Forming the foundations of an Azadist society.

Azadism works off the assumption that people generally act according to their own self-interest. For the vast majority, the motivations behind one’s actions is how the consequences of those actions will benefit them first. Many may disguise this as working for the best interest of others such as family, friends, or community, but even this can be argued to arise from an inherent desire to appease their own  self-interest. Consider those cases of politicians or celebrities helping with charity work, are they really doing it to solve the issues or to increase their own reputations? Only they know their own intent. Now this does not mean that there is no place for Seva, but it should be made clear that only that type of service that is done out of selflessness and with no desire for reward can be truly considered a true spiritual effort¹.

It can be argued that only when one has reached this state of mind, are they doing a “selfless” Seva in the true sense, whereby, there is a merger between their own self-interest and the self-interest of others. This could even be considered as the destruction of self-interest entirely. For someone who recognises God in everyone and everything (including themselves), what “self” is left for them to act in their own interest? This is the goal of spiritual pursuit - the successful denial of duality and recognition of absolute oneness².

However, it is unreasonable to assume that everyone is by default at this level. An Azadist system takes into consideration a population that is at all levels of spiritual attainment, by working bottom up. It recognises that Seva in the true sense is done only by a minority of people and the majority work often out of a self-interest motive. Azadism builds off the premise that until someone is at that stage and remains so, they are usually acting out in a way that best maximises the benefit to themselves first and foremost. This is not a necessarily a bad thing, it is reasonable to argue that the Guru themselves realised the importance of this. This can be shown through the many examples of them appealing to people’s self-interest in order to promote engagement with the spiritual process. In effect, they suggest that following the principles of Sikhi is in the person’s best interest. There are many reoccurring themes throughout Gurbani following a template of presenting an ideal or recommending a certain behaviour, and then offering and explaining the reward of doing so³ ⁴ ⁵.

The specific interpretations of these Shabads is not what is being brought attention to here. Instead, observe the way the Shabad has been constructed to deliver an Updesh; the way a formula is followed of providing the listener or reader with incentives. Further to this, the Guru also provides Shabads warning Sikhs of the consequences of not behaving in accordance with their teachings too.


We can also look at the history of Guru Gobind Singh Ji and how he used financial incentives specifically to promote certain behaviours. We can look at his Darbar compromising of world-class poets, Raagis and philosophers, and how the Guru used to offer cash prizes as rewards for displays of excellence. Another example is the armies of the Guru who were paid regular wages as a reward for their service. This all appeals to the self-interest of the Sikhs at the time. The Guru would have recognised and accepted the fact that not all his Sikhs were completely selfless Sant Mahapurash, who had already successfully destroyed any sense of desire and were fully merged with the one. Hence, their very purpose was to lead the people to reach those states of enlightenment. It is far more reasonable to accept that people are at different levels of spiritual development, and so the Guru takes this into account and crafts techniques that will work for all, not just those already on higher levels of consciousness. This approach is clarified by Guru Arjan Dev themselves in a Sakhi from Bhai Mani Singh’s Sikhan Di Bhagat Mala, where the Guru outlines the three levels of people's understanding. He caters for this by providing Shabads that vary in degrees of relevancy depending on someone’s level of competency. Ultimately, the pursuit of these things leads to an understanding that doing Simran and Seva are in themselves their own rewards, but this may take time and effort to realise. To get someone to realise this, an incentive is a perfectly reasonable way to get them started. In the same way, a doctor may explain the benefits of a medicine to an ill person, the Guru explains the benefits of Naam to all humanity. However, as the aforementioned Sakhi shows us, the Guru recognises the various illnesses specific to each individual and so provides the relevant medicine for every case. Hence why the Guru is Jagat Guru.


Taking these factors into consideration, the population of an Azadist nation is similarly not assumed to be already enlightened. Azadism provides a system in which every individual is accounted for based on their own personal level of spiritual attainment, ranging from Malechh to Mahapurakh. Under this system, even those pursuing self-interest alone, will still benefit everyone else in the process (given a certain condition which will be explained later).

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages”

― Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations, Book I, Chapter II

The above quote by late eighteenth-century political philosopher, Adam Smith (considered the father of economics), tells us that the butcher does not supply his services because he necessarily has an innate selflessness. He does this expecting to be compensated with something in return that satisfies his effort and his desire for a reward. The fact that others also benefit from this transaction is only a by-product of the butcher’s self-interest orientated behaviour. The butcher may or may not value the health and well-being of others’ families more than his own, only he himself truly knows. However, let’s assume that the butcher is greedy and only wants to create enough wealth for him and his family, but to do so, he must provide a good or service that others are willing to pay for. He can only satisfy his ‘needs and wants’ by satisfying the ‘needs and wants’ of others.


