Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rejecting the Dialectic of Western Materialism

I would caution very strongly against applying such categories as "Capitalist", "Socialist", "Liberal", or even "Right-wing" and "Left-wing" to anything within the Indian system. Not just because they are foreign, but because the very assumptions from which these classifications derive are completely disjointed from an Indian worldview.

For example, there is a pernicious idea that the traditional Vaishya Dharma, or the relationship of Indian mercantile classes to wealth, is essentially "capitalist." This could not be further from the truth. "Capitalism" is a form of sophistry developed by the apologist Adam Smith to philosophically justify the accumulation of wealth as a natural outcome of Protestant work ethic, in the face of pre-existing memes in Western thought that glorified poverty. Socialism is a response to Capitalism that re-establishes the glorification of poverty without the earlier tone of overt religiosity. This entire back-and-forth proceeds across a playing field whose geography is dictated by the contours of Western Materialism. The precepts of Western Materialism themselves could not be further removed from the way in which Vaishya Dharma regards the concepts of wealth and prosperity.

Indian Vaishya Dharma is nothing at all like Capitalism, because in our view, the accumulation of wealth is itself a task consonant with divinity; there is no sophistry required, and nothing to apologize for. To cast one thing in the mold of the other, is like asking Pt. Bhimsen Joshi to sing Raga Maalkauns in "F sharp minor, allegro moderato". It's meaningless.

It's well known that Hindu civilization produced a nation with a quarter of global GDP share, even as late as the 1750s when Islamist colonialism and plunder had shafted us for a thousand years ( I wonder what the figure would have been in Skanda Gupta's day.)  History as written by Abrahamic Materialists will attribute this simply to the fact that India was blessed with natural resources and a convenient location on many trade routes; meanwhile, it will characterize the Indian people themselves as lazy and detached from worldly reality, as opposed to the hard-working Europeans whose enterprising spirit made them colonial masters of the planet.

The truth, of course, is that Indians have always had a civilizational sense of what constitutes a  healthy relationship with artha. It is one of the purusharthas, an aim of human existence whose fulfillment enhances an individual's proximity to the supreme. Artha-shastra, or economics, is the science of managing God-given resources, and hence an entirely noble pursuit. The idea of wealth as an abstraction of these resources is a concept sparked by divine inspiration, and wealth itself a manifestation of divinity. Some observers correctly allude to this when they mention that Lakshmi is worshiped in India, but it would be entirely wrong to conclude that such traditions have anything to do with "capitalism."

While this view of artha is what continues to inform many Indian businesspersons and business families as they go about their work today, it is not what defines any discussion of economics at the social or political levels... not even, sadly to say, in India. Those discussions are completely overwhelmed by the Neo-Abrahamic worldview of wealth, wherein an imposed dialectic of "development vs. social justice", "capitalism vs. socialism", "rich vs. poor" underlies any argument made by *both* sides of the debate.

I say "Neo-Abrahamic" here because to give credit where it is due, the original Abrahamics-- the Jews-- have always had a healthier relationship with the concept of wealth, much more like our own albeit with different philosophical grounding. Together with the fact that Jews don't engage in predatory conversion, this trait is a saving grace of their civilization which will make the Hebrews quite possible for Indic civilization to co-exist and even cooperate with, in the long run.

With Christianity, Islamism and Marxism, the very notion of wealth has been twisted into something so vastly different that it is quite incompatible with the way India has traditionally regarded prosperity, and the way in which we need to regard it once more in order to achieve success on our own terms.

Beginning with Christianity, a new dialectic of Western Materialism was imposed upon all social, political and historical narrative. By controlling this underlying dialectic, religious institutions in Christianity and Islam assured their own supremacy over the debate at both ends, and positioned themselves as ultimate arbiters of justice between the opposing camps. Later on, the youngest of the Abrahamic spawn... Marxism... may have done away with "God", but it still held on to this fundamental philosophical mother-lode from which both "Capitalism" and "Socialism" sprang, under the name of "Dialectical Materialism". That's how powerful it is, as a lever for the control of historical narrative... and therefore, of history itself.

So what are the principles of this dialectic, and how are they incompatible with Vaishya Dharma?

1) The Transference of Responsibility:

In the Indian view, karma ensures that ultimately, every individual is responsible for his or her own actions. For this reason, the accumulation of wealth, the pursuit of Vaishya-dharma, the generation of artha are noble pursuits as long as they are conducted as all good work must be; i.e., without falling prey to the egotistical temptations of raaga (craving) or dvesha (repulsion.)

Karma has no place in the neo-Abrahamic worldview; for, if individuals were to be considered ultimately responsible for their own actions, how could any institution claim a privileged position as the authoritative narrator of history (including the authentication of specific "divine interventions")? Also, what need would there be for messiahs, prophets and revelations if individuals were capable of achieving their own salvation?

For this reason, Western Materialism transfers the "responsibility" for sins to the object of raaga/dvesha... wealth itself... from those who succumb to these foibles. Hence, "money is the root of all evil." Hence, Jesus "threw out the money changers from the temple".

In the final analysis, the promise that the power-brokers of Neo-Abrahamism hold out is that of "salvation" by an external "saviour". The Christian Judgment Day, its Muslim equivalent, and the Marxist revolution to bring about a "stateless society" are all manifestations of this empty promise... follow us, and we will bring about change, because there is no way you can hope to save your puny selves. Individual responsibility has at best a limited temporal role (to live a life free of doctrinally-mandated "sins") , and no ultimate role at all. The Transference of Responsibility is therefore fundamental to all Neo-Abrahamic doctrine, and in its economic form, manifests as Western Materialism.

2) The Fetishization of Poverty:

The concept of the "beautiful poor" is something that the Church, the Ulema and the Marxists have always held out to less deprived classes as a romanticized ideal of the human condition. This can be observed in century after century of cultural references from the neo-Abrahmic world, such as in literature or poetry, wherein the poor are invariably romanticized as somehow "noble", "simple", "honest", "good" and otherwise characterized by an idyllic homogeneity.

From the Christian point of view, the "beautiful poor" represent an opportunity for the "haves" to achieve salvation through that most insidious of socio-economic processes: "charity". The rich were told that to go to heaven, they had to give money away to the poor: Jesus even spoke some sage words about how it was easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter heaven (this has to be one of the worst mixed metaphors in the literature of Western civilization, but anyway.)

Charity, as defined in Neo-Abrahamic doctrine, is a terrible thing for any society. It isn't the same thing as upliftment; in fact, it is the enemy of upliftment. When pursued for its own sake ... as the power-brokers of neo-Abrahamic civilizations have invariably mandated... Charity fosters dependency, and ensures the need for more Charity in turn, generation after generation. The power-brokers of Neo-Abrahamism, be they Church, Mullahs or Socialist Parties, are the only real beneficiaries of Charity. They alone retain the power to grant approval, salvation or absolution to the "haves" who hand over their wealth to the "have-nots". It is through their agency alone that the mechanics of Charity must be implemented.

Everyone from the early Christians to the modern Left has needed a "beautiful poor" as the objectified focus for their programs of "charity".  It is integral to all of their schemes that the poor be kept poor for exactly this purpose.

Consider what Aatish Tasseer has said about Arundhati Roy in this regard:

" I don’t think she’s a friend of the poor at all. She would like to doom them to a permanent state of picturesque poverty. They are beautiful to her–the poor–beautiful, benign and faceless. And that is exactly how she wants them to stay. Let me say also that it is not the poor who animate her politics. Oh, no! The people who get her into the streets are the new middle classes. This class, still among the most fragile in India, people who have newly emerged from the most dire conditions, are despicable to her. She mocks their clothes; their trouble with English; she hates their ambitions; when India wins the cricket and she sees them celebrating, her skin crawls; she wants, more than anything, to do these people down. And it is her overwhelming hatred of them that allows her to be a friend of movements that are seemingly far apart. The jihadists, the Maoists, the Kashmir movement, the anti-development people…they’re all her friends. Anyone who can prove a credible threat to the future of India is a friend of that woman. I would go so far as to say she has a prurient fascination with the enemies of India. And where do they love her? In Pakistan, and in the faculty rooms of Europe and America. No surprise there.

Also, this business of pretending she’s a lone voice in the wilderness. What rubbish! At least have the good grace to admit that not one thing she says is provocative or new; it is perfectly banal. And we know how well the universities Europe and America reward this bogus cant!"

