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Fr. 722

June 18, 2016

For an unexpected, literary illustration of Rawls and Stout’s differences on the role of discursive constraint and earnest reason-giving in public deliberation, we could look to one of Salman Rushdie’s lesser-known works for insight. Rushdie’s narrator says of the closing battle between the Guppees and the Chupwalas:

Rashid Khalifa, watching the action from the Guppee command hill, was very much afraid that the Pages of Gup would be beaten badly […] The black-nosed Chupwala Army, whose menacing silence hung over it like a fog, looked too frightening to lose. Meanwhile the Guppees were still busily arguing over every little detail. Every order sent down from the command hill had to be debated fully, with all its pro’s and con’s, even if it came from General Kitab himself. ‘How is it possible to fight a battle with all this chatter and natter?’ Rashid wondered, perplexed.

But then the armies rushed at each other; and Rashid saw, to his great surprise, that the Chupwalas were quite unable to resist the Guppees. The Pages of Gup, now that they had talked through everything so fully, fought hard, remained united, supported each other when required to do so, and in general looked like a force with a common purpose. All those arguments and debates, all that openness, had created powerful bonds of fellowship between them. The Chupwalas, on the other hand, turned out to be a disunited rabble […] [T]heir vows of silence and their habits of secrecy had made them suspicious and distrustful of one another. They had no faith in their generals, either. The upshot was that the Chupwalas did not stand shoulder to shoulder, but betrayed one another, stabbed one another in the back, mutinied, hid, deserted… and, after the shortest clash imaginable, simply threw down their weapons and ran away (Haroun and the Sea of Stories, pp. 184-185).

Crudely, we might see in the Chupwala army a(n exaggerated) Rawlsian approach: the principles regulating the battle order, and by parallel the basic structure, come down from on high and are decided in advance. If the army regulars can lend their voices in support of the battle order, the considerations which they can bring to bear are limited to certain kinds, as constrained by a certain view of rationality. The resulting battle order values order and stability but can, given the lack of frank exchange between members, undermine the civic friendship necessary to stabilize and sustain that order.

Just as crudely, the Guppee army could be read in parallel to a Stoutian approach: a person, albeit a general, proposes the principles regulating the battle order, and in part the basic structure. Yet the army regulars are participants to that discussion and can lend their voices either in support or disapproval of the proposed battle order, and the considerations to which the battle order’s principles are subjected prove much less constrained than on the Chupwala side. Army regulars are free to voice their real reasons for their support or disapproval, independently of a particular view of rationality, in such a way that they openly exchange their personal convictions with own another. The resulting battle order values conversation and movement but can, given the frank exchange between members and widening of their horizons, build up the civic friendship necessary to stabilize and sustain that order.

At its heart, and as its title suggests, Rushdie’s story is that of stories writ large and examines their role with relation to fact. In the end, it comes down strongly on the side of stories as that which holds the many together, as that in which the many can share. Through the exchange of their own stories, the Guppees come to victory, the Victory of Bat-Mat-Karo. But it would be remiss of us to neglect that, at one moment or another, the Guppees’ storytelling necessarily came to an end and the time for action arrived. Order will, sooner or later, impose itself in a definite shape.

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