The Blair Doctrine | Historical Perspective

The Tony Blair
Doctrine and its Interpretation in History 1997 – 2007
‘Blair doctrine’ and its interpretation in
history 1997–2007 exemplify a Britain reliving the past in its foreign affairs
ideology. Predicated on ‘Liberal Humanitarian
Intervention’ and the ‘Just War Theory’, the ‘Blair
Doctrine’ of 1997–2007 is a sort of nostalgia. Demoted Britain revealed
its insecurity attempting to give to the world a ‘global value.’ Empirical
liberal interventionism of 1997 was not novel to Great Britain that was a supra
power in the 19th and early 20th century. The ‘new’ in it
was Blair’s moralistic twist suited to Britain’s image quest post-World War I.
The ‘Blair doctrine’, a recast to the 1840s
foreign policy of Lord Palmerston would swivel on the ethical tradition of
global interdependence and humanitarian intervention.
Reviving Pax Britannica through the Blair doctrine requires relevance and value. Remaining
a child of controversy even in 2017, the nature of this doctrine is appraised
within the international system. This paper discusses the ‘Blair doctrine’ and
its interpretation in history 1997–2007. It
states that every policy in diplomacy symptomises insecurities in the
international system and concludes that the Blair
doctrine on liberal humanitarian intervention if
unobstructed by national interest or influence is worthy in itself. 197
KEYWORDS: Blair Doctrine, Liberal Humanitarian Intervention, International System, Peace of Westpharlia
Great Britain, in its
golden age as the foremost global power before expiration in the early
twentieth century, was a watchdog and a balancer in global politics. Reduced to
a middle power by America and Germany, British foreign policy was marked by the
different approaches of its Prime Ministers especially post-1945 and post-Cold
War. Relevance for Britain became predicated on the curated policies of its
statemen. This informed Blair changing to ethical values as “a force for good
in the world”; away from the realpolitik of
the days of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Working with the “Just War”
tradition and Liberal-Humanitarian Interventionism, Blair on the 22nd
of April 1999 outlined the “doctrine for the international community”
countering not only Article 2(4) and 51 of the United Nations Charter, but the
1648 Westpharlian peace document. This document was the global principle of
non-interference in the domestic affairs of nations. “Blair
Doctrine” is a tripodal concept of: Britain carving a global identity to relive
the past, an ethical internationalist approach to contain despotism, and
spreading liberal ideals of democracy, free trade and capitalism. This
doctrine appears humane excepting ulterior motivations. However, its
functionality required America’s economic and military surrogate.
Unfortunately, Blair’s attempt in global politics haunts history with
nostalgia. In three parts this paper examines the
nature of the “Blair doctrine” in global politics from 1997–2007. The first
part examines liberal-humanitarian ideology; the second analyses Blair
doctrine; while the third critiques this doctrine. 243

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Liberal and Humanitarian Interventionism
At the height of the Operation Allied Force in Kosovo
in 1999, on 22nd April, British Prime Minister Tony
Blair on invitation to an Economic Club in Chicago, gave a speech on the approach to the
international system titled “the doctrine of the international community” also
known as the “Blair Doctrine”. Blair believed leadership void occured when
Britain, a global power for over a century, was sapped of its economic and
political strength at the expiration of the First World War. Nonetheless, was
replaced by America and the Soviet Union in bipolar structure at the end of
World War II. Thereafter, the intricacies of bipolarity built into proxy Cold
wars, from 1945–1989. Marked by the death of communism in 1990, the
international system evolved into a unipolar system led by the United States.
Relegated Britain—‘a middle or third class power,’ from 1979–2007 created
relevance, innovated in the linear principles of the foreign policy adopted by
Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, though in different approaches.
Blair, in a foreign affairs policy strategy introduced a doctrine, premised on
“liberal and humanitarian interventionism.” It was set to displace the doctrine
of the 1648 Westpharlian system, The United Nations, and the International Law
guiding international relations, in an attempt to relaunch Britain as a point
of reference in international politics. The operational principles of these
three on: equality of sovereign,
to political sovereignty, and non-intervention in internal affairs of another;
Blair considered obstruction, (Peace of Westpharlia; Derek Croxton, 1999:
569-591). 248
a result, in 1999, Blair developed the ‘Blair doctrine’ from the values of the
principles of liberal internationalism propagated by the United States.
Historically, liberalism a rational approach emerged in England and Holland in
the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in response to the coincidental
emergence of Christian denominations and characteristic absolute monarchy or
‘doctrine of divine right of kings’. (Peace of
Westpharlia; Derek Croxton, 1999: 569-591).Its founding fathers saw
the propositions as ushering in a new world order of peace, promoting human
dignity, religious tolerance, and the right to property; as well representative
government based on elective principles. Versions of liberalism were
articulated by Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and
John Locke among others, (Bertrand Russell, 1997:
577–583). Liberal internationalism or interventionism is a foreign
policy doctrine, which argues that “liberal states should intervene in other
sovereign states to pursue liberal objectives, with ideals of democracy, free trade and capitalism”, (Radical, Jackpine, 2015).
