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Politics & Philosophy Of Death

It is more than often encountered in different facets of Democracies that ‘The People will say the last word’ or ‘Law will follow its own course’. In case of the death of a member of the Opposition Party, the Ruling Party usually goes on to utter: “Any death is tragic. Do not politicise this demise” (if that is untimely or not entirely natural). Naturally, the questions arises here: Is any death at all Apolitical? Does Death not have a political reference or significance of its own? Well, of course, it does have! Death has always put an end to more significant controversies, as well! If we get to cursorily consider that there is an intellectual debate going on between two thinkers, and if one of them passes away, it, almost inevitably, puts an end to the debate.

One may recall that the debate over Enlightenment, the boundaries of the competition for the use of Reason, and allegiance to authority between King Frederick the Great (January 24, 1712 – August 17, 1786) and German Philosopher Immanuel Kant (April 22, 1724 – February 12, 1804) had ended with the death of the King. Again, death often prevents one from keeping the promises that were made by her/him. It had happened with Kant, incidentally! The Philosopher had assured King Frederick that he would never pen a book, describing his views and ideology. However, he changed his mind after the King’s demise, as his words became meaningless in the changing situation.

Immanuel Kant

Death, it is seen, tends to make a person somewhat noble and great! The one, who dies suddenly, becomes a kind of Great Person, even without much contribution from his end, only because he leaves the world forever. People have a tendency to veil the negative aspects of that person’s character, while evaluating her/his life. No one is usually seen to portray the negative sides of a deceased person at a memorial service. This is the Power or Strength or the Political Aspect of a Death.

Now, it is important to discuss the Political Character of a death… in other words, exactly how much the State is involved in the issue of a death. One has to inform the Local Authorities about a death within a specified time, otherwise, the deceased person’s family does not get the Death Certificate. Without the death certificate, it cannot be proved to other institutions of the State that the person concerned is dead. As the State maintains a record of Birth, purchasing and selling of property, marriage, number of children, all these are a part of the Political Process. The same logic applies to a death, which is also a Political Issue.

The way the State decides the definition of a crime or whether homosexuals should be allowed to tie nuptial knots, the same way it decides which disease is more deadly, Tuberculosis or COVID-19? In that sense, Death becomes a Political Issue. The doctrine, followed by the State, gets to determine who will be handcuffed, who will judge them, and how and to what extent the judgment will be implemented! The doctrine also determines who would face the bullet, and who would be the shooter. It is the State that decides which death would be celebrated with great dignity, and which one would be buried in the ground.

Suicide, too, has its own Politics. People who choose this type of death receive sympathy from society. It is believed that people, prone to suicide, are extremely talented and intelligent! There are, of course, many such examples in history. British polymath Sir Bertrand Arthur William Russell (May 18, 1872 – February 2, 1970) penned two volumes of Principia Mathematica after postponing his plan to commit suicide. In his memoirs, Sir Bertrand claimed that his student and Austrian-British Philosopher Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (April 26, 1889 – April 29, 1951), too, was suicide prone.

Émile Durkheim

The State plays an important role, as far as suicide is concerned. As the Indian State remained indifferent to how the debts of the farmers of Vidarbha Region, who endured drought for two consecutive years, would be forgiven, around 1,300 farmers committed suicide in January-June 2021. French Sociologist David Émile Durkheim (April 15, 1858 – November 15, 1917) had shown in his research works that the tendency of people to commit suicide decreased during crises, like war. Hence, one may say that Death can well be considered mostly as a Political Issue.

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