[Opinion] The Selfish Dynasties
A handful of political dynasties are becoming entrenched in Mauritius, uncannily mirroring the families of the Franco-Fascist† economic elite. Should we not ask ourselves: is this a healthy state of affairs for a fledgling democracy?
Dynasties have existed since the dawn of human history. In Egypt, successive families appropriated the Pharaonic crown and became God-Kings to their compliant populations. The last, the Ptolemaic Dynasty, was established by one of Alexander the Great’s generals and ended with Cleopatra’s famous suicide-by-snakebite following the Roman conquest. North India has known virtually uninterrupted dynastic rule for nearly 5000 years from the end of the Vedic period until Independence, with even the British declaring Queen Victoria the Empress of India. The success of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty can be interpreted as a collective psychological longing for the restoration of family rule, inconveniently interrupted by the results of democratic elections. Why is this?
In “The Selfish Gene“, Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins argues that individual lives are secondary to genes’ quest for eternity. From this gene-centric view, it follows that the more two individuals are genetically related, the more sense it makes for them to behave selflessly with each other. This can be used to explain why mothers are willing to die for their offspring, why business owners eschew meritocracy and appoint their sons as directors and why a Prime Minister would abdicate, before the end of his term, to ensure the crown is passed on to his unproven child. In other words, it is a justification for dynasties. Perhaps “The Selfish Dynasty” would have been a more appropriate title for Dawkins’ book.
The Bible compares the church to a human body and there is some justification for applying this analogy to societal structures in general. For example, skin cells divide to form skin cells, never nerve cells; similarly, in traditional societies, children would normally take up their parents’ trades. Indian and Egyptian history teaches us that dynasties can be highly successful; but only if the “head” ensures that the rest of the body is nourished and healthy. It also requires the “cells” in the feet to remain content with being a part of a foot and not to aspire to be part of the head. In other words, a successful dynastic system is dependent on a rigid caste structure.
However, our modern civilisation has rejected such systems. As our capacity to communicate and educate have transcended the constraints of locality, we have thrown off the concept of dynasty and caste in favour of equal opportunity and meritocracy. This requires selfless mentors to recognise and nurture the talents of non-genetically related youth. This leap forward created the conditions for the industrial revolution and the rise of a new and fluid “aristocracy” based on performance rather than lineage.
The next step is for humanity to realise that the earth is its body and, as the earth’s head, if we do not nourish and ensure that it is healthy then we commit slow suicide. India is finally becoming a global leader, where the son of a tea seller has risen to become the head of government and is gradually seeking out intellectuals to recommend sound environmental policies like switching to all electric vehicles by 2030. Our own rags-to-riches Prime Minister despised dynasty and encouraged social mobility by introducing universal free schooling. However, this is being undermined by the increasingly necessary expense of private tuition in order for families to ensure that their children get a place at university, something those at the bottom simply cannot afford.
Clearly Mauritius is regressing. The Jugnauth dynasty is securing its position and replicating a caste-like system by elevating incompetent members of its clan to positions of political power. Political agents are being appointed as advisors and the heads of parastatal bodies without any prior experience. The children of families that have supported the MSM are far more likely to gain over-paid positions in the civil service, thus encouraging trans-generational allegiance. Again this mirrors the Franco-Fascists’ tendency to preferentially employ Christians and promote a bourgeoisie that largely supports the economic status quo.
It is not sustainable. In the context of global competition, a nation that sleepwalks into establishing and reinforcing a dynastic-caste system will always be beaten by one that has embraced meritocracy and social mobility. The question is: how far must we slip down the world rankings before we wake up? French history teaches that when enough people are no longer satisfied with being fed the unwholesome cake of false hope and puerile propaganda, a revolutionary movement will arise and behead the political and economic aristocracy. Where are the intellectuals and patriots to lead The Mauritian Transition?
† The term “Franco-Fascist” is used with poetic licence. While the elite Franco-Mauritian families do not exhibit all the characteristics of fascism, having lost de facto control of the State through the evolution of Mauritian democracy, they do embrace many of them, particularly inequality, anti-democracy and Social-Darwinism. Their influence over the State remains strong since they provide a significant proportion of funding for elections. It is no coincidence that the mainstream political parties rarely oppose policies that support the families’ financial interests such as the highly profitable Integrated Resort Scheme and Independent Power Producers which effectively subsidise their ailing sugar businesses.
Dr Richard Munisamy