The objectives are based “…on the beliefs that democracy and democratic
institutions provide the best form of government; able to
achieve global structures, inclined to a world built on
the ideals of liberalism. These ideals have bases on ‘global free trade,
liberal economics and liberal political systems,’ (Radical, Jackpine).”
Blair’s doctrine imagines and encourages as possible output from such ideals or
global order is a ‘peace dividend’ from the liberals’ thesis of non-violence.
Therefore, the Liberal tradition “sees itself as modern, superior and the one
true way,” practicing “soft power” or according to Nick
Tyrone (1–4), the heart and mind diplomacy. 246
Meanwhile, the world in constant spatial
interactions meant the Westpharlian system of non-
interference is not eternal. Especially, Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into
the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
voiced interdependence in division of labour, laissez faire and economic
interrelationships. Similarly, symbiosis in human existence rubbed off
on Jean Jacque Rousseau (1712–1778) “body politic” or State, by which the
States acquire the pattern of human sociological interdependence, (George H.
Sabine and Thomas L. Thorson, 1973: 529–548). The state not limited to
geopolity as unitary agent but extending outwards in foreign affairs and
interrelations in a continuous pattern of interactions attains international
integration. Stephen Benedict Dyson, (2006:
289–306) emphasized this global interdependence quoting Thatcher’s speech:
No country can today escape economic involvement with the economies of others. …our economic welfare is increasingly affected by the operation of the market…there is a constant threat of disorder in the world oil market…the precarious balance of the world economy could at any time be shaken by political upheavals in one or more countries…in these circumstances, we all have a direct practical interest in the orderly settlement of political disputes.
The signing of alliances; forming international organisations,
already bequeathed a pseudo status to sovereignty. Therefore,
interdependence had evolved to globalization especially
during the 1980s and 1990s eroding Westpharlia. Blair’s exploration of global
interdependence seeded an effort at an approach to the
international system: to justify the renunciation of Westpharlia through
Liberal internationalism, and effort at reliving Britain’s past, (Peace of Westpharlia; Derek Croxton, 1999:
569-591) 252
Blair’s Doctrine
Blair’s foreign policy to promote liberal interventionism was given the ‘ethical dimension’. In 1999, Blair announced: ‘I set out what I described as a doctrine of international community…to justify intervention, including if necessary military intervention, not only when a nation’s interests are directly engaged; but also where there exists a humanitarian crisis or gross oppression of a civilian population’,(John Lairdaw, 2011). Military interventions are interjoined to humanitarian relief, as recast to intervention. ‘Ethical dimension’ was a new toga to British liberalism trying to contain despotism. Liberal interventionism, whose emergence is linked to the British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston (1784–1865) in the nineteenth century, was not a humanitarian endeavour but national interest. Intervention was carefully mentored at no damage, but on the scale of greater benefit to Britain. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson replicated this, in the second decade of the 20th century, constrained by the non-interference of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine,(Liberal internationalism; Norman A. Graebner, 1960: 740). Meaning the US—UK practiced liberalism in the same manner until Blair. Blair’s New Labour Party, commited to ‘restore Britain’s pride and influence as a leading force for good in the world’. The “‘ethical dimension’ was set to ‘rethink’ foreign policy, to change the world, reorder it, and spread democratic values,” through cooperative intervention. (Caroline Kennedy-Pipe, 2007: 205–221) Blair subordinated immediate national interest to international collaborating interest, announcing: ‘We are all internationalists now’. For Palmertston, “no gains with too much at risk meant Liberal-Britain was unlikely to help…In international relations—‘no eternal friends, only eternal interests.’” (“Comparing and Contrasting Palmerston and Blair,” David Vance) 263
The humanity part of war had been theorised, Blair was
interested to institutionalise. Blair wanted equity in a situation of outright
aggression of a ruling tyrant; or giving humanitarian aid in a situation of
natural disaster. The English liberalist, John Stuart
Mill (20 May 1806–8 May 1873), and the Dutch pioneer of international
law Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), felt that international relations and
international law ought to have a place for humanitarian intervention. Grotius
(2006: 16–17) wrote:
The law of humanity or of human society is more worthy of respect than the rights of sovereignty and independence of states; wherefore when a government within its sovereignty, violates the rights of humanity, either by measures contrary to the interests of other States, or by excessive injustice or brutality, which seriously injure morals or civilization, the right of intervention is legitimate.
by inference, ““humanitarian
intervention” is a use of humanitarian aid; international sanctions; or
military force against a sovereign state or states to…end human-rights
violations…or alleviate massive human suffering within sovereign
border(s).” (Cottey,
Andrew, 2008:
429–446). According to David Rieff (2011), “…the fundamental premise is that
external powers have the right and, perhaps, under some circumstances, the duty
to intervene to protect people…being victimized, even in intra-conflict.”
