My two main works, namely my book of 19 years ago Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (first published by Routledge, London & New York, 1989, 1991), and my monograph of 24 years ago Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India (first published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1984) are both now republished here, each with a new preface. I have also published here for the first time the full story of my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi — an abbreviated version appeared in Freedom First in October 2001 which focussed on economic policy and deliberately excluded mention of my warnings about his vulnerability to assassination and my attempts in vain to get people around him to do something about it. I have also republished my three advisory memoranda to him between September 1990 and March 1991, which were first published in The Statesman‘s Editorial Page of July 31, August 1 and August 2 1991.
I have also published here now for the first time a public lecture I gave as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham in 2004 titled “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”. Also republished is “A General Theory of Globalization and Modern Terrorism” which was my keynote address to the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats at their Manila meeting in November 2001; it appeared first in September 11 & Political Freedom: Asian Perspectives (eds. Smith, Gomez & Johannen) in Singapore in 2002.
I have also published for the first time my April 29 2000 address titled “Towards a Highly Transparent Monetary & Fiscal Framework for India’s Union and State Governments” to the Reserve Bank’s Annual “Conference of State Finance Secretaries”.
Also to be found in one place are my most recent signed writings since 2005 in The Statesman and elsewhere on India’s economy and foreign policy, Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Tibet, Taiwan, the United States, etc.
My political affiliation in India would be to a non-existent party — as may be seen from the article on a Liberal Party for India; and I trust it will be seen that I have dispensed criticism upon the present-day Congress Party, BJP/RSS and Communists equally harshly.
Readers are welcome to quote from my work under the normal “fair use” rule, but please quote me by name and indicate the place of original publication. Readers are also welcome to comment or correspond by email, though please try to introduce yourself.
The new preface of Philosophy of Economics is reproduced below as it is partly biographical.
“(Philosophy of Economics) germinated when I was 18 or 19 years of age in Paris, Helsinki and London, and it was first published when I was 34 in Honolulu. I came to economics from natural science (biology, chemistry, physics), not mathematics. It was inevitable I would be drawn to the beauty of philosophy as a theoretical discipline while being driven, as a post-Independence Indian, to economics as the practical discipline that might unlock secrets to India’s prosperity and progress. I belonged to an ancient family of political men, and my father, who had joined India’s new foreign service the year before I was born, inculcated in me as a boy an idea that I had “a mission” (though he later forgot he had done so).
I was fortunate to fail to enter Oxford’s PPE and instead go to the London School of Economics. LSE was at an intellectual peak in the early 1970s. DHN Johnson in international law, ACL Day in international monetary economics, Brian Griffiths vs Marcus Miller in monetary economics with everyone still in awe of Harry Johnson’s graduate lectures in macroeconomics, Ken Wallis, Graham Mizon, JJ Thomas, David Hendry in econometrics with the odd lecture by Durbin himself – I was exposed to a fully grown up intellectual seriousness from the day I arrived as an 18 year old. Michio Morishima as my professorial tutor told me frankly that, as an Indian, I would face less prejudice in Western academia than in the private sector, and said he was speaking from experience as a fellow-Asian. He turned out to be wrong but it was wise advice nevertheless, just as wise as his requiring pupils to read Hicks’ Value and Capital (which, in our undergraduate mythology, he himself had read inside a Japanese gunboat during war).
What was relatively weak at LSE was general economic theory. We were good at deriving the Best Linear Unbiased Estimator but left unsatisfied with our grasp of the theory of value that constituted the roots of our discipline. I managed a First and was admitted to Cambridge as a Research Student in 1976, where fortune had Frank Hahn choose me as a student. That at the outset was protection from the communist cabal that ran “development economics” with whom almost all the Indians ended up. I was wholly impecunious in my first year as a Research Student, and had to, for example, proof-read Arrow and Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis for its second edition to receive 50 pounds sterling from Hahn which kept me going for a short time. My exposure to Hahn’s subtle, refined and depthless thought as an economist of the first rank led to fascination and wonderment, and I read and re-read his “On the notion of equilibrium in economics”, “On the foundations of monetary theory”, “Keynesian economics and general equilibrium theory” and other clear-headed attempts to integrate the theory of value with the theory of money — a project Wicksell and Marshall had (perhaps wisely) not attempted and Keynes, Hicks and Patinkin had failed at.
