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stage of man's moral immaturity, he only feels reverence for the god
whose malevolence he dreads. But is this the ideal of man which we can
look up to with pride? After centuries of civilization nations fearing
each other like the prowling wild beasts of the night-time; shutting
their doors of hospitality; combining only for purpose of aggression or
defence; hiding in their holes their trade secrets, state secrets,
secrets of their armaments; making peace-offerings to each other's
barking dogs with the meat which does not belong to them; holding down
fallen races which struggle to stand upon their feet; with their right
hands dispensing religion to weaker peoples, while robbing them with
their left, - is there anything in this to make us envious? Are we to
bend our knees to the spirit of this nationalism, which is sowing
broadcast over all the world seeds of fear, greed, suspicion, unashamed
lies of its diplomacy, and unctuous lies of its profession of peace and
good-will and universal brotherhood of Man? Can our minds be free from
doubt when we rush to the Western market to buy this foreign product in
exchange for our own inheritance? I am aware how difficult it is to know
one's self; and the man who is intoxicated furiously denies his
drunkenness; yet the West herself is anxiously thinking of her problems
and trying experiments. But she is like a glutton, who has not the
heart to give up his intemperance in eating, and fondly clings to the
hope that he can cure his nightmares of indigestion by medicine. Europe
is not ready to give up her political inhumanity, with all the baser
passions of man attendant upon it; she believes only in modification of
systems, and not in change of heart.

We are willing to buy their machine-made systems, not with our hearts,
but with our brains. We shall try them and build sheds for them, but not
enshrine them in our homes or temples. There are races who worship the
animals they kill; we can buy meat from them when we are hungry, but not
the worship which goes with the killing. We must not vitiate our
children's minds with the superstition that business is business, war is
war, politics is politics. We must know that man's business has to be
more than mere business, and so should be his war and politics. You had
your own industry in Japan; how scrupulously honest and true it was, you
can see by its products, - by their grace and strength, their
conscientiousness in details, where they can hardly be observed. But the
tidal wave of falsehood has swept over your land from that part of the
world where business is business, and honesty is followed merely as the
best policy. 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. And we must know for certain
that however modern may be the proficiency which cripples man for the
sake of methods and machines, it will never live to be old.

But while trying to free our minds from the arrogant claims of Europe
and to help ourselves out of the quicksands of our infatuation, we may
go to the other extreme and blind ourselves with a wholesale suspicion
of the West. The reaction of disillusionment is just as unreal as the
first shock of illusion. We must try to come to that normal state of
mind by which we can clearly discern our own danger and avoid it without
being unjust towards the source of that danger. There is always the
natural temptation in us of wishing to pay back Europe in her own coin,
and return contempt for contempt and evil for evil. But that again would
be to imitate Europe in one of her worst features, which comes out in
her behaviour to people whom she describes as yellow or red, brown or
black. And this is a point on which we in the East have to acknowledge
our guilt and own that our sin has been as great, if not greater, when
we insulted humanity by treating with utter disdain and cruelty men who
belonged to a particular creed, colour or caste. It is really because we
are afraid of our own weakness, which allows itself to be overcome by
the sight of power, that we try to substitute for it another weakness
which makes itself blind to the glories of the West. When we truly know
the Europe which is great and good, we can effectively save ourselves
from the Europe which is mean and grasping. It is easy to be unfair in
one's judgment when one is faced with human miseries, - and pessimism is
the result of building theories while the mind is suffering. To despair
of humanity is only possible if we lose faith in truth which brings to
it strength, when its defeat is greatest, and calls out new life from
the depth of its destruction. We must admit that there is a living soul
in the West which is struggling unobserved against the hugeness of the
organizations under which men, women and children are being crushed, and
whose mechanical necessities are ignoring laws that are spiritual and
human, - the soul whose sensibilities refuse to be dulled completely by
dangerous habits of heedlessness in dealings with races for whom it
lacks natural sympathy. The West could never have risen to the eminence
she has reached if her strength were merely the strength of the brute or
of the machine. The divine in her heart is suffering from the injuries
inflicted by her hands upon the world, - and from this pain of her higher
nature flows the secret balm which will bring healing to those injuries.
Time after time she has fought against herself and has undone the chains
which with her own hands she had fastened round helpless limbs; and
though she forced poison down the throat of a great nation at the point
of the sword for gain of money, she herself woke up to withdraw from it,
to wash her hands clean again. This shows hidden springs of humanity in
spots which look dead and barren. It proves that the deeper truth in her
nature, which can survive such a career of cruel cowardliness, is not
greed, but reverence for unselfish ideals. It would be altogether
unjust, both to us and to Europe, to say that she has fascinated the
modern Eastern mind by the mere exhibition of her power. Through the
smoke of cannons and dust of markets the light of her moral nature has
shone bright, and she has brought to us the ideal of ethical freedom,
whose foundation lies deeper than social conventions and whose province
of activity is world-wide.

