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have its victims. With all its heart it cannot bear to see its
hunting-grounds converted into cultivated fields. In fact, these nations
are fighting among themselves for the extension of their victims and
their reserve forests. Therefore the Western Nation acts like a dam to
check the free flow of Western civilization into the country of the
No-Nation. Because this civilization is the civilization of power,
therefore it is exclusive, it is naturally unwilling to open its
sources of power to those whom it has selected for its purposes of

But all the same moral law is the law of humanity, and the exclusive
civilization which thrives upon others who are barred from its benefit
carries its own death-sentence in its moral limitations. The slavery
that it gives rise to unconsciously drains its own love of freedom dry.
The helplessness with which it weighs down its world of victims exerts
its force of gravitation every moment upon the power that creates it.
And the greater part of the world which is being denuded of its
self-sustaining life by the Nation will one day become the most terrible
of all its burdens, ready to drag it down into the bottom of
destruction. Whenever Power removes all checks from its path to make its
career easy, it triumphantly rides into its ultimate crash of death. Its
moral brake becomes slacker every day without its knowing it, and its
slippery path of ease becomes its path of doom.

Of all things in Western civilization, those which this Western Nation
has given us in a most generous measure are law and order. While the
small feeding-bottle of our education is nearly dry, and sanitation
sucks its own thumb in despair, the military organization, the
magisterial offices, the police, the Criminal Investigation Department,
the secret spy system, attain to an abnormal girth in their waists,
occupying every inch of our country. This is to maintain order. But is
not this order merely a negative good? Is it not for giving people's
life greater opportunities for the freedom of development? Its
perfection is the perfection of an egg-shell, whose true value lies in
the security it affords to the chick and its nourishment and not in the
convenience it offers to the person at the breakfast table. Mere
administration is unproductive, it is not creative, not being a living
thing. It is a steam-roller, formidable in its weight and power, having
its uses, but it does not help the soil to become fertile. When after
its enormous toil it comes to offer us its boon of peace we can but
murmur under our breath that "peace is good, but not more so than life,
which is God's own great boon."

On the other hand, our former governments were woefully lacking in many
of the advantages of the modern government. But because those were not
the governments by the Nation, their texture was loosely woven, leaving
big gaps through which our own life sent its threads and imposed its
designs. I am quite sure in those days we had things that were extremely
distasteful to us. But we know that when we walk barefooted upon ground
strewn with gravel, our feet come gradually to adjust themselves to the
caprices of the inhospitable earth; while if the tiniest particle of
gravel finds its lodgment inside our shoes we can never forget and
forgive its intrusion. And these shoes are the government by the
Nation, - it is tight, it regulates our steps with a closed-up system,
within which our feet have only the slightest liberty to make their own
adjustments. Therefore, when you produce your statistics to compare the
number of gravels which our feet had to encounter in former days with
the paucity in the present régime, they hardly touch the real points. It
is not a question of the number of outside obstacles but the comparative
powerlessness of the individual to cope with them. This narrowness of
freedom is an evil which is more radical, not because of its quantity
but because of its nature. And we cannot but acknowledge this paradox,
that while the spirit of the West marches under its banner of freedom,
the Nation of the West forges its iron chains of organization which are
the most relentless and unbreakable that have ever been manufactured in
the whole history of man.

When the humanity of India was not under the government of the
Organization, the elasticity of change was great enough to encourage men
of power and spirit to feel that they had their destinies in their own
hands. The hope of the unexpected was never absent, and a freer play of
imagination, on the part both of the governor and the governed, had its
effect in the making of history. We were not confronted with a future,
which was a dead white wall of granite blocks eternally guarding against
the expression and extension of our own powers, the hopelessness of
which lies in the reason that these powers are becoming atrophied at
their very roots by the scientific process of paralysis. For every
single individual in the country of the No-Nation is completely in the
grip of a whole nation, - whose tireless vigilance, being the vigilance
of a machine, has not the human power to overlook or to discriminate. At
the least pressing of its button the monster organization becomes all
eyes, whose ugly stare of inquisitiveness cannot be avoided by a single
person amongst the immense multitude of the ruled. At the least turn of
its screw, by the fraction of an inch, the grip is tightened to the
point of suffocation around every man, woman and child of a vast
population, for whom no escape is imaginable in their own country, or
even in any country outside their own.

It is the continual and stupendous dead pressure of this inhuman upon
the living human under which the modern world is groaning. Not merely
the subject races, but you 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.

