Thursday, August 04, 2005

Claude Arpi: Bourgeois and Samourai

aug 4th

my good friend claude is an acute observer of the indian scene as well as a disciple of sri aurobindo. he's probably india's best tibetologist.

The Pioneer
August 4, 2005

Bourgeoisie and Samurai

Claude Arpi

A few weeks after Mr LK Advani's much-debated remarks on the secularism of MA Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, the history of India was once again revisited, this time by the Indian Prime Minister. The occasion was Mr Manmohan Singh's acceptance speech for an Honorary Degree conferred on him by his alma mater, the Oxford University.

The date was July 8, a day after the terrorist attack on the London underground and three days after the suicide bombers' attempt to blow up the makeshift Ram temple in Ayodhya. Indeed, India and Great Britain had something in common and for the first time perhaps the Blair Government began to realise it. But the Indian Prime Minister thought there was more. He pronounced the small sentence which has now become the object of a heated debate and controversy: "India's experience with Britain had its beneficial consequences too."

Mr Singh went on to add: "Our notions of the rule of law, of a constitutional government, of a free press, of a professional civil service, of modern universities and research laboratories have all been fashioned in the crucible where an age old civilisation met the dominant Empire of the day... Our judiciary, our legal system, our bureaucracy and our police are all great institutions, derived from British-Indian administration and they have served the country well." And of course India's soul: The famous game of cricket!

I was pondering 'historically' at the pros and the cons of Mr Singh's pronouncements, when an old text written by Sri Aurobindo in the first years of the 20th century came back to my mind. In this handwritten note, the great nationalist leader (a Cambridge alumni) takes the example of India and Japan and studies their evolution during the 19th century.

He first remarks that while "the smaller nation (Japan) has become one of the mightiest powers in the modern world, the larger, in spite of far greater potential strength, a more original culture, a more ancient and splendid past and a far higher mission in the world, remains a weak, distracted, subject and famine-stricken people, politically, economically, morally and intellectually dependent on the foreigner and unable to realise its great possibilities."

The commonly held belief was that this difference was due to the reforms that Japan had undertaken. While India continued to cling to "outworn and effete" beliefs, Japan had "got rid of ideas and institutions unsuited to modern times". Sri Aurobindo does not accept this explanation, for he believes that "it is the spirit in man which moulds his fate, it is the spirit of a nation which determines its history".

Contrary to India, Japan had remained faithful to its ancient spirit: The spirit of the Samurai. It may have used social and political forms originated from Europe, but only to "complete her culture under modern conditions and poured into these forms the old potent dynamic spirit of Japan". The Samurai spirit was dominant in Japan while India remained asleep, and "European culture has had upon (her) a powerful disintegrating and destructive influence, (India) has been powerless to reconstruct or revivify (her culture)."

Having forgotten its ancient spirit, India chose to copy Europe: "In India, the bourgeois, in Japan, the Samurai; in this single difference is comprised the whole contrasted histories of the two nations during the nineteenth century," says Sri Aurobindo, and goes on to define what he calls the Bourgeois prototype: "In the conduct of public movements he has an exaggerated worship for external order, moderation and decorum and hates over-earnestness and over-strenuousness.

Not that he objects to plenty of mild and innocuous excitement; but it must be innocuous and calculated not to have a disturbing effect on the things he most cherishes. He has ideals and likes to talk of justice, liberty, reform, enlightenment and all similar abstractions... He wishes to have them maintained, if they already exist, but in moderation and with moderation; if they do not exist, the craving for them should be, in his opinion, a lively but still well-regulated fire, not permitted to interfere with the safety, comfort and decorum of life."

The Sage continues: "...The bourgeois is the man of good sense and enlightenment, the man of moderation, the man of peace and orderliness, the man in every way 'respectable', who is the mainstay of all well-ordered societies. As a private man he is respectable; that is to say, his character is generally good... he is all decorous in his virtues, decent in the indulgence of his vices or at least in their concealment, often absolutely honest, almost always as honest as an enlightened self-interest will permit."

Unfortunately for Sri Aurobindo: "Such a type may give stability to a society; it cannot reform or revolutionise it. Such a type may make the politics of a nation safe, decorous and reputable. It cannot make that nation great or free." And indeed the Indian bourgeois was a creation of British policy, English education, an avatar of Western civilisation.

Ancient Indian culture was not a favourable soil for the bourgeois: "The spirit of ancient India was aristocratic; its thought and life moulded in the cast of a high and proud nobility, an extreme and lofty strenuousness. The very best in thought, the very best in action, the very best in character, the very best in literature and art, the very best in religion and all the world well lost if only this very best might be attained, such was the spirit of ancient India."

