Oct 19, 2017

Political Left, Ethics and Brotherhood

Expanding Good Will and
Sincerity Among Humans

Carlos Cardoso Aveline

Former Italian Senator Maria Rosaria Manieri, with the book “Fraternità” in her hands



The intense struggle between honesty and corruption is more secret than public. All the noise is limited to its superficial levels. The battle occurs first and foremost in human soul.

It is from the essential plane of existence that the war between truthfulness and its opposite finds an expression in the outer spheres of life. Largely silent, the conflict unfolds in one’s family, in the politics of one’s city and the dialogue among nations.

Besides fighting corruption in political circles, it is necessary to build the whole of society around the principle of sincerity with oneself and one’s fellow beings.

The big and the small are mirrors to each other. He who is honest in one sphere of existence tends to be sincere in the other ones. If someone gets distant from his own soul in any particular aspect of daily life, he is in danger of seeing his moral defeat expand to other areas.

Everything is interconnected. In each aspect of life, starting with the way the citizen relates to his own conscience, there’s an open or implicit conflict between wisdom and ignorance, sincerity and illusion, decency and its opposite.

The corresponding contrast unfolds in the individual as well as the community. It is alive in the parties of the so-called political left, and also in the “conservative” parties.

In her book “Fraternity” (“Fraternità”) [1], Italian thinker and former Socialist senator Maria Rosaria Manieri suggests the idea that the political world of the 21st century should once more discover the “forgotten” concept of brotherhood. By fraternità she means friendship and mutual help.

Of course, in life and politics things are not isolated. Ethics, justice and cooperation go together, while embezzlement, theft and lies also tend to be inseparable.

The concept of fraternity is central to theosophy and esoteric philosophy, because it results from the perception of the unity of all beings. It is present in Judaism and every true religion. Since the ancient world the idea constitutes a decisive tenet in any honest approach to Politics.

Philosophy does not see Politics as a “struggle for power, but as the permanent process of building a creative power which is based on mutual help and reciprocal trust. The true duty of Politics is to improve a Polis or community and keep it alive through a feeling of common union.

Although the idea of brotherhood is of decisive importance in Sociology, Theosophy, Philosophy and Religion, it has been underestimated for a long time in these and other areas of knowledge.

In their anxious search for followers, spiritual and political organizations make a choice for nominal brotherhood and leave aside their duty to form solidary communities that are deeply unified. The choice for appearance instead of reality results from a lack of knowledge.

Spiritual ignorance produces an absence of good will. Crime, selfishness, injustice and pain get the most attention from ill-informed people. It is easier to repeat slogans and clichés than to think by oneself. Being creative is a challenging experience.

Conventional Psychology could do more in studying the complex issue of how to create fraternity.

Even in original esoteric philosophy, the topic deserves more attention than it gets. The first object of the theosophical movement points to universal brotherhood, and the theme is in the agenda of the Independent Lodge of Theosophists.

Born in 1943 and experienced in social activism, Maria Rosaria Manieri writes:

“As one speaks of brotherliness, one’s thought immediately associates it with its religious dimension, generally Jewish and Christian. On the other hand, brotherliness fades away in its civic and republican meaning, as a guiding principle of public action and as an ethical criterion of decision making and political and social evaluation. Evidence that this is true is found in the fact that it is referred to as a forgotten tenet. [2] The term has practically ceased to be used in the contemporary public lexicon.”

This is a serious defeat for humanistic ideals.

Maria Rosaria proceeds:

“In these times of fundamentalist liberalism, the very political groups that were historically born as an answer to the need of fraternity have forgotten the meaning and the power of this idea. And this is one of the deep causes of its loss of identity, its being now beyond recognition, and its decline. Even the word ‘solidarity’, which in the 20th century constituted the most important proclamation of fraternity, is now distant from the context of struggles and social demands which took place together with its establishment in legislation and regulations of trade unions in Western Europe. The topic became almost exclusive to religious organizations (…).” [3]

Collective selfishness dominates more than one trade union and association whose goals are officially altruistic. It is also not absent from philosophical, spiritualistic and theosophical associations around the world.