Hahn insisted a central question was to ask how money, which is intrinsically worthless, can have any value, why anyone should want to hold it. The practical relevance of this question is manifest. India today in 2007 has an inconvertible currency, vast and growing public debt financed by money-creation, and more than two dozen fiscally irresponsible State governments without money-creating powers. While pondering, over the last decade, whether India’s governance could be made more responsible if States were given money-creating powers, I have constantly had Hahn’s seemingly abstruse question from decades ago in mind, as to why anyone will want to hold State currencies in India, as to whether the equilibrium price of those monies would be positive. (Lerner in fact gave an answer in 1945 when he suggested that any money would have value if its issuer agreed to collect liabilities in it — as a State collects taxes – and that may be the simplest road that bridges the real/monetary divide.)
Though we were never personal friends and I did not ingratiate myself with Hahn as did many others, my respect for him only grew when I saw how he had protected my inchoate classical liberal arguments for India from the most vicious attacks that they were open to from the communists. My doctoral thesis, initially titled “A monetary theory for India”, had to be altered due to paucity of monetary data at the time, as well as the fact India’s problems of political economy and allocation of real resources were more pressing, and so the thesis became “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”. When no internal examiner could be found, the University of Cambridge, at Hahn’s insistence, showed its greatness by appointing two externals: C. J. Bliss at Oxford and T. W. Hutchison at Birmingham, former students of Hahn and Joan Robinson respectively. My thesis received the most rigorous and fairest imaginable evaluation from them.
I had been attracted to Cambridge partly by its old reputation for philosophy, especially that of Wittgenstein. But I met no worthwhile philosophers there until a few months before I was to leave for the United States in 1980, when I chanced upon the work of Renford Bambrough. Hahn had challenged me with the question, “how are you so sure your value judgements promoting liberty blah-blah are better than those of Chenery and the development economists?” It was a question that led inevitably to ethics and its epistemology — when I chanced upon Bambrough’s work, and that of his philosophical master, John Wisdom, the immense expanse of metaphysics (or ontology) opened up as well. “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes, He star’d at the Pacific…”
It has taken me more than a quarter century to traverse some of that expanse; when I returned to Britain in 2004 as the Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics at the University of Buckingham, I was very kindly allowed to deliver a public lecture, “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, wherein I repaid a few of my debts to the forgotten work of Bambrough and Wisdom — whom I extravagantly compared with the Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism, also saying that the trio of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough were reminiscent of what Socrates, Plato and Aristotle might have been like.
I had written to Bambrough from within Cambridge expressing my delight at finding his works and saying these were immensely important to economics; he had invited me to his weekly discussion groups at St John’s College but I could not attend. Between 1979 and 1989 we corresponded while I worked in America on my application of his and Wisdom’s work to problems in economics. We met only once when I returned to Cambridge from Blacksburg for my doctoral viva voce examination in January 1982. Six years later in 1988 he said of my Philosophy of Economics, “The work is altogether well-written and admirably clear”, and on another occasion he said he was “extremely pleased” at the interest I had taken in his work. The original preface of Philosophy of Economics said he was not responsible for the use I had made of his writings, which I reiterated in the 2004 lecture. At our meeting, he offered to introduce me to Wisdom who had returned to Cambridge from Oregon but I was too scared and declined, something I have always regretted. It is only in the last few years that I have begun to grasp the immensity of Wisdom’s achievement in comprehending, explaining and extending the work of both Wittgenstein and Freud. His famous “Virginia Lectures” of 1957 were finally published by his admirers with his consent as Proof and Explanation just before his death in 1993. As for Bambrough, I believe he may have been or become the single greatest philosopher since Aristotle; he told me in correspondence there was an unfinished manuscript Principia Metaphysica (the prospectus of which appeared in Philosophy 1964), which unfortunately his family and successors knew nothing about; the fact he died almost in obscurity and was soon forgotten by his University speaks more about the contemporary state of academic philosophy than about him. (Similarly, the fact Hahn, Morishima and like others did not receive the so-called Economics “Nobel” says more about the award than it does about them.)