Rieff stresses that the index or scale of measurement for intervention is the
effect of conflict on civilians (that is deontology) and not considerations of
the political rights and wrongs of a given conflict or State sovereignty
(consequentialist). 237
Therefore ideology—‘Blair doctrine’ is a
socio-political construct based on ambiguous policy analysis approach of the
New Labour government’s ‘Welfare to Work’ domestic policy; and the
‘Communitarian’ diplomacy shaping foreign policy. According to Ruth Levitas,
the ‘Welfare to Work’ is a ‘social inclusion’ strategy, an uneasy amalgam of
‘SID’, ‘MUD’ and ‘RED’ ideologies. The ‘social integrationist’ or ‘SID’ emphasizes paid work;
the ‘New Right’ moralist-behaviour or ‘MUD’; and the Old Left or Labour
redistributive-egalitarian or ‘RED’ are social inclusiveness, (Ideology,
184–207). Labour’s ideology package was to reduce public spending and
‘dependency’, to foster ‘inclusion’ and to promote equality by raising the
incomes of the worst-off. It tallies with the ideology of the variant ‘new’
Liberalism which developed in the late nineteenth century, when individualism
came to be viewed as an individual self development rather than simply
asserting individual rights and negative liberty. Riding energetically on the
maxim—‘what counts is what works’, Blair situates the New Labour politics and
policy within ‘social democracy’ or Old Labour-style statism and Thatcherite
individualism, in which there is a role for both state and market. The party was pragmatic jettisoning the traditional Labour
dogma. Blair successfully achieved this through the party’s ideology labelled
the ‘Third Way’ or a ‘middle way’ revived under Neil
Kinnock the party’s leadership, between 1983 and 1992. The restructured
Labour dropped the 1918 Clause IV in its constitution, which foisted socialist
programme of nationalisation and public ownership; and replaced with a
commitment to opportunity and equality, hence ‘New Labour’, (Ideology; Ian Kershaw). 256
Blair attempted bequeathing to the world global values and a new age to erode
Islamic extremism that threatens to grow into a global movement, tinkering with
values. In post-World War II, earth planet had two distinct values—communism
and democracy. Before the formal exit of communism the committment and the
danger posed by Islamic extremism was silent. But a world rid of communism
became sensitive to the gradual and infiltrating moves of extreme fanatism
spreading terrorism through sabotage in the Middle East and security threat
within its regional origination and other parts. On this mission are: “…a
mixture of foreign jihadists, former Saddamists, and rejectionists’ insurgents
in Afghanistan, a combination of drug barons, the Taliban, and al Qaeda,” (Tony Blair, 2007: 79-90). The
claims that: democracy is a Western concept, the intent of the West to seize
Iraqi oil, and the designs of imperial domination; were dubbed conspiracy
theory by Blair, (Blair, 2007). The strength of such argument lies for example in
the murder of a UN staff in August 2003 by Afghans, indicating another Taliban
or Saddam Hussein in the offing. Strategising from the Kosovo ethnic cleansing
and the terrorist attack of September 11, the modality of Blair’s doctrine
proposed the combination of the hard (force) and soft (value) in global
politics, a fusion to destroy the ideas of Islamic fanatical ideology or any
whatsoever,  (Blair,
2007). 239
foregoing poised this doctrine as a new content for existing theories and
ideologies in the international system. Especially, the post-Cold War presented a new international
environment in international relations, thus
the international system aimed at finding a model to effectively support
stability and global security, herewith containing and controlling regional
conflicts. Britain in phobia felt exposed and vulnerable (Ioan Dragos Mateescu, 2013: 11–21). Unfortunately, in its helm days, having fought a
recorded 137 wars from 1700–1850 and others after this period, (Peace of Westpharlia), it was exhausted in the
military and economic capacity, in which its transatlantic American neighbour
is vim. Strategising, Blair decided that Washington would lead the pack, and
“London would influence from behind closed doors.” Fixed on the linear
principle of “power maximisation” (Peace of
Westpharlia), and the return to the status of a great power, Blair’s approach
was a combination of realism and idealism,(Judi
Atkins). While realism revers state’s autonomy and protection of its
interests in a characteristic anarchic international arena (Carr, 1946; Morgenthau, 1985); Idealists, advocate a new world order secured on states interdependence.
This basic premise Blair stated stating: “it is very rare today that trouble in
one part of the globe remains limited in its effect.