Because they fetishize poverty, and use Charity as a mechanism to reinforce their own power... the power-brokers of Neo-Abrahamism are fundamentally against upliftment. Of all social classes, they hate the rising middle class the most.

3) The Absolution from Guilt:

The Fetishization of Poverty is one side of the Western Materialist coin, facing the poor; on its other side is the promise of Absolution from Guilt, offered by neo-Abrahamic power brokers to the rich.

By maintaining a "beautiful poor" class, the neo-Abrahamics are able to justify Socialism. By offering Absolution from Guilt, the neo-Abrahamics relieve Capitalists of any qualms they may feel about the accumulation of wealth, and yet maintain a philosophical environment in which people who become wealthy automatically feel guilt that needs to be absolved. Invariably, the process by which the rich are offered Absolution involves the same old scam... some form of Charity... in which neo-Abrahamic power-brokers always play a central and privileged role.

In Vaishya-Dharma a clear distinction is made; it is not money, but raaga/dvesha that is the wellspring of adharma. Wealth itself will not make you evil simply by possessing it. In Western Materialism, wealth itself carries a taint; yet, that taint can be removed by the intercession of neo-Abrahamic institutions on behalf of a doctrinally-mandated "saviour." 

This is what turns Capitalism into essentially a justification for greed... a means to accumulate wealth with as much dvesha as you like, as immorally as you wish... because the Church, Ulema or Party will absolve you of that guilt ultimately. It is this strange, self-perpetuating cycle of guilt and justification that has enabled the West to countenance colonialism, imperialism, slavery, and genocide as acceptable methods of material expansion. In Neo-Abrahamism, there is no need for personal responsibility in your pursuit of artha because, no matter how much suffering you cause to others in acquiring it, you will eventually be absolved by the intercession of an external "saviour." The only caveat is that you must "keep the faith"... i.e., admit the supremacy of the neo-Abrahamic power brokerage concerned.


The entire dialectic of Western Materialism, then, is rooted in philosophical assumptions that have no basis whatsoever in Indic thought. This is why it is not simply meaningless, but dangerous for us to transplant notions of "right", "left", "liberal", "conservative", "socialist" and "capitalist" into considerations of Indian society, politics and economics. If we internalize this nonsense, we are implicitly granting credence to the very streams of thought whose adherents pillaged our prosperity for a thousand years.

A debate premised on Western Materialism is exactly what has spawned the "pro-poor" sophistry that the Indian National Congress government  instrumentalizes as a justification for its platform of plunder. Our insistence on buying into the terminology of this debate ultimately condemns us to what is known, with infinite irony, as a "Hindu Rate of Growth".

Monday, April 9, 2012

NPR's "Fresh Air": Another Flagship of Cultural Colonialism in the Public Sphere?

Listening to Fresh Air on NPR this evening, I heard host Terry Gross interviewing one Tanya Luhrmann,  a professor at Stanford University. Luhrmann has written a highly sympathetic book based on a study she apparently conducted at an Evangelical Christian community in Chicago. The thrust of the book, "When God Talks Back," is to present Evangelicals as having evolved techniques to pursue a mystic, personal relationship with their God. The techniques themselves are presented as the distinctively original intellectual property of Evangelical Christianity.

In fact, the author's observations only highlight the rampant, predatory cultural digestion of Dharmic spiritual ideas by post-Bultmannian "Emergent Christianity" that has been in effect since the 1960s. The interview itself comprises a veritable litany of cultural plagiarism, punctuated by self-satisfied burps from the New-Age alimentary canal.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation is presented, without attribution to the source, as "Christian Centering Prayer";  and this nominal reinvention is given the stamp of Western academic authority by association with Luhrmann's own status as a Stanford professor. A long list of spiritual concepts and techniques, all unmistakably Dharmic in origin, are similarly usurped and repackaged in terms conducive to the Judeo-Christian framework: "imagination-rich prayer", "immediate and present God", "objective cognitive advantages of meditation", and so on and on and on. 

How many of these ideas derive entirely from the unfettered pillaging and re-labeling of India's spiritual wealth by Ken Wilber (Aurobindo Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism and Madhyamika Buddhism as "Integral Theory"),  Fr. Thomas Keating (Transcendental Meditation as the "Cloud of Unknowing"), Alfred North Whitehead (Abhidhama Buddhism as "Process Philosophy"), and Jon Kabat-Zinn (Hatha Yoga and Vipassana as "Mindfulness Meditation") among others? All of these cases, and more, have been thoroughly researched and documented by Rajiv Malhotra for his forthcoming book on the "U-Turn Theory" he has originated.

 Luhrmann has clearly joined the ranks of New Christianity's spiritual conquistadors, legitimizing false claims of Christian origin for concepts that could never have evolved in the stultifying, Man/God-separating, history-centric and exclusivist traditions of Semitic religion.

Worse yet: the fawning,  skepticism-suspended approach of Terry Gross to the licentious claims of "Mystical experience" that Luhrmann makes on behalf of Evangelical Christianity transforms the entire interview into little more than a vehicle for Judeo-Christian propaganda. 
One can hardly recognize the bold-as-brass iconoclasm of Terry Gross, on February 7 this year, conducting an interview of William Broad on his book "The Risks and Rewards of Practicing Yoga." 

The contrast between Gross' creeping flattery of the Christian Evangelist claptrap being peddled by Luhrmann, and her approach to William Broad's "scientific" and "rational" critique of Yoga could hardly be more striking. She and Broad laughingly dismiss Yoga as originally an "obscure sex-cult", pre-empting any points of view that may espouse it seriously as a technique of embodied knowing and direct experience of divine consciousness... a purpose it has served in Indian society for thousands of years.

 More insidiously, the denigration and digestion in that interview spring from a National-Enquirer style approach to Yoga (in much the same vein as "Drinking Milk Can Give You Cancer".) Broad, with his Western experience of Yoga and bibliography of allopathic clinical studies, is elevated to the position of "sole reliable commentator." He is asked if practicing yoga might actually be a fad that is harmful (for good White Judeo-Christians with herniated discs, no doubt.)

Gross offers not the slightest hint of recognition to Indian sources on the subject of Yoga's benefits or dangers, even as Broad privileges his personal experience of Yoga and his interaction with Western clinical investigators over and above any "native informant claims" in his own book. 

Thus the "Fresh Air" treatment of Yoga is sanitized of Indian or Dharmic influence by restricting commentary to Broad, from a standpoint firmly grounded in Western universalism. Meanwhile, in her treatment of Christian claims to personal spiritual experience and direct interaction with divine consciousness, Gross displays the hushed, unctuous approach that she typically offers to figures and subjects she truly reveres. 

One must wonder, then, if Terry Gross hasn't become an active participant in the relentless, ongoing colonialism of the West over the cultural and intellectual capital of Indian civilization. If you've ever thought about forking over the hard-earned to keep your local NPR station in business, gentle reader, you might want to reconsider that notion.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Indian Purva-Paksha of Walter Russel Meade's American Political Spectrum

To analyze the dynamics between ideological groups that determine US foreign policy, it may be wise  begin with a taxonomy based on existing scholarship.

A good example would be the ideological classification proposed by Walter Russell Meade. He divides US policy groups into four classes: Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian and Jacksonian, based on their broad imperatives.

Here are a few articles explaining Meade’s “spectrum” and its four subdivisions from the American point of view:



To be useful to our analysis, we must reconstruct this “spectrum” from an Indian point of view. Here’s an attempt.

In general, Hamiltonians and Wilsonians are the more “outward looking” of the four groups. Jeffersonians and Jacksonians are the more “inward looking.”

Also in general, most of the American public tend to be either Jeffersonian or Jacksonian in their broad geopolitical outlook. The Hamiltonians are mostly represented by a powerful elite of corporate and business interests. The Wilsonian base is a well-entrenched Washington intelligensia with strong influence over institutions like the State Department and the Pentagon (the “babudom” of America.) Wilsonians also dominate American academia and think-tanks.

Let’s look at these four groups one by one.

1) Hamiltonians: named for America’s first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, this group stands for Economic Expansionism. They support global political and military involvement for the purpose of creating and maintaining a system of trade and commerce dominated by the United States, with an American agenda at the helm.

Bretton Woods was the cradle of the modern Hamiltonian movement. The Marshall Plan, and the Roosevelt-Ibn Saud agreement (which formalized the USD as the currency in which international oil prices would be set) were early initiatives undertaken with Hamiltonian support to establish American economic supremacy.

