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WORKS BY

SIR RABINDRANATH TAGORE


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NATIONALISM


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NATIONALISM

BY

SIR RABINDRANATH TAGORE

MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
1918


COPYRIGHT

_First Edition 1917_
_Reprinted 1918 (twice)_




CONTENTS

PAGE
NATIONALISM IN THE WEST 1

NATIONALISM IN JAPAN 47

NATIONALISM IN INDIA 95

THE SUNSET OF THE CENTURY 131




NATIONALISM IN THE WEST


Man's history is being shaped according to the difficulties it
encounters. These have offered us problems and claimed their solutions
from us, the penalty of non-fulfilment being death or degradation.

These difficulties have been different in different peoples of the
earth, and in the manner of our overcoming them lies our distinction.

The Scythians of the earlier period of Asiatic history had to struggle
with the scarcity of their natural resources. The easiest solution that
they could think of was to organize their whole population, men, women,
and children, into bands of robbers. And they were irresistible to those
who were chiefly engaged in the constructive work of social
co-operation.

But fortunately for man the easiest path is not his truest path. If his
nature were not as complex as it is, if it were as simple as that of a
pack of hungry wolves, then, by this time, those hordes of marauders
would have overrun the whole earth. But man, when confronted with
difficulties, has to acknowledge that he is man, that he has his
responsibilities to the higher faculties of his nature, by ignoring
which he may achieve success that is immediate, perhaps, but that will
become a death-trap to him. For what are obstacles to the lower
creatures are opportunities to the higher life of man.

To India has been given her problem from the beginning of history - it is
the race problem. Races ethnologically different have in this country
come into close contact. This fact has been and still continues to be
the most important one in our history. It is our mission to face it and
prove our humanity by dealing with it in the fullest truth. Until we
fulfil our mission all other benefits will be denied us.

There are other peoples in the world who have to overcome obstacles in
their physical surroundings, or the menace of their powerful neighbours.
They have organized their power till they are not only reasonably free
from the tyranny of Nature and human neighbours, but have a surplus of
it left in their hands to employ against others. But in India, our
difficulties being internal, our history has been the history of
continual social adjustment and not that of organized power for defence
and aggression.

Neither the colourless vagueness of cosmopolitanism, nor the fierce
self-idolatry of nation-worship, is the goal of human history. And India
has been trying to accomplish her task through social regulation of
differences, on the one hand, and the spiritual recognition of unity on
the other. She has made grave errors in setting up the boundary walls
too rigidly between races, in perpetuating in her classifications the
results of inferiority; often she has crippled her children's minds and
narrowed their lives in order to fit them into her social forms; but for
centuries new experiments have been made and adjustments carried out.

Her mission has been like that of a hostess who has to provide proper
accommodation for numerous guests, whose habits and requirements are
different from one another. This gives rise to infinite complexities
whose solution depends not merely upon tactfulness but upon sympathy and
true realization of the unity of man. Towards this realization have
worked, from the early time of the Upanishads up to the present moment,
a series of great spiritual teachers, whose one object has been to set
at naught all differences of man by the overflow of our consciousness of
God. In fact, our history has not been of the rise and fall of kingdoms,
of fights for political supremacy. In our country records of these days
have been despised and forgotten, for they in no way represent the true
history of our people. Our history is that of our social life and
attainment of spiritual ideals.

But we feel that our task is not yet done. The world-flood has swept
over our country, new elements have been introduced, and wider
adjustments are waiting to be made.

We feel this all the more, because the teaching and example of the West
have entirely run counter to what we think was given to India to
accomplish. In the West the national machinery of commerce and politics
turns out neatly compressed bales of humanity which have their use and
high market value; but they are bound in iron hoops, labelled and
separated off with scientific care and precision. Obviously God made man
to be human; but this modern product has such marvellous square-cut
finish, savouring of gigantic manufacture, that the Creator will find it
difficult to recognize it as a thing of spirit and a creature made in
His own divine image.

But I am anticipating. What I was about to say is this. Take it in
whatever spirit you like, here is India, of about fifty centuries at
least, who tried to live peacefully and think deeply, the India devoid
of all politics, the India of no nations, whose one ambition has been to
know this world as of soul, to live here every moment of her life in the
meek spirit of adoration, in the glad consciousness of an eternal and
personal relationship with it. It was upon this remote portion of
humanity, childlike in its manner, with the wisdom of the old, that the
Nation of the West burst in.