Not just in security, but in trade and finance—witnessed in the crisis of 1998
which began in Thailand and ended in Brazil—the world is interlocked, (David
Vance: The Blair Doctrine, 2002: 1). However, combining these two theories
contradicts, working at cross-purposes. The realist
principle of state autonomy and non-intervention principle puts Blair’s
‘ethical dimension’ in dilemma, (Judi Atkins). This is where Blair doctrine is critiqued. 272
Critiquing Blair’s Doctrine
The ‘doctrine of the international
community’ is a pull on Western philosophy; attempting extrication would reveal
a Just War tradition (Tony Blair, 1999; A. Bellamy, 131–147; Burke) robed in
three major ethical theories. These ethics: Consequentialism, Deontology and
Virtue are founded on universal rights and responsibilities; and substantiated
by ius ad bellum, (Atkins). Where Consequentialism, considers after effects of action; deontology, emphasizes duties to others; while
virtue focuses virtuous individual and inclinations. Ius ad bellum that is ‘justification for the resort to warfare’
stipulates four criteria. There is ‘legitimate authority,’ which queries ‘the
right to the use of force and its justification’; ‘just cause,’ demands ‘a just
cause for war’; ‘proportionality’, ‘requires proportionate response to the
injury that has been threatened or received’; and ‘right intention’, concerns the
motive of the war agent, (Atkins). When Blair’s
five considerations,(Vance) for
warfare are juxtaposed with the set conditions of ius ad bellum to validate ‘just war’ claim, its humanity appears
opaque, therefore a doubting semblance. Whereby Blairs’: ‘Are we sure of our
case’; ‘Have we exhausted all diplomatic options’; ‘Are
there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake’; ‘Are we
prepared for the long term’; and ‘Do we have national interests involved’; all
ended as ‘proportionality’ after analyses. Therefore, Blair’s doctrine weighing
more as ‘proportionality’ shows its heavy reliance on consequentialist morality
of war, collapsing into realism. To this extent, humanising this doctrine with ius post bellum that addresses
reconstruction in the target state after hostilities seems out of course, (Burke). 254
Restructuring this doctrine
displace any ideology that infringes on spreading Western ideological-political
culture—democracy, free trade and capitalism. The focal summary of the Blair
agenda was on globalization, economics, politics and security, with
particularised attention on military intervention, (Kershaw).
Liberalism without military intervention is ideologically incoherent. America
revealed the plot when President John F. Kennedy in 1961 assured Americans and
the western world that America was strong enough to ‘‘pay any price, bear any
burden’’ to ensure the success of liberty,(Henry
Kissinger, 1994: 56). This internationalist status was attained
post-Cold War. Subsequently, the end of the Soviet Union and the defeat of Iraq
in 1991 led to talks of a ‘new world order’ and the ‘end of history’. Francis
Fukuyama a leading scholar contended that this meant the triumph of liberal
democracy and a common search for a market economy. It was the end of history
in the sense of end to major wars and searching for the best system,(Francis
Fukuyama, 1992,
39 – 55). But as noted by David Cameron five years after, the Allied
powers soon came to realise that democracy, “cannot quickly be imposed from
outside”, just as “liberty grows from the ground—it cannot be dropped from the
air by an unmanned drone”. (Matthew d’Anacoda) Aggressive military response in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq were positive short
term dividends. The wars were won but US—UK led coalition failed to win
the peace—a bad situation was made far worse. The puzzle then is…the
justification for attack, having failed to achieve
desired result, (d’Anacoda).
But then, the above just zinc perfectly with Blair’s
ambition. Every British stateman bore the burden of Britain’s great historical
past. Britain’s organically evolved institutions had pioneered the modern
world, building the largest empire on naval strength. British institutions
inspired the Enlightenment philosophers and loaned the world representative
liberal democracy. Pax
Britannica covered
more than 22% spatial mass and more than 20% of the world’s population. Unfortunately, Britain got crushed by global
interests, global order, European system; and financing the
Second World War, (Abby Rogers, 2011). Thatcher, reclaiming the
Falkland Islands from Argentina in 1982 was for Blair possibilities, when a leader is
willing to risk political status and use character, (Tod Lindberg)
Blair, despite high degree of
diplomacy, could not actualise what the Brits could not sponsor through a US
that had the carrot and the stick to police the doctrine of a global community.
Down the line, although intermitted, Britain had a history of ‘special
relationship’ with America developed through President Woodrow Wilson to
Margaret Thatcher. Winston Churchill traced the
basis for this partnership to “proximity and commonalities in shared culture,
juridical systems, language and diplomacy,” and liberal interventionism. This
was the reason Winston Churchill of Britain and Roosevelt of America formed the
Atlantic Charter of August 1941, through which the global order became the
responsibility of the two countries and others (Europe). Little wonder Margaret
Thatcher considered the 1989 acquaintance between Bush administration and the
German chancellor, as misplaced. The breath for the Blair doctrine then becomes
the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and America built on a kind of
partnership for the two countries to be ‘the engine of effective
multilateralism’ providing leadership in reshaping global order. Again, it
accounts for the British foreign and defence policies appendaged to the
‘special relationship’ since post-World War II. Lessons from history informed
Blair of the importance of personal relationship as strength to the US–UK
relationship and alliance; demonstrated between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald
Reagan (1979–1989). Therefore, cultivating friendship
with America would give legitimacy and strategic direction to the Blair agenda
of promoting liberal ideals, which aligns with liberal-America’s interest.
