Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nationalism - III

Here are some more passages from Tagore's Nationalism (you can read it online here):
In political civilization, the state is an abstraction and relationship of men utilitarian. Because it has no root in sentiments, it is so dangerously easy to handle. Half a century has been enough for you [Europe] to master this machine ; and there are men among you, whose fondness for it exceeds their love for the living ideals, which were born with the birth of your nation and nursed in your centuries. It is like a child who, in the excitement of his play, imagines he likes his playthings better than his mother. 
Have you never felt shame, when you see the trade advertisements, not only plastering the whole town with lies and exaggerations, but invading the green fields, where the peasants do their honest labour, and the hill-tops, which greet the first pure light of the morning ? It is so easy to dull our sense of honour and delicacy of mind with constant abrasion, while falsehoods stalk abroad with proud steps in the name of trade, politics and patriotism, that any protest against their perpetual intrusion into our lives is considered to be sentimentalism, unworthy of true manliness. 
And it has come to pass that the children of those heroes who would keep their word at the point of death, who would disdain to cheat men for vulgar profit, who even in their fight would much rather court defeat than be dishonourable, have become energetic in dealing with falsehoods and do not feel humiliated by gaining advantage from them. And this has been effected by the charm of the word 'modern.' But if undiluted utility be modern, beauty is of all ages ; if mean selfishness be modern, the human ideals are no new inventions. [He said this a century ago. What would he have said now?! - Suresh]

It is the continual and stupendous dead pressure of this unhuman upon the living human under which the modern world is groaning. Not merely the subject races, but you [Europeans] who live under the delusion that you are free, are every day sacrificing your freedom and humanity to this fetich of nationalism, living in the dense poisonous atmosphere of world-wide suspicion and greed and panic. 
I have seen in Japan the voluntary submission of the whole people to the trimming of their minds and clipping of their freedom by their government, which through various educational agencies regulates their thoughts, manufactures their feelings, becomes suspiciously watchful when they show signs of inclining toward the spiritual, leading them through a narrow path not toward what is true but what is necessary for the complete welding of them into one uniform mass according to its own recipe. The people accept this all-pervading mental slavery with cheerfulness and pride because of their nervous desire to turn themselves into a machine of power, called the Nation, and emulate other machines in their collective worldliness. the newly converted fanatic of nationalism answers that "so long as nations are rampant in this world we have not the option freely to develop our higher humanity. We must utilize every faculty that we possess to resist the evil by assuming it ourselves in the fullest degree. For the only brotherhood possible in the modern world is the brotherhood of hooliganism." 

But it is no consolation to us to know that the weakening of humanity from which the present age is suffering is not limited to the subject races, and that its ravages are even more radical because insidious and voluntary in peoples who are hypnotized into believing that they are free. 
...the idea of the Nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has invented. Under the influence of its fumes the whole people can carry out its systematic programme of the most virulent self-seeking without being in the least aware of its moral perversion, in fact feeling dangerously resentful if it is pointed out. 

During the Swadeshi movement in Bengal, some students came to seek Tagore permission to boycott classes. He refused to give his consent making them angry and doubt his patriotism. He said that he is never tempted by 'the anarchy of mere emptineess' even when it is temporary. He said that tempting young people away from their careers before it had begun was a loss which could never be repaired and he could not take such a decision lightly.Ramachandra Guha writes in the introduction to the Penguin edition of Nationalism:
He had been accused of being anti-western by some, of being a colonial agent by others, seen as too much of a patriot by the foreigner and as not patriotic enough by the Indian. He had, we might say, been comprehensively misunderstood by the ignorant.
Tagore's idea of nationalism was looked on with hostility by middle class people who, in the European mould, wanted a more aggressive nationalism. Thus the national anthem has been dogged by controversy about its origin, fueled by people who had to say something because they couldn't directly question his patriotic credentials. The song was not parochial enough for them. Ashis Nandy writes in his essay The Illegitimacy of Nationalism
...he was bitter about the controversy..., for he knew that it was a no-win situation. He could never satisfy his detractors, as their accusations did not stem from genuine suspicions about the origins of the song but were partly a product of middle-class dissatisfaction with the 'insufficient nationalism' the song expressed,and partly a response to what seemed to them to be Tagore's own 'peculiar'versionof patriotism. To the chagrin of Tagore's critics, his version of patriotism rejected the violence propagated by terrorists and revolutionaries, it rejected the concept of a single-ethnic Hindu rashtra as anti-Indian, and even anti-Hindu, and it dismissed the idea of the nation-state as being the main actor in Indian political life.

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