Through all the fights and intrigues and deceptions of her earlier
history India had remained aloof. Because her homes, her fields, her
temples of worship, her schools, where her teachers and students lived
together in the atmosphere of simplicity and devotion and learning, her
village self-government with its simple laws and peaceful
administration - all these truly belonged to her. But her thrones were
not her concern. They passed over her head like clouds, now tinged with
purple gorgeousness, now black with the threat of thunder. Often they
brought devastations in their wake, but they were like catastrophes of
nature whose traces are soon forgotten.

But this time it was different. It was not a mere drift over her
surface of life, - drift of cavalry and foot soldiers, richly caparisoned
elephants, white tents and canopies, strings of patient camels bearing
the loads of royalty, bands of kettle-drums and flutes, marble domes of
mosques, palaces and tombs, like the bubbles of the foaming wine of
extravagance; stories of treachery and loyal devotion, of changes of
fortune, of dramatic surprises of fate. This time it was the Nation of
the West driving its tentacles of machinery deep down into the soil.

Therefore I say to you, it is we who are called as witnesses to give
evidence as to what our Nation has been to humanity. We had known the
hordes of Moghals and Pathans who invaded India, but we had known them
as human races, with their own religions and customs, likes and
dislikes, - we had never known them as a nation. We loved and hated them
as occasions arose; we fought for them and against them, talked with
them in a language which was theirs as well as our own, and guided the
destiny of the Empire in which we had our active share. But this time we
had to deal, not with kings, not with human races, but with a
nation - we, who are no nation ourselves.

Now let us from our own experience answer the question, What is this
Nation?

A nation, in the sense of the political and economic union of a people,
is that aspect which a whole population assumes when organized for a
mechanical purpose. Society as such has no ulterior purpose. It is an
end in itself. It is a spontaneous self-expression of man as a social
being. It is a natural regulation of human relationships, so that men
can develop ideals of life in co-operation with one another. It has also
a political side, but this is only for a special purpose. It is for
self-preservation. It is merely the side of power, not of human ideals.
And in the early days it had its separate place in society, restricted
to the professionals. But when with the help of science and the
perfecting of organization this power begins to grow and brings in
harvests of wealth, then it crosses its boundaries with amazing
rapidity. For then it goads all its neighbouring societies with greed of
material prosperity, and consequent mutual jealousy, and by the fear of
each other's growth into powerfulness. The time comes when it can stop
no longer, for the competition grows keener, organization grows vaster,
and selfishness attains supremacy. Trading upon the greed and fear of
man, it occupies more and more space in society, and at last becomes its
ruling force.

It is just possible that you have lost through habit consciousness that
the living bonds of society are breaking up, and giving place to merely
mechanical organization. But you see signs of it everywhere. It is owing
to this that war has been declared between man and woman, because the
natural thread is snapping which holds them together in harmony; because
man is driven to professionalism, producing wealth for himself and
others, continually turning the wheel of power for his own sake or for
the sake of the universal officialdom, leaving woman alone to wither and
to die or to fight her own battle unaided. And thus there where
co-operation is natural has intruded competition. The very psychology of
men and women about their mutual relation is changing and becoming the
psychology of the primitive fighting elements, rather than of humanity
seeking its completeness through the union based upon mutual
self-surrender. For the elements which have lost their living bond of
reality have lost the meaning of their existence. Like gaseous particles
forced into a too narrow space, they come in continual conflict with
each other till they burst the very arrangement which holds them in
bondage.

Then look at those who call themselves anarchists, who resent the
imposition of power, in any form whatever, upon the individual. The only
reason for this is that power has become too abstract - it is a
scientific product made in the political laboratory of the Nation,
through the dissolution of personal humanity.

And what is the meaning of these strikes in the economic world, which
like the prickly shrubs in a barren soil shoot up with renewed vigour
each time they are cut down? What, but that the wealth-producing
mechanism is incessantly growing into vast stature, out of proportion to
all other needs of society, - and the full reality of man is more and
more crushed under its weight? This state of things inevitably gives
rise to eternal feuds among the elements freed from the wholeness and
wholesomeness of human ideals, and interminable economic war is waged
between capital and labour. For greed of wealth and power can never have
a limit, and compromise of self-interest can never attain the final
spirit of reconciliation. They must go on breeding jealousy and
suspicion to the end - the end which only comes through some sudden
catastrophe or a spiritual re-birth.