Blair’s decision was thus to be a yes-man to the whims of Bush to make this
partnership operational despite all odds. As such, Blair’s “Personalization”
and “stifled communications” denied Britain the opportunity to effectively
impart on US and the Middle East; and reap any meaningful policy concessions
from the Bush administration. (William Wallace and Phillips Christopher, 2009: 263–284; Matescu) 300
A core component of Blair doctrine is Britain’s public
loyalty to US in exchange for influence on ‘the naïve American giant.’ The
first step in practicalising this was in 1999 Kosovo conflict. The consensus
was for a NATO bombing campaign against Milosevic’s Serbia in March 1999. But
the Lewinsky scandal at the White House made Clinton reluctant to deploy the
ground troops. Blair tried to sway Clinton’s favour to ground troops for early
victory. In the midst of prevarication, Milosevic’s withdrawal without a NATO
ground invasion was believed by Britain a consequence of its suggested threat
of land troops. Then came the historic 9/11 attacks, Bush Jr. was raging and
America was spoiling for revenge, but Blair seeing beyond the emotions advised
that the ‘war on terror’ should first be launched on Afghanistan before Iraq.
Again, the outcome, that Afghanistan and not Iraq was targeted, made Whitehall
claim diligence at restraining the bellicose Americans. (Wallace and Christopher) Then, Iraqi War of 2003
produced a watershed in Britain’s foreign policy. Britain was ready to war at
the insistence of America, even against Blair’s doctrinal conscience. But Canada,
France and Germany were recalcitrant, refusing to war despite previous collaborations with U.S. military efforts,
including the 1990–91 Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan War and Korean War. Liberal
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was adamant without a second UN resolution for
war, notwithstanding America’s blackmail. Chrétien believed there were no
weapons of mass destruction making Iraq a no danger to the world, and was
aversed to Canada being in war everytime to redress situations of dictatorship.
(Sunny Freeman) Blair went against the British opinion
of ‘No to war’ to join America and the 49 counntries of the ‘coalition of the
willing’ to fight Iraq and chase out Saddam Husseini-led Ba’athist regime.
The notion of
nations going to war, not for territorial interests, but in order to save the
lives of peoples threatened by humanitarian disaster, whether genocidal or
nongenocidal is potentially a noble and inspiring concept. The misapplication of
humanitarian intervention is not logic for its total condemnation, once there
is strong prove of genocide or the abuse of humanity in any mode. Though
camouflaged humanitarian intervention cannot be absent, likewise its goodwill
and impact cannot be ignored when the famine of 1896 in Armenia is recalled and
when a nation spits “Putin doctrine”, in a radical show of eccentricity by
Russia in 2016, (Sergiy Fedunyak, 2014). Truisms as these authenticate
outfit such as humanitarian intervention or its subsidiary ‘Response to
Protect’ (R2P). What the world needs to deal with is the animal, greed and
selfishness in man identified by John Locke, which are being dealt with by the
complicated checks and balances in the international system. The intricacies of
nature will provide the theory of plus
and minus by which demagogues will always be checked no matter the arsenal
being projected.  The Blair doctrine lost its framework and imperatives of ‘war on terror’ especially with the
events of 2001 September 11. Violent response to cleansings in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq hiccupped; tied to
the table of time, as the US—UK coalition won the war
but lost the peace. Consequently, the justifications for attacks have grown thin overtime. 237
In concluding, the ‘ethical
dimension’ to Labour’s foreign policy has been mired in criticism and
controversy since its’ first announcement in 1997. There were fundamental tension
between domestic interests and the ‘ethical dimension’ to foreign policy which
could not be reconciled because of competing economic interests and the
subordination of the ‘preventative action’ to the hostile US ‘preemptive
action’ ideology. The outcome was the fall of Britain’s proclaimed moral
standing in foreign relations. If it is true that good leadership creates its
own luck, then, Scholars are right to assert that Prime Ministers are not
judged by posterity on social issues but by the One Big Thing that happens
during premierships. That is why Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement,
Anthony Eden’s Suez Crisis, Edward Heath’s Three-Day Week, and John Major’s ERM
debacle have the failure stigma, (Kershaw, Graham Vanbergen).
