lunedì 25 luglio 2016

Hinduism and women: the Hindu myths as a cultural model

Hinduism is possibly the most ancient religion of the world: the Vedic tradition dates back 4000 B.C. As a religion, Hinduism is characterized by different currents and conceptions that have been changing throughout history, manifesting in different ways in those regions where it became the dominant faith. As in other religious cases, Hinduism has notably influenced the way in which society perceived and observed women, who were often compared with goddesses belonging to the Hindu mythological pantheon.
If we consider the years 2500-500 B.C. – which represent the proper Vedic period – we can detect that women had the faculty to participate to philosophic discussions, could wear sacred vestments, could read the Veda and could sing the hymns of the Hindu holy books. Moreover, wedding was not compulsory, women could choose not to marry and widows had the faculty to marry again if they were still in fertile age.
Lord Rama and Goddess Sita
During the sixth century B.C., the worship of the Mother Goddess appeared and spread, but at the same time the Hindu civilization began to decline due to floods, pestilences, famines and above all foreign invasions. Women were the first elements to suffer from this decay being henceforth excluded from the active participation in the social life and losing all juridical acknowledgements and status both in the public and in the private sphere. It is in this particular time that the system of the castes was established, dividing ever since India’s social and economic groups into stark and exclusive blocks. The partition in castes provided for the creation of an unfair and unequal society divided into several social categories: the Brahmans (priests), the Kshatriyas (warriors), the Vaisyas (artisans and traders), and the Sudras (serfs). Each caste included several sub-castes and outside the castes were the so-called Dalits and the Adivasi (the aborigine folks). Typical of this historical period was the propensity to attribute to women the same characteristics the Dalits had, and thus to consider both as outcasts. Accordingly, women – even when belonging to a superior caste – could no longer participate directly to religious ceremonies and rituals. Weddings became strictly endogamous, being celebrated only among members belonging to the same caste, and the bride and the groom were chosen by their parents and relatives when they were still in a junior age. Furthermore, sexual relationships that occurred before or outside marriage were punished with eviction and often with death. The institution of marriage featured the obligation for the bride to correspond to her husband a dowry, and the latter could even kill his spouse if this compulsory endowment expired during the marriage. Likewise, the use of sati – the ritual sacrifice of a widow who decided to commit suicide on the funeral pyre of her dead husband – started to spread quickly as a logic consequence of the impossibility for a woman to marry again when the consort perished.[1]
During the Moghul rule over India, which began in the early XVI century, the Islamic religion introduced the institution of polygamy, which also Hindus accepted to embrace. Thus, ever since the end of the Vedic golden age women have suffered a totally subjected condition.
In terms of historical and cultural inquiry, the only object of concrete interest was the image of the woman of the upper-castes belonging to the Aryan lineage, whereas the Vedic dasi – i.e. the women in servitude – who had been captured, subjugated and enslaved by the conquering Aryans, disappeared without leaving trace of themselves until the nineteenth century history.[2]  
It will be only at the beginning of the British domination of India in the XIX century that the first reforms of the Hindu tradition will take place in favor of women.
The two great epics of the Hindu civilization, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, illustrate the life and the deeds of goddesses and heroines of the Hindu tradition that have strongly affected and still affect the way in which women are perceived and judged by the Indian society. Among these mythological characters we may cite three that typically personify different models of Hindu women: Sita, Draupadi and Kali.
Sita is one of the friendly benevolent goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. She appears in the Ramayana as the spouse of Lord Rama, the seventh avatar (i.e. manifestation or incarnation) of Lord Vishnu, one of the most significant deities in Hinduism. Sita is mostly known due to her virtuous and righteous qualities. In fact, Goddess Sita – who is considered to be an avatar of Goddess Lakshmi as well as the daughter of Mother Earth (Bhudevi) – embodies the ideal womanly virtues and stands before all Hindu women as a model of wifely and domestic qualities. Although she was exposed to intense suffering during her life, she always manifested a cheerful countenance, accepting sorrow in a stoic fashion, and this is what her followers try to imitate from her. Goddess Sita symbolizes a perfect example of loyalty and abnegation for having left the luxurious comforts of her palace to accompany her husband Lord Rama in the forest when he was banished there. Sita exemplifies also the ideals of fidelity and chastity because during this period of exile the Goddess was also abducted by a demon king named Ravana and imprisoned within his palace walls. At such a trying time she revealed endurance, bravery and resilience: