Rabindranath Tagore.

Nationalism online

. (page 6 of 7)
Online LibraryRabindranath TagoreNationalism → online text (page 6 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

not have developed herself from within.

Europe has her past. Europe's strength therefore lies in her history.
We, in India, must make up our minds that we cannot borrow other
people's history, and that if we stifle our own we are committing
suicide. When you borrow things that do not belong to your life, they
only serve to crush your life.

And therefore I believe that it does India no good to compete with
Western civilization in its own field. But we shall be more than
compensated if, in spite of the insults heaped upon us, we follow our
own destiny.

There are lessons which impart information or train our minds for
intellectual pursuits. These are simple and can be acquired and used
with advantage. But there are others which affect our deeper nature and
change our direction of life. Before we accept them and pay their value
by selling our own inheritance, we must pause and think deeply. In man's
history there come ages of fireworks which dazzle us by their force and
movement. They laugh not only at our modest household lamps but also at
the eternal stars. But let us not for that provocation be precipitate in
our desire to dismiss our lamps. Let us patiently bear our present
insult and realize that these fireworks have splendour but not
permanence, because of the extreme explosiveness which is the cause of
their power, and also of their exhaustion. They are spending a fatal
quantity of energy and substance compared to their gain and production.

Anyhow, our ideals have been evolved through our own history, and even
if we wished we could only make poor fireworks of them, because their
materials are different from yours, as is also their moral purpose. If
we cherish the desire of paying our all to buy a political nationality
it will be as absurd as if Switzerland had staked her existence on her
ambition to build up a navy powerful enough to compete with that of
England. The mistake that we make is in thinking that man's channel of
greatness is only one - the one which has made itself painfully evident
for the time being by its depth of insolence.

We must know for certain that there is a future before us and that
future is waiting for those who are rich in moral ideals and not in mere
things. And it is the privilege of man to work for fruits that are
beyond his immediate reach, and to adjust his life not in slavish
conformity to the examples of some present success or even to his own
prudent past, limited in its aspiration, but to an infinite future
bearing in its heart the ideals of our highest expectations.

We must recognize that it is providential that the West has come to
India. And yet some one must show the East to the West, and convince the
West that the East has her contribution to make to the history of
civilization. India is no beggar of the West. And yet even though the
West may think she is, I am not for thrusting off Western civilization
and becoming segregated in our independence. Let us have a deep
association. If Providence wants England to be the channel of that
communication, of that deeper association, I am willing to accept it
with all humility. I have great faith in human nature, and I think the
West will find its true mission. I speak bitterly of Western
civilization when I am conscious that it is betraying its trust and
thwarting its own purpose. The West must not make herself a curse to the
world by using her power for her own selfish needs, but, by teaching the
ignorant and helping the weak, she should save herself from the worst
danger that the strong is liable to incur by making the feeble acquire
power enough to resist her intrusion. And also she must not make her
materialism to be the final thing, but must realize that she is doing a
service in freeing the spiritual being from the tyranny of matter.

I am not against one nation in particular, but against the general idea
of all nations. What is the Nation?

It is the aspect of a whole people as an organized power. This
organization incessantly keeps up the insistence of the population on
becoming strong and efficient. But this strenuous effort after strength
and efficiency drains man's energy from his higher nature where he is
self-sacrificing and creative. For thereby man's power of sacrifice is
diverted from his ultimate object, which is moral, to the maintenance of
this organization, which is mechanical. Yet in this he feels all the
satisfaction of moral exaltation and therefore becomes supremely
dangerous to humanity. He feels relieved of the urging of his conscience
when he can transfer his responsibility to this machine which is the
creation of his intellect and not of his complete moral personality. By
this device the people which loves freedom perpetuates slavery in a
large portion of the world with the comfortable feeling of pride of
having done its duty; men who are naturally just can be cruelly unjust
both in their act and their thought, accompanied by a feeling that they
are helping the world to receive its deserts; men who are honest can
blindly go on robbing others of their human rights for
self-aggrandizement, all the while abusing the deprived for not
deserving better treatment. We have seen in our everyday life even small
organizations of business and profession produce callousness of feeling
in men who are not naturally bad, and we can well imagine what a moral
havoc it is causing in a world where whole peoples are furiously
organizing themselves for gaining wealth and power.

Nationalism is a great menace. It is the particular thing which for
years has been at the bottom of India's troubles. And inasmuch as we
have been ruled and dominated by a nation that is strictly political in
its attitude, we have tried to develop within ourselves, despite our
inheritance from the past, a belief in our eventual political destiny.

