An Organized Hypocrisy?
By Ravi Perera
Benjamin Disraeli is once said to have called a Conservative government in England “An organized hypocrisy”. If Disraeli’s judgment of 19th Century politics was harsh then, surely today’s political goings on would be damnable by his standards. However backward its ideology may sound to a 21st century mind, there is no denying the idealism that motivated most of the politicians of that era. Politics then was the preserve of the well to do, the educated and the loyal. A person then rarely took to politics to make it in life. According to the historians one of the underpinnings of the successful British Empire was the leadership given and the example set by its elite classes.
A sure sign of a superior mind is the ability to look at things objectively. Benjamin Disraeli was one of the pivotal characters in the evolution of the modern Conservative party of Great Britain. He was born to a Jewish family which originated in Portugal. (He however was baptized). In those times his election to the office of Prime Minister was as revolutionary as Barack Obama, a black man whose ancestors were slaves, being elected the President of the United States and thereby the most powerful man in the world. Only in a culture of a certain kind and in a confirmed meritocracy can such things happen. By the way, Disraeli was also a writer, with several acclaimed novels such as “Sybil” and “Vivian Grey” to his credit.
When Disraeli called the Conservative party a hypocrisy, though well organized, it was his own creation that Disraeli was describing. It is illustrative of the brilliance of his mind and the general critical temper of the British culture that they can handle criticism of an institution and yet see it in perspective. His clear eyed analysis did not make Disraeli less of a Conservative. There seems to be a certain largeness about their attitudes and thoughts. It is an undeniable fact, remarkable considering the relative smallness of Britain, that many of the world’s widely recognized laws, liberal ideas and rights and freedoms owe their origin to men and women born in that clime and culture.
Coming to the miracle of Asia, as some would have it, we often look in vain for such liberality, leave alone objectivity. Even the tag “miracle” seems to be the creation of juvenile minds hoping their wishes would ride. Such a proclamation certainly cannot be based on an objective analysis of hard facts and figures. On no reasonable basis can we claim to have done anything deserving the term “miraculous”. Much smaller countries have far larger economies. Looking at any collective or even individual performance here the word that readily suggests itself is “mediocre”. After all, since about the late 20 Century several Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and even giant China have delivered results in terms of both economic as well as social advancement which could be described as “remarkable”. We are far behind on any comparative basis.
The Oxford Dictionary describes “hypocrisy” as the simulation of virtue or goodness.
One of the notable events of our recent history is the imprisonment of former General Sarath Fonseka who was the main opposition candidate at the last Presidential elections. As we understand, the main allegations against him were to do with a conflict of interests situation in an army procurement tender and a public statement which was thought to be in derogation of the military code of conduct. It is also known that some relatives of his are facing charges to do with the non-declaration of assets including foreign currency among others charges.
From this scenario we could conclude that our legal and ethical standards are very much opposed to persons in authority placing themselves in positions where there could be a conflict of interests, particularly concerning their relatives and friends. This could be either real or even a potential conflict of interests.
We can also infer that in this country we take such things as military and even public service regulations very seriously. No public servant, in other words a person enjoying any kind of emolument or benefit from public funds, should be involved in partisan politics.
Thirdly, we can assume that non-declaration of things like foreign currency, otherwise earned legitimately, to the authorities is taken as a serious lapse – whoever the offender.
Future historians will note that this was a period when the government of Sri Lanka faced continuous challenges to its legitimacy, mainly from a foreign perspective, and particularly from Western countries. There is no challenge to the idea of the State of Sri Lanka. A State is defined by some legal interpreters as a political organization with a centralized government holding a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a certain territory. We can immediately see in such a description wide scope for interpretation. The problem for the outsiders seems to be with the government of the day, or more precisely how the government is using the powers of the State.
For example does the term “legitimate use of force” mean use of force according to a known set of laws and rules or does it mean total discretion in the hands of those in command? It is widely perceived that as to who will be dealt with by the law and who will be ignored by it, seems to be a very personal thing in this country.
When we attend international parleys we do so as representatives of a legitimate State. A modern State is defined more by what its leaders cannot do and perhaps even will not do rather than could do and would do. If we have leaders who consider the fact of election to office an unbelievable gift from heaven which must now be used to the maximum to their family’s advantage and towards that end use the entire structure of the State, can we claim legitimacy here?
So when various people represent the country at international parleys, what do they represent? Is it the State or a personal interests of the rulers they represent?
It is interesting to ponder what words Disraeli would have chosen to describe the state of affairs in the far way island now termed a miracle. Hypocrisy seems too meeker term.