Two hundred years ago, Americans fought the War of Independence to assure life, liberty, and happiness in a fledgling nation. In a conversation with the BACK TO GODHEAD staff, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that Americans can actually achieve these things only by maintaining a God conscious society, with God conscious leaders.
BTG: Thomas Jefferson put the basic philosophy of the American Revolution into the Declaration of Independence. The important men of the day who signed this document agreed that there are certain very obvious or self-evident truths; the first of which is that all men are created equal. By this they meant that all men are equal before the law and have an equal opportunity to be protected by the law.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, in that sense men are, as you say, created equal.
BTG: Another point in the Declaration of Independence is that all men are endowed by God with certain natural rights that cannot be taken away from them. These are the rights of life, liberty, and
Srila Prabhupada: But animals also have the right to life. Why don’t animals also have the right to live? The rabbits, for instance, are living in their own way in the forest. Why does the government allow hunters to go and shoot them?
BTG: They were simply talking about human beings.
Srila Prabhupada: Then they have no real philosophy. The narrow idea that my family or my brother is good, and that I can kill others, is criminal. Suppose that for my family’s sake I kill your father. Is that philosophy? Real philosophy is suhrdam sarva-bhutanam: friendly to all living entities. Certainly this applies to human beings, but even if you unnecessarily kill one animal, I shall immediately protest, “What nonsense are you doing?”
BTG: The founders of America said that another natural right is the right to liberty, or freedom. Freedom in the sense that the government doesn’t have the right to tell you what kind of job you have to do.
Srila Prabhupada: If the government is not perfect, it should not be allowed to tell people what to do. But if the government is perfect, then it can.
BTG: The third natural right they mentioned was that every human being has the right to pursue happiness.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. But your standard of happiness may be different from my standard. You may like to eat meat; I hate it. How can your standard of happiness be equal to mine?
BTG: So should everyone be free to try to achieve whatever standard of happiness he wants?
Srila Prabhupada: No, the standard of happiness should be prescribed according to the qualities of the person. You must divide the whole society into four groups: those with brahmana qualities, those with ksatriya qualities, those with vaisya qualities, and those with sudra qualities. Everyone should have good facility to work according to his natural qualities.
You cannot engage a bull in the business of a horse, nor can you engage a horse in the business of a bull. Today practically everyone is getting a college education. But what is taught at these colleges? Mostly technical knowledge, which is sudraeducation. Real higher education means learning Vedic wisdom. This is meant for the brahmanas. Alone, sudra education leads to a chaotic condition. Everyone should be tested to find out which education he is suited for. Some sudras may be given technical education, but most sudras should work on the farms. Because everyone is coming to the cities to get an education, thinking, “We can get more money,” the agriculture is being neglected. Now there is scarcity because no one is engaged in producing nice foodstuffs. All these anomalies have been caused by bad government. It is the duty of the government to see that everyone is engaged according to his natural qualities. Then people will be happy.
BTG: So if the government artificially puts all men into one class, then there can’t be happiness.
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is unnatural and will cause chaos.
BTG: America’s founding fathers didn’t like classes because they’d had such bad experience with them. Before the revolution, Americans had been ruled by monarchs, but the monarchs would always become tyrannical and unjust.
Srila Prabhupada: Because they weren’t trained to be saintly monarchs. In Vedic civilization, boys were trained from the very beginning of life as first class brahmacaris [celibate students]. They went to the guru-kula, the school of the spiritual master, and learned self-control, cleanliness, truthfulness, and many other saintly qualities. The best of them were later fit to rule the country.
The American Revolution has no special significance. The point is that when people become unhappy, they revolt. That was done in America, that was done in France, and that was done in Russia.
BTG: The American revolutionaries said that if a government fails to rule the people properly, then the people have the right to dissolve that government.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Just as in Nixon’s case: they pulled him down. But if they replace Nixon with another Nixon, then what is the value? They must know how to replace Nixon with a saintly leader. Because people do not have that training and that culture, they will go on electing one Nixon after another and never become happy. People can be happy. The formula for happiness is there in the Bhagavad-gita. The first thing they must know is that the land belongs to God. Why do Americans claim that the land belongs to them? When the first settlers went to America, they said, “This land belongs to God, therefore we have a right to live here.” So why are they now not allowing others to settle on the land? What is their philosophy? There are so many overpopulated countries. The American government should let the people go to America and should give them facility to cultivate the land and produce grains. Why are they not doing that? They have taken others’ property by force, and by force they are checking others from going there. What is the philosophy behind this?
BTG: There is no philosophy.
Srila Prabhupada: Rogueism is their philosophy. They take the property by force, and then they make a law that no one can take another’s property by force. So they are thieves. They cannot restrict God’s property from being occupied by God’s sons. America and the other countries in the United Nations should agree that wherever there is enough land, it may be utilized by the human society for producing food. The government can say, “All right, you are overpopulated. Your people can come here. We will give them lands and they can produce food’.” We would see a wonderful result. But will they do that? No. Then what is their philosophy? Rogueism. “I will take the land by force, and then I won’t allow others to come here.”
BTG: One American motto is, “One nation under God.”
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is Krsna consciousness. There should be one nation under God, and one world government under God as well. Everything belongs to God, and we are all His sons. That philosophy is wanted.
BTG: But in America people are very much afraid of a central government, because they think that whenever there’s a strong government there will always be tyranny.
Srila Prabhupada: If the leaders are properly trained, there cannot be tyranny.
BTG: But one of the premises of the American system of government is that if a leader has too much power, he will inevitably become corrupt.
Srila Prabhupada: You have train him in such a way that he cannot become corrupt!