Although Labour undoubtedly highlighted the role of ethics in foreign policy,
over the two terms which Blair’s government served, it is inconclusive if
Britain fulfilled its desired post-Cold War role as a ‘force for good in the
world’, especially with the fate of the doctrines’ consequences hanging on
Britain post-Blair. With the much awaited BREXIT out of the way in June 6th
2016 and Blair out of office shortly after, Tony Blair is still
dealing with the consequences of actions taken in what has been called “an
illegal war” in Iraq despite the Chilcot Inquiry Report of July 2016, judging
him not guilty.
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Contradictions in the Doctrine of Hinduism

Hinduism stands out as a unique religion. Its polytheistic values, the absence of a single founder or a specific theological system, belief in the cyclic nature of creation are some of the reasons that contribute to its uniqueness. Another remarkable distinction is that unlike Abrahamic religions, Hinduism does not have fixed doctrines or a single holy book. Multiple canonical scriptures like Vedas, Gita, and Shastras can coexist. But as more scriptures emerged, there have been instances of contradictions between the teachings of various holy books. Some contradictions “co-existed for a time, then slowly merged and were made part of a cohesive doctrine so that only the eye of an analyst can now detect that there were originally some ideas at odds with each other. However, not all contradictions have been resolved.” This paper argues that the absence of a fixed doctrine fostered these unresolved contradictions. The paper also presents examples of inconsistencies in the canonical Hindu writings concerning subjects like the creation of the universe, paradoxical attitudes towards women, Idolarity and Karma.

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Most religious teachings try to answer questions about the existence and creation of the universe. The literature influenced by Abrahamic religions such as the Biblical cosmology proposes that “the universe of the ancient Israelites was made up of flat disc-shaped earth floating on water, heaven above, the underworld below.”2 The Latin phrase creatio ex nihilo​ which means “God created the universe out of nothing”[1] is a fixed doctrine in the Abrahamic world. However, in Hinduism, there is no single deity or an established explanation for the creation of the universe. There are different myths in different Hindu literature which contradict each other.
The first creation story of the universe called the Hiranyagarbha originates from the ancient text Rig Veda. Hiranyagarbha translates literally to the Golden Embryo. According to this hymn, the inception of the world is the consequence of the Golden Embryo. “In the beginning, the Golden Embryo arose. Once he was born, he was the one lord of creation.”[2] This hymn implies that the Golden Embryo is the origin of life. It gave birth to the lord of creation, who created the rest of the universe. However, Rig Veda consists of another hymn, Purusa-Sukta which proposes the opposite; before the creation story of Hiranyagarbha there exists some form of a god called Purusa: “When the gods spread the sacrifice with the Man as the offering.”[3] We can see that these hymns from the Rig Veda contradict each other and do not provide a fixed doctrine of creation.
The post-Vedic scriptures of Hinduism have multiple creation theories: Sarga, primary creation of the universe and Visarga, secondary creation of the universe. Purusa is referred to as the primary creator, “Brahma who is often conflated with Purusa”[4] is regarded as the secondary creator. But the secondary creation story varies based on the epic. “The Ramayana states that he is self-existent, created himself as a boar, raised the world from primeval waters with his tusk and formed the universe. In the Mahabharata epic, he sprang from the right side of the great god Mahadeva. Others believe that Mahadeva sprang from Vishnu’s forehead and Brahma sprang from Vishnu’s navel, or from the lotus growing from Vishnu’s navel, which makes him an avatar of Vishnu.”[5] This suggests that Brahma is the creator of the universe.
However, other holy books like the Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana consider Lord Vishnu as the supreme god while Brahma is one of the many avatars of Vishnu whose job was to create the universe. The following scripture from Srimad-Bhagavatam sums it up:
“The Gandharvas said: Dear Lord, all the demigods, including Lord Śiva, Lord Brahmā and
Indra, along with Marīci and the other great sages, are all only differentiated parts and parcels of Your body. You are the Supreme Almighty Great; the whole creation is just like a plaything for You. We always accept You as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and we offer our respectful obeisances unto You.”[6]
This hymn from Srimad-Bhagavatam considers Vishnu the creator of the world and Brahma is just an incarnation of Vishnu.
According to Advaita Vedanta, there is no plurality. The Supreme Brahman is non-dual and it is the only state of existence. This means there can only exist a single Bhraman. Now according to Shaivism and Svetasvatara Upanishad Rudra is the Bhraman: “Rudra is truly one; for the knowers of Brahman do not admit the existence of a second, He alone rules all the worlds by His powers. He dwells as the inner Self of every living being. After having created all the worlds, He, their Protector, takes them back into Himself at the end of time.”[7] We can see how the teachings of Advaita and Shaivism combined together suggests that Lord Shiva is both the universe and the creator of the universe himself.