There are different parties in India, with different ideals. Some are
struggling for political independence. Others think that the time has
not arrived for that, and yet believe that India should have the rights
that the English colonies have. They wish to gain autonomy as far as

In the beginning of the history of political agitation in India there
was not the conflict between parties which there is to-day. At that time
there was a party known as the Indian Congress; it had no real
programme. They had a few grievances for redress by the authorities.
They wanted larger representation in the Council House, and more freedom
in Municipal government. They wanted scraps of things, but they had no
constructive ideal. Therefore I was lacking in enthusiasm for their
methods. It was my conviction that what India most needed was
constructive work coming from within herself. In this work we must take
all risks and go on doing the duties which by right are ours, though in
the teeth of persecution; winning moral victory at every step, by our
failure and suffering. We must show those who are over us that we have
in ourselves the strength of moral power, the power to suffer for truth.
Where we have nothing to show, we have only to beg. It would be
mischievous if the gifts we wish for were granted to us at once, and I
have told my countrymen, time and again, to combine for the work of
creating opportunities to give vent to our spirit of self-sacrifice, and
not for the purpose of begging.

The party, however, lost power because the people soon came to realize
how futile was the half policy adopted by them. The party split, and
there arrived the Extremists, who advocated independence of action, and
discarded the begging method, - the easiest method of relieving one's
mind from his responsibility towards his country. Their ideals were
based on Western history. They had no sympathy with the special problems
of India. They did not recognize the patent fact that there were causes
in our social organization which made the Indian incapable of coping
with the alien. What should we do if, for any reason, England was driven
away? We should simply be victims for other nations. The same social
weaknesses would prevail. The thing we in India have to think of is
this - to remove those social customs and ideals which have generated a
want of self-respect and a complete dependence on those above us, - a
state of affairs which has been brought about entirely by the domination
in India of the caste system, and the blind and lazy habit of relying
upon the authority of traditions that are incongruous anachronisms in
the present age.

Once again I draw your attention to the difficulties India has had to
encounter and her struggle to overcome them. Her problem was the problem
of the world in miniature. India is too vast in its area and too diverse
in its races. It is many countries packed in one geographical
receptacle. It is just the opposite of what Europe truly is, namely, one
country made into many. Thus Europe in its culture and growth has had
the advantage of the strength of the many as well as the strength of the
one. India, on the contrary, being naturally many, yet adventitiously
one, has all along suffered from the looseness of its diversity and the
feebleness of its unity. A true unity is like a round globe, it rolls
on, carrying its burden easily; but diversity is a many-cornered thing
which has to be dragged and pushed with all force. Be it said to the
credit of India that this diversity was not her own creation; she has
had to accept it as a fact from the beginning of her history. In America
and Australia, Europe has simplified her problem by almost exterminating
the original population. Even in the present age this spirit of
extermination is making itself manifest, in the inhospitable shutting
out of aliens, by those who themselves were aliens in the lands they now
occupy. But India tolerated difference of races from the first, and that
spirit of toleration has acted all through her history.

Her caste system is the outcome of this spirit of toleration. For India
has all along been trying experiments in evolving a social unity within
which all the different peoples could be held together, while fully
enjoying the freedom of maintaining their own differences. The tie has
been as loose as possible, yet as close as the circumstances permitted.
This has produced something like a United States of a social federation,
whose common name is Hinduism.

India had felt that diversity of races there must be and should be,
whatever may be its drawback, and you can never coerce nature into your
narrow limits of convenience without paying one day very dearly for it.
In this India was right; but what she failed to realize was that in
human beings differences are not like the physical barriers of
mountains, fixed for ever - they are fluid with life's flow, they are
changing their courses and their shapes and volume.

Therefore in her caste regulations India recognized differences, but not
the mutability which is the law of life. In trying to avoid collisions
she set up boundaries of immovable walls, thus giving to her numerous
races the negative benefit of peace and order but not the positive
opportunity of expansion and movement. She accepted nature where it
produces diversity, but ignored it where it uses that diversity for its
world-game of infinite permutations and combinations. She treated life
in all truth where it is manifold, but insulted it where it is ever
moving. Therefore Life departed from her social system and in its place
she is worshipping with all ceremony the magnificent cage of countless
compartments that she has manufactured.

The same thing happened where she tried to ward off the collisions of
trade interests. She associated different trades and professions with
different castes. This had the effect of allaying for good the
interminable jealousy and hatred of competition - the competition which
breeds cruelty and makes the atmosphere thick with lies and deception.
In this also India laid all her emphasis upon the law of heredity,
ignoring the law of mutation, and thus gradually reduced arts into
crafts and genius into skill.