despite Ravana’s attempts to having sexual relations with her, during her long period of imprisonment Sita’s honor and chastity remained spotless. Later, when she was rescued by Lord Rama, Sita attested her purity to him by undertaking an ordeal of fire. As a daughter, wife and finally mother, Goddess Sita fulfilled all roles with great devotion and rectitude, displaying the intrinsic strength of a woman who refuses to compromise on her ideals while behaving with the utmost grace. To understand how extraordinary the consideration for the example of Sita is we can underline that “a recent survey taken of one thousand young Indian men and women in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh revealed that from a list of twenty-four goddesses, literary heroines, and famous women of history, an overwhelming percentage chose for their ideal female role model Sita”.[3]
As for Draupadi, she represents one of the most important female characters in the Mahabharata. In the epic, she is the daughter of Drupada, King of Panchala and later she became the common wife of the five Pandavas. Draupadi was a beautiful woman and, like Sita, many men desired her. Her life presents some very interesting episodes of attempts of being seduced and even forced by men. Specifically, Jayadratha, the son of Vriddhakshatra, was crossing through a forest when he saw Draupadi. At that point, feeling astonished by Draupadi’s beauty, Jayadratha started pleading her to go away with him and desert her husbands who at that time had fallen upon bad times. Draupadi pointed out that it was wrong to desert one’s spouses when they were in difficulty and then gave him a rather long and deliberately delaying speech on exactly the sort of bad time her husbands would give him on their return. Failing with words, Jayadratha tried violence and forced her onto his chariot. When the Pandavas learned of their wife's abduction by Jayadratha they rushed to save her. On seeing the Pandavas coming after him, Jayadratha left Draupadi on the road and Draupadi was saved. However, the Pandavas caught Jayadratha after chasing him on the chariot and publicly humiliated him before setting him free again. Another episode is that with Draupadi and Kichaka. Kichaka was a commander of a king’s armed forces, and one day while her husbands were away he had happened to see Draupadi. He was immediately filled with lust by looking at her. He asked her to marry him, but Draupadi refused him saying that she was already married. She warned Kichaka that her husbands were very strong and that he would not be able to escape death at their hands. Disapponited, Kichaka tried to molest her, but she managed to escape and to run into the court of Kichaka’s king. At that point Kichaka kicked her in front of all the courtiers. Draupadi then cursed Kichaka with death by her husband's hand, but he did not take her words seriously. Later that night, one of the Pandavas, Bhima, in the guise of Draupadi, fought with Kichaka and killed him. The brutal way Kichaka had kicked Draupadi in the face may have influenced the violent behavior that some Indian men have shown towards women throughout history. Certainly, Draupadi, is somewhat an example of loyalty, fidelity and patience, but unlike Sita, the aggressive and outspoken behavior she displays – together with the inability of her husbands to protect her – prevents her from becoming idealized as the “perfect wife” who endures the most severe trials without complaint.[4] Moreover, the marriage of Draupadi with five men, a clear example of polyandry, was considered unusual by the society spoken of in the epic. The Indo-Aryan texts almost never mention or allow polyandry, although polygamy was common among men of higher social ranks: indeed her marriage to five men was controversial.
Goddess Kali
Sometimes Hindu women are also interrelated to Goddess Kali. The name Kali comes from the Sanskrit root word Kal that means time and this is to highlight that nothing can escape the all-consuming march of time. Kali is one of the major Hindu goddesses whose iconography, cult, and mythology commonly associate her with death, sexuality, violence, and, paradoxically in some of her later historical appearances, motherly love. It is partly correct to say Kali is a goddess of death but she brings the death of the ego as the illusory self-centered view of reality. In other words, worshipping Kali does not mean to worship death but rather it is to overcome the materialistic body-focused idea by reinforcing the awareness that the body is a temporary condition. Men’s attachment to the body gives rise to the ego, and Kali grants liberation by removing the illusion of the ego. Kali is the most compassionate because she provides liberation to her worshippers. She is the counterpart of Shiva the destroyer. The ego considers Goddess Kali and trembles with fear because the ego sees in her its own eventual demise. A person who is attached to his ego will not be receptive to Kali and thus she will appear in a fearsome form. Instead, a mature soul who engages in spiritual practice to remove the illusion of the ego sees Kali as very sweet, affectionate, and overflowing with incomprehensible love for her worshippers. In linking Goddess Kali to the Hindu woman, we may affirm that women should help men to overcome their material and egoistic feelings in order to liberate their souls. In other words, the Hindu woman incarnates the example of a spiritual being that through the rejection of materialistic ambitions helps men to reach perfection. 