The East has instinctively felt, even through her aversion, that she has
a great deal to learn from Europe, not merely about the materials of
power, but about its inner source, which is of mind and of the moral
nature of man. Europe has been teaching us the higher obligations of
public good above those of the family and the clan, and the sacredness
of law, which makes society independent of individual caprice, secures
for it continuity of progress, and guarantees justice to all men of all
positions in life. Above all things Europe has held high before our
minds the banner of liberty, through centuries of martyrdom and
achievement, - liberty of conscience, liberty of thought and action,
liberty in the ideals of art and literature. And because Europe has won
our deep respect, she has become so dangerous for us where she is
turbulently weak and false, - dangerous like poison when it is served
along with our best food. There is one safety for us upon which we hope
we may count, and that is, that we can claim Europe herself as our ally
in our resistance to her temptations and to her violent encroachments;
for she has ever carried her own standard of perfection, by which we can
measure her falls and gauge her degrees of failure, by which we can call
her before her own tribunal and put her to shame, - the shame which is
the sign of the true pride of nobleness.

But our fear is, that the poison may be more powerful than the food,
and what is strength in her to-day may not be the sign of health, but
the contrary; for it may be temporarily caused by the upsetting of the
balance of life. Our fear is that evil has a fateful fascination when it
assumes dimensions which are colossal, - and though at last it is sure to
lose its centre of gravity by its abnormal disproportion, the mischief
which it creates before its fall may be beyond reparation.

Therefore I ask you to have the strength of faith and clarity of mind to
know for certain that the lumbering structure of modern progress,
riveted by the iron bolts of efficiency, which runs upon the wheels of
ambition, cannot hold together for long. Collisions are certain to
occur; for it has to travel upon organized lines, it is too heavy to
choose its own course freely; and once it is off the rails, its endless
train of vehicles is dislocated. A day will come when it will fall in a
heap of ruin and cause serious obstruction to the traffic of the world.
Do we not see signs of this even now? Does not the voice come to us,
through the din of war, the shrieks of hatred, the wailings of despair,
through the churning up of the unspeakable filth which has been
accumulating for ages in the bottom of this nationalism, - the voice
which cries to our soul that the tower of national selfishness, which
goes by the name of patriotism, which has raised its banner of treason
against heaven, must totter and fall with a crash, weighed down by its
own bulk, its flag kissing the dust, its light extinguished? My
brothers, when the red light of conflagration sends up its crackle of
laughter to the stars, keep your faith upon those stars and not upon the
fire of destruction. For when this conflagration consumes itself and
dies down, leaving its memorial in ashes, the eternal light will again
shine in the East, - the East which has been the birthplace of the
morning sun of man's history. And who knows if that day has not already
dawned, and the sun not risen, in the Easternmost horizon of Asia? And I
offer, as did my ancestor rishis, my salutation to that sunrise of the
East, which is destined once again to illumine the whole world.

I know my voice is too feeble to raise itself above the uproar of this
bustling time, and it is easy for any street urchin to fling against me
the epithet of "unpractical." It will stick to my coat-tail, never to be
washed away, effectively excluding me from the consideration of all
respectable persons. I know what a risk one runs from the vigorously
athletic crowds in being styled an idealist in these days, when thrones
have lost their dignity and prophets have become an anachronism, when
the sound that drowns all voices is the noise of the market-place. Yet
when, one day, standing on the outskirts of Yokohama town, bristling
with its display of modern miscellanies, I watched the sunset in your
southern sea, and saw its peace and majesty among your pine-clad
hills, - with the great Fujiyama growing faint against the golden
horizon, like a god overcome with his own radiance, - the music of
eternity welled up through the evening silence, and I felt that the sky
and the earth and the lyrics of the dawn and the dayfall are with the
poets and idealists, and not with the marketmen robustly contemptuous of
all sentiment, - that, after the forgetfulness of his own divinity, man
will remember again that heaven is always in touch with his world, which
can never be abandoned for good to the hounding wolves of the modern
era, scenting human blood and howling to the skies.


