Ethnos and Demos


George Lucas’ super hit classic of the 1980s, “Star Wars” is captivating in much more than one way. One of these is by his stretch of imagination whereby he conjures up a situation in which fundamentally different creatures of intelligence having to share a galaxy in the vast universe, deciding to negotiate a political system in which all have a respectable place. Sounds very familiar in the much smaller canvas of earth too, but the scale of the challenge is infinitely different. On earth we talk of people who speak different languages, have different degrees of skin pigmentations, different faiths etc, having to live under a political roof because of the binds of geography. In Lucas’ imagination, it is a situation in which creatures, not just varying in shapes and sizes, but also fundamentally different in basic physiology. Imagine oxygen breathers having to evolve a common political platform with others whose respiratory system works only on nitrogen or some other elemental gases. Quite obviously, Lucas must have been inspired by the notion of democracy in today’s global world in which race homogeneity as a necessary ingredient of a “nation state” has had to die its natural death. In this brave new world we live in today, the notions of ethnicity and nationhood, or ethnicity and citizenship, are increasingly and inevitably, having to be treated as different but related subjects. We would say rightly so too, although we must add, not to every extents. At one level, ethnic, religious, cultural differences have remained and must be allowed to remain till such a time as a levelled playing field is achieved, and in the meanwhile these differences can still be accommodated within a larger political framework. The reservation policy for instance is one such mechanism that acknowledges and accounts for such differences. At another level, the ethnos must transcend into demos. This especially because certain differences have conflicting claims to rights and privileges and unless a common ground is found, peace would be the inevitable casualty.  We must add, this is an area where the shortfall has been acute in our case.

The search in Star Wars for a galactic democratic norm acceptable to all its varied and dissimilar intelligent life forms is marked by a central theme – taking care of everybody’s needs and aspirations, is ultimately in the interest of all, for only then would peace and prosperity throughout the length and breath of the galactic democracy become possible. The important understanding which everybody comes to terms with in the situation is, this project necessarily entails every party to be ready for a little give and take. No one party can have it all, and what is important is the aggregate that is evolved must take care of everybody’s aggregate needs. The strategy here, as in modern democracies, is first and foremost to make a distinction between an ethnos and a demos. No two individuals can be identical, and by the same logic, no two ethnicities can be identical, but as many individuals and as many ethnicities can together belong to a common democracy as equal citizens. That is to say all ethnic communities must have to be ready for a common platform of democracy by a willingness to rise above ethnicities and towards being a demos, and realise this is in the interest of all within that democracy.

In Star Wars, there is one other compelling factor that makes it imperative for the different galaxies to be united within themselves. This comes in the form of an ever present threat of aggression from hostile galaxies. Perhaps there is no direct parallel to this anymore in the 21st Century, now that the notion of colonialism and territory annexation by conquest etc, are no longer acceptable or in vogue. If there are still aggressions they are of a very different nature and hardly to do with national conquests. Moreover, statistics prove that democratic nations do not go to war anymore (UNDP Human Development Report 2003). But modern aggressions still come in other forms – global warming, environmental degradation, climate change etc. Our conclusion then is, we can be a mature democracy only when our status as demos can subsume our identities as ethnos, and when we are able to leave the narrow confines of our ethnicities to treat these larger threats to life as such as our common enemies.


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