Professor Maignot’s Non-Response

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 20, 2014

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeProfessor Antony Maingot has accused me of myopia but he has not responded to the arguments I made in my recent article on the constitutional reform proposed by the present government. Even if we grant that everything he says is true they do not refute my contention that in most of our political discussions we go no further than 1955; we do not look for constitutional precedence in our social and political history; and we do not seek, at any time, to determine the events had shaped our present thereby making us a unique society.

To support my point, I drew on an equally disturbing debate that took place in our in Legislature Council in 1847 in which the members of that Council voted unanimously to enslave East Indians. These Council members who represented the official power of the time (they were all men) were selected by the British Colonial Office to do their bidding.

In presenting my argument I was careful to select a debate that took place when the population was analogous to what it is today in terms of its multicultural and multiethnic dimensions. In fact, in 1849 Lord Harris outlined eight different elements of the society: 1) British (consisting mainly of Irish and Scots); 2) French (natives of France and the French colonies) 3) Spaniards (creoles from the Spanish Main); 4) Germans, Italians, Portuguese, Americans; 5) The Colored population; 6) Africans of different nations, including disbanded soldiers and American refugees; (7), American Indians of various tribes of ethnic groups; and 8) Indians who had recently arrived.

In speaking of the heterogeneous nature of the population, Lord Harris remarked: “Such a population is not likely to possess itself any strong bonds of union, or to have any warm feelings towards the ruling country.” One year earlier he had argue that “a race has been freed, but a society has not been formed. Liberty has been given to a heterogeneous mass of individuals who can comprehend only license.”

This is why I argued that the chief criterion of any constitutional proposals in our society must seek to bind the population together, a point to which Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar alluded when she addressed her audience on Monday (“No Indian Takeover,” Express, August 19). She argued that the proposed constitution reform does seek to entrench Indian rule and went on to give the percentages of the various groups in the society.

In other words, to be consistent with the historical demands of our society we have to stick to the principle of binding our people together rather than keeping them apart. We always have to ask what lessons our past can teach us rather than simply mimicking the examples of others, a point that V. S. Naipaul has made in the past.

In 1831, Alex de Tocqueville and his friend Gustave de Beaumont went to the United States to study the prison system there. Tocqueville traveled over certain parts of the United States to discover what was unique about the US that made it conducive to democracy in a way France, which had suffered from the despotic reign of kings, could not really achieve. Democracy in America was the literary product of that trip.

Each society must search diligently to find wherein lie the seeds of democracy within its political practices. It cannot set out to borrow helter shelter from other societies and hope that it comes up with a correct formula that fits its needs. Such an outcome calls for creativity and a better knowledge of one’s history.

When the British arrived in Trinidad in 1797 there were about 10,000 persons most of whom were enslaved. By 1848 there were about 70,000. After the enslavement and indentureship, the task at hand was simple: how to construct a society out of that heterogeneous mix and how to live together in harmony. Lord Harris sought to do that by introducing an educational system and organizing the society into wards and so on.

The laboring population itself, through trial and error began to construct their living arrangements, respecting the customs of one another and eking out a living from a very unforgiving climate. We were lucky not to be subjected to hurricanes. Without ever stating so explicitly, our goal always remained how bring those various groups into a coherent whole, sharing similar values although we may honor them in various ways.

This is what I tried to convey in my article, “Staining the Society.” In his expansiveness, Professor Maingot failed to respond to the points that I made.