Our real problem in India is not political. It is social. This is a
condition not only prevailing in India, but among all nations. I do not
believe in an exclusive political interest. Politics in the West have
dominated Western ideals, and we in India are trying to imitate you. We
have to remember that in Europe, where peoples had their racial unity
from the beginning, and where natural resources were insufficient for
the inhabitants, the civilization has naturally taken the character of
political and commercial aggressiveness. For on the one hand they had no
internal complications, and on the other they had to deal with
neighbours who were strong and rapacious. To have perfect combination
among themselves and a watchful attitude of animosity against others was
taken as the solution of their problems. In former days they organized
and plundered, in the present age the same spirit continues - and they
organize and exploit the whole world.

But from the earliest beginnings of history India has had her own
problem constantly before her - it is the race problem. Each nation must
be conscious of its mission, and we, in India, must realize that we cut
a poor figure when we are trying to be political, simply because we have
not yet been finally able to accomplish what was set before us by our

This problem of race unity which we have been trying to solve for so
many years has likewise to be faced by you here in America. Many people
in this country ask me what is happening as to the caste distinctions in
India. But when this question is asked me, it is usually done with a
superior air. And I feel tempted to put the same question to our
American critics with a slight modification, "What have you done with
the Red Indian and the Negro?" For you have not got over your attitude
of caste toward them. You have used violent methods to keep aloof from
other races, but until you have solved the question here in America, you
have no right to question India.

In spite of our great difficulty, however, India has done something. She
has tried to make an adjustment of races, to acknowledge the real
differences between them where these exist, and yet seek for some basis
of unity. This basis has come through our saints, like Nanak, Kabir,
Chaitnaya and others, preaching one God to all races of India.

In finding the solution of our problem we shall have helped to solve the
world problem as well. What India has been, the whole world is now. The
whole world is becoming one country through scientific facility. And the
moment is arriving when you also must find a basis of unity which is not
political. If India can offer to the world her solution, it will be a
contribution to humanity. There is only one history - the history of man.
All national histories are merely chapters in the larger one. And we are
content in India to suffer for such a great cause.

Each individual has his self-love. Therefore his brute instinct leads
him to fight with others in the sole pursuit of his self-interest. But
man has also his higher instincts of sympathy and mutual help. The
people who are lacking in this higher moral power and who therefore
cannot combine in fellowship with one another must perish or live in a
state of degradation. Only those peoples have survived and achieved
civilization who have this spirit of co-operation strong in them. So we
find that from the beginning of history men had to choose between
fighting with one another and combining, between serving their own
interest or the common interest of all.

In our early history, when the geographical limits of each country and
also the facilities of communication were small, this problem was
comparatively small in dimension. It was sufficient for men to develop
their sense of unity within their area of segregation. In those days
they combined among themselves and fought against others. But it was
this moral spirit of combination which was the true basis of their
greatness, and this fostered their art, science and religion. At that
early time the most important fact that man had to take count of was the
fact of the members of one particular race of men coming in close
contact with one another. Those who truly grasped this fact through
their higher nature made their mark in history.

The most important fact of the present age is that all the different
races of men have come close together. And again we are confronted with
two alternatives. The problem is whether the different groups of peoples
shall go on fighting with one another or find out some true basis of
reconciliation and mutual help; whether it will be interminable
competition or co-operation.

I have no hesitation in saying that those who are gifted with the moral
power of love and vision of spiritual unity, who have the least feeling
of enmity against aliens, and the sympathetic insight to place
themselves in the position of others, will be the fittest to take their
permanent place in the age that is lying before us, and those who are
constantly developing their instinct of fight and intolerance of aliens
will be eliminated. For this is the problem before us, and we have to
prove our humanity by solving it through the help of our higher nature.
The gigantic organizations for hurting others and warding off their
blows, for making money by dragging others back, will not help us. On
the contrary, by their crushing weight, their enormous cost and their
deadening effect upon living humanity, they will seriously impede our
freedom in the larger life of a higher civilization.

During the evolution of the Nation the moral culture of brotherhood was
limited by geographical boundaries, because at that time those
boundaries were true. Now they have become imaginary lines of tradition
divested of the qualities of real obstacles. So the time has come when
man's moral nature must deal with this great fact with all seriousness
or perish. The first impulse of this change of circumstance has been the
churning up of man's baser passions of greed and cruel hatred. If this
persists indefinitely, and armaments go on exaggerating themselves to
unimaginable absurdities, and machines and storehouses envelop this fair
earth with their dirt and smoke and ugliness, then it will end in a
conflagration of suicide. Therefore man will have to exert all his power
of love and clarity of vision to make another great moral adjustment
which will comprehend the whole world of men and not merely the
fractional groups of nationality. The call has come to every individual
in the present age to prepare himself and his surroundings for this dawn
of a new era, when man shall discover his soul in the spiritual unity of
all human beings.