This does not mean that we must always strive to act out in self-interest. But, considering the fact we cannot guarantee everyone will always be compassionate, the best course of action is to maintain such a system that embeds positive outcomes regardless of intent at a base level to work up from. In the process this mitigates the perceivably harmful effect of those who are greedy, so that by them pursuing greed, the best interests of others are not compromised. It must be clarified that greed is not simply the equivalent of self-interest, but rather an excess of it.


Whilst it is widely accepted that as per Sikhi, greed is a vice that should be avoided, a government cannot set ethics without the threat of force, and so Azadism argues that it should not as a result. If a government has the power to set ethics, then it is more susceptible to oppress its people to conform to the subjective beliefs of whatever ethical framework the government in power dictates. It will then also use this as an excuse to commit atrocities to uphold the chosen “ideal” it wishes to advocate. We need to only look at history to see this: Hitler made it “unethical” to be a Jew, the Chinese Communist Party is doing the same with the Uyghurs right now, and in our own history, Indira Gandhi made it immoral to be Sikh. Obviously, this was disguised in different ways such as saying the Jews are greedy, or Sikhs are terrorists, but fundamentally this is the extremes of what could happen and has happened, when government is given the monopoly on ethic setting. It is for this reason that, although greed is a vice according to Sikhi, the means in which to remove it should never be handed over to the state to enforce through violence.


The government is the one entity that we should actively ensure does not act in its own self-interest, since it has the “legal” power to enforce it more than any other entity. How then does one eliminate the self-interest motive or greed? As touched upon earlier, this can only ever be truly achieved through spiritual pursuit. Whilst there could be a selection process for government officials that considers spiritual attainment, the other option is to reduce the power and size of the government in the first place to mitigate the risks. By having a government that has influence over fewer things, then in the case it degenerates into immorality it won’t have such a widespread effect over its people. The exact checks and balances that could be installed will be expanded upon in the last section.


“Every individual… neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it… he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

― Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations, Book IV, Chapter II


Self-interest forms the base of an Azadist society. It is through this that trade can occur, where two or more parties can reach an agreement for exchange in which each party considers their own self-interest. If something is not mutually beneficial, then that transaction would not occur. What someone considers as beneficial for them is completely subjective, as everyone will have their own unique needs and wants to satisfy. Even this varies as the increased consumption of a particular good may reduce the desire or utility of an additional unit of that good. The market is a flurry of these transactions done out of self-interest; this is the reason why there is no need for any central planning. By only tending to their own needs, each individual satisfies the needs of society as a whole. No one part must understand the whole in order to make a decision, the same way a lion doesn’t consult an ecologist before hunting its prey. Yet nature rebalances as required.


These concepts will be expanded upon in the next section, however where the line is drawn is when someone’s self-interest negatively impacts the self-interest of others. For example, if someone subjectively finds it beneficial to them to pollute a river used by farmers for irrigation, then since this affects the farmer's own self-interest in being able to grow their crops to sell for a profit, or the consumers who will have to eat that food, the government’s role is to step in and rectify the situation. This introduces the main principle on which an Azadist nation must abide by and in which the rest of the system relies upon - the “non-aggression principle” (NAP). This is the idea that everyone is free to live however they want to, as long as it does not impede the right for others to do the same. The sole basis on which the government can act is to maintain the NAP. To rephrase this in terms of interest, it is the freedom to pursue one’s own self-interest as long as it doesn’t harm the right for others to do the same. It would be illegal under an Azadist government to force anyone to engage in a transaction they deny, and this is the government’s responsibility to enforce this law. The above is a clear example of the NAP being broken, and this is where the government’s role is realised. If self-interest is the sand and gravel, the NAP is the cement which forms the concrete foundations of an Azadist economy.


To reiterate, this system does not need to rely on the morality of its participants. However, just because the foundation includes self-interest, it does not mean that the rest of the structure must conform to this standard. There is ample room for spiritual pursuit, where people are more than free to sacrifice their own self-interest for the betterment of others. In fact, if what benefits someone the most is to increase the quality of life of others, an Azadist citizen is free to pursue how best to satisfy this legitimate interest as long as it does not violate the NAP. This can take the form of private charity, religious institutions, and civil society in general, as will be explored further in the fourth section. Therefore, Azadism is built from the bottom up in terms of ethics, meaning that instead of assuming everyone is already enlightened and altruistic, it channels greed in a way that even by pursuing it, society does not suffer. And those who abandon greed for compassion, then society naturally benefits from this also. The importance is stressed upon the freedom to choose, constrained only by a non-aggression principle.


To conclude this first section, a repeated emphasis must be placed on the power of incentives, as this will be touched upon throughout this manifesto. During the British Raj, the government sought to fix the problem of deadly cobras infesting Delhi. To solve this, they offered to pay anyone who brought them dead cobras. Whilst initially this seemed like a good idea to reduce the population of these snakes, what they had effectively done was create a market for dead snakes. Now people were breeding them to get a stable income from the government. The lesson from this story became known as the “Cobra Effect” and highlights the necessity in factoring in incentives in any sort of policy making¹⁰.