In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, Ever Merciful.

Love for All, Hatred for None.

Browse Al Islam

Al Islam HomeLibraryBooksRevelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth

Book: Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth
Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth
Mirza Tahir Ahmad
Part I
Introduction with a Historical Perspective
Individual Versus Society
Islamic Schools of Thought
European Philosophy
Greek Philosophy
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Buy the book from the Al-Islam Online Store.

Individual Versus Society

FREEDOM is a prerogative of all living things, man being no exception. Liberty is the most cherished fruit of life. Man is the epitome of liberty which is ingrained in him. His very texture is woven with the yarn of liberty. Yet, amazingly, we find all man-made institutions shaped to work against the liberty of man in the final analysis.

A careful study of the history of progressive growth of traditions, customs and legislation is sufficient to prove this assertion. The evolution of the state when viewed from an unbiased, detached angle of perception will appear no more than an institutionalized journey of man towards progressive self-imposed slavery. To resolve this dilemma requires a deeper understanding of the factors which are responsible for this step by step transition from freedom to bondage.

One thing must be noted at the outset, that man by nature will bow to the authority of society only when he is driven by selfish motives; otherwise he will have to be coerced into submission. But to socialise is not a prerogative of man alone. As the animal kingdom moves from lower to higher orders, there appears to be a gradual transition from a chaotic to a more disciplined, organized and centralized animal society. Sometimes we notice it as a trend, where necessity must have taught the animals to live together in their common interest of survival. Sometimes, to our utter amazement, we find social order and meticulous discipline ingrained even in such animal species as are not very highly placed in the ladder of evolution. No gradual evolutionary influences can be traced in their highly disciplined order which seem to have erupted as such in their final perfected form. All that we can infer from the study of their institutionalized existence is that it is naturally ingrained in them.

Take for example the case of certain insects. Where would one place in the ladder of evolution the society of honey-bees? What could possibly have preceded them if they had slowly evolved step by step? Where would one find the evidence of a gradual stage-by-stage development of a long line of insects culminating in the creation of honey-bees? Likewise, when we examine the case of termites and some of the other species of ants belonging to the order of insects, we experience similar problems.

Without any trace of gradual evolution, they are all precisely made to perform specific functions with an ingrained discipline which they follow meticulously. With them it is an inviolable law etched upon their RNA and DNA. By comparison they put to shame even the most strictly regimented and disciplined communist societies. They are all exceptional solitary cases of organized creative wonders which show no traceable history of a crude elementary beginning, gradually evolving into higher complex societies.

We can safely conclude from this that life as such offers two types of disciplines for us to study. One appears to be spontaneous, as though born out of nothingness in a sudden outburst of God's creative wonders. The scientists, however, may refer to it as a host of mutative changes all taking place simultaneously in one single moment. This hypothetical proposition is of course scientifically unentertainable.

The second type of development of social orders in the animal kingdom is much more generalized and progressive in nature; though the results are not so dramatic as the previously mentioned examples. Even dogs and wolves and wildebeests exhibit this positive trend of living together in societies in the interest of class survival. Whatever the reason, we also find a similar trend in the flocking together of birds of the same feather. Likewise shoals of fish, turtles and sea urchins display similar tendencies. This bonding together, therefore, is common to life.

With discipline, authority is born and leadership emerges. A vague precept of crime and punishment begins to creep into the society at every level. For man to have evolved as a social animal, therefore, is not a solitary accident but is in conformity with a predesigned plan of behaviour shared equally by most other animals to a lesser or greater degree.

HOW the institution of society developed all over the world simultaneously is a question which requires a lengthy discussion. We intend only to deal with a few important features of social development among humans which are directly related to the subject under discussion.

Individual liberty has always been intrinsically at odds with the restraints imposed by society. A deeper understanding of the dilemma presented by this equation is most essential for a better comprehension of the forces which finally determine the boundaries of individual liberty on the one hand and the rising power of the society on the other. Individual–family relationship, individual–clan relationship and individual–State relationship are all examples of how life can be studied in its institutionalized conduct. If man is by nature free and loves freedom, then why at all bow to any social authority is the prime question which has to be addressed first.

Whenever a social, racial, economic or political order evolves, it always evolves around an unwritten understanding of give and take between the society and the individuals which collectively make the society. No individual will ever readily surrender his freedom but only on the understanding that in the bargain he gains more than what he has lost.