However, a civilization can only exist as long as there is enough good will and mutual help among the citizens. The end of a civilization based on selfishness is unavoidable. It is a good idea to observe, therefore, how generosity and egocentrism, solidary thoughts and destructive feelings, ignorance and wisdom are generated in contemporary society.

Father Spirit and Mother Nature

By observing the political life and social dynamics of a country, one can see the strength or weakness of mutual respect among its citizens.

The insincere use of words is a sad trap for nations and individuals alike. Great absurdities can be done in the name of beautiful ideals.

On the other hand, a large amount of good will and social justice can be generated without using any supposedly infallible ideology.

Elegant words are also not enough for theosophical and philosophical associations, and noble actions are more effective if developed in an unpretentious way. Building the future consists in creating healthy ways to produce friendly forms of knowledge and expand the project among honest persons.

The book “Fraternità” helps reduce the distance between politics and philosophy. It renders a service to the associations which aim at improving human experience during the 21st century.

Ms. Maria Rosaria Manieri writes:

“For centuries the idea of fraternity has been based on Jewish-Christian concepts referring to the common divine paternity, which generates the commandment of brotherly love among human beings.”

Theosophy points out that the phrase “fatherly god” is a personalization and a metaphor. It helps popularize the study of religious matters. “God” is a symbol of the eternal universal law, the Natural Law regulating both Spirit and Matter.

From the “marriage” between the father-god and the mother-nature (Maya, or Illusion in the sense of being subject to constant change) humanity is born.

This fundamental view of the creative polarity in the Universe is present in various forms in the Andean tradition, and in most religious legends of East and West. In Judaism, HaShem (“The Name”) created the Universe-Nature and guides it.

Human beings are the children of Karma, the descendants of the severe Father, the Law. From time to time the Universal Father puts into motion the expansion of life in Mother Nature (Maya, Matter). All beings are brothers, because they are born as a result of the creative meeting between Spirit and Material Existence.

The basic idea of universal brotherhood is of course much older than Judaism and Christianity and does not remain untouched by time. It evolves along History: it is born once and again and adopts different forms. Maria Rosaria says:

“With the beginning of modern revolution, which after the Renaissance establishes the dignitas et excellentia (‘dignity and excellence’) of man, faber fortunae suae (‘maker of his own destiny’), new foundations are sought for the idea of fraternity and the way is paved for a lay or worldly humanism, which will inspire the ethics of modern secular nations.” [4]

Maria uses the term “Jusnaturalism” to mention the idea of Natural Law, a basic principle in modern theosophy:

“First the Jusnaturalism and later the Enlightenment get to a new conception of this principle [of brotherhood], no longer based on the authority of a faith which not everyone shares, but on a Reason instead, which all human beings possess. The revealed fraternity is replaced by a universal brotherhood, based on human nature and reason.”

Thus the concept of human fraternity transcends the narrow dogmas of churches and sects and becomes universal in our world.

Maria writes:

“The modern age starts with a lofty and lay translation of Paul’s principle: ‘There is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free man’, not because they are ‘one in Christ’, but because all are human beings. Fraternity is based on being human and includes all of humanity.” [5]

Seen from a simplistic point of view, to “work for universal brotherhood” means one expects everyone to agree with his opinions. Childish souls believe that their own political or religious views are necessarily superior to all the others and their universal acceptance constitutes the exclusive door to “brotherhood”. This idea generates unlimited intolerance and fanaticism.

In fact, being fraternal places before us the challenge of perceiving unity in diversity, while persevering in the active search for truth. We cannot despise sincerity for the sake of brotherhood. The fact of fraternity makes it necessary to live in cooperation, without denying contrast and imperfection. The individual must constantly improve the way he lives.

It is our duty to observe the unity of opposites.

The next evolutionary step of human beings consists in realizing that Peace is bigger than Paradox. It includes establishing the basis of an enduring intercultural dialogue and opening the doors to cooperation among all nations, and among the different social sectors within each country.

There is no reason to be too anxious about that, yet helpful actions are welcome.

There is time enough to reach the noble ideal. The proof of that lies in the historical fact that civilizations are born and die, while the search for harmonious fraternity remains alive.