All I needed in 1980 was time and freedom to develop the contents of this book, and that I found in America — which I could not have done in either Britain or India. It would take eight or nine very strenuous years before the book could be written and published, mostly spent at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (1980-1985) and University of Hawaii (1986-1990) Economics Departments, with short interludes at Cornell (Fall 1983) and Brigham Young (1985-86). I went to Virginia because James M. Buchanan was there, and he, along with FA Hayek, were whom Hahn decided to write on my behalf. Hayek said he was too old to accept me but wrote me kind and generous letters praising and hence encouraging my inchoate liberal thoughts and arguments. Buchanan was welcoming and I learnt much from him and his colleagues about the realities of public finance and democratic politics, which I quickly applied in my work on India, published in 1984 in London as Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India and republished elsewhere here. The visit to the Cornell Economics Department was really so I could talk to Max Black the philosopher, who represented a different line of Wittgenstein’s students, and Max and I became friends until his death in 1988.
Buchanan’s departure from Blacksburg led to a gang of inert “game theorists” to arrive, and I was immediately under attack – one senior man telling me I was free to criticise the “social choice” work of Amartya Sen (since he was Indian too) but I was definitely unfree to do the same of Sen’s mentor, Kenneth Arrow, who was Jewish! (Arrow was infinitely more gracious when he himself responded to my criticism.) On top of that arose a matter of a woman, fresh off the aeroplane from India, being assaulted by a senior professor, and when I stood for her against her assailant, my time in Blacksburg was definitely up.
The manuscript of this book was at the time under contract with University of Chicago Press, and, thanks to Mrs Harry Johnson there, I had come in contact with that great American, Theodore W. Schultz. Schultz, at age 81, told me better to my face what the book was about than I had realised myself, namely, it was about economics as knowledge — its subject-matter was the epistemology of economics. Schultz wrote letters all over America on my behalf (as did Milton Friedman at Stanford and Sidney Alexander of MIT, whom I had also met and become friends with), and I was able to first spend a happy year among the Mormons at Brigham Young, and then end up at the University of Hawaii where I was given responsibility for the main graduate course in macroeconomics. I taught Harry Johnson-level IS-LM theory and Friedman-Tobin macroeconomics and then the new “rational expectations” vs Keynesian material.
I was also offered a large University grant to work on “South Asia”, which led to the books Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, and Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, both created by myself and WE James, and which led to the origins of India’s 1991 economic reform and the India-Pakistan peace process as told elsewhere. Also, this book came to be accepted for publication by Routledge, as the first economics book in its famed International Library of Philosophy.
Just as I was set to be evaluated for promotion and tenure at the University of Hawaii, I became the victim of a most vicious racist defamation (and there was some connection with Blacksburg). Quite fed up with the sordidness of American academia as I had experienced it, I sued in the federal court, which consumed much of the next half dozen years as the case worked its way through the United States Supreme Court twice. Milton Friedman and Theodore W. Schultz stood as expert witnesses on my behalf but you would not have known it from the judge’s ruling. There had been not only demonstrable perjury and suborning of perjury by the State of Hawaii’s officers, there was also “after-discovered” evidence of bribery of court-officers in the US District Court for the District of Hawaii, and I had to return to India in 1996 quite exhausted to recuperate from the experience. “Solicitation of counsel, clerks or judges” is “embracery curialis”, recognized as extrinsic fraud and subversion of justice since Jepps 72 E R 924 (1611), “firmly established in English practice long before the foundation” of the USA, Hazel Atlas, 322 US 238 (1943). “Embracery is an offense striking at the very foundation of civil society” says Corpus Juris 20, 496. A court of equity has inherent power to investigate if a judgement has been obtained by fraud, and that is a power to unearth it effectively, since no fraud is more odious than one to subvert justice. Cases include when “by reason of something done by the successful party… there was in fact no adversary trial or decision of the issue in the case. Where the unsuccessful party has been prevented from exhibiting fully his case, by fraud or deception practised on him by his opponent, as…where an attorney fraudulently or without authority assumes to represent a party and connives at his defeat; or where the attorney regularly employed corruptly sells out his client’s interest to the other side ~ these, and similar cases which show that there has never been a real contest in the trial or hearing of the case, are reasons for which a new suit may be sustained to set aside and annul the former judgment or decree, and open the case for a new and a fair hearing….” (Hazel Atlas). There is no time-limit in United States federal law for rectification of fraud on the court of this sort, and I remain fully hopeful today of the working of American justice in the case.