However, what Western observers fail to discern is that in her caste
system India in all seriousness accepted her responsibility to solve the
race problem in such a manner as to avoid all friction, and yet to
afford each race freedom within its boundaries. Let us admit India has
not in this achieved a full measure of success. But this you must also
concede, that the West, being more favourably situated as to homogeneity
of races, has never given her attention to this problem, and whenever
confronted with it she has tried to make it easy by ignoring it
altogether. And this is the source of her anti-Asiatic agitations for
depriving aliens of their right to earn their honest living on these
shores. In most of your colonies you only admit them on condition of
their accepting the menial position of hewers of wood and drawers of
water. Either you shut your doors against the aliens or reduce them into
slavery. And this is your solution of the problem of race-conflict.
Whatever may be its merits you will have to admit that it does not
spring from the higher impulses of civilization, but from the lower
passions of greed and hatred. You say this is human nature - and India
also thought she knew human nature when she strongly barricaded her race
distinctions by the fixed barriers of social gradations. But we have
found out to our cost that human nature is not what it seems, but what
it is in truth; which is in its infinite possibilities. And when we in
our blindness insult humanity for its ragged appearance it sheds its
disguise to disclose to us that we have insulted our God. The
degradation which we cast upon others in our pride or self-interest
degrades our own humanity - and this is the punishment which is most
terrible, because we do not detect it till it is too late.

Not only in your relation with aliens but with the different sections of
your own society you have not achieved harmony of reconciliation. The
spirit of conflict and competition is allowed the full freedom of its
reckless career. And because its genesis is the greed of wealth and
power it can never come to any other end but to a violent death. In
India the production of commodities was brought under the law of social
adjustments. Its basis was co-operation, having for its object the
perfect satisfaction of social needs. But in the West it is guided by
the impulse of competition, whose end is the gain of wealth for
individuals. But the individual is like the geometrical line; it is
length without breadth. It has not got the depth to be able to hold
anything permanently. Therefore its greed or gain can never come to
finality. In its lengthening process of growth it can cross other lines
and cause entanglements, but will ever go on missing the ideal of
completeness in its thinness of isolation.

In all our physical appetites we recognize a limit. We know that to
exceed that limit is to exceed the limit of health. But has this lust
for wealth and power no bounds beyond which is death's dominion? In
these national carnivals of materialism are not the Western peoples
spending most of their vital energy in merely producing things and
neglecting the creation of ideals? And can a civilization ignore the law
of moral health and go on in its endless process of inflation by gorging
upon material things? Man in his social ideals naturally tries to
regulate his appetites, subordinating them to the higher purpose of his
nature. But in the economic world our appetites follow no other
restrictions but those of supply and demand which can be artificially
fostered, affording individuals opportunities for indulgence in an
endless feast of grossness. In India our social instincts imposed
restrictions upon our appetites, - maybe it went to the extreme of
repression, - but in the West the spirit of economic organization with no
moral purpose goads the people into the perpetual pursuit of wealth; but
has this no wholesome limit?

The ideals that strive to take form in social institutions have two
objects. One is to regulate our passions and appetites for the
harmonious development of man, and the other is to help him to cultivate
disinterested love for his fellow-creatures. Therefore society is the
expression of those moral and spiritual aspirations of man which belong
to his higher nature.

Our food is creative, it builds our body; but not so wine, which
stimulates. Our social ideals create the human world, but when our mind
is diverted from them to greed of power then in that state of
intoxication we live in a world of abnormality where our strength is not
health and our liberty is not freedom. Therefore political freedom does
not give us freedom when our mind is not free. An automobile does not
create freedom of movement, because it is a mere machine. When I myself
am free I can use the automobile for the purpose of my freedom.

We must never forget in the present day that those people who have got
their political freedom are not necessarily free, they are merely
powerful. The passions which are unbridled in them are creating huge
organizations of slavery in the disguise of freedom. Those who have made
the gain of money their highest end are unconsciously selling their life
and soul to rich persons or to the combinations that represent money.
Those who are enamoured of their political power and gloat over their
extension of dominion over foreign races gradually surrender their own
freedom and humanity to the organizations necessary for holding other
peoples in slavery. In the so-called free countries the majority of the
people are not free, they are driven by the minority to a goal which is
not even known to them. This becomes possible only because people do not
acknowledge moral and spiritual freedom as their object. They create
huge eddies with their passions, and they feel dizzily inebriated with
the mere velocity of their whirling movement, taking that to be freedom.
But the doom which is waiting to overtake them is as certain as
death - for man's truth is moral truth and his emancipation is in the
spiritual life.