[1] Cf. Flood, G. (1996). An introduction to Hinduism. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
[2] Sangari, K. and Vaid, S. (1990). Recasting women. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, p. 28.
[3] Sutherland, S. (1989). Sītā and Draupadī: Aggressive Behavior and Female Role-Models in the Sanskrit Epics. Journal of the American Oriental Society, 109(1), p.63.
[4] Ibid. pp. 72-73.

venerdì 8 luglio 2016

Immanuel Kant and the critique of reason of state

In his 1795 pamphlet entitled "Perpetual Peace. A Philosophical Sketch" (“Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf”),[1] Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) believed he had found antidotes to international wars exposing them in a philosophical-political program that had for ultimate goal the establishment of a global confederation. In the opinion of the great philosopher of Königsberg, the creation of a worldwide confederation of nations would have forever averted war. At the end of the essay, under the appendix heading "On the discrepancy between morality and politics towards perpetual peace", he lists three political strategies – or, in Kant's words, "sophistical standards". Kant believed that these strategies followed the rules of a ruthless Machiavellian reason of state that eventually did not allow the achievement of a clear and transparent international coexistence, threatening the occurrence of general peace. The stratagems are the following: 

1) Fac et excusa: It is convenient to seize the favorable opportunity for an arbitrary taking of possession both of a right of the State over its own people and of a right over another neighboring folk. Through a “fait accompli”, the justification would occur much easier and violence would be masked with greater happiness than in the case of looking for pervious convincing reasons and waiting for the objections of the counterpart.

2) Si fecisti, nega: It is opportune to deny the proper blame for all things that happened and occurred, arguing that the blame is to find in other persons or forces.

3) Divide et impera: For Kant, this principle could have two aspect. The internal aspect within the State occurs when strategists try to divide the leaders of the people, and bringing them into conflict with the people in order to gain their own legitimacy to become rulers. The external aspect within the foreign relations considers the production of international crises and discords led to the appearance of a joyful third actor that benefits from the rivals’ divisions and can carry forward the gradual subjugation of other States under the guise of an assistance to the weakest.

Kant describes the reason of state as the will of the great powers deriving from the increase of their power regardless of the manner through which this growth was achieved.
Like many other philosophers, Kant investigates the issues that descend from the traditional and endless difficulty given by the relation between ethics and politics. His philosophical conclusion is that politics should be subordinated to ethics and that there should be no substantial distinction between the moral sphere and the political one. Morality consists, in Kantian terms, in the set of unconditionally imperative laws, and thus governors must rule according to morality itself, lest they be unlawful. It is therefore impossible to rule ignoring moral unconditionally imperative norms, and who does it exchanges ethics – made of categorical imperatives – with a particularistic prudential doctrine based on hypothetical imperatives aimed at the pursue of several goals for the purpose of personal utility. Indeed, Kant rejects utilitarian morality, which is closely linked to the Machiavellian and post-Machiavellian interpretation of reason of state conceived as the doctrine by which the end justifies the means.
Kant distinguishes the “political moralist” from the “moral politician”: the former, who he disapproves, forges his own morality aligning it with national interest, whereas the latter, who he supports, interprets politics in the light of imperative moral norms, so that it may coexist with ethics in a non-conflictual way. The moral politician is the one who represents the ideal incarnation of the “good politician”, whose ultimate aim is the creation of a universal union of states through the birth of a juridical community that takes the form of a global confederation.
It follows that the sovereigns should behave and rule morally, that is obeying at the imperative and supreme moral axiom according to which the human person should never be considered as a mean.
The ethics of virtue and the ethics of might are always incompatible: only the adoption of the ethics of virtue by the governors will be capable of putting an end to the perpetual state of war, whose sole result would be, in Kant’s words, the cemetery of humankind.                               