Domestically, Hamiltonians are backed by big-business corporate interests.In nations where a climate favourable to international commerce exists, Hamiltonians try to further their agenda by political means (through American-dominated institutions such as the World Bank, G8 and WTO.)

In regions where a climate exists that is unfavourable to international commerce, the Hamiltonians are most concerned with making sure nothing happens to threaten the domination of global commerce by the United States. Chiefly, this means using the military, and shoring up military alliances, to ensure America’s energy security… and sometimes, to deny other nations the energy security they would need to compete economically with America. Hamiltonians insist that American foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia focus on enhancing American influence over the oil and mineral resources of those regions.

With respect to India, Hamiltonians generally ignored the socialist avatar of India as a lost cause, but they have begun to take increasing notice of India since liberalization and economic growth began in the early 1990s.

The most pro-India Hamiltonians would like to shape the rise of India into an economic partner and hedge against other potential economic competitors such as China. This sub-group of Hamiltonians were fully supportive of the India-US Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. They are generally in favour of outsourcing and guest worker programs, as long as American corporations continue to receive growing access to Indian markets.

The least pro-India Hamiltonians, on the other hand, are skeptical about the relatively “slow” rise of India, about the obstacles to economic liberalization posed by the exigencies of India’s democratic system, and instead choose to support China as a relatively “sure bet.” They are the ones who would gladly overlook human-rights abuses or nuclear proliferation by China as long as market access and profit mechanisms remained intact.

As India continues to develop economically, it is likely that of all the four groups, the Hamiltonians will adopt policy attitudes most favourable to India. Along the way, however, there will be hiccups: India refusing to sign the Nuclear Liability Bill (thereby denying access to American energy corporations into the reactor-building market), or India choosing not to opt for an American-made MRCA, will be detrimental to the support we have among the Hamiltonians.

All Hamiltonians are realists for whom the bottom line is all about the money.
They see the maintenance of a running trade deficit with China as the best insurance against an inimical, confrontational US-PRC relationship in other spheres of competition. They figure that as long as China is invested in the economic well-being of the United States, its will to threaten the political interests of the United States will be limited.

Very few US presidents have been overt Hamiltonians, chiefly because being overtly associated with big business interests could be detrimental to the electoral success of a US presidential candidate. However, ALL US Presidents since Ronald Reagan have relied on the support of Hamiltonians to exercise their policy initiatives, and no president since Reagan has managed to enact a policy that was opposed by the Hamiltonians.

The most overtly Hamiltonian president so far might be George H.W. Bush, who actually ran the first Gulf War in such a way that America ended up making a profit! In recent years, meanwhile, some potential and actual Presidential candidates have been openly Hamiltonian, in background as well as in terms of their policy platforms. These include Steve Forbes, Mitt Romney and the mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg, who make no secret of their connection with US corporate interests.

2) Wilsonians are Ideological Expansionists. They seek to use the economic, political and military might of the United States to create a world where all nations look to the United States for ideological leadership. Their goal is to have all other nations willingly subject themselves to the geopolitical dominance of the United States in a global Pax Americana.

Wilsonians pretend to be “anti-imperialistic”, and conceal their intentions behind rhetoric of “democracy”, “American moral compass” and “multi-lateralism.” In this sense, the Wilsonians are the most hypocritical of all the four groups.

The Wilsonians favour democracy in other nations, only when such democracy is guaranteed to be dominated by essentially pro-American parties who will toe the American line when it comes to making policy. They are intolerant of democratic systems which could potentially be dominated by independent parties who put their own national interest ahead of America’s.

In this sense, Wilsonians are the most likely group to be anti-India. They are relatively happy with Manmohan Singh because of his willingness to accommodate American interests; but they are deeply distrustful of Indian babudom, and they are completely against nationalist Indian parties like the BJP.

In fact, even though they claim to stand for “democracy”, Wilsonians prefer dictatorships that can be successfully manipulated by America, to democratic countries that are independent enough to oppose America. The Wilsonian path to American global dominance involves “balance of power” games which essentially amount to divide-and-rule. The Wilsonians see America as the true legates of the British Empire, even though they would like to couch their subsidiary alliances in the guise of “independent democratic regimes” that only seek the leadership of America because America is morally superior.

One important thing to realize about the Wilsonians is that, since the end of the Cold War, they have actually split into two competing camps.

As long as the Cold War was in progress, Wilsonians were more or less united in seeing international Communism, specifically Soviet Communism, as the chief obstacle to ideological dominance of the world by the United States. Henry Kissinger could be described as the archetypal old-school, Cold-War-Era Wilsonian.

However, following the USSR’s collapse, there is disagreement among the two camps of Wilsonians as to what America’s priorities should be.

These two camps of Wilsonians can be broadly described as:

2A) The “Bush Wilsonians”, also commonly known as “Neoconservatives”, who gained prominence during the George W. Bush regime. They include Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, Rice, as well as lower-profile figures such as Robert Blackwill. Think-tanks of the Bush-Wilsonian persuasion include the CATO institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Project for a New American Century.

The term “Neoconservative” is actually a misnomer for this group, because they are actually less conservative than the other camp. They sought to radically reconstruct the American foreign policy establishment’s view of the world following the end of the Cold War.

From the Bush-Wilsonian perspective, the demise of the Soviet Union was the start of a brand new era in which America had a unique opportunity as the sole superpower to shape the world for domination. Ideologically, the Bush-Wilsonians subscribe to the notion that America must be the unilateral forerunner of Western civilization, inspired by a Judeo-Christian (mainly Christian) perspective.

They deviate from the old-school, Cold-War-Era Wilsonians in no longer seeing Russia as the chief threat to the United States, and rejecting the idea that American dominance must be pursued multilaterally through such organizations as the UN.

The Bush-Wilsonians regard China as the major future threat to the United States, followed closely by international Islamism. They are fervent supporters of Israel, owing to a strongly Biblical ideology.

As a means to ensuring American global dominance, the Bush-Wilsonians have sought to reconstruct the geopolitical framework of alliances and strategic partnerships that prevailed during the Cold War. They have tried to rope in India into the American camp by offering such carrots as the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. They have also strengthened America’s ties with former Soviet Bloc nations in Eastern Europe, bringing Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia into NATO.

On the other hand, the Bush-Wilsonians have downgraded the American reliance on allies in Continental Western Europe, which they dismissively describe as “Old Europe”, even as they have sought to shore up a few key alliances of the Cold-War Era such as with the UK, Australia, and Japan.

Similarly, they have made some moves towards engaging Russia as a potential strategic partner rather than a competitor, especially in light of the challenges Russia appeared to be facing from a resurgent China and from Islamist terrorism in the early 2000s.

However, their approach to Russia has been wary, and often contradictory, as seen in the American support for the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine, American initiatives to station missiles in East European countries such as Poland, and American backing of such individuals as Georgia’s Shakashvili who were belligerently anti-Russian. In such cases, some of the old-school Cold-War-Era Wilsonian prejudices seemed to re-establish themselves with regard to Bush-Wilsonian foreign policy.

These contradictions also manifested themselves when, after invading Afghanistan, the Bush-Wilsonians decided to rely on Pakistan as an ally against the Taliban, with fatal consequences.

The highlight of the Bush-Wilsonians’ dominance over the US Foreign Policy Establishment was of course, the Iraq War… something which has ended up destroying their credibility for the present.

As far as India is concerned, the Bush-Wilsonians have made overtures to India that sharply contrasted with the dismissive attitude of the Cold-War-Era Wilsonians. However, the growth of predatory Evangelical missionary activity as Washington’s influence increased in Delhi during the Bush administration, is a warning sign that not all was well with US-India relations during this period. Additionally, the Bush-Wilsonians have repeatedly insisted that India “prove” its sincerity towards Washington, by downgrading its relationship with Iran for example.

When and if the Bush-Wilsonians regain their influence in Washington, India should game them deftly… securing all the benefits we can from their willingness to abandon Cold-War Era policy, but remaining careful not to cede an undue level of influence that might prove to be detrimental to our national and civilizational interests.

2B) The second camp of Wilsonians that has emerged following the USSR’s demise are the “Clinton-Wilsonians.” They are actually more conservative than the Bush-Wilsonian “Neoconservatives”, in that their attitudes more closely reflect the classical Cold-War-Era Wilsonians’ worldview.

