Thread on politics

The origins of Left vs Right divide stem back to the last days of Roman republic when you had the Populares vs Optimates

The conservative aristocrats who upheld Senate power (Cato, Cicero)

The populist strongmen who wanted to undermine elites (Julius Caesar)
So in the Roman Republic -

The Right was represented by the senate aristocrats. The elites. For whom the Republic was sacred. Who feared concentration of power in an individual. Who feared populism

The Left was represented by Caesar - the populist strongman
So the Right vs Left divide was one of "Elites vs masses"

You could say it was something v similar even 1800 years later during French revolution

You had the old world conservatives who were skeptical of the Revolution (Edmund Burke)

And the radicals who favored it (Tom Paine)
In 19th century England, it took on a slightly different dimension

The Left / Liberals was now represented by bourgeoisie advocates. Those who favored "new money" (businessmen, industrialists)

The "conservatives" were the ones who favored "old money" (agricultural landlords)
In fact the "conservative" Tories of the 19th century sought an alliance of "old elites" (nobles, landlords) and masses - giving rise to Tory Radicalism (as represented by Lord Derby, Disraeli)

We call its modern avatar "compassionate conservatism" today.
These Tories were not that big on "Free market". They were ok with tariffs.

They also pushed for electoral reform, widening of franchise. As they felt patronizing the working class will help counter the liberal constituency as represented by te "middle classes"
Sure there were some Tories who chose to be v "pro free market" like Peel. But Peelites petered out, merged with Liberals

So in 19th century England, the Libs was "pro market", "pro middle class"

The conservatives were paternalists. Pro old elite, progenitors of welfare state
In the US, the evolution was slightly different...

Over there at the genesis of the American Republic, the Right was represented by the Hamiltonian Federalists.

Who were pro business, though not necessarily pro-free market. Aggressive modernizers. Strong state advocates
In contrast, the Left was represented by Democratic populists led by Thomas Jefferson. Who called themselves the "Democratic Republicans"
The Jeffersonians interestingly were more aggressively for laissez faire than Hamiltonians

But their sympathies were with the old elites. The agriculturalists, landlords. Not so much pro-business
So the 19th cen US model was

Left (Democratic Republicans later Democratic Party) -> Populist, pro slavery, weak state advocates

Right (Federalists -> Whigs -> Republican Party) :
Pro urban elite. Big business. Anti-slavery. Strong state. Modernizers
Now this is interesting because depending on what you want to call "Right vs Left", you could easily term the Jeffersonian tradition to be "right wing" and the Hamiltonian tradition to be "left wing"

Though conventionally we think of Jefferson as representing the Left.
This state of affairs sort of continued till the Great Depression. When tables turned...

In UK, we now had a new force - the Labor party (non existent in 19th cen)

And in the US, the Democratic Party became the party of the working classes
So by the time we reach the 1960s-70s we had a different configuration...

Conservatives (both in UK and US) were now the "pro-market", "pro-business" party

The Democratic party / Labor party was now pro working classes, pro ethnic minorities
But also the rural white vote was now shifting from Democratic to Republican party

So by 1980s, the Republican party was beginning to look v much like the Jeffersonian "Left"

Pro market, states rights, pro farmers....but also curiously big business (unlike Jeffersonians)
What we have seen over the past 20 years is yet another reconfiguration

Even the "working class" urban vote has now moved to the Republican party

The Democratic party now interestingly has a significant chunk of the urban elite vote (largely because of the rise of culture wars)
So we now have lots of big businesses supporting Democratic party (Silicon valley types)

The divides in politics are more around "cultural" issues and attitudes towards religion, immigration, gender. Than the old economic divides
In India, Modi is a bit like Disraeli conservative wing of the 19th cen

Welfare orientation.. welding an alliance of "trad" support base (hindu conservatives) and masses (through intelligent welfare schemes) + strongly nationalistic

He is a conservative "radical" so to speak
The other side is all confused at the moment...

To my mind if it needs a future, the Left in India should position itself as pro middle class, pro free market, socially liberal yet not hostile to religion, also nationalistic

Something akin to the Whigs of 19th century England
The other alternative for the "Left" is to turn very strongly sub-altern

Emphasize the Dalit / Dravidian faultlines

Not a bad strategy...but then Modi won't let that happen. As he is hardly a "social conservative"

His outreach to the subalterns has been admirable
So Modi has his bases covered...