The general opinion of the majority of the present-day nationalists in
India is that we have come to a final completeness in our social and
spiritual ideals, the task of the constructive work of society having
been done several thousand years before we were born, and that now we
are free to employ all our activities in the political direction. We
never dream of blaming our social inadequacy as the origin of our
present helplessness, for we have accepted as the creed of our
nationalism that this social system has been perfected for all time to
come by our ancestors, who had the superhuman vision of all eternity and
supernatural power for making infinite provision for future ages.
Therefore, for all our miseries and shortcomings, we hold responsible
the historical surprises that burst upon us from outside. This is the
reason why we think that our one task is to build a political miracle of
freedom upon the quicksand of social slavery. In fact we want to dam up
the true course of our own historical stream, and only borrow power from
the sources of other peoples' history.

Those of us in India who have come under the delusion that mere
political freedom will make us free have accepted their lessons from the
West as the gospel truth and lost their faith in humanity. We must
remember whatever weakness we cherish in our society will become the
source of danger in politics. The same inertia which leads us to our
idolatry of dead forms in social institutions will create in our
politics prison-houses with immovable walls. The narrowness of sympathy
which makes it possible for us to impose upon a considerable portion of
humanity the galling yoke of inferiority will assert itself in our
politics in creating the tyranny of injustice.

When our nationalists talk about ideals they forget that the basis of
nationalism is wanting. The very people who are upholding these ideals
are themselves the most conservative in their social practice.
Nationalists say, for example, look at Switzerland where, in spite of
race differences, the peoples have solidified into a nation. Yet,
remember that in Switzerland the races can mingle, they can intermarry,
because they are of the same blood. In India there is no common
birthright. And when we talk of Western Nationality we forget that the
nations there do not have that physical repulsion, one for the other,
that we have between different castes. Have we an instance in the whole
world where a people who are not allowed to mingle their blood shed
their blood for one another except by coercion or for mercenary
purposes? And can we ever hope that these moral barriers against our
race amalgamation will not stand in the way of our political unity?

Then again we must give full recognition to this fact that our social
restrictions are still tyrannical, so much so as to make men cowards. If
a man tells me he has heterodox ideas, but that he cannot follow them
because he would be socially ostracized, I excuse him for having to live
a life of untruth, in order to live at all. The social habit of mind
which impels us to make the life of our fellow-beings a burden to them
where they differ from us even in such a thing as their choice of food,
is sure to persist in our political organization and result in creating
engines of coercion to crush every rational difference which is the sign
of life. And tyranny will only add to the inevitable lies and hypocrisy
in our political life. Is the mere name of freedom so valuable that we
should be willing to sacrifice for its sake our moral freedom?

The intemperance of our habits does not immediately show its effects
when we are in the vigour of our youth. But it gradually consumes that
vigour, and when the period of decline sets in then we have to settle
accounts and pay off our debts, which leads us to insolvency. In the
West you are still able to carry your head high, though your humanity is
suffering every moment from its dipsomania of organizing power. India
also in the heyday of her youth could carry in her vital organs the dead
weight of her social organizations stiffened to rigid perfection, but it
has been fatal to her, and has produced a gradual paralysis of her
living nature. And this is the reason why the educated community of
India has become insensible of her social needs. They are taking the
very immobility of our social structures as the sign of their
perfection, - and because the healthy feeling of pain is dead in the
limbs of our social organism they delude themselves into thinking that
it needs no ministration. Therefore they think that all their energies
need their only scope in the political field. It is like a man whose
legs have become shrivelled and useless, trying to delude himself that
these limbs have grown still because they have attained their ultimate
salvation, and all that is wrong about him is the shortness of his

So much for the social and the political regeneration of India. Now we
come to her industries, and I am very often asked whether there is in
India any industrial regeneration since the advent of the British
Government. It must be remembered that at the beginning of the British
rule in India our industries were suppressed, and since then we have not
met with any real help or encouragement to enable us to make a stand
against the monster commercial organizations of the world. The nations
have decreed that we must remain purely an agricultural people, even
forgetting the use of arms for all time to come. Thus India is being
turned into so many predigested morsels of food ready to be swallowed at
any moment by any nation which has even the most rudimentary set of
teeth in its head.

India therefore has very little outlet for her industrial originality. I
personally do not believe in the unwieldy organizations of the present
day. The very fact that they are ugly shows that they are in discordance
with the whole creation. The vast powers of nature do not reveal their
truth in hideousness, but in beauty. Beauty is the signature which the
Creator stamps upon His works when He is satisfied with them. All our
products that insolently ignore the laws of perfection and are unashamed
in their display of ungainliness bear the perpetual weight of God's
displeasure. So far as your commerce lacks the dignity of grace it is
untrue. Beauty and her twin brother Truth require leisure and
self-control for their growth. But the greed of gain has no time or
limit to its capaciousness. Its one object is to produce and consume. It

1 2 3 4 6

Online LibraryRabindranath TagoreNationalism → online text (page 6 of 7)