As time passes, the process of mutual help makes progress. The story of solidarity renews itself every century. Whenever a civilization becomes excessively materialistic, corrupt and arrogant, it denies the basic principle of fraternity - and destroys itself, to be replaced by another, better and more honest kind of civilization, which will also live for some time before meeting its end.

A Harmonious Coexistence

Chapter three in the book by Maria Rosaria Manieri is dedicated to tolerance and fraternity. Advocating the practice of respect among different churches, religions and lines of thought, Manieri quotes from Voltaire and John Locke.

The author is right in defending flexibility and the harmonious coexistence between contrasting points of view. While working in this direction, however, one must remember there is a Law of Symmetry in social relations.

Every specific practice of flexibility must be compensated by some form of firmness.

An old illusion of generous left-wing thinkers must be transcended: the idea according to which human beings are good enough already, and they don’t need to improve themselves morally.

“In order for justice and happiness to flourish in communities”, naïve people say, “it is enough to eliminate limits and obligations, and to establish the great law of mutual tolerance.”

The self-defeat of almost all social revolutions which aimed at “eliminating the power of elites” shows us that human beings must improve themselves in the first place. To think that the citizens are all perfectly honest and generous, and that they suffer exclusively because of social injustice, has been for centuries an effective recipe for disaster.

In fact, each one must promote and direct his own inner revolution. It is possible to help others and receive their help; however, the process of production of common sense includes many unexpected challenges.

If one intends to be generous with the others, it will be necessary to have self-control. Only by personal austerity one can be brotherly toward his fellow beings.

The unilateral propaganda of tolerance, as if it were an absolute value and always valid in itself, leads society to mere indulgence and to an absence of moral responsibility.

The generalization of falsehood, theft, violence and alcoholism, the ill-disguised adoption of pornography in means of mass-communication, the epidemic use of drugs, the political influence of big drug-dealers and the corruption in public administration, all attack the fraternal feeling and threaten democracy.

Maria Manieri tends to ascribe “coercion” to the State, while in civil society tolerance and gentleness should dominate. One cannot ignore the uncomfortable fact that whenever the citizen fails to “coerce” himself, practicing self-restraint and sustaining a correct behavior, life and Karma will “coerce” him in unpredictable and undesirable ways.

Good sense is necessary. If we want an ethical community, there must be a firm ability to reject the degeneration of habits and procedures. The blind search for irresponsible pleasure destroys the sense of togetherness. The balanced sectors of political left, which are able to think, must discover lessons coming from the Freudian Psychoanalysis. It is useful to study the works of Psychologists who worked for fraternity, such as Alfred Adler, Viktor Frankl, Erich Fromm, Rollo May, Karen Horney, Fritz Kunkel and others. The ethics of Judaism will provide insights and guidance.

The books by Carl Jung, a collaborator of Nazism and an adversary of Ethics, will not help in such a task.

Human being is complex. He must evolve by studying his own inner contradictions and make progress through an “individual reform” while struggling for collective regeneration. The social renaissance will result from his self-improvement.

It is our duty to create a culture where people are stimulated to search for their moral progress. The citizen who awakens from ignorance stops wasting too much time in talking about the mistakes of others, or the misdeeds of the “ruling class”. He ceases to use old scapegoats and neurotic mechanisms which previously seemed effective ways to escape from the vision of his own failures.

An unavoidable task of left-wing groups is, therefore, to realize that true social progress results from the advancement of the individual in self-knowledge, self-respect, self-control, equilibrium and wisdom. Each one must transcend by his own merit the habit of worshipping money. It is necessary to defeat in oneself several forms of material illusion, before one is free to tread the path to peace and live in voluntary simplicity.

No ideological propaganda can replace individual consciousness. The ability of a citizen to listen to his own moral conscience is the foundation of every valuable proposition in politics. The correct solution to social problems is based on the ethical awakening of the individual. Political parties of the Left and of the Right must accept this fact before they are able to help in effective ways the people of the countries where they act.

The Ideal of Human Perfection

On chapter 4 of her book “Fraternità”, Maria Rosaria Manieri examines the presence of ethics and the individual sense of duty in the building of correct social relations.