He is nationalistic (Art 370, CAA)
He is "trad" (Ram mandir, EWS)
He is an effective welfarist (direct subsidies, JAM)
He is compassionate and "broad minded" (quotes in Tamil whenever possible)

So where do you attack him?
He is the Disraeli of our age. A Tory radical...

His rival has to approach him from the standpoint of the aspirational urban middle classes...

Where economic growth has stagnated

That's his weakest link

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More from @shrikanth_krish

20 Sep
Argument against alcohol should not take the form of Hindu traditionalists vs rest

It is too important a battle to be fought that way

Argue in secular terms. Cite movements in the West
(Tyler Cowen for e.g. has taken stances against alcohol)
Shastra based arguments can backfire here..

Though I have myself cited Manu Smriti against alcohol on twitter once or twice

Secular arguments are a safer bet
In terms of prohibition, I don't think it is as crazy an idea as I once thought..

Of course there will be non compliance...

But it will at least signal to society that alcohol is not "cool"
Read 4 tweets
19 Sep
A counter-factual question

What if Indus-valley civilization had not been discovered in the 1920s by John Marshall-led ASI?

How different would Indian politics be today?

Before IVC the narrative was "Aryans civilized the Indian aborigines"

Post IVC, the narrative became "Aryans displaced / destroyed a pre-existing Harappan civ - possibly Dravidian speaking"
Had IVC never been discovered, we could have stayed with the first narrative

That might have meant less resistance to Aryan / brahminical culture in the body politic

Less resistance to "Sanskritization" in the MN Srinivas sense
Read 4 tweets
19 Sep
In a recent discussion with @omarali50, there was discussion on the "central message" of the Vedas

I don't think it was adequately answered

It raises an important question - how do Vedantic ideas percolate daily life

Some thoughts on "quotidian" manifestations of these ideas
Now when we talk of Vedantic literature there are two ideas that sort of stand out -

1. The notion that the truth is eluding us because we are in the grip of avidya, ignorance. (this is central to Advaitin interpretations)

E.g. Brahma satyam Jagat Mithya

2. Another notion that sort of gets delineated in more theistic Vedantic interpretations is the notion of spontaneous divine grace

This comes in the Brahma sutras (2.1.33 I think) , where it is suggested that creation is the result of the BhagavAn's "Leela" (his playfulness)
Read 8 tweets
15 Sep
On gay rights and gay marriage -

Passing no value judgments here. But the debates on this topic cannot be divorced from the larger narrative of long-term secularization of life, and decline of hetero-sexual marriage as a religious bond
This in turn cannot be divorced from how we view ourselves.

Do we see ourselves as isolated, atomized individuals? Or as a part of an unbroken chain?

Does our interest in the universe begin and end with our lives?

These are important questions
When marriage ceases to be a "religious" bond, it reduces into merely a legal formalization of a romantic relationship. Kids are incidental. Not necessary.

With that mindset, it is inevitable that gay unions acquire a certain equivalence with heterosexual relationships
Read 7 tweets
12 Sep
On this Periyar speech

The deeper frustration he articulates here is

Why is the 3% doing so great despite being numerically overpowered by a factor of 32?

That's the subtext

The answer to that is "cultural capital".
Not wilful exploitation

He never got that
Not all groups start at the same level

Groups develop certain cultural and intellectual predilections which can be v sticky

In the pre-industrial world, these differences didn't matter much

With the advent of modernity, cultural capital translated to economic rifts
My hunch is that the brahmin groups that settled down in tamil country at different points between 0 CE and 1000 CE were "different" in culture right at the start of their engagement with the tamil country

They were different then. They are different now
Read 7 tweets
12 Sep
Much of H-Right's discourse is centered on countering the "Abrahamic" threat


But far less time is spent in developing an intellectual counter to "Liberalism" - the dominant ideology of not just the West, but of modernity more broadly
There's a lack of clarity on how to engage with fundamental Liberal premises

Be it the idea of the individual
The notion of equality
The idea of progress
The focus on "material riches" / an obsession with reality and denial of the "invisible" / Soul
H-RIght tends to think everything through the prism of "Abrahamic vs pagan", "monotheist vs polytheist"

But Liberalism (even though it has been influenced by Christianity) is a more formidable rival

Its premises are not predicated on an acceptance of the Abrahamic religions
Read 4 tweets

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