Having forgotten his own roots, his own spirit, the bourgeois depended on conventional outward signs of merit: "A university degree, knowledge of English, possession of a post in Government service or a professional diploma, a Government title, European clothes or a sleek dress and appearance, a big house full of English furniture, these were the badges by which society recognised its chosen."

Nobody denies that the British legal system, British bureaucracy, British police or British universities were great institutions. However, it is not the true question: Does the Prime Minister's statement mean that what is good for the British is automatically universally good (and particularly good for India)?

Indian independence's greatest tragedy is that the leadership of free India was possessed by the bourgeois spirit. Perhaps they wanted to show the world that they had been well-trained by the British, but the fact remains that the Samurai energy had vanished. Take Kashmir for example. Instead of looking at the problem in the Samurai way, the Indian leadership tried to please the British and take "a safe, decorous and reputable way" to the UN Security Council. The result is that 58 years later, the issue has not moved an inch (or, a centimetre).

To give another example, soon after India's independence, it was decided to adopt the Soviet model of planned economy and neglect the traditional system: India thus became a sub-power. Ironically, it is to the credit of the person who today praises the British, to have initiated India's economic resurgence: He made it possible for the nation to stand on its feet.

Sri Aurobindo had predicted: "Our only hope of resurgence was in some such great unsealing of the eyes to the Maya in which we existed and the discovery of some effective mantra." It happened in the 1990s in the economic field: "We can do it" was the mantra.

Unfortunately the British institutions adopted at the time of independence have remained and are still impeding India' growth. The nation still suffers and is unable to find its true place in the world. During its history, India has never shone when it has aped other civilisations, but rather when it has followed its own ancient spirit. Nalanda or Taxila and not Oxford is the answer.


Anonymous said...

very interesting and thought provoking article by Claude Arpi.a few reflections of my own.
regarding the reforms undertaken by Manmohan Singh-PVN Rao- years after giving up power PVN Rao told in an interview that they did it because they had no choice(with the Balance of payments crisis). Had the congress govt. had any choice they would have not undertaken the reforms. reforms of such measure are not the natural response of congressmen.
the planned economy- the centralized govt. that the congress chose for us is very much against the spirit of our civilization. the 'top-down ' approach to government and lunatic bueracrats mis-ruling from delhi is fake- democracy, we are seeing the consequences of it in the form of militancy in the north east and naxalism in the south east. our democracy should be in the'bottom -up' way. villages and towns and states making decisions on their own . we are a 'free' in a very fake way, states cant even make the decision of using their most predominant languages. imperialistic tendencies of northerners , wanting to convert everyone to be hindi speaking, has destroyed all our languages. as a result of the feud, the language of the former colonial masters is the ligua franca and not one indian language can boast of an addition of a new word to its dictionaries in the last 50 years.( is there a widely used word for 'telephone' in any dictionary'?). 7 indian languages are part of 25 of the worlds most widely spoken languages but not one can boast of a nativized word for 'computer'( and then still boast of 25% of all software engineers being indian).
with the continued anglicization of its elite, and with everyone else pretending to be elite, there seems to be no hope for the indian civilization. we are in the midst of a radical translation of our culture, just like the egyptians of present day Egypt.all the pyramids and pharaohs are just fanciful (and money generating) pieces of ancient culture for present generation,iconoclastic muslim egyptians.
in few hundred years from now english( or hindi or Hinglish or pigeon english) speaking Indians would be looking fancifully at the strange ruins of ancient temples and then thump their bibles and go to church.

Anonymous said...

I hope that adding more words to your language than the master adds to his dictionary is not suggested as a solution.... Even having a formalized dictionary (like a oxford or a cambridge - see what claude mentions in his last sentence ) is not the answer. If Nalanda/Taxila is the answer, I don't recall if the sage or anyone else ever mentioned a Nalanda/Taxila dictionary :).
Although this anon agrees with almost all of the points fellow anon has made.

Anonymous said...

there are a lot of readers of this blog who profess to be conservative. real conservatives can detect real from fake. here is a news item that should perplex all real conservatives.
China and US 'unite' over UN bid.
"Beijing will work with the United States to block a plan to add new permanent members to the UN Security Council, China's UN ambassador says."

out of 'self-interest' china and US are coming together to block other nations from becoming permanent members. and this is the first of clown acts that will be perpetred by John Bolton and his clowns at the UN. and if I can remind every Indin who supports the republicans, John Bolton is a recess appointment of George Bush. how can seemingly marxist and the opposite of marxist( ie the republicans) come together to do something like this? any answers? Gopal

Anonymous said...

nalanda and takshashila( I will use this instead of the corrupted 'Taxila') were centers of learning , each of which had thousands of students at any time of the year. and the students were from any different lands . they studied in areas from medicine to astronomy and mathematics. if there is no dictionary exisiting from those days , thank the arabs for that. these centers of learning survived for more years than cambridge or oxford has survived till date, and were then destroyed by marauding arab invaders.