The practical result was that this book was never able to be properly publicized among economists as it would have been had I become Professor of Economics at the University of Hawaii by 1992 as expected. The hardback sold out quickly on its own steam and went into paperback by 1991, and a friend told me it was being used for a course at Yale Law School. The reviews were mostly intelligent. Upon returning to Britain as the Wincott Visiting Professor in 2004, I found times had changed and so had Routledge who would not keep it in print let alone permit a second revised edition. But I am now free to republish the book as I please, and today in 2007, with the Internet growing to a maturity which allows the young geeks at WordPress.com to want to encourage blogging worldwide, I can think of no more apt place to reproduce the first edition of this book than here at my own blog http://www.independentindian.com.
This is not a second or revised edition, and it is unchanged in content except for this lengthy new preface made necessary by the adventures and dramas the book’s author found himself unwittingly part of since its first publication. I am 52 now and happy to say I endorse the book just as I had published it at 34, though I do find it a little impatient and too terse in a few places. The 1991 paperback corrected a few slight errors in the 1989 hardback, and has been used. I am planning an entirely new book which shall have its roots in this one though it will be mostly in philosophy and not economics — the outlines it may take may be seen in the 2004 public lecture I gave on the work of Bambrough and Wisdom mentioned above and published elsewhere; its main aim will be to uncover for new generations the immense worth there is in their work which is in danger of being lost.
At least two names failed to appear in the original list of acknowledgements. G. Bruce Chapman, now of the University of Toronto, and I talked much of serious ethics and political philosophy when I first arrived at Cambridge in 1976. And in 1980 in Blacksburg, Anil Lal, then a graduate student and house-painter, borrowed my copy of Bambrough’s work, read it, and later made a comment on the metaphysics of John Wisdom which allowed me to see things more clearly.
April 7 2007″
A General Theory of Globalization & Modern Terrorism with Special Reference to September 11
This was a keynote address to the Council of Asian Liberals & Democrats meeting on November 16 2001, Manila, Philippines, and was published in Singapore in 2002, Alan Smith, James Gomez & Uwe Johannen (Eds.) September 11 & Political Freedom: Asian Perspectives. It was republished in the West on January 26 2004 on the University of Buckingham website, when the author was Wincott Visiting Professor of Economics there. It came to be followed a few months later by a public lecture at the University, titled “Science, Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom: Reason’s Response to Islamism” which has also been published here.
1. Globalization Through a Wide-Angle Lens
2. Suicide, Terrorism & Political Protest
3. Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom
4. Asia’s Modern Dilemmas: Named Social Life or Anonymous Markets
5. September 11: the Collapse of the Global Conversation
Synopsis: The world after September 11 2001 has seemed a very bewildering place — as if all liberal notions of universal reason, freedom, tolerance and the rule of law since the Enlightenment have been proven a lie overnight, deserving only to be flushed away in the face of a resurgence of ancient savageries. One aim of this essay is to show this would be too hasty an assessment; another is to provide a general theory of “globalization”, a notion which often has seemed lost for meaning.
1. Globalization Through a Wide-Angle Lens
The perpetrators of September 11 subjectively acted in the name of Islam. It would have surprised them to know of the great respect with which the religious experience of Prophet Muhammad (572-632 AD) had been treated in the English language by Carlyle in 1842:
“The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Muhammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact, ‘Here am I!’. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.” 1
Carlyle told the story of Muhammad once not abiding by his own severe faith when he wept for an early disciple saying “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how, when the young beautiful Ayesha tried to make him compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, Muhammad had denied her:
“She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!”
Carlyle suggested the simple humanity and humility of Muhammad’s life and example, and even an intersection between Islamic belief and modern science (“a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart”). He quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?”, suggesting there might be something of universal import in Muhammad’s message well beyond specifically Muslim ontological beliefs.