Primarily, it is individual security which he bargains for at the cost of some personal freedom. On the one hand he surrenders some of his rights to whatever institution he becomes a member of and, on the other, he gains some guaranteed protection and such assistance as would make his individual existence easier and more comfortable.

It is interesting to note that in the beginning of the formation of society at all levels, individuals always emerged as beneficiaries. This is what we find as a natural trend in the animal kingdom. This is also true of human societies at their rudimentary level. But human societies as they grow more organized, tend to become lopsided in the distribution of power between them and the individual. The larger the ratio between the membership of the society and the ruling few grows, the greater becomes the danger of misappropriation and exploitation of power by the ruling minority.

Although theoretically it is possible for the individual to gain some value in exchange for every loss of his liberty, it does not always happen in accordance with what should normally be expected. The prime principle of individual liberty is gradually and progressively sacrificed at the altar of society. It often happens that the society as it grows, becomes more authoritative and less mindful of the ultimate interest of the individual.

On this subject we shall have a more comprehensive discussion later, when we take up the issue of Marxism. Here the purpose is merely to determine the basic cause of this degenerative process. Why should not an individual feel more comfortable and better protected in a more developed and powerful society? Among animals we never come across a decadent and degenerative trend in their social conduct. Why should human society alone fall short of its expectations in relation to its responsibilities towards the rights of the individual?

One dividing line between animals and humans which distinctly separates them is the powerful tendency in man to defraud, cheat and break the laws of nature. In this game the humans outpace all other animals by a phenomenal margin. Animals too, sometimes appear to cheat but it is always a strategy on their part, and not a deception in the criminal sense. There is no breach of trust in their case such as we observe among the humans. They live a normal and simple disciplined life within the gamut of natural laws which control and command them. If they do ever seem to cheat they do so only intuitively, as governed by their genetic pulses which lie outside the definition of crime.

This in fact is a by-product of the gift of freedom of choice. Animals are strictly governed by intuitive and instinctive laws and have little choice in the matters of right and wrong. In fact no right or wrong exists for them.

It is humans alone who can wilfully ignore their responsibilities and usurp the rights of other members of society knowing it to be wrong. So the individual freedom in relation to the collective responsibility man owes to any institution is undermined and sabotaged by his propensity to break laws, commit frauds and act wrongfully, yet hoping to run away with whatever he can. Hence when Karl Marx observed that man is a corrupt animal, he was very right indeed—only he had no right to exclude himself. Nor had he any right to exclude the socialist leadership which was to be built upon the bricks of immorality. This has been the tragedy of human society throughout the ages. No institution is exempt from this. This inevitable built-in flaw in the individual social relationship promotes the tendency among systems towards ever increasing legislation.

Apparently, every new law is aimed at protecting the right of the individual on the one hand, and the right of the society on the other, from unjustified trespass into each other's exclusive domains of rights and prerogatives. But unfortunately because of the corruption in man, the legislators fail to remain loyal to the principles of absolute justice. During the collective process of legislating, many a time the individual will be deprived of his fundamental rights at the hands of the very institutions which were created to defend them.

We do not propose here to take up the issues of religious societies at length, but from the secular viewpoint of social philosophy, religion should also be briefly mentioned. The sociologists as a class do not treat religion as a Divine phenomenon. Hence, from their vantage point religion is just another expression of the social behaviour of man.

If their view of the development of the institution of religion is right, then all religious societies should be viewed as occupying a unique position among the human social systems. They would be perceived as symbols personified of fraud committed both against the society and the individual. Evidently, in that case, all founders of religions should be classified as prime crooks who wilfully deceive the common masses in the name of gods of their own creation as implied in the sociologist's theory. Some crooks indeed!

They, according to the sociologist's view, legislate themselves on behalf of God to keep the simple unsuspecting common people chained to the so-called Divine laws. Thus, in the name of God it is a fraudulent religious hierarchy which rules to its own advantage. This is the sociologist's perception of a religious society. Karl Marx also seems to be in full agreement with this view of religion as an opiate concocted to keep the labouring multitudes forever doped, lest they should wake up to the awareness of their merciless exploitation by the bourgeoisie. The name of this potent opiate which keeps the proletariat drugged is the code of morality advocated by all religions. As such, morality is always linked to the idea of God which commands and trims human behaviour in His name.

Previous Next