From the above paragraphs, we can see contradictions between Rig Veda, Shiva Purana, and Vishnu Purana. Each of the books consists of ambiguous hymns that raise contradictions. Some post-Vedic texts consider Brahma as the ultimate creator who is responsible for the secondary creation called Visarga. Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana consider Brahma as an avatar of Vishnu hence, Vishnu is the ultimate creator. Lastly, Advaita and Shaivism together infer Shiva is the universe himself. Again we can see how flexibility in the doctrine of creation led to contradictions in the Hindu texts.
Hinduism is centered around practices guided by written and oral sources. There is no central authority for all Hindus that keeps a check on the doctrine or practices. The absence of such a backbone jurisdiction allows the religion to diversify which sometimes leads to a contrary interpretation of the scriptures. In this regard, there is a considerable uniformity and structure in the Abhramic religions like Islam, Christianity, and Judaism since they have a determined doctrine. Such a flexibility also leads in different statuses and roles based on caste and gender. The next set of contradictions involve paradoxical attitude towards women and contradictory myths about the caste system in India.
Women in the Hindu world have always received mixed treatments. On one end Hinduism is one of the few religions to have both God and Goddess in constraint to any Abhramic religion while on the other end it also nurtures a toxic patriarchal system of family. To give examples of mythological contradictions on the state of Hindu women let’s look at one of the oldest scriptures the Manusmriti which talks about the duties and obligations of women: “By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house.
In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.
Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure (elsewhere), or devoid of good qualities, (yet) a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife.
No sacrifice, no vows, no fast must be performed by women apart (from their husbands); if a wife obeys her husband, she will for that (reason alone) be exalted in heaven.”[8] As we can see how following these rules in the 21st​ ​ century nurtures a toxic masculine, male dominated and virulent patriarchal family. However the same script also talks about happiness and honor of the women:
“Women must be honoured and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers-in-law, who desire their own welfare.
Where women are honoured, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honoured, no sacred rite yields rewards.
Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers.
The houses on which female relations, not being duly honoured, pronounce a curse, perish completely, as if destroyed by magic.
Hence men who seek (their own) welfare, should always honour women on holidays and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes and (dainty) food.”[9]
Let’s look at Ramayana yet another time. Valmiki’s Ramayana is an epic which is based completely on the fact that Rama loves his wife Sita and respects her enough to fight a demon to rescue her wife. While the main story of the epic is in favor or honoring women Tusidas’ rework of the epic called Ramacaritamanasa shows every negative stereotype possible for a woman. Specifically, Tulsidas balmes Dasaratha for the banishment of Rama because he trusted a woman: “What a thing to happen at a time such as this! I am undone by putting trust in a woman like an ascetic who is ruined by ignorance when his is about to win the fruits of his austerities.”12
Another example of hypocrisy and contradiction from the epic Ramayana is about inflicting pain on others. In the text Uttarakanda Rama has a dialogue about the same with his brother Bharata as he speaks:
“Brother, there is no religious duty like benevolence and no sin like oppressing others. I have declared to you the verdict of all the Vedas and Puranas, and the learned also know it.”[10]
However, in the same epic Rama asked Sita for an Agni Pariksha, where she had to prove her loyalty towards Rama by stepping into a holy fire. This is utter hypocrisy as Rama was teaching his brother about non-violence and anti-oppression and now he asks his wife to step into a fire to prove her honestly.
The other major contradiction is about Idolatry. Ancient Hindu texts like Rig Veda and Upanishads have mentioned that God has no shape or form and there is just one god. However, most Hindu festivals do not go without worshiping an idol. In fact, in practice it is the opposite of what is mentioned in the Vedas. One could find an idol of almost every deity. Festivals like Durga Puja and Ganesh Chaturthi are revolved around idol worshiping. To understand this contradiction we might have to take a deeper dive into the actual text from the Vedas.
Bhagavad Gita says idol worship is for unintelligent people for gratification of material desires and for personal gains: “Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.”[11] This means that one should stop worshiping idols and start a meditative worship of the supreme Brahman. However, it is also mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita that “For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifest, the path of realization is full of tribulations. Worship of the unmanifest is exceedingly difficult for embodied beings.”[12] This means that the worship of the impersonal Brahman is extremely hard since Brahman is formless. It is much easier to focus on qualities, virtues, aspects of a manifested representation of god, through one’s senses, emotions and heart, because the way human beings naturally are. This is the reason idol worship exists.
However, some people consider this form of Hinduism contaminated. They believe that the only form of Hinduism is the reaching taught by the Vedas which does not allow idol worship: “They are entering darkness, those who worship the natural things(like air, water, fire etc. ), they are sinking more in darkness who worship created things.”[13] This contradiction led to one of the greatest Hindu reform movements called the Arya Samaj. “The samaj was founded by the sannyasi (ascetic) Dayanand Saraswati on 10 April 1875.”[14][15] The samaj is a monotheistic Hindu reform movement that teaches beliefs based in the infallible authority of the Vedas which does not involve idol worship. This is a very good example of how flexibility in doctrines lead to contradictions in the practices of Hinduism.