In general, the life or words of a spiritual leader of mankind like Muhammad, Christ, or Buddha, as indeed of discoverers of the physical world like Darwin or Einstein, or explorers of secular human nature like Aristotle, Adam Smith or Karl Marx, may be laid claim to by all of us whether we are explicit adherents, disciples or admirers or not. No private property rights may be attached upon their legacies, but rather these remain open to be discussed freely and reasonably by everyone.
A second example is more proximate. It is of M. K. Gandhi the Indian sitting in South Africa reflecting on the Christian ideas of Thoreau the American and Tolstoy the Russian, synthesizing these with Hindu-Jain notions of “ahimsa” or “non-hatred” into a technique of political action to be applied eventually to end British rule in India; then transferred a decade after Gandhi’s assassination to the U. S. Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr, and later, after King’s assassination, back to Nelson Mandela languishing in prison, who ends apartheid and brings in its place a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in South Africa.2
Construing globalization to mean merely Westernization of the East has been a commonplace error, leading to a narrow cramped perspective and reflecting ignorance of both East and West. There are countless examples of the Easternization of the West including the exportation of Judaism and Christianity, and of Indian and Arab mathematics and astronomy in the Middle Ages. There have been and will be countless cross-fertilizations between East and West, let aside the subtle influences of Africa and other cultures and continents on art, music, dance, sports and beliefs around the world. In general, whenever an idea, practice, institution or artifact transmits itself from its origin elsewhere, we have a little piece of globalization taking place. The speed and volume of such transmissions may have vastly increased in recent decades thanks to the growth of modern transport and communications but that is not to say some of the most important transmissions have not already taken place or may not yet take place. Ours like every generation may be biased in favour of its own importance.
2. Suicide, Terrorism & Political Protest
Global transmissions can be as soft and salubrious as Americans learning to enjoy football which is not American football. But they can be grim and desperate too — like the transfer of “suicide bombing” techniques from Sri Lanka’s civil war to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; or the idea of schoolboys firing automatic weapons germinating from A Clockwork Orange to actuality thirty years later in an American or a German school.
In fact the Thoreau-Tolstoy-Gandhi techniques of civil disobedience or a hunger-strike inflicting pain or sacrifice on oneself to show an adversary his folly, slide naturally to a limit of suicide as political protest — as when the Buddhist Superior Thich Quang Duc, protesting religious persecution by Diem’s regime in South Vietnam, immolated himself on June 2 1963, soon to be followed by other Buddhist monks and nuns, leading to the end of the Diem regime and start of the American war in Vietnam. Six years and half a world away, Jan Palach, on January 19 1969, immolated himself in Wenceslas Square protesting the apathy of his countrymen to the Soviet invasion that had ended the Prague Spring. Suicide as political protest still abides by the Socratic injunction that it would be better to suffer wrong than to wrong others.3
Terrorism by suicide killing crosses that line — over into a world of utilitarian calculation on the part of the perpetrator that his or her suicide as political protest would be inadequate, and must be accompanied by causing death among the perceived adversary as well.
Gandhi, King and Mandela each had conservative, accommodative currents on one side, as well as radical dissident or parallel terrorist offshoots on the other, and we will return to ask why no non-violent political movement seems identifiable of which September 11 was the violent terrorist offshoot.
Where political protest is absent from the motivation, and killing the adversary becomes the aim with suicide merely the means, as with Japan’s kamikaze pilots, we have passed into a realm of international war between organized authorities in contrast with mere terrorism against some organized authority. A suicide-killer may of course subjectively believe himself/herself to be making a political protest though his/her principals may see him/her as an instrument of war.
Also, if it is correct to distinguish between kamikaze pilots and the perpetrators of September 11 by absence and presence of political protest in their motivation, terrorism typically arises as rebellion against some organized authority, and is to be contrasted precisely with war between organized authorities. “State terrorism” can then only refer to an organized authority being repressive to the point of using its power to cause terror, physical or mental, upon a people or individuals under its control. “State-sponsored” terrorism would be something else again, where an organized authority assists a terroristic rebellion against some other organized authority, amounting effectively to an undeclared international war.4
3. Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom
The question arises whether anything in human nature or society may be identified to help analyse, explain or predict the myriad transmissions of globalization taking place, whether salubrious or not. If such a theory claims to be “general”, it will need to be wide enough to try to explain the motivation for modern terrorism and September 11 2001 in particular.