The Clinton-Wilsonians are the closest group to what some like to call “Atlanticists”. They are deeply distrustful of Russia, and less averse to China; they are also strongly invested in the idea of revitalizing the trans-Atlantic alliances with Western Europe that America maintained during the Cold War. For the rest of the world, the Clinton-Wilsonians firmly trust in the British techniques of divide-et-impera, and in our region in particular, they are the modern torchbearers of Olaf Caroe’s geopolitical agenda. They are more likely than any of the other groups to entertain the idea that Jihadi Islamism can continue to be a coercive policy tool in America's hands.

(Aside: However, I don't believe that this necessarily has anything to do with the “East European ethnic background” of Clinton-Wilsonians. True, some high-profile members of this camp, such as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeline Albright, are of East European extraction. However, many others of this camp are not ethnic East Europeans, and besides, all the other policy groups in Walter Russell Meade’s spectrum also include a good number of ethnic East Europeans, which makes the correlation doubtful.)

Think-tanks of the Clinton-Wilsonian persuasion include the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Most of the Non-Proliferation types who bash India while ignoring Chinese/Paki proliferation, are Clinton-Wilsonians.

The Clinton-Wilsonians showed their eagerness to reshape the world in America’s favour following the end of the Cold War, most prominently in two instances. One was the war in Yugoslavia, which was deliberately split up into ethnic nationalities, providing additional levers of control that the West could easily manipulate. The second was the secession of East Timor from Indonesia.

In both of these cases, it should be noted that the Clinton-Wilsonians proceeded to fulfill their agenda under the cover of “international consensus”, using the UN to pull together “coalitions” of nations which supported the American initiative. This modus operandi is a key point of differentiation between Clinton-Wilsonians from Bush-Wilsonians, who have been much more prone to reject the authority of multilateral bodies like the UN and carry out unilateral actions such as the Iraq war.

As far as India is concerned, the Clinton-Wilsonians (who include such functionaries as Strobe Talbott, Richard Holbrooke and Robin Raphel) are an inflexible, implacable enemy. This is the single worst group that could come to dominate US foreign policy, from our point of view. They continue the most anti-India traditions of the Cold-War-Era Wilsonians, supporting Pakistan to the maximum extent possible and winking at Chinese nuclear proliferation to Pakistan, even while they bash India for developing its own nuclear arsenal. They refuse to see India as a potential strategic counter to China, and prefer to cultivate China in a “G2” model of cooperative partnership for the short-to-medium term.

The Clinton-Wilsonians are the group who most fervently support Pakistan as a counter to India’s regional dominance, as described in George Friedman’s Stratfor article. They are the most likely group to retain the India-Pakistan hyphen wherever possible, bombard India with equal-equal psyops, and overtly rake up the Kashmir issue as a pressure point against India. They seek to restrict Indian influence to a sub-dominant level even within the “South Asian” region. This is in sharp contrast to the Bush-Wilsonians who made some attempt to dehyphenate India and Pakistan, with a view to bolstering India as strategic rival against China.

I do not see how the Clinton-Wilsonians can be won over… when they are in charge of US foreign policy, it makes more sense for India to engage with other powerful interest groups such as the Hamiltonians so as the modulate the virulence of the Clinton-Wilsonians’ initiatives against India.

Speaking of Wilsonians in general, Lyndon Johnson (who began the Vietnam war) was a classic Wilsonian president, as was his successor Richard Nixon (who reached out to China via Pakistan to form an alliance against the Soviet Union). This is an illustration of how the policy groups of Meade’s spectrum can often cut across Republican/Democrat party lines.

More recently, Bill Clinton has been a Wilsonian president who was, however, always careful to secure the backing of the Hamiltonians (whose power greatly increased during the Reagan years.)

It should be noted that there are many in the US Foreign Policy Establishment who do not fully commit to either the Bush-Wilsonian or Clinton-Wilsonian camps. Robert Gates is one such. Other examples include academics like Stephen Cohen and Christine Fair, who pretend to an independent "maverick" image but in reality always make statements that are in line with the Wilsonian flavour-of-the-month in Washington.

3) The Jeffersonians, compared to the Hamiltonians or Wilsonians, are decidedly inward-looking. They believe in a largely non-interventionist foreign policy, and in concentrating resources on domestic reforms.

Of the four groups of Meade’s spectrum, the Jeffersonians are most inclined to oppose the rise of the “military-industrial complex”… something that Eisenhower famously warned against as he was leaving office, and which is an important source of political influence for both Hamiltonians and Wilsonians.

As I mentioned earlier, many common Americans are either Jeffersonian or Jacksonian in their outlook. If you talk to an American about the India-Pakistan situation and he says something like “sort it out yourselves, it’s none of our business”… that American is most likely a Jeffersonian.

The typical Jeffersonian is to the “left” of the American political spectrum, upholding traditional “liberal” ideas such as increased Federal Government involvement in social and economic development, upliftment of underprivileged sections, civil rights, environmental conservationism, regulation of corporations, global initiatives against poverty/disease/global warming and so on. Such politicians as Dennis Kucinich are at the extreme left of this group.

However, not all Jeffersonians are leftist. Libertarian Isolationists such as Ross Perot and Ron Paul, who believe in a Fortress America model where the US military is exclusively employed to guard America’s borders and enforce illegal immigration laws, also purvey an essentially Jeffersonian foreign policy.

As such, the Jeffersonian attitude towards India tends to be neutral… but this is largely irrelevant. That is because Jeffersonian Presidents tend to hand over control of foreign policy to Wilsonians. Jimmy Carter relied on Cold-War-Era Brzezinski, and Barack Obama relies on Clinton-Wilsonians such as Joe Biden, Richard Holbrooke and co. with Brzezinski still present as a mentor-figure. The advantage India has today is that it has cultivated a constituency with the Hamiltonians, who are much more powerful at present than they were during the Carter regime. With the Bush-Wilsonians largely in disgrace, the Hamiltonians are our primary channel of influencing American foreign policy in a positive manner at present.

4) The Jacksonians are also, primarily, inward-looking, though they differ dramatically from the Jeffersonians in terms of their domestic policy agenda. While the Jeffersonians tend to be idealists, the Jacksonians are fervent populists. In the tradition of Andrew Jackson, they stand for increased power of the executive branch (the President) relative to the legislature or judiciary; limited federal government role in the affairs of the country; the “patronage” policy of actively placing political supporters into appointed offices; expanded states’ rights; and decentralization.

Also in the tradition of Andrew Jackson, who pledged to expand the United States “from sea to shining sea”, the Jacksonians believe in America’s Manifest Destiny as the natural leader of the world and in securing America’s influence overseas by any means necessary… not shying away from unilateral military action whenever required.

Some articles on Meade’s spectrum describe Jacksonians as the only group that believes in American Exceptionalism. From an Indian point of view, this is not strictly true… ALL the four groups believe in American Exceptionalism… but the Jacksonians are the ones who most prominently wear it on their sleeves.

Jacksonians tend to be issue-based in their politics, rallying around anti-abortion movements, restriction of gay rights, defence of second-amendment gun rights, unapologetic Christian influence in schools and government institutions etc.

Jacksonians, unlike Jeffersonians, do not make “non-intervention” a cornerstone of their foreign policy views; they are quite happy to intervene in a muscular fashion whenever they deem it necessary to do so. However, their perspective is largely focused on internal priorities, so again, Jacksonian Presidents of the United States have traditionally handed over control of foreign policy to other groups. Reagan depended on Hamiltonians like James Baker and Cold-War-Era Wilsonians such as Alexander Haig. George W. Bush also depended on Hamiltonians, but ceded a large amount of policy space to the new Bush-Wilsonians or Neoconservatives of his day.


In conclusion, is not easy to identify any one of these groups as the “best” from India’s point of view.

Also, it is important to realize that no one group typically has complete dominance over a particular US administration’s foreign policy. The actual policy is often a vector sum of competing influences brought together by political expediency and self-interest.

For example, Clinton’s initiatives were planned by Clinton-Wilsonians but strongly modified to accommodate Hamiltonian interests (which became extremely powerful during the Reagan years.)

Bush’s Iraq War was a Bush-Wilsonian policy initiative to bring an American-controlled “democratic” regime change to Iraq. But to enact it, the Bush administration relied on support from both Hamiltonians (interest in the oil fields of Iraq) and Jacksonians (strong popular opposition to Islamism following 9/11.)