BTG: What is that training process?
Srila Prabhupada: That training is the varnasrama-dharma. Divide the society according to quality and train people in the principle that everything belongs to God and should be used in the service of God. Then there really can be “one nation under God.”
BTG: But if society is divided into different groups, won’t there be envy?
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. Just as in my body there are different parts that work together, so the society can have different parts working for the same goal. My hand is different from my leg. But when I tell the hand. “Bring a glass of water,” the leg will help. The leg is required, and the hand is required.
BTG: But in the Western world we have a working class and a capitalist class, and there is always warfare going on between the two.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The capitalist class is required, and the working class is also required.
BTG: But they are fighting.
Srila Prabhupada: Because they are not trained up, they have no common cause. The hand and the leg work differently, but the common cause is to maintain the body. So if you find out the common cause for both the capitalists and the workers, then there will be no fighting. But if you do not know the common cause, then there will always be fighting.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
BTG: Then the most important thing is to find the common cause that people can unite on?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, just like in our Krsna conscious society you come to consult me about every activity because I can give you the common cause. Otherwise, there will be fighting. The government should be very expert to know the aim of life the common cause and they should train the people to work for the common cause. Then they will be happy and peaceful. But if people simply elect rascals like Nixon, they will never find a common cause. Any rascal can secure votes by some arrangement, and then he becomes the head of the government. The candidates are bribing, they are cheating, they are making propaganda to win votes. Somehow or other they get votes and capture the prime post. This system is bad.
BTG: So if we don’t choose our leaders by popular election, how will society be governed?
Srila Prabhupada: You require brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas, and sudras. Just as when you want to construct a building, you require engineers. You don’t want sweepers. Isn’t that so? What will the sweeper do? No, there must be engineers. So if you follow the division of varnasrama, only ksatriyas are allowed to govern. And for the legislative assembly the senators only qualified brahmanas. Now the butcher is in the legislative assembly. What does he know about making laws? He is a butcher, but by winning votes he becomes a senator. At the present moment, by the principle of vox populi, a butcher goes to the legislature. So everything depends on training. In our Krsna conscious society, we’re actually doing that, but in the case of politics, they forget it. There cannot be just one class. That is foolishness, because we have to engage different classes of men in different activities. If we do not know the art, then we will fail, because unless there is a division of work, there will be havoc. We have discussed all the responsibilities of the king in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The different classes in society should cooperate exactly as the different parts of the body do. Although each part is meant for a different purpose, they all work for one cause: to maintain the body properly.
BTG: What is the actual duty of the government?
Srila Prabhupada: To understand what God wants, and to see that society works toward that aim. Then people will be happy. But if the people work in the wrong direction, how can they be happy? The government’s duty is to see that they are working in the right direction. The right direction is to know God and to act according to His instructions. But if the leaders themselves do not believe in the supremacy of God, and if they do not know what God wants to do, or what He wants us to do, then how can there be good government? The leaders are misled, and they are misleading others. That is the chaotic condition in the world today.
BTG: In the United States there has traditionally been the separation of church and state.
Srila Prabhupada: I am not talking about the church. Church or no church that is not the point. The main thing is that the leaders have to accept that there is a supreme controller. How can they deny it? Everything in nature is going on under the Supreme Lord’s control. The leaders cannot control nature, so why don’t they accept a supreme controller? That is the defect in society. In every respect, the leaders are feeling that there must be a supreme controller, and yet they are still denying Him.
BTG: But suppose the government is atheistic…
Srila Prabhupada: Then there cannot be good government. The Americans say they trust in God. But without the science of God, that trust is simply fictitious. First take the science of God very seriously, then put your trust in Him. They do not know what God is, but we do. We actually trust in God.
They’re manufacturing their own way of governing. And that is their defect. They will never be successful. They are imperfect, and if they go on manufacturing their own ways and means, they will remain imperfect. There will always be revolutions one after another. There will be no peace.
BTG: Who determines the regulative principles of religion that people should follow?
Srila Prabhupada: God. God is perfect. He does that. According to the Vedic version, God is the leader of all living entities (nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam). We are different from Him because He is all-perfect, and we are not. We are very small. We have the qualities of God, but in very small quantity. Therefore we have only a little knowledge that’s all. With a little knowledge you can manufacture a 747 airplane, but you cannot manufacture a mosquito. God has created the mosquito’s body, which is also an “airplane.” And that is the difference between God and us: we have knowledge, but it is not as perfect as God’s. So the leaders of the government have to consult God; then they will rule perfectly.
BTG: Has God also devised the most perfect government?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes. The ksatriyas ruled the government in Vedic times. When there was a war, the king was the first to fight. Just like your George Washington: he fought when there was a war. But what kind of president is ruling now? When there is a war, he sits very securely and telephones orders. He’s not fit to be president. When there is war, the president should be the first to come forward and lead the battle.
BTG: But if man is small and imperfect, how can he execute God’s perfect orders for a perfect government?
Srila Prabhupada: Although you may be imperfect, because you are carrying out my order, you’re becoming perfect. You have accepted me as your leader, and I accept God as my leader. In this way society can be governed perfectly.
BTG: So good government means first of all to accept the supreme being as the real ruler of the government?
Srila Prabhupada: You cannot directly accept the supreme being. You must accept the servants of the supreme being the brahmanas or Vaisnavas [devotees of the Lord] as your guides. The government men are the ksatriyas the second class. The ksatriyas should take advice from the brahmanas or Vaisnavas and make laws accordingly. The vaisyas should carry out the ksatriyas’ orders in practice. And the sudras should work under these three orders. Then society will be perfect.