Anonymous said...

This author is French and the French love to put the British down. I am not saying British rule was good for our nation - but the author's argument that "Indians took to the British notion of bourgeoise and this is a reason for our present condition" is specious. I would rather read an argument on the lines of "Imperialistic nations have the experience of building systems ". Such was the case with Japan. Remember, even in India, the golden ages coincided with the rule of powerful (read "locally imperialistic") kings!
The PM should have shied away from making the remarks that he made - firstly because colonialism has had a net negative impact on our nation and
speaking of the positives of British rule gives the impression that we condone the wrong done to us. Secondly, presenting an all too understanding and forgiving attitude is an indication of softness which has no place in politics.

The ire and outcry at the PM statements here is well justified. Next time our representatives had better think twice before putting their foot into their mouths!

KapiDhwaja said...

As we all know, "Ther are no permanent enemies or friends. Only permanent interests." In India's case we do have permanent enemies, fake friends, etc. That should help explain the US & China coming together in the UN. I say, to hell with the UN seat. Just concentrate on buiding our Military Power, Economic Power and Cultural soft power, and watch the UN seat handed to us on a platter.


Anonymous said...

to all the conservative minded people who read the blogs here. I recommend this book ,Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond "
it will rid a lot of the stubborn ignorance of people.

san said...

Gopal, as you know, Africa has also rejected our efforts as well

We need to leave Africa behind, and see if we can arrange a deal with the US to get onto the council along with Japan. As far as South-South cooperation is concerned, I think that Latin American countries are more our speed than Africa is. Africans are mired in socialism and impatient clamoring for handouts. Latinos and Hispanics are far more progressive and have a road to prosperity that doesn't involve screeching for alms. And Latin America also doesn't have a built-in Islamic lobby that Africa does. As Rajeev said, we all come from Africa -- but we should also be thankful we got out of there. They're simply too inward-looking, and can't be bothered to help us out.

S said...

Ignore all the clever comrades, who brand any opposition to euro systems as conservative, fascist...., there brotherhood go to nuts, when one disagree with the anglicized people, they become leiberal and advanced and what not... Give the left foot to that branding ...

ANon Said "Indians took to the British notion of bourgeoise and this is a reason for our present condition" is specious. I would rather read an argument on the lines of "Imperialistic nations have the experience of building systems ". -- Never burrow the words of the imperialists to understand them. It is one of the succint statements I have ever read, Aurobindo seems to be a great guy ! The bourgeoise cheated their countryman to thousand lies, even in name of satyagraha ( Though Ganghi was not a bourgeoise , he couldn't reject this phenomena). When the country wakes up, they have so many excuses crediting to the bourgeoise masters, IIT is Nehru's dream, come on... Dream and concrete buildings even can't make dubai, understanding of technology at the dawn of it is far away from the concrete and rhetorics.

Anonymous said...

I dont know if I am the only one with this problem, but I have difficutly understanding the utterings of S. Dear brother S, either you are incoherent or you are brilliant. You should try to write so that normal human beings can understand what you are saying.

Aurobindo is not a 'great guy', he was one of the greatest intellects this nation ever produced.

san said...

Umm, S, "bourgeios" is not a phrase used by imperialists, it is one thrown around mainly by leftists. However, I agree that Indians have shown poor leadership skills by flaunting wealth in front of those who have little. Perhaps this is again an example of the Indian EQ and its delitirious effects on social cohesion. If Indians can't be cohesive, then they can't build anything concrete, as you've said.

Anonymous said...

Maoputra's Response to the AEI: underestimating the Chinese threat post.
Just when you think this idiot couldn’t possibly go any lower, he does. It takes a twisted and depraved mindset to call for Muslim terrorist attacks on others when your own people (who he claims to champion) are supposed to be suffering from them.
But on a second thought, I pity him. It must be painful being an “Indian Nationalist”. The Aryan Invasion Theory must tear at his heart everyday. Sure he can lie to himself and google for obscure webpages that claim against all linguistic and scientific evidence that somehow the invasion never occurred. But since he is reasonably educated, deep inside, he knows that these are just idiotic lies invented to satisfy some wounded egos that can never stand up to rigorous scrutiny and that the Indian civilization was not created by indigenous Indians. This, I believe is what makes Srinivasan such a pathetic and twisted person.
But this is becoming pretty obvious as even his fellow Indian nationalists on this board are starting to question his insane “foaming at the mouth” harangues.

Jai Hind said...

Maoputra, there's only one word for you : PATHETIC.