Obama is a Jeffersonian who is torn between his Jeffersonian electoral base, which favours a withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a Clinton-Wilsonian foreign policy establishment, which pursues a flawed policy based on alliance with Pakistan and negotiations with “good” Taliban.

It seems clear that the Clinton-Wilsonians are the most implacable foes of India among all these groups.

Others, particularly Bush-Wilsonians and Hamiltonians, can be engaged on some specific points of convergent interest, but must be handled carefully because other aspects of their agendas are inimical to Indian interest.

Ultimately, a Jacksonian President is perhaps most likely to nuke Pakistan or take a confrontationalist posture towards China… but depending on various factors, the specific circumstances and consequences may or may not be in India’s interest.. We will have to be quick on our feet to translate any advantage out of such situations.

And finally, if India ever rises beyond the confines of the region to the beginnings of global superpowerdom… probably our best bet is for the United States to follow a Jeffersonian line of limited intervention, leaving a power vacuum that we can endeavour to fill.

Civilizational Narrative and the Hindu Identity -Part II

(continued from previous...)

Second,  a strong narrative is founded on a normative system of values, ethics and mores that derives entirely from the dominant traditional culture of the civilization espousing it.  No civilizational narrative of India can be predicated on accepting concepts of good and evil,  sin and virtue, justice and unfairness that are borrowed from the normative systems of other civilizations.

On the surface, all these may seem like universal values that may pervade and characterize any narrative; but in fact, the adoption of outside values in constructing  or portraying one's own narrative will always privilege the outsider at the cost of one's own civilization. It is actually the first step to colonization: the colonization of the psyche.

This is because a narrative based on an external normative system will invariably become skewed in such a way as to "impress" the outside originators of that system,  with attributes that they perceive as "good".

Equally, aspects of the narrative that the outsiders consider "bad" from their own moral standpoint, will always remain a point of vulnerability for the civilization constructing the narrative. Outsiders can always use these aspects to invoke shame, guilt, apologism, or defensiveness in a civilization. This is especially true when the "outside" civilization enjoys an advantage of political, military or economic power over the civilization trying to construct and adhere to the narrative; as for example, the West with respect to India.

The solution is to remember that we don't owe an explanation of our norms to anybody else. Quite possibly the killing of Vali by Sri Ram may seem deceptive or evil from a Judeo-Christian perspective.  It shouldn't make any difference to us; just as the Jews feel no shame in declaring that their god killed all the first-born children of Egypt on behalf of his chosen people.

Third, a strong narrative should be consistent to its own principles, and yet flexible enough to accommodate any sort of evolutionary stress: be this interaction with outside civilizations, or the transformation over time of popular attitudes and aspirations within the home civilization.  For example, a narrative that is based entirely on being the "ultimate warriors" will suit a civilization only up to the point where it is overmatched and faces military defeat at the hands of outsiders: after this, it becomes discredited, and all too often the civilization falls apart as a consequence.

To be complete, a narrative must introspect with honesty at the entire history of a civilization, including the aspects that popular memory would rather forget. Yet, the introspection must always take place within the normative parameters, the value system of right and wrong that is intrinsic to a civilization's own cultural traditions. 

So: it will not serve our purpose to hide the existence of caste discrimination, for example, from Indian children learning Indian history. On the other hand, it is even worse to teach that caste discrimination is something fundamentally intrinsic to Hindu ideology, a piece of propaganda relentlessly employed by Christian missionaries;  or to teach that it is a natural product of some bogus "Aryan Invasion Theory" concocted by Western Indologists.  Ultimately, the solutions to India's problems must always be sought in the traditional value systems of Indian civilization, and no other.

Lastly, a civilizational narrative must be definitively, unapologetically unique from beginning to end. In an age when "global citizen" scholars "question the episteme" and imply that all human beings are ultimately the same; in an age where Marxists loudly claim that every social or political system is simply a device for privileging certain classes at the expense of others, no matter what the color of its shirt... it is more important than ever to assert an identity that is uncompromisingly distinctive. 

The ways in which Indians appear to be  "just like anybody else" are not fundamental... they are artifactual. It is our differences from others that define our identity; any veneer of commonality is a coincidence. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Civilizational Narrative and the Hindu Identity, Part I

So why is all this stuff I've been talking about so important to a nation of 1.2 billion people? What am I trying to achieve by typing relentlessly away until my keyboard rattles like a mouthful of loose teeth?

Something that is rarely addressed in internet discussions on national psyche, is a factor that is perhaps more relevant to determining the course of identity politics than any other. Namely, the quest of all peoples for a civilizational narrative.

What is a "civilizational narrative"? Very simply, it is the story of a people as they would prefer to tell it themselves.

It is their own history from their own point of view. It includes the experiences, insights and wisdom of a people's ancestors, as recorded and interpreted by that people themselves. It is the template upon which a people's present-day thinkers fashion their worldview. It is the basis on which a people determine their own role in the larger context of society, nation (in the modern, political sense) and globe. It is what a people would like to teach their children about themselves, and their aspirations for the future.

And very importantly, in an imperative that grows more urgent as a people experience increasing contact with other peoples and the rest of the world... their civilizational narrative is the one version of their own story that they would want OTHER peoples to hear, believe, and accept as the only authoritative version.

How important is a civilizational narrative? I think it is the fountainhead of all types of identity a people can have... religious, cultural, social and political. Consider the Jews... there are only a handful of them in the world, but they're driven to achieve economic and geopolitical influence out of all proportion to their numbers on the strength of their civilizational narrative alone. Perhaps there is no more successful civilizational narrative in the world... every school child is familiar, at least in broad strokes, with the whole span of Jewish history from the Old Testament to the Holocaust. You had better believe the version almost everyone accepts as the truth is the version the Jews want to tell.

On the dismal end of the spectrum are peoples who have been completely robbed and denuded of their civilizational narrative, so that they see themselves almost entirely in terms of the characterizations of others. Usually these "others" are present or former colonial masters, whose characterizations are designed to inflict feelings of shame and inferiority in the service of ulterior motives. Colonialists knew better than anyone else that hijacking the civilizational narrative of a conquered people the was key to their long-term subjugation. As a result, these peoples' view of themselves consists either of shame and guilt, or of raging, ultra-reactionary bile... both of these attitudes being sides of a single coin minted out of self-loathing. Accordingly, such peoples find themselves unable to cope with the world or achieve any kind of economic or political success.

Consider just about any nation in Africa, for instance. The view we Indians have of these Africans is too-often characterized by a contempt borrowed from the white man. We see an Africa riven by brutal tribal conflicts, where savage warlords are eager to sell mineral resources and slaves alike for profit; an Africa marked more often and widely by instances of famine, disease and disaster than anything else; an Africa hell bent on sabotaging its own potential for development by selling itself short to the highest bidder. And of course, we see white Westerners running relief camps, distributing food and medicine to these helpless Africans out of the goodness of their hearts. That is the story of Africa we hold to be true. And you can bet it’s not the story the Africans would like to tell of themselves.

Clearly, we have accepted the Western narrative of the African peoples’ story as the authoritative version. What is the African version of their own civilizational narrative? Who knows?

Could the term “civilizational narrative” be applied to the words of people like Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, sanitized and mass-produced for popular consumption by their sanctimonious European publishers? No… that is the merely the narrative of Europeans who style themselves “Liberals”, albeit told in an African accent.

Could we use it to describe rage of the Sierra-Leonese warlord, who turns his enemies into lollipops for the cameras of CNN and BBC to lap up with perverse delectation? No… that is merely a reaction to being deprived of a civilizational narrative… and again, ends up reinforcing stereotypical Western narratives about Africa.

Nor does it fit the cynical self-justification of a Robert Mugabe, who uses different consequences of the lack of an indigenous Zimbabwean civilizational narrative to manipulate the public and maintain his hold on power.

The fact is, most African peoples never had the chance to develop a civilizational narrative of their own, to tell their own story to other peoples of the world and receive a fair hearing as equals. This has damaged them as a people beyond measure. Being that we’ve never heard the civilizational narrative of any African people, we find ourselves unsure about whether they are “civilized” (in any sense that we understand the term) at all.

