Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Indu Prakash. February 5, 1894
New Lamps for Old — 8
Poverty of organic conception and unintelligence of the deeper facts of our environment are the inherent vices I have hitherto imputed to the Congress and the burgess-body of which it is the political nucleus. But I have not done enough when I have done that. Perversion or error in the philosophy of our aim does indeed point to a serious defect of the political reason, but it is not incompatible with a nearer apprehension and happier management of surface facts; and if we had been so far apprehensive and dexterous, that would have been an output of native directness and force on which we might reasonably felicitate ourselves. For directness and force are an inalienable ancestral inheritance handed down by vigorous forefathers, and where they are, the political reason which comes of liberal culture and ancient experience, may be waited for with a certain patient hopefulness. But it is to be feared that our performance up to date does not give room for so comforting an assurance. Is it not rather the fact that our whole range of thought and action has been pervaded by a stamp of unreality and helplessness, a straining after achievement for which we have not the proper stamina and an entire misconception of facts as well as of natural laws? To be convinced of this we have only to interrogate recent events, not confiding in their outward face as the shallow and self-contented do, but getting to the heart of them, making sure of their hidden secret, their deeper reality. Indeed it will not hurt any of us to put out of sight for a moment those vain and fantastic chimeras about Simon de Montfort and the gradual evolution of an Indian Parliament, with which certain politicians are fond of amusing us, and look things straight in the face. We must resolutely hold fast to the primary fact that right and effective action can only ensue upon a right understanding of ourselves in relation to our environment. For by reflection or instinct to get a clear insight into our position and by dexterity to make the most of it, that is the whole secret of politics, and that is just what we have failed to do. Let us see whether we cannot get some adequate sense of what our position really is: after that we shall be more in the way to hit closely the exact point at which we have failed.
Whatever theatrical attitude it may suit our vanity to adopt, we are not, as we pretend to be, the embodiment of the country's power, intelligence and worth: neither are we disinterested patriots striving in all purity and unselfishness towards an issue irreproachable before God. These are absurd pretensions which only detract from the moral height of our nature and can serve no great or serious end. We may gain a poor and evanescent advantage by this sort of hypocrisy, but we lose in candour and clearness of intellect, we lose in sincerity which is another name for strength. If we would only indulge less our bias towards moral ostentation and care more to train ourselves in a healthy robustness and simple candour, it would really advantage us not only in character, but in power; and it would have this good effect, that we should no longer throw dust into our own eyes; we should be better fitted to see ourselves as a critic of human society would see us, better able to get that clear insight into our own position, which is one condition of genuine success. No, we are not and cannot be a body of disinterested patriots. Life being, as science tells us, an affirmation of one's self, any aggregate mass of humanity must inevitably strive to emerge and affirm its own essence, must by the law of its own nature aspire towards life, aspire towards expansion, aspire towards perfecting1 of its potential strength in the free air of political recognition and the full light of political predominance. That is just what has been happening in India. In us the Indian burgess or middle class emerges from obscurity, perhaps from nothingness, and strives between a strong and unfeeling bureaucracy and an inert and imbecile proletariate to possess itself of rank, consideration and power. Against that striving it is futile to protest; one might as well quarrel with the law of gravitation; but though our striving must be inherently selfish, we can at least make some small effort to keep it as little selfish as possible, to make it, as far as may be, run in harness with the grand central interests of the nation at large. So much at least those of us who have a broad human affection for our country as distinct from ourselves, have a right to expect.
Thus emergent, thus ambitious, it was our business by whatever circumstances we were environed, to seize hold of those circumstances and make ourselves masters of them. The initial difficulties were great. A young and just emergent body, without experience of government, without experience even of resistance to government, consequently without inherited tact, needs a teacher or a Messiah to initiate it in the art of politics. In England the burgess was taught almost insensibly by the nobility; in France he found a Messiah in the great Napoleon. We had no Napoleon, but we had a nobility. Europeans, when the spirit moves them to brag of their superiority over us Asiatics, are in the habit of saying that the West is progressive, the East stationary. That is a little too comprehensive. England and France are no doubt eminently progressive but there are other countries of Europe which have not been equally forward. America is a democratic country which has not progressed: Russia is a despotic country which has not progressed: in Italy, Spain, Germany even progress has been factitious and slow. Nevertheless, though the vulgar wording of the boast may be loose and careless, yet it does not express2 a very real superiority. The nations of the West are not all progressive, true; but they are all in that state which is the first condition of progress, a state, I mean, of fluidity, but of fluidity within limits, fluidity on a stable and normal basis. If no spirit of thought or emotion moves on the face of the waters, they become as foul and stagnant as in the most conservative parts of Asia, but a very slight wind will set them flowing. In most Asiatic countries, – I do not speak of India – one might almost imagine a hurricane blowing without any perceptible effect. Accordingly in Europe the transition of power from the noble to the burgess has been natural and inevitable. In