Can there be infallibility in political and social discourse or in matters relating to the social or political organization? Christianity had a doctrine of “papal infallibility”. Philosophy too makes claims of truth on behalf of subjectivism or objectivism. That various political systems have evolved over recorded history is proof that no infallibility attaches to either. Unlike mathematical self-axiomatic truths, no certainty accrues to matters of social or political. The motives of those who claim otherwise must be viewed with a certain amount of doubt and disquiet since, unfortunately, history is a testament to the appearance of many such purveyors of political and social infallibility who, in actual practice have proven to be deniers of individual or societal freedoms. Many a person in the garb of self-proclaimed democrats has in real life displayed grave doubts about the worth or necessity of such values as individual rights, freedom of speech, and dissent. Many elected leader has often betrayed disbelief in the magisterium of the concept that power has to be held constantly to account since authority is a trust that people confer upon their leaders, which must repeatedly be brought to bear upon the bar of public opinion and accountability.
Discussion and debate, by dissipating dogma, lead to an enriched understanding of individual and social life in their cultural, political, and economic dimensions, thus making for human progress. In matters relating to social questions that relate to or impact a community, there are so many theories and prescriptions relating to their proper resolution or conduct that hardly any one of these can claim any undisputed superiority or precedence over the myriad other similar attitudes or policies. Social sciences or practical politics, since they relate to issues mundane to the organization and operation of a social entity, necessarily partake of the variety of life in all its multifarious dimensions. Each one of these may offer a part of the solution to social, political, or economic problems, but none can hold any prior right or claim to providing a final or true answer to the many questions or issues that confront any society at any given time.
But no policy, attitude proposal, or prescription that relates to practical politics and issues, being essentially human, is without an essential element of personal ambition, bias, or desire to attain power so as to implement an agenda or ideology ostensibly for the common good. A thin line divides this aspiration to power and the altruistic purpose of social welfare. No science or philosophy has or can provide a definite answer. This is a matter of actual observation and assessment of human ambitions as they play out on the stage of history, vis a vis the desire to serve society for its good. Similarly, no party in a political context can claim any precedence as to the content or strategy it professes to resolve practical issues confronting society. Each party is in a relative status or position to the other. The actual performance of a party in resolving the problems of a society, the extent to which it has, in contexts such as ours, led to economic growth as well as poverty alleviation, the extent to which education and health facilities have been expanded and improved, and how much state revenues have been increased and properly spent, are some of the yardsticks by which the relative claims of different parties must be measured.
But lack of performance may often be deliberately beclouded by resorting to raising popular passions and instincts, appealing to issues and slogans of ultra-nationalism and religion that have a history of inciting visceral responses among humans with a propensity to disregard facts and reality. The inability to claim finality in approaches to resolving social questions cannot but be considered a given, since so varied have been the different attitudes in scholarship or practical politics to such questions over the course of history. This is so since such theories, prescriptions or practical political strategies cannot but proceed from the fundamental presumption of their possible fallibility and the likelihood that one or the other may not result in the greater good of the greatest number that in the last analysis must be the goal and deseridatum of all human endeavour in the social context. Only the delusional perfectionists who claim infallibility are the ones not receptive to plurality or multiplicity of views and perceptions of a given reality and are often the most intolerant to differences of opinion. Intolerance is the greatest danger to democracy.
Authoritarianism or despotism, as well as other similar forms of social postulation and political organization, emerge from the womb of such presumed infallibility, which is lethally destructive in its communal and social consequences, repressive and restricting of all individual or social freedoms and human rights. Culture and civilization need a fresh breath of freedom for the variety of human intellect and energy to prosper and flower. Since such claimants of infallibility do not allow differences or divergences of views and attitudes towards social questions, they are not averse to sacrificing all alternative views at the altar of the imagined “higher good” of the nation. A monopoly on truth is claimed. Rather than social and political debate, which is the soul and lifeblood of democracy, politics assumes the shape of a battle to the end, a divine crusade between the “good” and the “evil”. Messianic, crusade-like movements, rather than resorting to tried, democratic, proven rules of law, against perennial social deviations such as moral crimes or alleged malfeasances, can also be used as subterfuges for suppression or elimination of opposition.
In such a context, there is hardly any room for compromise, consensus, dialogue, or discourse involving malleability to allow for giving and take. The striking of balances and accommodation, making gains here and giving way there, within legal and constitutional parameters, are strategies and methodologies that make democracy such a potent and resilient system for protecting the individual from the tyranny of the majority and resolving the most intractable of social problems. Only in this context is it possible to resolve the great contest between individual rights and freedoms to attain happiness balanced by the needs of a legally validated state. Only such conditions can lead to an egalitarian social construct where the weak are both protected as well as enabled to enjoy the fruits of culture and civilization that mankind has been able to attain.