More importantly, in order to prevent Africans ever achieving their full potential, to ensure that they and the resources under their nominal control shall remain perpetually open to exploitation… any attempts by them to develop a coherent civilizational narrative are deliberately, systematically put down and drowned out with an external version. These external narratives that outsiders have sought to superimpose on the African peoples, for the purpose of rendering them vulnerable to exploitation, are many. They often compete with each other… for instance, the post-colonial narrative of the West and the Marxist narrative of the former Soviet Union. Recently, the Chinese have also got into the act of exploiting Africa… but as a new player on that stage, they have yet to superimpose their own narrative upon the Africans.

Ultimately, the more forgotten and unheard a people’s civilizational narrative, the more powerless they are. The world’s most disempowered and uprooted peoples… native Americans, Australian aborigines and the Gypsies of Europe… have no narrative at all that anyone can remember, least of all themselves.

Where, then, along the continuum of narrative empowerment does today’s Hindu stand?

To answer this question, we must understand where a strong civilizational narrative comes from.

First, it is based on a collective viewpoint that is generally representative of a people. No two individuals within a population have exactly the same story to tell, after all. Thus a civilizational narrative must emerge by either organically, by achieving consensus among several individually disparate narratives… or through mandated artificial synthesis, where one small group is empowered to dictate the story and everyone else agrees with their version as a matter of discipline.

(To be continued...)

Afterword on Quigley's Comparative Analysis: The Indian Political Spectrum

A tangential thought inspired by Quigley’s comparative analysis of national (and hence political) cultures in East and West, is that given their markedly different paths of development, there is no grounds for the universal application of political terminology.

In talking of Western political philosophies, the terms “Conservative” and “Liberal” are fundamental. Given the picture Quigley paints, of Western national culture evolving through a series of transformative revolutions, this dichotomy is only natural. New technologies resulted in new technics, changing society in unprecedented ways, creating environments conducive to the emergence of new ideas, engendering new types of demands that still newer technologies were birthed to satisfy, only to influence society in their turn.

The accelerated pace of social change became pronounced as never before in the early twentieth century… finally, a time had arrived when a person might see the world around him, and society itself, unrecognizably altered within his own lifespan.

A “Conservative”, then, was one who favoured traditional ideas and values, and resisted the acceleration of new and unfamiliar trends: technological, social or intellectual. He believed that rushing headlong into the future, propelled by an engine of change that had taken on a vitality of its own, was a perilous path of development that risked eliminating many useful and desirable elements of the status quo.

By contrast, a “Liberal” was one who was welcoming of new ideas, and championed the freedom to incorporate them into existing modes of social, political and economic thought. An openness to economic ideas, particularly laissez-faire capitalism and the power of the market, were the traditional hallmark of the Liberal viewpoint when the label first came into wide usage.

Today things have changed slightly, at least in America where the Conservative favors an unbridled free-market and the Liberal would prefer a degree of government regulation. That’s because these definitions are necessarily dynamic… following Quigley’s model, transformative change is essential to the progress of Western society. The Conservative and Liberal differ only in their adherence to conventional ideas vs. their openness to new ideas… what those ideas may actually be, is entirely a matter of temporal context.

Given the complete dissimilarity of the developmental path followed by Asiatic national cultures, these terms become nonsense when applied in the Asian context.
What is a “Conservative” in the context of independent India, for example, where conventional political thinking is very often at odds with traditional Indic values or conventional notions of social order?

In my view, the term makes sense only when applied to those who would want the nature of the Indian Republic to stay true to the political philosophy enshrined in the 1950 constitution.

By that definition, Jawahar Lal Nehru is a “Conservative”, and so is anyone who describes himself as holding “Nehruvian” views. From a Western point of view, of course, Nehru is almost indistinguishable from the English Liberal… enamoured with Fabian Socialism, an opponent of imperialism, a product of the colonial era who resisted colonialism. However, he is no “Liberal” when seen in the Indian context. Far from being open to new ideas, particularly the relevance of native social norms to governing a newly independent nation, he rejected them in favor of Western ideas that he had been trained to accept as superior.

Sherwani-clad Western “Liberalism”, with all its prejudices, is the conventional philosophy that independent India started off with at square one. Hence, its proponents in the Indian context are the only ones who can properly be called political “Conservatives”. The Indian National Congress is India’s most politically “Conservative” party. Its adherents, who vote generation after generation of Nehru descendants to power out of a faith in its stature as India’s first and only natural party of governance, are India’s most fervent Conservatives.

This of course makes nonsense of the conception, much bandied-about among our Westernized elite, that Hindutvavadi parties are somehow “Conservative” while the Congress is “Liberal”. Those appelations are absurd in the Indian context. Hindutva is a recent phenomenon in independent India, and as a philosophy, it is anathema to the Congress loyalist who swears by conventional Nehruvian secularism. Who then is “Conservative”, and who “Liberal”?

On an internet forum I used to frequent, the term “Hindu Fake Liberal” is being used to refer to a nominal Hindu who denounces his co-religionists’ emerging claim to a political identity. However, such a person believes that in order to maintain his commitment to secular pluralism, he is required to condemn the Hindutvavadi. That belief is about as conventional, and conservative an attitude as one is likely to encounter in Indian politics. The epithet “Liberal” is entirely unsuitable.

Rather than the Conservative-Liberal dichotomy of the West, with its attendant connotative pitfalls and its tendency to render a discourse vulnerable to hijack by motivated Western interests… I propose a different nomenclature for the spectrum of political opinion represented in modern Indic society.
Essentially, there is one group which would like to deal with change in such a way as to preserve the Nehruvian ethos as closely as possible, and two others which would prefer to effect a change in the Indian political order, to one extent or another.

The first group, which is in effect conservative, is perhaps best described as “Accommodationist”. They may acknowledge their personal identity as Hindus, and even claim part of that heritage proudly for themselves, their families and their communities. However, they believe that the public face of a political identity based on Hinduism is worth suppressing, and indeed must be suppressed, in order to preserve the nation’s secular ethos. They are content to keep their Hinduism at home, and insist that other Hindus must also do the same, while giving minority religious groups free rein to leverage their political identity.
The Accommodationists may subscribe to a wide variety of opinions on the economy, foreign policy and so on. However, the social equilibrium they seek to preserve is, by and large, very similar to the equilibrium that Nehru envisioned.

Opposed to this conservative group and to each other, are two others which may be termed the “Revivalists” and the “Externalists”. Both these groups want fundamental changes in the political character of the Indian Union.

The Revivalists believe that they should have a right to a political identity as inheritors of an Indic civilizational legacy; and that such an identity, far from being suppressed, ought to be recognized as an essential aspect of Indian nationhood . The change they would like to effect is reflective of those beliefs. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, it involves across-the-board infusion of the Indian government and constitution with a profoundly Indic character. At the most moderate end, it favours a reversal of what are widely seen as double-standards in Accommodationist policy, so that the government is equally indifferent to the religious backgrounds of all its citizens when it comes to administering the rule of law, and equally sensitive to majority and minority religious sentiment when it comes to the formulation of policy.

Of course, as with all political nomenclature, the boundaries of these categories are ill-defined. It’s probably safe to say that the ideological perspectives of most Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains fall somewhere between the Moderate Revivalist and the Accommodationist viewpoints. Such nebulousness and flexibility are, in fact, probably more innately representative of traditional Indic society than any tendency towards rigid orthodoxy.

The third group, the Externalists, also seek to effect changes in the political character of the Indian Union. However, the basis for the types of change they desire, has nothing to do with an identity based on their traditional Indic heritage. In fact, their defining characteristic is an active repudiation of any sort of Hindu identity, in favour of a driving philosophy entirely alien to Indic civilization. Most typically this philosophy is some form of Marxism, or one of its derivatives. However, adherents of pro-Western internationalism and free-market capitalism whose loyalties extend to compromising the Indian national interest, a behaviour observed in certain titans of industry during Operation Parakram, would equally qualify as Externalists. So would the deracinated elite who consider themselves too enlightened to subscribe to something as basely revanchist as a Hindu political identity.

How many Externalists are there? It is hard to tell, but very likely they have acquired a public profile out of all proportion to their numbers. Much of today’s Indian media is Externalist, or under the influence of Externalists in the service of one or another alien political philosophy. Also, many Externalists have access to resources provided by the outside principals whose agendas they serve.