When questioned as to the wisdom of its course 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." The
recognition of the fraternal bond of love between Japan and Russia,
which has lately been celebrated with an immense display of rejoicing in
Japan, was not owing to any sudden recrudescence of the spirit of
Christianity or of Buddhism, but it was a bond established according to
the modern faith in a surer relationship of mutual menace of
bloodshedding. Yes, one cannot but acknowledge that these facts are the
facts of the world of the Nation, and the only moral of it is that all
the peoples of the earth should strain their physical, moral and
intellectual resources to the utmost to defeat one another in the
wrestling match of powerfulness. In the ancient days Sparta paid all
her attention to becoming powerful; she did become so by crippling her
humanity, and died of the amputation.

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. This bartering of your higher aspirations of life for profit and
power has been your own free choice, and I leave you there, at the
wreckage of your soul, contemplating your protuberant prosperity. But
will you never be called to answer for organizing the instincts of
self-aggrandizement of whole peoples into perfection and calling it
good? I ask you what disaster has there ever been in the history of man,
in its darkest period, like this terrible disaster of the Nation fixing
its fangs deep into the naked flesh of the world, taking permanent
precautions against its natural relaxation?

You, the people of the West, who have manufactured this abnormality, can
you imagine the desolating despair of this haunted world of suffering
man possessed by the ghastly abstraction of the organizing man? Can you
put yourself into the position of the peoples, who seem to have been
doomed to an eternal damnation of their own humanity, who not only must
suffer continual curtailment of their manhood, but even raise their
voices in pæans of praise for the benignity of a mechanical apparatus in
its interminable parody of providence?

Have you not seen, since the commencement of the existence of the
Nation, that the dread of it has been the one goblin-dread with which
the whole world has been trembling? Wherever there is a dark corner,
there is the suspicion of its secret malevolence; and people live in a
perpetual distrust of its back where it has no eyes. Every sound of a
footstep, every rustle of movement in the neighbourhood, sends a thrill
of terror all around. And this terror is the parent of all that is base
in man's nature. It makes one almost openly unashamed of inhumanity.
Clever lies become matters of self-congratulation. Solemn pledges become
a farce, - laughable for their very solemnity. The Nation, with all its
paraphernalia of power and prosperity, its flags and pious hymns, its
blasphemous prayers in the churches, and the literary mock thunders of
its patriotic bragging, cannot hide the fact that the Nation is the
greatest evil for the Nation, that all its precautions are against it,
and any new birth of its fellow in the world is always followed in its
mind by the dread of a new peril. Its one wish is to trade on the
feebleness of the rest of the world, like some insects that are bred in
the paralysed flesh of victims kept just enough alive to make them
toothsome and nutritious. Therefore it is ready to send its poisonous
fluid into the vitals of the other living peoples, who, not being
nations, are harmless. For this the Nation has had and still has its
richest pasture in Asia. Great China, rich with her ancient wisdom and
social ethics, her discipline of industry and self-control, is like a
whale awakening the lust of spoil in the heart of the Nation. She is
already carrying in her quivering flesh harpoons sent by the unerring
aim of the Nation, the creature of science and selfishness. Her pitiful
attempt to shake off her traditions of humanity, her social ideals, and
spend her last exhausted resources in drilling herself into modern
efficiency, is thwarted at every step by the Nation. It is tightening
its financial ropes round her, trying to drag her up on the shore and
cut her into pieces, and then go and offer public thanksgiving to God
for supporting the one existing evil and shattering the possibility of a
new one. And for all this the Nation has been claiming the gratitude of
history, and all eternity for its exploitation; ordering its band of
praise to be struck up from end to end of the world, declaring itself to
be the salt of the earth, the flower of humanity, the blessing of God
hurled with all His force upon the naked skulls of the world of

I know what your advice will be. You will say, form yourselves into a
nation, and resist this encroachment of the Nation. But is this the true
advice? that of a man to a man? Why should this be a necessity? I could
well believe you if you had said, Be more good, more just, more true in
your relation to man, control your greed, make your life wholesome in
its simplicity and let your consciousness of the divine in humanity be
more perfect in its expression. But must you say that it is not the
soul, but the machine, which is of the utmost value to ourselves, and
that man's salvation depends upon his disciplining himself into a
perfection of the dead rhythm of wheels and counterwheels? that machine
must be pitted against machine, and nation against nation, in an endless
bull-fight of politics?

You say, these machines will come into an agreement, for their mutual
protection, based upon a conspiracy of fear. But will this federation
of steam-boilers supply you with a soul, a soul which has her conscience
and her God? What is to happen to that larger part of the world where
fear will have no hand in restraining you? Whatever safety they now
enjoy, those countries of No-Nation, from the unbridled license of forge
and hammer and turn-screw, results from the mutual jealousy of the
powers. But when, instead of being numerous separate machines, they
become riveted into one organized gregariousness of gluttony, commercial
and political, what remotest chance of hope will remain for those
others, who have lived and suffered, have loved and worshipped, have
thought deeply and worked with meekness, but whose only crime has been
that they have not organized?