The final example we are going to see is the doctrine of Karma and the contradictions associated with it. The basics of Karma doctrines is that each person is responsible for his or her own actions and no one else can enjoy the benefits or bear the cost of their actions: ” Single is each being born; single it dies; single it enjoys (the reward of its) virtue; single (it suffers the punishment of its) sin.”[16] However, the contradiction to this law is the “transference or sharing of the results of action.”[17] According to ManuSmriti, “quarter of the evil goes to the doer, a quarter to a (perjuring) witness (in court), a quarter to all councillors and a quarter accrues to the king”[18] this is a clear contradiction of the law of Karma which does not allow sharing of benefits or the cost of one’s actions.
In fact, there are examples of transferences and sharing of Karma in the ancient Hindu scriptures and tales. One such example is “when Visvamitra uses his own ascetic power (tapas) to send King Trisanku with a physical body to heaven. These contradictions are not part of and do not constitute a separate doctrine opposed to karma. Their mutual logical relations, if any, have not been worked out. They are part of a body of many floating Indian beliefs whose consistency mutually and with other established doctrines has not been established. It is now evident that any statements concerning the place of the karma doctrine in the post-Vedic Hindu belief must be greatly qualified. The doctrine should not be regarded uncategorically a fundamental Hindu precept.”[19] This ties back to the argument about the absence of fixed doctrines of Karma.
These contradictions are deeply rooted to the fact that Hinduism is a complex religion. Since it is the oldest religion that relied on Shruti to teach its lessons, the teachings evolved overtime and when different people started documenting the doctrines it was obvious to aspect differences in different religious scriptures. Hinduism is a mass of apparent contradictions. This becomes clear when we study its numerous scriptures, pay attention to its diverse philosophies, methods of worship, paths to liberation, social divisions and moral values.
This paper was an attempt to argue that the absence of a fixed doctrine fostered these​ unresolved contradictions. We started by the creation stories and saw how there were contradictions within Rig Veda about the creation stories: Golden Embryo and Purusa-Sukta. We also saw contradictions between Rig Veda, Shiva Purana, and Vishnu Purana about the creator of the universe. Then we took a digression and saw hypocritic and paradoxical attitude towards Hindu women. We looked at how ManuSmriti and Ramayana both had scriptures that were hypocritic hence contradicting. Then we saw the emergence of a Hindu revolutionary movement Arya Samaj due to a contradiction between the teachings of the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. Finally, we saw the inconsistencies in the doctrines of Karma where one scripture showed that the benefits or costs of Karma can not be shared whereas another scripture showed the transferences and sharing nature of Karma. Since, Hinduism does not have a central well established doctrine of belief and actions, a lot of the time ambiguity is left at the readers interpretation which gives rise to contradictions in Hindu Mythology.

[1] ​John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 442
[2] O’Flaherty, The Rig Veda, 27.
[3] ​O’Flaherty, The Rig Veda, 30
[4] Bruce Sullivan (1999), Seer of the Fifth Veda: Kr̥ṣṇa Dvaipāyana Vyāsa in the Mahābhārata, Motilal Banarsidass, ISB​ N​ 978-812081676​ 3, pages 85-86​
[5] Charles Russell Coulter, Patricia Turner (2013) Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities​
[6] A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.7.43
[7] Dr. Ramananda Prasad, Svetasvatara Upanishad, 3.2
[8] G. Buhler, trans., The Laws of Manu (London: Oxford University Press, 1886), 5:147-149, p154-156
[9] G. Buhler, trans., The Laws of Manu (London: Oxford University Press, 1886), 3:55-59 12 Ramacaritamanasa , R. C. Prasad, trans., (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991),​ Ayodhyakanda, 270
[10] Anantanand Rambachan (2014), A Hindu Theology of Liberation, SUNY Press​
[11] A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Srimad-Bhagavatam, 7.20​
[12] A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Srimad-Bhagavatam, 12.5
[13] Devi Chand, Yajurveda, Chapter 40, Verse 9​
[14] Hastings J. and Selbi J. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Kessinger 2003 part 3. p.
[15] . ISBN 0-7661-3671-X
[16] G. Buhler, trans., The Laws of Manu (London: Oxford University Press, 1886), 5:147-149,​ p154-156
[17] Arya, U. (1972). Hindu Contradictions of the Doctrine of Karma. East and West, 22(1/2),
[18] G. Buhler, trans., The Laws of Manu (London: Oxford University Press, 1886), 5:147-149, p154-156
[19] Arya, U. (1972). Hindu Contradictions of the Doctrine of Karma. East and West, 22(1/2),