The enthusiastic Revivalist will all too often perceive the rest of Hindu society which does not openly share his perspective as being arraigned against him in a monolithic bloc. It is important that he learn to identify and distinguish between the motivated Externalists and the sincere, if committed Accommodationists… instead of exerting himself on fighting against Accommodationists and even moderate Revivalists.

For their part, the Externalists have certainly perfected the art of exploiting differences between the Hindu Revivalists and the Accommodationists to gain leverage for their own agendas. Today, a potentially dangerous situation is developing whereby India’s ruling party, the Congress, has come under the influence of those who appear to have Externalist rather than Accommodationist motives. Combined with the cynical machinations of that party’s vote-bank manipulators, the effect is one which is broadly perceived by Revivalists as an existential assault on the Indian national interest… on a spectrum of issues ranging from Missionary activity in Orissa to the India-US nuclear deal. Consequently, Hindu society threatens to become increasingly and perhaps irreconcilably polarized between the Revivalist and the Accommodationist points of view.

The vast bulk of the population, of course, does not vote or act in accordance with any of the above political philosophies. Their priorities are good governance, access to civic and rural amenities, an honest and effective judicial system, and economic security if not prosperity. They are more interested in improving their quality of life, and securing a better quality of life for their children, than in waging ideological battles. Sometimes, however events such as economic crisis or chronic terrorist threats to personal security will force popular opinion to a threshold--opening up a context in which the competition between these ideologies becomes, at least temporarily, a matter of great consequence to the polity at large. It is at these watershed periods that the political destinies of most nations are decided, and India is no exception.

Finally, a word about India’s Muslims. The above categories, of course, do not apply to a community whose engagement in the politics of religious identity has not been suppressed, but rather, traditionally encouraged and exploited. To some extent, the Indian Muslim political spectrum is a mirror image of the Hindu spectrum.
The most moderate are Muslim Accommodationists like Asghar Ali Engineer, Saeed Naqvi and Shabana Azmi. They seek to uphold Muslim responsibilities under the social contract that the original Hindu Accommodationists, under Nehru, offered Indian Muslims on behalf of all Hindus. The terms dictated to all Hindus by the Hindu Accommodationists… including the suppression of Hindu religious identity… are the only terms under which Muslim Accommodationists can see Indian Muslims being willing to claim a stake in the Indian national interest. Unsurprisingly, these Muslim Accommodationists are quick to blame Hindu Revivalists as the instigators of communal disharmony, and cite Hindu Revivalists as being the primary threat to the only kind of social contract that enables Muslims to live alongside Hindus as fellow citizens.
The most extreme are the Islamists, who might be described as Muslim Revivalists. Of course, from the Hindu point of view, Islam is not intrinsic to the Indic civilizational canon, and Islamists would therefore fall under the category of Externalists! Equally so the Missionaries who attempt to save “benighted” Hindu souls by converting them to Christianity.

In between the Muslim Accommodationist and Islamist poles is a fairly wide spectrum of Muslim political opinion.

Politicians like Syed Shahabuddin, Asaduddin Owaisi and Imam Bukhari campaign aggressively against any attempts to cull the special status accorded to Muslim law under the constitution, ascribing Hindu Revivalist motives to those who argue in favour of an uniform civil code. They exploit the politics of religious identity to the hilt, citing Muslim Solidarity as their ideological basis. However, they emphasize preserving the social contract offered to India's Muslims by the Nehruvian Accommodationists, rather than bringing about radical change in the constitutional structure. In that sense, they are conservative.

Further along the spectrum, groups like the Darul Uloom of Deoband are ideologically committed to Islamism, and would like to Islamize the entire Indian subcontinent; yet, they too have accepted the Nehruvian Accommodationists' social contract, if only because they saw it as a likelier path to achieving their goals than joining Pakistan would have been. This is in contrast to SIMI, who are Islamist Externalists all the way, and believe in destabilizing any social contract based on Accommodation. By and large, the Hanafis tend to be Accommodationist, while the Salafis are Externalist; the Kashmiri National Conference are Accommodationist while the Hurriyat are Externalist, and so on.

Of course, there are other dimensions to the ideological compulsions of Indian Muslim political entities-- regional priorities, sectarian rivalries, economic agendas and so on. Yet, from the Hindu point of view, it is the Muslim-Accommodationist/Islamist dimension that is most relevant. Most Indian Muslims adhere to a political philosophy situated somewhere along that ideological spectrum. It is only a few rare individuals, such as President Kalam and some distinguished classical musicians, who actually subscribe to a Revivalist ideology in the Indic (rather than Islamist) sense.

It is vital to note that the Hindu Revivalist has room in his worldview to accept the Indian Muslim or Christian as possessing as much right to claim an Indic heritage as he himself does. It is, in the view of the Revivalist, the intrinsically exclusivist nature of Islamic or Christian beliefs that prevent Indians of those religious minorities from laying claim to their civilizational legacy. In the present situation, their religious identities preclude their full acceptance and appreciation of that legacy, serving to separate rather than unite them from the rest of the population.

If only the Indian Muslim and Christian eschewed the exclusivism of their faiths, and fully reconciled their ownership of an Indic identity with the fact of their religious beliefs, these two facets of their identity would stand genuinely on par with each other. That, in the view of the Hindu Revivalist, would lay the foundation for a new and more viable kind of accommodation, a more durable and egalitarian social contract than the one Nehru imposed on us all.

The most likely point of consensus between these disparate perspectives, occupies a middle ground to which both the Hindu Revivalist, the Hindu Accommodationist and the Minority Accommodationist camps must all find their separate ways. Each group would have to make sacrifices of some sort, as concessions to the perspectives of the other two... but that is hardly an unrealistic proposition. Adjustment and flexibility have always been far more characteristic of the Indic ethos than doctrinaire rigidity.

Minority Accommodationists would also have to persuade the bulk of their community's citizens to a point of view which favoured making the necessary concessions, and thereby secure a mandate to negotiate on their community's behalf. To do so might prove a greater challenge than achieving reconciliation between Hindu Accommodationists and Hindu Revivalists; yet, if enough of a residual Indic ethos continues to pervade those religious minority groups as well, it should certainly be possible.

In a vibrant, prosperous India where all had a stake in reaching such a consensus, the matter might be smoothly settled in this fashion. The reason why that hasn't happened yet, and shows no sign of happening, is the motivated pursuit by the Externalists of their own various agendas... and their relentless exploitation of India's faultlines towards the advancement of those agendas.

On the Psyche of Nations- Part III

On the Psyche of Nations: A Study of Carroll Quigley's Evolutionary Model in the Context of the Modern Indian Mindset, Part III

Let’s return once more to Quigley’s recounting of the development of Asian national cultures.

We’ve heard him tell us that Asian societies were marked by a large ruling class which had organized itself to best exploit a large peasant class that produced all the food. He has gone on to say that the peasant class did not produce food as efficiently as their European counterparts, and lagged far behind the agricultural techniques which European farming evolved through the second millenium CE.

According to Quigley, those agricultural revolutions in Europe were all-important in terms of empowering the great mass of the peasantry. Much more food was capable of being produced per acre of land, and a much smaller proportion of the population needed to work the land in order to feed an entire nation. People became liberated to some extent, capable of taking up intellectual pursuits or learning other skills. Economies grew more diverse, and as a result Europe went through a rennaissance. Or at least, so goes the Western narrative of their own civilizational development.

Asian cultures, in contrast, suffered a double-blow. Not only did they not have an agricultural revolution, but at this critical stage they came into contact with expansionist Western cultures. The first transformational consequence of that contact, for Asia, was a revolution in weapons.

Even though the Chinese invented gunpowder, it was the Europeans who first incorporated it into reliable, effective techniques of war by introducing the practice of corning in the late 14th century. It was through this roundabout route, by way of Turko-Mongolian and Persianate warcraft, that gunpowder artillery found their way to India with the invasion of Babur. Portuguese, Dutch, British and French weaponry was more impressive still. By the 16th century, many Indian rulers were hiring European artillery officers for their field forces. The Chinese, ironically, were overwhelmed by superior British weaponry during the Opium wars of the 1840s, as were the Japanese fifty years later, by the guns on Perry’s black ships.

Needless to say, European powers leveraged their ability to supply superior weapons for commercial, and then political gain. It is important to note that the Asian experience of a weapons revolution was almost exactly the opposite of the Western experience.