[1] Kant, I. (1972). Perpetual peace. New York: Garland Pub.

giovedì 7 luglio 2016

The role of reason of state in international relations

The building of the international system based upon stability through realism does not always follow ethical rules: instead, it often happens that cynicism plays a decisive role.
One of the greatest expressions of the philosophical concept of cynicism is that named after “reason of state”.  That of the reason of state is a statolatric vision that considers the political power of a country and the supreme interests of the sovereign as propeller engines for political action and a source of inspiration for strategies. The philosophical paradigm upon which the theory of reason of state rests upon is the idea that any political action exercised by the state, if it is necessary for the sake of the state itself, is legitimate despite its lack of morality.
Specifically, the reason of state consists in the pursuit of the national interest of states, which implies the fulfillment of their economic, cultural, strategic and geopolitical goals and ambitions, as well as the accomplishment of their specific “historical mission”. The pursuit of national interest is one of the main distinguishing features of the realist doctrine of international relations. The national interest aims primarily at granting the survival and the safety of the state, and at augmenting its welfare, economic growth and powerfullness.
Generally, the reason of state is invoked to justify a state or governmental action – which is often kept secret – directed at avoiding the break out of wars, revolutions or political events that may put at stake the existence and survival of the state. In the majority of cases, the reason of state takes the appearance of a state secret, because it carries out an action contrary to several interests or ideals of the state, of its allies and of its citizens in order to avert the occurrence of worse consequences for them. The action veiled with the state secret is often of violent or coercive fashion, often taking the form of a sacrifice of a smaller good so to achieve a greater good (or the choice of a smaller evil so to avoid a greater one).
The first theorizer of the theory of the reason of state was the Italian political-philosopher Giovanni Botero (1544-1617), expressing it in his essay “Della ragion di Stato” (1589).[1] Although Botero’s methodology and purposes may somewhat recall Machiavelli’s ones, actually many differences occur between the two. In fact, Botero considers the state as an absolute and stable dominion over the subjects, and the reason of state is nothing more than the set of necessary and appropriate means and expediencies through which exercise and preserve this very dominion. Botero will also add that the reason of state theorized by Machiavelli is untruthful and wicked, because the Prince should exercise his power respecting and supporting the religious and moral precepts.
Unlike Botero, the other Italian political-philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) expressed in his essay “Il Principe” (1513) a different view of the notion of reason of state.[2] The chief idea tha Machiavelli endorses is that government is an art inspired solely by mere utilitarianism and that the prince, i.e. the governor, is entitled to rule using any expedient, even the most immoral and gruesome, in order to reach his aims, which ultimately converge into the pursue of the well-being and might of the state.
The main difference between Botero’s and Machiavelli’s thought consists in the impact given to morality and religion as tools for government. Machiavelli believes that the governor ought to use the reason of state careless of any moral or religious implication for the sake of the state’s grandeur. Instead, Botero assumes that the use of the reason of state by the governor should be moderated by the application of virtues like morality and justice and by the respect for religion: otherwise, the governor would lack of reputation and obedience among his subjects.
Although some theories of international relations believe that the international order relies on idealistic and somewhat naïve principles, it is difficult to deny that the international community, now as in the past, is rather the result of designs based upon national interest, aimed at increasing the welfare of the state – or at least of a group of individuals within the state. 