But, you say, "That does not matter, the unfit must go to the wall - they
shall _die_, and this is science."

No, for the sake of your own salvation, I say, they shall _live_, and
this is truth. It is extremely bold of me to say so, but I assert that
man's world is a moral world, not because we blindly agree to believe
it, but because it is so in truth which would be dangerous for us to
ignore. And this moral nature of man cannot be divided into convenient
compartments for its preservation. You cannot secure it for your home
consumption with protective tariff walls, while in foreign parts making
it enormously accommodating in its free trade of license.

Has not this truth already come home to you now, when this cruel war has
driven its claws into the vitals of Europe? when her hoard of wealth is
bursting into smoke and her humanity is shattered into bits on her
battlefields? You ask in amazement what has she done to deserve this?
The answer is, that the West has been systematically petrifying her
moral nature in order to lay a solid foundation for her gigantic
abstractions of efficiency. She has all along been starving the life of
the personal man into that of the professional.

In your mediæval age in Europe, the simple and the natural man, with all
his violent passions and desires, was engaged in trying to find out a
reconciliation in the conflict between the flesh and the spirit. All
through the turbulent career of her vigorous youth the temporal and the
spiritual forces both acted strongly upon her nature, and were moulding
it into completeness of moral personality. Europe owes all her greatness
in humanity to that period of discipline, - the discipline of the man in
his human integrity.

Then came the age of intellect, of science. We all know that intellect
is impersonal. Our life, and our heart, are one with us, but our mind
can be detached from the personal man and then only can it freely move
in its world of thoughts. Our intellect is an ascetic who wears no
clothes, takes no food, knows no sleep, has no wishes, feels no love or
hatred or pity for human limitations, who only reasons, unmoved, through
the vicissitudes of life. It burrows to the roots of things, because it
has no personal concern with the thing itself. The grammarian walks
straight through all poetry and goes to the root of words without
obstruction, because he is not seeking reality, but law. When he finds
the law, he is able to teach people how to master words. This is a
power, - the power which fulfils some special usefulness, some particular
need of man.

Reality is the harmony which gives to the component parts of a thing the
equilibrium of the whole. You break it, and have in your hands the
nomadic atoms fighting against one another, therefore unmeaning. Those
who covet power try to get mastery of these aboriginal fighting
elements, and through some narrow channels force them into some violent
service for some particular needs of man.

This satisfaction of man's needs is a great thing. It gives him freedom
in the material world. It confers on him the benefit of a greater range
of time and space. He can do things in a shorter time and occupies a
larger space with more thoroughness of advantage. Therefore he can
easily outstrip those who live in a world of a slower time and of space
less fully occupied.

This progress of power attains more and more rapidity of pace. And, for
the reason that it is a detached part of man, it soon outruns the
complete humanity. The moral man remains behind, because it has to deal
with the whole reality, not merely with the law of things, which is
impersonal and therefore abstract.

Thus, man with his mental and material power far outgrowing his moral
strength, is like an exaggerated giraffe whose head has suddenly shot up
miles away from the rest of him, making normal communication difficult
to establish. This greedy head, with its huge dental organization, has
been munching all the topmost foliage of the world, but the nourishment
is too late in reaching his digestive organs, and his heart is
suffering from want of blood. Of this present disharmony in man's nature
the West seems to have been blissfully unconscious. The enormity of its
material success has diverted all its attention toward
self-congratulation on its bulk. The optimism of its logic goes on
basing the calculations of its good fortune upon the indefinite
prolongation of its railway lines toward eternity. It is superficial
enough to think that all to-morrows are merely to-days, with the
repeated additions of twenty-four hours. It has no fear of the chasm,
which is opening wider every day, between man's ever-growing storehouses
and the emptiness of his hungry humanity. Logic does not know that,
under the lowest bed of endless strata of wealth and comforts,
earthquakes are being hatched to restore the balance of the moral world,
and one day the gaping gulf of spiritual vacuity will draw into its
bottom the store of things that have their eternal love for the dust.