It is in the works of Immanuel Kant, she says, that the Christian duty to search for self-improvement becomes universal and non-sectarian. Each human being must make efforts to defeat the instinctive selfishness present in himself:

“The search for the perfection of man, before whom the Gospel places the highest task - ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matthew: 5, 48) - undergoes in Kant a conscious conversion to the material world, in a process similar to what happened during the Renaissance and the Reformation. The ideal of perfection is now placed in the process through which man dominates nature, including human nature.” [6]

The ideal of human progression and perfection is theosophical ‘par excellence’ and corresponds to the initiatic journey. The issue refers to the essence of all religions and philosophies. Maria Manieri writes:

“The culture of Law and morality is the ultimate goal of modern Reason and it ‘elevates man completely above the animals’.” (p. 85)

Here we see Kant treading the same path as Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm and every ethical thinker, besides classic theosophy. Through self-knowledge, human being transcends the animal kingdom and reaches the plane of Reason, of higher perception, of immortal soul and the brotherhood of all beings.

Maria sums up Kant’s view:

“Man has a right to fraternity when, by defeating the resistance of the plane of [animal] inclinations against the law of inner morality, he makes sure that rationality prevails over selfish instincts, that the principle of universal legislation prevails over the variety and conflicting nature of specific positions and interests, and the safeguards of civil order and the dignity of moral law prevail over the anarchy and uncertainties of the Hobbesian idea of bellum omnium contra omnes (‘the war of all against all’).” (p. 86)

The ethical duty of the individual becomes the law and produces social order. Justice is the supreme good, and not the short term personal happiness. Kant has something to teach political parties on the left and right of the ideological spectrum. Fraternity, as a moral imperative, is a road to be traveled through the correct practice of Politics.

There must be a predominance of Reason over selfishness and passions. The task of building such a hegemony does not depend any longer on an elite of wise men, like in Plato. This is now the obligation of each conscious citizen (p. 104). The existence of this ethical duty creates a moral danger, due to the large distance between the individual and his duty, between the grand task and the limited reality of human beings in the present age (p.105).

The ethical principle of fraternity is no quietism or passive contemplation (p.108). In Kant, as in any other vision guided by common sense, the building of a just society is not a merely political or economical goal, let alone electoral projects. One must accelerate the process through which human beings become more balanced and honest.

Society will be harmonious when its citizens treat each other with equilibrium and have good will towards one another. Before achieving this goal, however, left-wing political parties will have to stimulate self-education and the independent formation of responsible citizens.

The work by Maria Rosaria makes a useful summary of the Western Philosophy views regarding brotherhood. It is somehow modest and non-ambitious because it does not elaborate on the next steps and on what must be done. Maria points out a basic fact: the issue of brotherhood is decisive to any discussion of human reality, and deserves study. This is an unavoidable truth both for students of philosophy or theosophy, and social activists.

The Choice for Building the Future

Upon reading the fifth and last chapter of the book “Fraternità”, one sees that it is difficult for its author to decide what has primordial importance, and what has not, in the various viewpoints from which the problem of human brotherhood has been seen in recent centuries.

After summarizing in chapter four the Kantian view of Ethics, Maria Manieri spends a time discussing Marx and the materialistic views of Economics and Sociology. And she does so as if she had forgotten the fundamental proposition made by Kant, which establishes the “common” individual as the great responsible for the production of a better society.

She does mention en passant in the upper half of p. 137 the idea that social improvement needs individual transformation, and personal well-being is made easier by social progress. Nowhere Maria places in the center of her reasoning the uncomfortable yet decisive fact of the moral responsibility of the individual citizen. Forgetting what she herself wrote about Kant’s philosophy in previous paragraphs, she now discusses Marx ignoring the inevitable need for an individual revolution towards altruism, as the foundation of social improvement.

Maria did not build her own view of the world.

Her book consists in part of an un-structured report of the main Western points of view regarding fraternity, seen as isolated facts from which she does not attempt to say which ones are of decisive importance. She does not form an independent set of guiding principles. The volume she wrote is significantly helpful anyway.

Left-wing groups often stimulate fraternity within their ranks while postponing the experience of universal brotherhood (or national brotherhood) to some magic moment which should take place after they obtain political power and the control of the state.