If it is given at all to the West to struggle out of these tangles of
the lower slopes to the spiritual summit of humanity then I cannot but
think that it is the special mission of America to fulfil this hope of
God and man. You are the country of expectation, desiring something else
than what is. Europe has her subtle habits of mind and her conventions.
But America, as yet, has come to no conclusions. I realize how much
America is untrammelled by the traditions of the past, and I can
appreciate that experimentalism is a sign of America's youth. The
foundation of her glory is in the future, rather than in the past; and
if one is gifted with the power of clairvoyance, one will be able to
love the America that is to be.

America is destined to justify Western civilization to the East. Europe
has lost faith in humanity, and has become distrustful and sickly.
America, on the other hand, is not pessimistic or blasé. You know, as a
people, that there is such a thing as a better and a best; and that
knowledge drives you on. There are habits that are not merely passive
but aggressively arrogant. They are not like mere walls, but are like
hedges of stinging nettles. Europe has been cultivating these hedges of
habits for long years, till they have grown round her dense and strong
and high. The pride of her traditions has sent its roots deep into her
heart. I do not wish to contend that it is unreasonable. But pride in
every form breeds blindness at the end. Like all artificial stimulants
its first effect is a heightening of consciousness, and then with the
increasing dose it muddles it and brings an exultation that is
misleading. Europe has gradually grown hardened in her pride in all her
outer and inner habits. She not only cannot forget that she is Western,
but she takes every opportunity to hurl this fact against others to
humiliate them. This is why she is growing incapable of imparting to the
East what is best in herself, and of accepting in a right spirit the
wisdom that the East has stored for centuries.

In America national habits and traditions have not had time to spread
their clutching roots round your hearts. You have constantly felt and
complained of your disadvantages when you compared your nomadic
restlessness with the settled traditions of Europe - the Europe which can
show her picture of greatness to the best advantage because she can fix
it against the background of the Past. But in this present age of
transition, when a new era of civilization is sending its trumpet-call
to all peoples of the world across an unlimited future, this very
freedom of detachment will enable you to accept its invitation and to
achieve the goal for which Europe began her journey but lost herself
midway. For she was tempted out of her path by her pride of power and
greed of possession.

Not merely your freedom from habits of mind in individuals, but also
the freedom of your history from all unclean entanglements, fits you in
your career of holding the banner of civilization of the future. All the
great nations of Europe have their victims in other parts of the world.
This not only deadens their moral sympathy but also their intellectual
sympathy, which is so necessary for the understanding of races which are
different from one's own. Englishmen can never truly understand India,
because their minds are not disinterested with regard to that country.
If you compare England with Germany or France you will find she has
produced the smallest number of scholars who have studied Indian
literature and philosophy with any amount of sympathetic insight or
thoroughness. This attitude of apathy and contempt is natural where the
relationship is abnormal and founded upon national selfishness and
pride. But your history has been disinterested, and that is why you have
been able to help Japan in her lessons in Western civilization, and that
is why China can look upon you with her best confidence in this her
darkest period of danger. In fact you are carrying all the
responsibility of a great future because you are untrammelled by the
grasping miserliness of a past. Therefore of all countries of the earth
America has to be fully conscious of this future, her vision must not be
obscured and her faith in humanity must be strong with the strength of

A parallelism exists between America and India - the parallelism of
welding together into one body various races.

In my country we have been seeking to find out something common to all
races, which will prove their real unity. No nation looking for a mere
political or commercial basis of unity will find such a solution
sufficient. Men of thought and power will discover the spiritual unity,
will realize it, and preach it.

India has never had a real sense of nationalism. Even though from
childhood I had been taught that idolatry of the Nation is almost better
than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that
teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will truly gain
their India by fighting against the education which teaches them that a
country is greater than the ideals of humanity.

The educated Indian at present is trying to absorb some lessons from
history contrary to the lessons of our ancestors. The East, in fact, is
attempting to take unto itself a history which is not the outcome of its
own living. Japan, for example, thinks she is getting powerful through
adopting Western methods, but, after she has exhausted her inheritance,
only the borrowed weapons of civilization will remain to her. She will

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Online LibraryRabindranath TagoreNationalism → online text (page 5 of 7)