Man in his fulness is not powerful, but perfect. Therefore, to turn him
into mere power, you have to curtail his soul as much as possible. When
we are fully human, we cannot fly at one another's throats; our
instincts of social life, our traditions of moral ideals stand in the
way. If you want me to take to butchering human beings, you must break
up that wholeness of my humanity through some discipline which makes my
will dead, my thoughts numb, my movements automatic, and then from the
dissolution of the complex personal man will come out that abstraction,
that destructive force, which has no relation to human truth, and
therefore can be easily brutal or mechanical. Take away man from his
natural surroundings, from the fulness of his communal life, with all
its living associations of beauty and love and social obligations, and
you will be able to turn him into so many fragments of a machine for the
production of wealth on a gigantic scale. Turn a tree into a log and it
will burn for you, but it will never bear living flowers and fruit.

This process of dehumanizing has been going on in commerce and politics.
And out of the long birth-throes of mechanical energy has been born this
fully developed apparatus of magnificent power and surprising appetite
which has been christened in the West as the Nation. As I have hinted
before, because of its quality of abstraction it has, with the greatest
ease, gone far ahead of the complete moral man. And having the
conscience of a ghost and the callous perfection of an automaton, it is
causing disasters of which the volcanic dissipations of the youthful
moon would be ashamed to be brought into comparison. As a result, the
suspicion of man for man stings all the limbs of this civilization like
the hairs of the nettle. Each country is casting its net of espionage
into the slimy bottom of the others, fishing for their secrets, the
treacherous secrets which brew in the oozy depths of diplomacy. And what
is their secret service but the nation's underground trade in
kidnapping, murder and treachery and all the ugly crimes bred in the
depth of rottenness? Because each nation has its own history of thieving
and lies and broken faith, therefore there can only flourish
international suspicion and jealousy, and international moral shame
becomes anæmic to a degree of ludicrousness. The nation's bagpipe of
righteous indignation has so often changed its tune according to the
variation of time and to the altered groupings of the alliances of
diplomacy, that it can be enjoyed with amusement as the variety
performance of the political music hall.

I am just coming from my visit to Japan, where I exhorted this young
nation to take its stand upon the higher ideals of humanity and never
to follow the West in its acceptance of the organized selfishness of
Nationalism as its religion, never to gloat upon the feebleness of its
neighbours, never to be unscrupulous in its behaviour to the weak, where
it can be gloriously mean with impunity, while turning its right cheek
of brighter humanity for the kiss of admiration to those who have the
power to deal it a blow. Some of the newspapers praised my utterances
for their poetical qualities, while adding with a leer that it was the
poetry of a defeated people. I felt they were right. Japan had been
taught in a modern school the lesson how to become powerful. The
schooling is done and she must enjoy the fruits of her lessons. The West
in the voice of her thundering cannon had said at the door of Japan, Let
there be a nation - and there was a Nation. And now that it _has_ come
into existence, why do you not feel in your heart of hearts a pure
feeling of gladness and say that it is good? Why is it that I saw in an
English paper an expression of bitterness at Japan's boasting of her
superiority of civilization - the thing that the British, along with
other nations, has been carrying on for ages without blushing? Because
the idealism of selfishness must keep itself drunk with a continual dose
of self-laudation. But the same vices which seem so natural and
innocuous in its own life make it surprised and angry at their
unpleasantness when seen in other nations. Therefore, when you see the
Japanese nation, created in your own image, launched in its career of
national boastfulness you shake your head and say, it is not good. Has
it not been one of the causes that raise the cry on these shores for
preparedness to meet one more power of evil with a greater power of
injury? Japan protests that she has her _bushido_, that she can never be
treacherous to America, to whom she owes her gratitude. But you find it
difficult to believe her, - for the wisdom of the Nation is not in its
faith in humanity but in its complete distrust. You say to yourself that
it is not with Japan of the _bushido_, the Japan of the moral ideals,
that you have to deal - it is with the abstraction of the popular
selfishness, it is with the Nation; and Nation can only trust Nation
where their interests coalesce, or at least do not conflict. In fact
your instinct tells you that the advent of another people into the arena
of nationality makes another addition to the evil which contradicts all
that is highest in Man and proves by its success that unscrupulousness
is the way to prosperity, - and goodness is good for the weak and God is
the only remaining consolation of the defeated.

Yes, this is the logic of the Nation. And it will never heed the voice
of truth and goodness. It will go on in its ring-dance of moral
corruption, linking steel unto steel, and machine unto machine;
trampling under its tread all the sweet flowers of simple faith and the
living ideals of man.

But we delude ourselves into thinking that humanity in the modern days
is more to the front than ever before. The reason of this self-delusion
is because man is served with the necessaries of life in greater
profusion, and his physical ills are being alleviated with more
efficacy. But the chief part of this is done, not by moral sacrifice,

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Online LibraryRabindranath TagoreNationalism → online text (page 2 of 7)