When this organization of politics and commerce, whose other name is the
Nation, becomes all-powerful at the cost of the harmony of the higher
social life, then it is an evil day for humanity. When a father becomes
a gambler and his obligations to his family take the secondary place in
his mind, then he is no longer a man, but an automaton led by the power
of greed. Then he can do things which, in his normal state of mind, he
would be ashamed to do. It is the same thing with society. When it
allows itself to be turned into a perfect organization of power, then
there are few crimes which it is unable to perpetrate. Because success
is the object and justification of a machine, while goodness only is the
end and purpose of man. When this engine of organization begins to
attain a vast size, and those who are mechanics are made into parts of
the machine, then the personal man is eliminated to a phantom,
everything becomes a revolution of policy carried out by the human parts
of the machine, with no twinge of pity or moral responsibility. It may
happen that even through this apparatus the moral nature of man tries
to assert itself, but the whole series of ropes and pullies creak and
cry, the forces of the human heart become entangled among the forces of
the human automaton, and only with difficulty can the moral purpose
transmit itself into some tortured shape of result.

This abstract being, the Nation, is ruling India. We have seen in our
country some brand of tinned food advertised as entirely made and packed
without being touched by hand. This description applies to the governing
of India, which is as little touched by the human hand as possible. The
governors need not know our language, need not come into personal touch
with us except as officials; they can aid or hinder our aspirations from
a disdainful distance, they can lead us on a certain path of policy and
then pull us back again with the manipulation of office red tape; the
newspapers of England, in whose columns London street accidents are
recorded with some decency of pathos, need but take the scantiest notice
of calamities which happen in India over areas of land sometimes larger
than the British Isles.

But we, who are governed, are not a mere abstraction. We, on our side,
are individuals with living sensibilities. What comes to us in the
shape of a mere bloodless policy may pierce into the very core of our
life, may threaten the whole future of our people with a perpetual
helplessness of emasculation, and yet may never touch the chord of
humanity on the other side, or touch it in the most inadequately feeble
manner. Such wholesale and universal acts of fearful responsibility man
can never perform, with such a degree of systematic unawareness, where
he is an individual human being. These only become possible, where the
man is represented by an octopus of abstractions, sending out its
wriggling arms in all directions of space, and fixing its innumerable
suckers even into the far-away future. In this reign of the nation, the
governed are pursued by suspicions; and these are the suspicions of a
tremendous mass of organized brain and muscle. Punishments are meted
out, which leave a trail of miseries across a large bleeding tract of
the human heart; but these punishments are dealt by a mere abstract
force, in which a whole population of a distant country has lost its
human personality.

I have not come here, however, to discuss the question as it affects my
own country, but as it affects the future of all humanity. It is not a
question of the British Government, but of government by the Nation - the
Nation which is the organized self-interest of a whole people, where it
is least human and least spiritual. Our only intimate experience of the
Nation is with the British Nation, and as far as the government by the
Nation goes there are reasons to believe that it is one of the best.
Then, again, we have to consider that the West is necessary to the East.
We are complementary to each other because of our different outlooks
upon life which have given us different aspects of truth. Therefore if
it be true that the spirit of the West has come upon our fields in the
guise of a storm it is nevertheless scattering living seeds that are
immortal. And when in India we become able to assimilate in our life
what is permanent in Western civilization we shall be in the position to
bring about a reconciliation of these two great worlds. Then will come
to an end the one-sided dominance which is galling. What is more, we
have to recognize that the history of India does not belong to one
particular race but to a process of creation to which various races of
the world contributed - the Dravidians and the Aryans, the ancient Greeks
and the Persians, the Mohammedans of the West and those of central
Asia. Now at last has come the turn of the English to become true to
this history and bring to it the tribute of their life, and we neither
have the right nor the power to exclude this people from the building of
the destiny of India. Therefore what I say about the Nation has more to
do with the history of Man than specially with that of India.

This history has come to a stage when the moral man, the complete man,
is more and more giving way, almost without knowing it, to make room for
the political and the commercial man, the man of the limited purpose.
This process, aided by the wonderful progress in science, is assuming
gigantic proportion and power, causing the upset of man's moral balance,
obscuring his human side under the shadow of soul-less organization. We
have felt its iron grip at the root of our life, and for the sake of
humanity we must stand up and give warning to all, that this nationalism
is a cruel epidemic of evil that is sweeping over the human world of the
present age, and eating into its moral vitality.