India, just as naturally and inevitably, the administration remained with the noble. The old Hindu mechanism of society and government certainly did prescribe limits, certainly had a basis that was stable and normal; but it was too rigid, too stationary: it bound down the burgess and held him in his place by an iron weight of custom and religious ordinance. The regime that overthrew and succeeded it, the Mussulman regime, was mediaeval in character, fluid certainly, indeed in a perpetual state of flux, but never able to shake off the curse of instability, never in a position to prescribe limits, never stable, never normal. In such a society the qualities which make for survival, are valour, dexterity, initiative, swiftness, a robust immorality, qualities native to an aristocracy and to nations moulded by an aristocracy, native also to certain races, but even in those nations, even in those races, alien to the ordinary spirit of the burgess. His ponderous movements, his fumbling, his cold timidity, his decent scrupulousness have been fatal to his pretensions, at times inimical to his existence. Accordingly in India he has been submerged, scarcely existent. Great affairs and the high qualities they nourish have rested in the hand of the noble. We had then our nobility, our class trained and experienced in government and affairs: but to them unhappily we could not possibly look for guidance or even for co-operation. At the period of our emergence they were lethargic, effete, moribund, partially sunk in themselves; and even if any of the old energy had survived their fall, the world in which they moved was too new and strange, the transition to it had been too sudden and confounding to admit of their assimilating themselves so as to move with ease and success under novel conditions. The old nobility was quite as helpless from decay and dotage, as we from youthful inexperience. It was foreign energy that had pushed aside the old outworn machinery, it was an alien government that had by policy and self-will hurried us into a new and quite unfamiliar world. Would that government, politic and self-willed as it was, help us to an activity that might, nay, that must turn eventually to their personal detriment? Certainly they had the power but quite as certainly they had not the will. No doubt Anglo-Indians have very little right to speak of us as bitterly as they are in the habit of doing. By setting themselves to compel our social elements into a state of fluidity, and for that purpose not only of putting3 in motion organic forces but bringing direct pressure to bear, by strictly enforcing system and order so as to lay down fixed limits and a normal basis, within which the fluid elements might settle into new forms, they in fact made themselves responsible for us and lost the right to blame anyone but themselves for what might ensue. They are in the unlucky position of responsibility for a state of things which they abhor and certainly had no intention of bringing about. The force which they had in mind to construct was a body of grave, loyal and conservative citizens, educated but without ideas, a body created by and having a stake in the present order, and therefore attached to its continuance, a power in the land certainly, but a power for order, for permanence, not a power for disturbance and unrest. In such an enterprise they were bound to fail and they failed egregiously. Sir Edwin Arnold when he found out that it was a grievous mistake to occidentalise4 us, forgot, no doubt, for the moment his role as the preacher and poetaster of self-abnegation, and spoke as an ordinary mundane being, the prophet of a worldly and selfish class: but if we accept his words in that sense, there can be no doubt that he was perfectly right. Anglo-Indians had never seriously brought themselves to believe that we are in blood and disposition a genuine Aryan community. They chose to regard our history as a jungle of meaningless facts, and could not understand that we were not malleable dead matter, but men with Occidental impulses in our blood, not virgin material to be wrought into any shape they preferred, but animate beings with a principle of life in us and certain, if subjected to the same causes, placed in the same light and air as European communities, to exhibit effects precisely similar and shape ourselves rather than be shaped. They proposed to construct a tank for their own service and comfort; they did not know that they were breaking up the fountains of the great deep. There, stated shortly, is the whole sense of their policy and conduct. The habit, set in vogue by rhetoricians of Macaulay's type, of making large professions of benevolence invested with an air of high grandiosity, has become so much a second nature with them, that I will not ask if they are sincere when they make them: but it is a rhetorical habit and nothing more. We who are not interested in keeping up the fiction, may just as well pierce through it to the fact. If they had seen things as they really are, they would have been wisely inactive: but they wanted a submissive and attached population, and they thought they had hit on the best way of getting what they wanted. In this confidence, if there was a great deal of delusion, there was also something of truth. But we must not be surprised or indignant if the Anglo-Indians, when they saw their confidence so rudely dashed and themselves confronted, not with submission and attachment but with a body eager, pushing, recriminative, pushing for recognition, pushing for power, covetous above all of that authority which they had come to regard as their private and peculiar possession, – there is no cause for surprise or resentment, if they cared little for the grain of success in their bushelful of failure, and regarded us with those feelings of alarm, distrust and hatred which Frankenstein experienced when having hoped to make a man, he saw a monster. Their conduct was too natural to be censured. I do not say that magnanimity would not have been better, more dignified, more politic. But who expects magnanimity from bureaucracy? The old nobility then were almost extinct and had moreover no power to help us: the bureaucracy had not the will. Yet it was from their ranks that the Messiah came.
Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 1890–1908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.
1 2002 ed. Vol. 6-7: towards the perfecting
2 2002 ed. Vol. 6-7: does express
3 2002 ed. Vol. 6-7: only putting
4 2002 ed. Vol. 6-7: occidentalize