[1] Botero, G. (1956). The reason of state. New Haven: Yale University Press.
[2] Machiavelli, N. (2005). The prince. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

mercoledì 6 luglio 2016

The theory of rational choice and the balance of power for the phenomenology of international alliances

In order to understand the role of the rational choice and balance of power theories in international relations it is useful to consider the world as an anarchical arena in which every state holds full sovereignty and is independent in taking political decisions. Unlike the relations within the state among different political institutions and actors, in the international relations it does not exist a hierarchy of powers nor is there a supreme binding judicial body that may syndicate on the respect of international law or punish the transgressors of it. Let us remember, for instance, that the International Court of Justice can have jurisdiction over a case only if the involved actors agree. In truth, the international relations are the consequence of particularistic and opportunistic considerations oriented toward the augmentation of national prestige, power and welfare.
In this context, the theory of rational choice plays a key role. This theory, albeit borrowed from economics, states within the international relations that an actor attempts to achieve the greatest possible benefit with the lower costs: in other words, it is convenient to do nothing else but pursue the greater good, avoid the greater evil, or at least, to settle for the lesser evil or good.
Economists often apply to the principle of rational choice. The basic idea that upholds the theory is to confront all the costs and benefits of a given activity. Considering an enterprise or a consumer it is a reasonable and rational decision that makes them decide in the former case which outputs to produce and how many of them, and what to purchase according to the own income in the latter. In this sense, the rational decision implies the choice, amongst different available alternatives, of the one that gives a major benefit in relation to the cost. Moreover, in economics rational choices imply the contemplation of marginal costs and marginal benefits, namely the variation of costs and benefits that occur in doing a certain activity in a slightly superior or inferior quantity than a given level: marginal costs/benefits should thus be considered separately from the total costs/benefits of a given activity. Ultimately, we can summarize the idea of rational decision by affirming that it implies the confrontation between marginal benefits and costs: whether the marginal benefit is superior to the marginal cost, then it is rational to start or to expand a certain activity; whether instead it is inferior, it is rational not to begin it or to diminish it.[1] Applying the theory to the theoretical principles of international collaboration, it represents the model through which international alliances and foreign policies choices are conceived and developed. The calculation of the (marginal) costs and benefits of an offensive or defensive alliance, the right granted to foreign troops to transit over a land, the conclusion of trade agreements, and any other form of negotiation wholly rely on realistic and strategic analyzes that see in international interaction a range of opportunities that can be more or less profitable. 
Now, one of the consequences of an international order that applies on equal terms the theory of rational choice is the consolidation of territorial stability following the principles of the balance of power. Wrought by English policymakers and strategists, the principle of the balance of power was typically characteristic of the eighteenth century, and it finally affirmed in the European continent during the nineteenth century after the Restoration. The balance of power is one of the key concepts of realist thought and refers to that condition in which political leaders manage to avoid or suspend the natural propensity to war by mutually fostering a kind of balance that equilibrates their geopolitical weight. This would lead to the making of a stable and ordered international system that could overcome international anarchy.
In order to achieve the balance of power, there are two main strategies, albeit complementary, to implement:

1) Make sure that the power of a stronger political entity, such as an empire, is reduced in order to rebalance its relevance in favor of lesser political entities.

2) Increase the power of the weaker political actor in order to resize the gap of power towards the other actors of the international system with which it interacts.

In practice, these strategies contemplate four different mechanisms aimed at achieving international balance:

1) Divide et impera:  it consists in avoiding the creation of excessively strong coalitions, and in pursuing the annihilation of powerful alliances that either already exist or are being created. The existence of extremely forceful political poles makes it more demanding to conceive counter-balancing strategies.

2) Compensations and territorial partition: this avoids the possibility that a single actor manages to take possession of an excessive quantity of resources and lands, and it helps to compensate the disadvantages that affect the weaker actors of the international system.

3) Dissuasive strategies: consisting in the implementation of policies liable to deter other players of the system from falling prey to greed and lust of conquest, and thus in making choices that can threaten the territorial integrity and survival of the weakest actors, with the risk of unbalancing and altering the international system.

4) Calculated alliances: The aim consists in benefiting from a mechanism that allows fast shifts of the weights, counterweights and powers within the system. This mechanism works best when there is a country that can play the role of balancer for the fact of being in a relatively independent position than other players. The balancer should also be strong enough to be able to intervene in the game of alliances, redistributing the political weights through appropriate choices and in considering mandatory the need of preserving the balance of power.