We could start with the observable fact there is and has been only one human species, no matter how infinitely variegated its specimens across space and time. All have a capacity to reason as well as a capacity to feel a range of emotions in their experience of the world, something we share to an extent with other forms of life as well. And every human society, in trying to ascertain what is good for itself, finds need to reason together about how its members may be best able to survive, grow, reproduce and flourish. This process of common reasoning and reflection vitally requires freedom of inquiry and expression of different points of view. The lone voice in dissent needs to be heard or at least not suppressed just in case it is the right voice counselling against a course which might lead to catastrophe for all. To reason together implies a true or right answer exists to be found, and the enterprise of truth-seeking thus requires freedom as a logical necessity. It takes guts to be a lone dissenter, and all societies have typically praised and encouraged the virtues of courage and integrity, and poured shame on cowardice, treachery or sycophancy. Similarly, since society is a going concern, justice and fairplay in the working of its institutions is praised and sought after while corruption, fraud or other venality is condemned and punished.
A flourishing society may be viewed as one advancing in its scientific knowledge, its artistic achievements, and its religious or philosophical consciousness. Each of these dimensions needs to be in appropriate balance in relation to the others during the process of social and economic growth, and each has a necessity for its own aspect of freedom.
Science is our public knowledge regardless of culture or nationality gained of ourselves as members of the world and the Universe, and has been the most important common adversary of all religions. Who or what is homo sapiens relative to other living species? What is the difference between plants and animals? What constitutes a living organism? What is the structure of a benzene ring or a carbon atom or any atom or subatomic particle? What is light, sound, gravity? What can we say about black holes or white dwarfs? When did life begin on Earth and when is it likely to end? Are we alone in the Universe in being the only form of self-conscious life? Such questions have been asked and attempted to be answered in their own way by all peoples of the world, whether they are primitive tribes in hidden forests or sophisticated rocket scientists in hidden laboratories. Our best common understanding of them constitutes the state of scientific knowledge at a given time.
At the bar of reason, all religions lose to science wherever they try to compete on science’s home grounds, namely, the natural or physical world. If a religious belief happens to imply a material object can be in two places at the same time, that something can be made out of nothing, that the Sun and planets go around the Earth, that if you offer a sacrifice the rains will be on time, then it is destined to be falsified by experience. Science has done a lot of its work in the last few centuries, while the religions pre-date this expansion so their physical premises may have remained those of the science understood in their time. In all questions where religions try to take on the laws of scientific understanding head on, they do and must lose, and numerous factual claims made by all religions will disappear in the fierce and unforgiving heat of the crucible of scientific reasoning and evidence.
With the enormous growth of science, some scientists have gone to the limit of declaring no religious belief can possibly survive — that we are after all made up of dust and atoms alone, that there is no real difference between a mechanical talking doll and a gurgling baby who has just discovered her hands and feet.
Yet reasonable religious belief, action and experience does exist and may need to make its presence felt. Religion may not battle science and expect to win on science’s home ground but can and does win where science has nothing and can have nothing to say. It has been reasonable everywhere for men or women faced with death or personal tragedy to turn to religion for strength, courage or comfort. Such would be a point where religion offers something to life on which science has nothing of interest to say. These include the ultimate questions of life or death or the “Mystery of Existence” itself, in Carlyle’s term.
In fact the ultra-scientific prejudice fails ultimately to be reasonable enough, and is open to a joint and decisive counter-attack by both the religious believer and the artist. Modern science has well established that our small planet orbits an unexceptional member of an unexceptional galaxy. Copernicus by this started the era of modern science and began the end of the grip on Western culture of astrology, which was based on a geocentric Ptolomaic worldview (many Asian cultures like India and perhaps China still remain in that grip).
