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26 May 2014

Kings of Democracy - The mass effect

Under the rules of kingship, the masses were regarded as subjects whose chief duty was to be loyal to their ruler; they were not allowed to challenge his authority. The rulers derived their authority from divine power, which could not be criticised or challenged. The masses, as subjects, were required to be submissive and faithful to their ruler. To his subjects, the king was like a father whose responsibility was to protect them and take care of their needs. A genre of literature known as `Mirrors for Princes` provides guidelines to the rulers on the principles of ruling by maintaining justice.
This role of the masses changed completely during the French Revolution when they stormed the Bastille on July 14, 1789 and made an attempt to defy royal authority. The mob further asserted its power when it marched from Paris to Versailles, the royal residence, and brought the royal family to Paris where it remained under the watchful eyes of the people. The masses also stormed the national assembly and watched the proceedings of the assembly from the balcony.

The members were careful not to speak against the will of the peoplc and adopted a policy to suit their interests.

When France was invaded by other European powers to restore the monarchy, the masses joined the army to defend the revolution. This time they fought not for the king but for the country a great change in history. They marched to the war f`ront singing the marseillaise, the revolutionary song, to defend their nation against the invading enemies.
In 1792, when Maximilien de Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety assumed power and changed the whole political and social structure, Rousseau`s philosophy, in which he pleaded for the sovereignty of the people, was implemented. This ended the royal authority and shifted power to the people. These revolutionary changes turned the entire structure of the French society upside down.
During the reign of terror, which began in 1793, a large number of enemies of the revolution were executed. It is said that the Guillotine was introduced at this stage in order to punish all classes of people in the same manner. Before that, in case of capital punishment the nobles were beheaded, while commoners were hanged and women were strangled. Now, with the introduction of the Guillotine, people belonging to all classes were executed on the basis of`equality.

Another important step taken by the revolutionary government was to de-Christianise the French society. The church of Notre Dame was stripped of`all religious symbols and declared the church of supreme reason. A new calendar was introduced replacing the Christian one. However, these radical changes were checked when Robespierre was arrested and executed in 1795.

Although the radical phase of the French revolution ended, it provided an opportunity to Napoleon to establish his dictatorship. However, the role of the newly-empowered masses which had been radicalised during the revolution could not be changed. They played an important role in the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. The masses had learned to fight against the army; they had become expert in barricading the streets and put up resistance against the movement of the armed forces. When France was defeated by Germany in 1870, the people captured the city and the commune of Paris controlled its affairs; however, the army used brutal force; the ensuing mass slaughter wiped out any resistance against the government.

Since the French revolution, the masses have continued to play an important role in changing the political system. In Asia and Africa they struggled against colonialism and fought for freedom. In recent history, there are a number of examples when the masses came out on the streets against dictators and supported those political parties who were struggling for democracy.

The contribution of the masses is undeniable in establishing a democratic system based on fundamental rights and justice. Although they have been harassed, tortured and killed by law enforcing agencies, their spirit of resistance could not be crushed.

In Eastern Europe, the masses have suceceded in bringing about peaceful revolutions in their countries, while in the Middle East they protested to change the military-dominated governments. However, the outcome was not the establishment of democracy but the setting up of dietatorial government as in the case of Egypt.

In Pakistan, although the masses often protest against the government and demand for basic needs such as gas, electricity, employment and security. But since they are not organised, their protest is crushed by the police and they are sent back to their homes. They are not successful because they are not united in their efforts and have no support from the elite leadership of political parties. In this case, it is a waste of` their energy which would weaken their inspiration and hope to transform the society. The dream of achieving true sovereignty of the people is still a far away one in our country. 
         
by Mubarak Ali, Dawn.com


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