I have a deep love and a great respect for the British race as human
beings. It has produced great-hearted men, thinkers of great thoughts,
doers of great deeds. It has given rise to a great literature. I know
that these people love justice and freedom, and hate lies. They are
clean in their minds, frank in their manners, true in their friendships;
in their behaviour they are honest and reliable. The personal experience
which I have had of their literary men has roused my admiration not
merely for their power of thought or expression but for their chivalrous
humanity. We have felt the greatness of this people as we feel the sun;
but as for the Nation, it is for us a thick mist of a stifling nature
covering the sun itself.

This government by the Nation is neither British nor anything else; it
is an applied science and therefore more or less similar in its
principles wherever it is used. It is like a hydraulic press, whose
pressure is impersonal, and on that account completely effective. The
amount of its power may vary in different engines. Some may even be
driven by hand, thus leaving a margin of comfortable looseness in their
tension, but in spirit and in method their differences are small. Our
government might have been Dutch, or French, or Portuguese, and its
essential features would have remained much the same as they are now.
Only perhaps, in some cases, the organization might not have been so
densely perfect, and, therefore, some shreds of the human might still
have been clinging to the wreck, allowing us to deal with something
which resembles our own throbbing heart.

Before the Nation came to rule over us we had other governments which
were foreign, and these, like all governments, had some element of the
machine in them. But the difference between them and the government by
the Nation is like the difference between the hand-loom and the
power-loom. In the products of the hand-loom the magic of man's living
fingers finds its expression, and its hum harmonizes with the music of
life. But the power-loom is relentlessly lifeless and accurate and
monotonous in its production.

We must admit that during the personal government of the former days
there have been instances of tyranny, injustice and extortion. They
caused sufferings and unrest from which we are glad to be rescued. The
protection of law is not only a boon, but it is a valuable lesson to us.
It is teaching us the discipline which is necessary for the stability of
civilization and for continuity of progress. We are realizing through it
that there is a universal standard of justice to which all men,
irrespective of their caste and colour, have their equal claim.

This reign of law in our present Government in India has established
order in this vast land inhabited by peoples different in their races
and customs. It has made it possible for these peoples to come in closer
touch with one another and cultivate a communion of aspiration.

But this desire for a common bond of comradeship among the different
races of India has been the work of the spirit of the West, not that of
the Nation of the West. Wherever in Asia the people have received the
true lesson of the West it is in spite of the Western Nation. Only
because Japan had been able to resist the dominance of this Western
Nation could she acquire the benefit of the Western Civilization in
fullest measure. Though China has been poisoned at the very spring of
her moral and physical life by this Nation, her struggle to receive the
best lessons of the West may yet be successful if not hindered by the
Nation. It was only the other day that Persia woke up from her age-long
sleep at the call of the West to be instantly trampled into stillness by
the Nation. The same phenomenon prevails in this country also, where the
people are hospitable, but the Nation has proved itself to be
otherwise, making an Eastern guest feel humiliated to stand before you
as a member of the humanity of his own motherland.

In India we are suffering from this conflict between the spirit of the
West and the Nation of the West. The benefit of the Western civilization
is doled out to us in a miserly measure by the Nation, which tries to
regulate the degree of nutrition as near the zero-point of vitality as
possible. The portion of education allotted to us is so raggedly
insufficient that it ought to outrage the sense of decency of a Western
humanity. We have seen in these countries how the people are encouraged
and trained and given every facility to fit themselves for the great
movements of commerce and industry spreading over the world, while in
India the only assistance we get is merely to be jeered at by the Nation
for lagging behind. While depriving us of our opportunities and reducing
our education to the minimum required for conducting a foreign
government, this Nation pacifies its conscience by calling us names, by
sedulously giving currency to the arrogant cynicism that the East is
east and the West is west and never the twain shall meet. If we must
believe our schoolmaster in his taunt that, after nearly two centuries
of his tutelage, India not only remains unfit for self-government but
unable to display originality in her intellectual attainments, must we
ascribe it to something in the nature of Western culture and our
inherent incapacity to receive it or to the judicious niggardliness of
the Nation that has taken upon itself the white man's burden of
civilizing the East? That Japanese people have some qualities which we
lack we may admit, but that our intellect is naturally unproductive
compared to theirs we cannot accept even from them whom it is dangerous
for us to contradict.

The truth is that the spirit of conflict and conquest is at the origin
and in the centre of Western nationalism; its basis is not social
co-operation. It has evolved a perfect organization of power, but not
spiritual idealism. It is like the pack of predatory creatures that must


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