In the West, the wide availability of revolvers, rifles and such “amateur” weapons had a democratizing influence. In Asia, the Europeans supplied these weapons to the ruling classes, increasing the power differential between the rulers and the masses. Asia’s peasantry could not afford to possess such weapons, or train themselves in the use or manufacture of such weapons. Being shackled to the land because of their backward agricultural practices, they did not even have the all-important leisure time to explore ideas of political equality, such as motivated the French commoner to take up his rifle and overthrow the aristocracy. They were too low on the misery index for intellectual pursuit.

It is only today, in such places as Dera Adam Khel, where we see the Asian peasant building weapons in his cottage to challenge the authority of the state; recapitulating a stage that his European counterparts went through three hundred years ago. The ideology motivating the gun-forging Pashtun is also quite different from that espoused by Voltaire and Rousseau… but that is fodder for another discussion.

Because of the infusion of Western weapons, the authoritarian character of Asian societies was intensified, and the ruling group could take from the peasant ever larger fractions of what he was producing. Moneylenders offered credit to the peasant at crushing interest, while government bureaucrats taxed him at punitive rates to finance the army’s purchase of Western weapons.

According to Quigley, by the end of the 19th Century, the Chinese ruling classes took so much from the peasant of what he produced that he did not have enough left for his own subsistence. Even so, the peasantry managed to survive by selling leather, wood and straw handicrafts to the ruling classes in the cities, thereby getting just enough credit to survive. Peasants found time to manufacture and sell handicrafts, thanks to agrarian underemployment. This is a phenomenon still seen in the developing East today, whereby the farming population remains idle for about five months out of the year outside of the planting and harvesting seasons. It is, today, directly responsible for the mass movement of rural Indians to the cities; individuals and families travel to the cities at first to seek temporary employment in the idle season when there is no agricultural work to do, and then decide to stay when they encounter an entirely new spectrum of economic opportunities.

After weapons, the next transformational change brought about by European influence in Asia was what Quigley calls the Commercial Crisis. It resulted from the industrial revolution in Europe, and was represented by the influx of European manufactured goods into Asian markets, which Asian peasant handicrafts simply could not compete with. Now the Asian ruling classes, having ceased to buy the craft products of their own peasantry in favor of the industrial products of European cities, continued on the other hand to demand the same and even more in taxes from the peasant. This squashed the peasantry to below subsistence level, says Dr. Quigley.

It was, of course, this particular flavour of colonial exploitation that M.K. Gandhi sought to counter with his emphasis on swadeshi goods. A peasantry depressed beyond all hope was entirely beyond the reach of inspiration, and without inspiration on a mass scale there could be no independence movement.

I repeat all of this here, not because I think it is necessarily a true or complete account of the development of Asiatic national cultures. I recount it because Quigley’s is as objective a Western view as we are ever likely to see, of the nature of Asiatic national cultures.

Westerners found what they saw as rigidly hierarchical societies in Asia. It was not for them to distinguish between the subtleties of Jati and Varna, or to understand the entirely different ethos of social contracts that operated in Asia… but only to exploit whatever power differentials they encountered in every way possible. What they brought to Asia in the colonial age was damaging. The introduction of weapons that dramatically reinforced power structures, and later the forcing of manufactured goods onto the captive consumer markets of their colonies, had extremely harmful consequences. They intensified the stratification of our soceities, and rendered them more functionally oppressive than if European influence had never been felt in our lands. This is important to realize.

It is also important to realize that almost all Western exponents of comparative world history will refer to Asia as being characterized by inegalitarian, oppressive social structures in the first place… structures that could only have been improved by change, even the disastrous types of change that the Europeans brought. This is the mythic narrative that the West has developed about Asia, to justify the relative “morality” of their own depradations to themselves. This is the foundation of all the nonsense you read about the caste system in the few paragraphs’ worth of treatment that Hinduism receives in an American primary school textbook; it is the basis of college courses referring to the fictitious religion of “Brahminism”, of the unholy nexus between Indian Marxist academicians and Christian-fundamentalist organizations, of the phony platforms on which missionary groups claiming to serve “Dalits” mount their drives for funding and political influence. The West will continue to pretend that Asian societies were always stratified and oppressive, and hence inferior to their own. This is the message being conveyed when you hear a Westerner say, “life is cheap in India”. And it is a view of ourselves that we, as Indians, must stop internalizing right now.

Quigley goes on to reveal the extent of the European colonialists’ role in exacerbating the commercial crisis brought about by their dumping of industrial goods. Having established their political supremacy in Asia through subsidiary alliances and military superiority, the Europeans forced native governments to sign agreements not to raise tarriffs on imported goods above 5 percent, or in one case 8 percent of their value. These agreements were enforced well into the twentieth century, even in nations that weren’t directly colonized by the Europeans, like China, Japan and the Ottoman empire. In effect, these extortionist agreements made it impossible for the Asian ruling classes to keep Western manufactured goods out of their markets, or to preserve the handicrafts of their own peasantry, even if they had wanted to do so.

The European colonialists sought to create a subservient Asian ruling class in their own image. This was the template upon which Sun Yat Sen and Professor Gokhale were fashioned. They were educated under the systems of their conquerors, trained to imbibe the cultural attitudes and political perspective of their colonial masters, and encouraged to reject their native heritage as inegalitarian and undemocratic. At the same time, this manufactured ruling class were unable to safeguard the welfare of their peasantry from the effects of European colonialism, such as the destruction of the market for their handicrafts. They continued to subject the peasantry to crushing taxation, now on behalf of their colonial masters. This is what ultimately prevented many Asian ruling classes … including the nationalists of the Chinese Republic, and the pre-Gandhi Indian National Congress… from ever earning the confidence of the vast majority of their people. What authority did they have to sign a social contract with those they couldn’t protect or provide for?

Instead, the Asiatic rulers fashioned in the image of their colonial masters became willing clients for more Western influence, and eager consumers of more Western capital… how else were they to finance the introduction of yet more Western technology, such as railroads and infrastructure? The transport and communications revolution in the West was financed by capital generated by the industrial revolution; in Asia, it was imported with money and skills borrowed from the West. This left Asiatic governments in debt, increasing the relative power of the West in terms of fiscal surplus as well as technological dependence.

At about this time, and on into the post-colonial era, the Western revolution in sanitation and medicine began to impress itself upon Asian populations. In Quigley’s view, the effect of this was to thrust Asian countries into the demographic revolution before they’d had a true agricultural revolution. Birth rates spiralled and populations dramatically increased beyond the capacity of food production or underdeveloped local economies to sustain them. This led to the emergence of vast, poverty-stricken populations, an emblem feeding further into the Western myth that life is cheap in the East (and that it’s somehow the East’s fault for being inegalitarian and oppressive).

However, the inevitable empowerment of these vast and burgeoning populations caused dramatic upheavals and changed the developmental course of several Asian national cultures. This occurred most dramatically in China, where to resist the Japanese invasion, a great mass of peasants was finally given direct access to weapons—those same rifles that had once contributed to the Western world’s democratization. The consequence, of course, was that an armed peasantry took matters into its own hands, refused to take any more orders from the Chinese Republican ruling class, and had itself a Communist revolution. The essentially socialist path undertaken by India’s leaders after independence, is a subtler consequence of a premature demographic revolution that left the nascent republic with a huge population of poor people.

Quigley ends by discussing ways in which Asiatic nations attempted to industrialize in the twentieth century; in order to keep up with some of their own neighbours like Japan who had industrialized successfully, or to resist the economic pressures of an industrialized West. Some Asian countries achieved this by squeezing their peasant population even in the absence of an agricultural revolution… like Stalin’s Soviet Union or Mao’s China. Others did it by borrowing heavily from the West. It was only much later that Asia’s “Tigers”, through tremendous discipline and sacrifice, managed at last to erase and even reverse their debts and turn their erstwhile Western creditors into markets.

As we part ways with Dr. Quigley, he is rounding off his lecture with thoughts about how Asian agriculture might benefit more from the introduction of low-tech farming practices that actually take advantage of the continent’s labor surplus, and which would fill in the many missing stages between antiquated local techniques and modern Western farming.

For my own part, Quigley’s repeated emphasis on the enormous importance of agriculture gave me a new appreciation of the mammoth accomplishment that Mrs. Gandhi’s stewardship of India’s green revolution represented. Without falling into crippling debt or driving our peasantry like Stalin, we managed to become self-sufficient in food production. Which, by any standards, amounts to quite a miracle.