Progress Report on Social Revolution


Revolution in Human Affairs


Project leader: Jasjit Singh

A. Background

1. This project typifies the unique approach that WAAS can bring to the examination of global issues. It is routed in the original thinking of two WAAS Fellows. In the early 1950s Harlan Cleveland observed the powerful impact of rising aspirations on the pace of social and economic development in East Asia, which prompted him to coin the original phrase “revolution of rising expectations.”

2. In the early 1990s Jasjit Singh formulated his perception of the destabilizing potential of rapidly changing expectations when the gap between economic expectations and social reality becomes too great. He perceived the fact that the spread of modern mass communications combined with growing inequality was becoming a major source of social unrest and a basis for violence and terrorism. This important thesis was set forth in the second chapter of ICPF’s report Uncommon Opportunities.

3. The Government of India’s major emphasis on rural employment in recent years arises, at least in part, from its acceptance of advice given by Jasjit Singh that rising social unrest resulting from rapid development represents the greatest threat to India’s national security.

4. The linkage between social development, social unrest and terrorism was explored at the Academy’s NATO workshop in Zagreb in 2005.

B. Steps Taken

1. This project focuses on the linkage between economic development, rising levels of inequality, unemployment, social unrest and terrorism. It directly links the Academy’s on-going focus on social development theory with its focus on security issues – which was the rationale leading to the establishment of the SCPD in 2005.

2. The project was approved by the BoT in August 2009 but implementation was suspended after the modest budget allocation was withdrawn in May 2010.

3. In February 2011, a one day seminar was organized by Jasjit Singh and financed by CAPS in Delhi to launch the project. The discussion examined themes related to security, governance, law, economy, social development and the role of civil society.

4. An article by Jasjit Singh “Revolution in Human Affairs: The Root of Societal Violence” was published in Cadmus issue 2 in April 2011.

5. A background paper by Ashok Natarajan “Rising Expectations, Social Unrest & Development” prepared for the February 2011 meeting was published in Cadmus issue 3 in October 2011.

6. The reasons for the dramatic decline in violent conflict within and between nations since 1990 are examined in another Cadmus issue 3 article by Robert Berg Berg et al., “Mediation of Conflicts by Civil Society”.

7. Jasjit Singh also presented an overview of the project at the Delhi GA on November 11th, 2011.

Read more in Cadmus, “Revolution in Human Affairs: The Root of Societal Violence” by Jasjit Singh and “Rising Expectations, Social Unrest & Development” by Ashok Natarajan.

Revolution in Human Affairs - Presentation at Delhi GA on November 11th, 2011

The spread of democratic governance and human rights, the rapid economic growth and growing disparities between rich and poor, and the explosive spread of communications technologies to the masses have spawned a silent revolution that is rapidly reshaping global society – what former WAAS President Harlan Cleveland termed “a revolution in rising expectation”. This revolution releases enormous social energy which can lead to greater dynamism and more rapid progress. But what happens when the energies released find no positive outlet for constructive expression? What happens when the rising expectations of youth enter a world without sufficient employment opportunities and when the poor become passive but firsthand witnesses through the mass media to the lavish life styles of the consumer classes?

These are questions which Jasjit Singh has framed for study in the WAAS project on “Revolution in Human Affairs”, launched last February at a seminar in Delhi and presented for further exploration at the Delhi GA this November. His startling and timely conclusion is that when these rising expectations are frustrated and prevented from positive expression, they build up as tension beneath the surface until they gain sufficient pressure to explode into action, as evidenced by the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the rise of fundamentalism, and the spread of Naxalite violence in the poorer rural parts of India.

Examining history as well as current affairs, this helps us understand why France underwent a violent revolution in 1789, while England underwent more gradual evolutionary change; how greater freedom and higher levels of education can ignite social tensions; and how growing prosperity can be associated with growing discontent. Recognizing the essential role of employment in positively absorbing these social energies is one of the reasons that since 2005 India has operated the largest employment program in history. This perspective poses an urgent policy question for the Academy to examine: “How can the Revolution of Rising Expectations be vectored in a positive direction for greater constructive, peaceful and productive outcomes?”

Theory of Social Development - Presentation at Delhi GA on November 11th, 2011

The relationship between law and social development is complex and poorly understood. Law plays a crucial role in the development of society, and social development drives the evolution of law. In his presentation at the Delhi General Assembly, Håkan Hyden stressed that a theory of law is essential to comprehend the connection between the development of law, the development of society, and the phases through which each of them passes. There is a pressing need for research on this relationship.

Social development, according to Håkan, is a movement from the collective to the individual orientation. This expresses in law as a shift in focus from externally imposed authority to self-regulation, which increases the significance of contract as a legal instrument. The social movement unfolds as a progression of waves, which can be depicted as a series of “S curves”. Each stage of transition is characterized by contradictions that appear between the old and the new forms of organization, leading to rising tensions and the transformation of energies.

In contrast, Håkan Hyden depicts the development of law as an interplay between opposing pairs of forces, static and dynamic elements, giving rise to a locomotive effect. Differences in speed and rhythm between the social and legal processes give rise to problems and incongruities, hindering the advance of society until the legal framework gradually evolves in accommodation to the new cycle of social development. See Håkan’s Hyden full paper for details.


C. Next Steps

1. Participants in these events agree that the theme is of great significance and should be developed into an on-going project.

2. One result of these efforts is that Jasjit Singh has confirmed plans to write a book on this subject.

3. A viable next step would be to clearly frame the range of issues encompassed by the project

4. An immediate possibility is to conduct an e-conference and one or more webcasts to project the theme to a wider audience of Fellows and then to survey them to elicit ideas and find out who might be interested in participating.

D. Assessment

1. This project has the potential to make an original contribution of global significance.

2. Sooner or later Jasjit Singh is likely to write his book. The question is whether and how the Academy can broaden and enrich the research base and promote this theme in a manner that will project his original thesis to a far wider audience.