However, after the postponement of brotherly action takes place once, it tends to get automatically renewed. As time passes, the excuses used to justify the absence of respect for others grow and multiply, and procrastination eliminates much of ethics.

The healing of such a problem is simple. Yet actually putting it into practice is difficult, because few are those who accept the personal detachment needed to live in simplicity.

Instead of struggling “against” something that is seen as wrong, left-wing groups must learn to build that which is correct, in those areas of life which already depend on them.

They will become much more effective by ascribing less importance to the nominal control of formal and bureaucratic structures of political power, and by seeing the need to establish that cooperative power which creates new social relations, including relations of production and mode of production, starting in small scale.

The action needed relates to the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam or the healing of the world.

Examples of such a creative process are agricultural, industrial or commercial co-operatives; the traditional mutual help or voluntary work “mutirões” in the countryside of Brazil; collective vegetable-gardens in poor communities; many small economic and social actions based on mutualism; the kibbutzim and moshavim in Israel; the cooperative economy in Amish and Mennonite communities, and the action of Mohandas Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave in India. [7]

The book by Maria Manieri has the important merit of raising the issue of fraternity and demonstrating its centrality in political thought. In this regard, the book contains a valuable lesson to the theosophical movement and every masonic and philosophical association. An Eastern Master of the Wisdom wrote:

“The term ‘Universal Brotherhood’ is no idle phrase. Humanity in the mass has a paramount claim upon us (…). [Brotherhood] is the only secure foundation for universal morality. If it be a dream, it is at least a noble one for mankind and it is the aspiration of the true adept.” [8]

Fraternity is the right relation among human beings. Building it constitutes a task for all areas of knowledge, including the “exact” science, which must be put at the service of life and not be made to serve the accumulation of material wealth in the hands of the few. The actions which threaten the principle of universal brotherhood must be unmasked, understood, watched and eliminated with due severity, care, and discernment. [9]

Having a “left-wing” view of society - id est, aiming at social justice - does not mean repeating void slogans and unexamined clichés about the vague dream of eliminating this or that “elite”, as if fighting against something could be enough.

The book by Maria Manieri helps understand such a fact.

Belonging to the political left can mean being part of an effort to establish new relations of production, based on shared duties and rights.

The main goal of the Left is not to fight the Right at each new election and propose to society a populist demagoguery as opposed to the conservative demagoguery. The Left is able to express in creative ways the human need and potentiality for mutual help and compassion. It can expand the feeling of unconditional respect for life and increase and improve the commitment of all citizens with their common future.

NOTES:

[1] “Fraternidade”, Maria Rosaria Manieri, Brazilian edition, 2017, Fundação Astrojildo Pereira e Contraponto Editora, Brasília / Rio de Janeiro, 143 pages. First edition, in Italian, 2013: “Fraternità, Rilettura civile di un’idea che può cambiare il mondo”, Maria Rosaria Manieri, 160 pp., Tempi.

[2] A. M. Baggio (org.), “Il principio dimenticato. La fraternità nella riflessione politologica contemporanea”, Roma, Città Nuova, 2007. (Note by Maria Rosaria Manieri)

[3] “Fraternidade”, Maria Rosaria Manieri, Fundação Astrojildo Pereira, Brasília / Rio de Janeiro, 2017, see pp. 15-16.

[4] “Fraternidade”, Maria Rosaria Manieri, Brazilian edition, 2017, Fundação Astrojildo Pereira, see p. 71.

[5] “Fraternidade”, Maria Rosaria Manieri, also p. 71.

[6] “Fraternidade”, Maria Rosaria Manieri, see p. 84.

[7] See in our associated websites the article “Vinoba and the Power of Good Will”.

[8] From the last paragraph of Letter 4, p. 17, in the 1926 edition of “The Mahatma Letters”, published by T. Fisher Unwin Ltd., in London, UK, with 493 pages and Index. The book is available in PDF in our associated websites. The page is the same in the TUP edition, Pasadena, California.

[9] Nuclear weapons are an example of this principle: left-wing and right-wing parties must be intelligent enough to see that nuclear proliferation and atomic suicide are not good ideas.

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The above article was first published in our blog at The Times of Israel.

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