exclusivism is offloaded from nationalism and onto some set of economic interests. The main work seems then to be done by capitalism and not nationalism. Nandy’s uncritical anti-nationalism fails to recognise this.

Second, behind this uncritical anti-nationalism lies a historiographical naivete which hides the fact that the important elements of Brahmanism were in place well before the arrival of modernity. Such naivete makes the yearning for a pluralist and accommodative folk tradition of religion attractive. True, the monolithic, majoritarian, pseudo-unifying Hinduism is a construct, as Nandy characterises it, but it is a construct that goes back a long way into history, much further back than Nandy is willing to admit.

Of course, it is obvious that the communal passion unleashed by the Hindu nationalists is a recent frenzy and it can be explained by reference to accumulated ideological efforts to undermine brahmanical hegemony. One quickly thinks of Mandal and its aftermath. But the conclusion that should be drawn from this is not that that passion is a modern creation, as Nandy does, but that the rise ad fall in intensity of a particular long-standing phenomenon, of militant Brahmanism in this case which pre-dates modernity, can still be understood through local historical explanations.

... [T]o the extent that categories such as ‘modernity’ have explanatory force at all, it is only because this or that aspect of modern life and polity offer local explanations of local changes in non-local phenomena (such as brahminism) that often pre-date modernity.

...[O]nce we give up the primacy of periodisation and accept the fact of the accumulation and consolidation of long present tendencies in our understanding of Hindu nationalism, we are less likely to think of these modem consolidations of it as effaceable for a return to a more traditional Hindu mentality that Nandy favours.

To call brahminical Hinduism as constructed is to, at the same time, assert that it is not a figment. From saying that something is constructed, it does not follow that that something is easily effaceable and malleable. Constructions are often entrenched. Afterall, they are not figments. They are “fused into the polity, and into the sensibility of citizens” and therefore, one must “look instead for constraints to be placed upon them rather than to think in terms of their eradication or effacement”.

Of course, discussions should be had on such important matters as the propriety of capital-intensive technologies or the increasing centralisation of government. But such a discussion would not amount to Nandy’s conception of a pre-modern political psyche where the present communal tendencies would be absent. The spheres of religion and politics are by now entrenched in Indian society. That’s why Nandy’s traditionalist nostalgia is misplaced. In fact, it is for this reason that Nehruvian secularism envisaged separation.

It seems to me quite one-sided then to place the blame for Hindu nationalism on its internal dialectical opposition, for it seems quite wrong under these circumstances of electoral domocracy that are here to stay to see a yearning to bring religion back into politics as something that is an ‘innocent’ protest against the tyrannies of Nehru's secularism.

It is no more proper then, given the circumstances of ineradicable modernity and given the demands of Indian political life today, to yearn for an allegedly innocent religion to be brought back into politics any more than it is feasible to realise the Nehruvian separation of religion and politics.


There is a strand of truth in the contemporary critique of Nehruvian secularism in that it was an imposition. However, it was not an intrusive modernist imposition of the sort Nandy describes. Rather, it was an imposition in the sense that “it assumed that secularism stood outside the substantive arena of political commitments”. This might well be taken to mean that secularism was a statist imposition but that is not the claim being made here. Rather, the claim here is that secularism was not the outcome of a negotiation between different communities.

There is no reason to think that a scepticism about Nehru's secularism along these lines should amount in itself to a critique of the very idea of statehood, because there is nothing inherent in the concept of the state which makes it logically impossible that it should adopt such a substantive, negotiated policy outcome, difficult though it may be to fashion such a state in the face of decades of its imposition of a non-negotiated secularism.

This critique of secularism applies even prior to independence and for that reason, it cannot not be taken as a critique of the idea of statehood.

Because the Congress party was secular, it represented all communities; and because it represented all communities, it refused Jinnah’s suggestion for Muslim, Sikh, and Harijan leaders for their respective communities. This refusal ensured that secularism failed to “emerge out of a creative dialogue between these different communities”. The foregoing logic assumed secularism’s Archimedean existence and gave it procedural priority but the resulting refusal gave it no abiding substantive authority.

As a result it could be nothing more than a holding process, already under strain in the time of its charismatic architect, but altogether ineffective in the hands of his opportunist familial heirs. It is this archimedeanism of doctrine, and not its statist imposition, that I think is the deepest flaw in Nehru's vision and it has nothing essential to do with modernity and its various Nandian cognates: rationality, science, technology, industry, bureaucracy...

By the way, none of the above assumes either Jinnah’s and the Muslim League’s mass appeal or the propriety of the elitist fora at which Jinnah articulated his demands as the loci for creative dialogue between communities. But the essential point of critique, that Nehruvian secularism did not emerge out of a negotiation, still remains.

Of course, considering the size, nature, and composition of the Congress party, it could be argued that an implicit and tacit negotiation had already taken place. This is something that Nehru, in a sense, always had at the back of his mind. But that is an assumption and a line of argument that needs further scrutiny.

The problem with this argument is not so much that the initial premise is false but rather that the conclusion cannot be theoretically derived by any confirmational and evidential procedure. There is no bridge, to use a metaphor, to carry across the conclusion of an implicit negotiation from the initial premise about the Congress party’s compositeness.

...[T]o claim that the mere fact of compositeness amounts to an implicit negotiation among the compositional communal elements which would yield such a secularism, is a sophistical move which does nothing to bridge that gap in the argument. It is a mere fraudulent labelling of a non-existing bridging argumentative link between compositeness and, what I am calling, a ‘substantive’ secularism.

Even if the argument was justified at some point, it is now painfully obvious that the premise no longer holds. It is thus increasingly certain that secularism has been imposed (in the special sense in which the word has been used in this essay). If secularism is an imposition in this sense, in opposition to the idea of it being a modernist intrusion, the right reaction would not be to hark back nostalgically to a pre-modern India but to realise that secularism as a value can only emerge through negotiation between the substantive commitments of particular religious communities. Both its substantive and procedural aspects must be negotiated from the ground up.

This alternative secularism, emergent rather than imposed, will see itself as one among other doctrines such as Islam and Hinduism. But it will also be substantive, unlike Islam and Hinduism, in that it will result out of negotiation and will not therefore have an Archimedean status.

If secularism transcends religious politics in the way I am suggesting, it does so from within, it does not do so because it has a shimmering philosophical existence separate from religious political commitments, nor because it is established by constitutional fiat by a pan-Indian elite unconcerned and unrealistic about the actual sway of religion. It does so rather because after climbing up the ladder of religious politics (via a dialogue among acknowledged substantive religious commitments in politics) this emergent secularism might be in a position to kick that ladder of religious politics away in politics.

To be more than a holding process, secularism will have to acknowledge not only the inseparability of religion from politics but also the entrenched facts of political life. To think of secularism in this way is to realise that there is reason enough for the vague anti-Nehru feeling that is prevalent in this day. But crucially, it also ensures that the wrong conclusions (those of the Hindu nationalists, Muslim communalists and even Ashis Nandy) are not derived from this vague feeling.

How must that negotiation be done? The answer will have to await another paper. But its worth pointing out some issues that will have to be addressed. First, there is the danger that the negotiation that takes place at the provincial level will fail because it does not abide by the centralised interests. Second, given the prominence of extremist voices in today’s political climate, it would be very difficult for the conflicted communities to sustain the moderate leadership required to negotiate the secular ideal.