In fact, these mechanisms require two different tools to find concrete application: war and diplomacy. Moreover, the political entities that are able to implement these strategies are inevitably those who are either already sufficiently mighty to impose their will on others, or those that, having won a war or a military campaign, have gained a political superiority over the others that allows them to dictate their conditions at the negotiations for peace. In the latter case, the relevance of the winner’s will depends on the importance and degree of the attained victory. So, as it is true that winners write history, it is equally true that winners are those that establish a balance of power that is compatible and, where possible, convergent with their geopolitical strategies.[2]
Indeed, the theory of the balance of power entails several problematic issues. Generally, since the objective power of international actors is difficult to evaluate, it is complex to estimate when a system actually reaches the condition of equilibrium of powers. It is also difficult to calculate the effectivity of the ties that bind a coalition, because alliances are as easy to create as to terminate, and thus it could be dangerous to rely on them as guarantors for a state’s security or for the endurance of the system’s equilibrium. Furthermore, the balance of power international arrangement works better only in the case that all the actors of the system possess common norms and values, so that they will be able to appreciate in a comparable condition the common strategies that lead to the systemic equilibrium.
According to Kaplan,[3] the balance of power system is able to work properly only when some minimal conditions occur: the existence of a minimal number of actors, the absence of radical ideological and religious contrasts, the goodwill of the actors to respect the rules that the system implies, and a “providential” intervention of a kind of “invisible hand” that guides the actors’ decision, similar to the one that according to Adam Smith would guide free market.       
In addition, Morgenthau attributes four different meanings to the concept of balance of power based on the emphasis of different aspects related to it: according to the situational aspect, the balance of power is a policy aimed at obtaining a given situation or status quo; for the objective aspect, the balance of power indicates an effective and “real” condition; for the equilibrating aspect, it is a system that tends to reach a homogeneous and equal distribution of power; finally, according to the distributive aspect, balance of power means the presence of a mechanism of power transfer, i.e. an automatic mechanism that generates power redistribution.[4]
At the same time, Wight, the founder of the so-called “English School”, highlights some alternative definitions to the notion of balance of power:[5] the classical definition of balance of power suggests that the international actors share out power in a homogenous fashion; the normative definition considers the balance of power as a general rule that enounces a principle of equilibrium that ought to be uphold in order to grant an optimal function of the system; and an attitudinal definition by which the international system naturally and instinctively tends to establish a balance of power amongst its actors.
Finally, K. Waltz,[6] the chief theorist of neorealism, underlines the structural-systemic origin of the balance of power, highlighting how in an innate anarchical international system the principle of balance of power serves the purpose of self-conserving and self-defending the single actors. In this context, the balance of power is the natural result of the actors’ interaction that operates within the international anarchical system and of the natural competition due to the unequal distribution of power, which undermines global safety. Thus, states generate the balance of power not by their own choice, but because, being programmed to survive, they are naturally compelled to gather with others in a balanced coalition that may face the threat of other similar globally spread coalitions of power. In other words, the balance of power is the meeting point between the need for states to grant their own safety and survival and the will to maintain a “relative advantage” in terms of powerfulness. Practically speaking, states determine their own balance of power both by increasing their inner economic, political and strategic capabilities and by strengthening their systems of alliance and weakening those of the rivals. Waltz believes that since the balance of power is the logic result of the structural anarchic international system, all historical periods and international contests have been characterized by it.        
Historically, the Peace of Lodi (1454) offers the first paradigmatic example of a balance of power system. Likewise, the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and the Peace of Vienna (1815) offer further examples.    

[1] Sloman, J. (2004). Essentials of economics. Pearson Education Ltd.
[2] Simon-Belli, C. (2002). Teorie delle relazioni internazionali. Perugia: Guerra.
[3] Kaplan, M. (1957). System and process in international politics. New York: Wiley.
[4] Morgenthau, H. (1967). Politics among nations. New York: Knopf.
[5] Wight, M., Bull, H. and Holbraad, C. (1978). Power politics. New York: Holmes & Meier.
[6] Waltz, K. (1979). Theory of international politics. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.
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