What Is Self-Rule?
Behind the screen of flux and turbulence, our age seems to be pervaded worldwide by a dominant idea: the idea of “democracy” or at least the aspiration of “democratization.” Despite the immense diversity of social and cultural traditions, humankind today seems agreed on the superiority of democracy over any competing alternative. People of diverse political convictions—from conservative to radical—all share at least the proposition that, to be legitimate, governments need popular approval and guidance. Seen in this light, humankind seems indeed united by a common purpose or telos—whose meaning, however, appears puzzling on closer inspection. For, what is the meaning of democracy when translated as popular self-government or self-rule? How can the people govern themselves— more precisely: how can the people be both rulers and the ruled, and perform their roles legitimately without domination or oppression? In the well-known phrase of Lincoln—“government of the people, by the people, for the people”—How can the people exercise government (by the people) over themselves (of the people) and do so in way as to promote the common good (for the people)? Differently and more simply put: How can the self rule itself? How is popular self-rule—or to use the Indian term, swaraj— possible and even conceivable?
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- 1.St. Augustine, The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (New York: Modern Library, 1950), p. 35.Google Scholar
- 2.M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, ed. Anthony J. Parel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 26–28. Originally composed in Gujarati, the text was translated into English by Gandhi himself. It is one of the great merits of Parel’s edition to provide at crucial junctures a comparison of the English version with the Gujarati original.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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