Yet the pre-modern geocentrism contained a subtle truth which has formed the foundation of both art and religion: to the best of scientific knowledge to this day, Earth is the centre of the Universe inasmuch as it is only here that reason and intelligence and consciousness have come to exist, that there is such a thing as the power to think and the power to love.5
We are, as far as anyone knows, quite alone in having the ability to understand ourselves and to be conscious of our own existence. The great galaxies, black holes and white dwarfs are all very impressive, but none of them is aware of its own existence or capable of the thought or love of any human baby or for that matter the commonest street dog.
What responsibility arises for human beings because of the existence of this consciousness? That is the common and reasonable question addressed by both religion and art, on which science is and must remain silent. We may come to know through science that life has existed for x million years and is likely to be extinguished in y million more years, but we do not know why it arose at all, or what responsibility devolves on those beings, namely ourselves, who have consciousness and reason to comprehend their own existence in the Universe.
D. H. Lawrence meant to raise this when he said the novel was a greater invention than Galileo’s telescope. Great painters, composers, or other artists can be imagined saying something similar. Art is the expression of life, and human cultures, like plants, may be fresh and vigourous with life or decadent and doomed to death. The society which both recognizes and comprehends its own artistic traditions through reasonable evaluation while encouraging new shoots of artistic creativity, will be one with a vibrant cultural life; the society incapable of evaluating its own art self- critically enough will be likely also to kill new creativity from within itself, and become vulnerable to a merger or takeover.
Science, religion and art each vitally requires freedom in order to thrive. In art, the function of reason arises in critical evaluation of literature, paintings, cinema, drama, music, dance, architecture and other aspects of aesthetics. Swimming against a full tide of majority opinion here often may be the right thing to do. The critic F. R. Leavis spoke of the importance of there being an educated public to maintain serious cultural standards; he meant that the freedom to be vigourously critical, often against shallow entrenched coterie opinions, may be the only safeguard preventing artistic or cultural standards from collapse. In science, the activity of reasoning whether in public with one another or privately within oneself, dispels scientific illusions (like astrology) and so enlarges the area occupied by a common empirical understanding. Freedom is logically necessary here to keep potential avenues towards the truth open; it extends also to protecting through tolerance those factual beliefs which may be manifestly false — it may be a crime to steal or commit murder but it is not a crime to hold erroneous factual beliefs about the world as such (e.g. astrology is wrong because Copernicus is right, but it would be illiberal to jail people for believing in astrology.) Such a need for freedom of belief and experience, as well as the tolerance of dissent, becomes most obvious in religion, where the stupendous task facing all human beings is of attempting to unravel the “Mystery of Existence”. The scope of these ontological questions, unanswered and unanswerable by science, is so vast it would be only wise to allow the widest search for answers to take place, across all possible sources and religious faiths, wherever the possibility of an insight into any of these subtle truths may arise. Perhaps that is why some solitary thinkers have sought to experience all the great religions in their own lifetimes, sometimes by deliberate conversion from one faith to the next.
A flourishing society, then, would be one which grows along the three planes of science, religion and art under conditions of freedom. And such a notion may be measured at different scales of social life. It starts with the family as the author of Anna Karenina knew in its famous opening sentence: “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. It could then move to flourishing tribes, neighborhoods or local communities, to flourishing towns, provinces, or whole nations. At any of these levels, the flourishing society is one which inhales deeply the fresh air of natural science, and so sees its knowledge of the material world grow by leaps and bounds; it encourages religious and philosophical discussions and tolerance so does not fail to comprehend its own purpose of being; and it lives creatively and self-critically in trying to improve the expressiveness of its artistic achievements. Such a society would be self-confident enough to thrive in a world of global transmissions of ideas, practices, institutions and artifacts. Even if it was small in economic size or power relative to others, it would not be fearful of its own capacity to absorb what is valuable or to reject what is worthless from the rest of the world. To absorb what is valuable from outside is to supercede what may be less valuable at home; to reject what is worthless from outside is to appreciate what may be worthwhile at home. Both require faculties of critical and self-critical judgement, and the flourishing society will be one which possesses these qualities and exercises them with confidence.
4. Asia’s Modern Dilemmas: Named Social Life or Anonymous Markets
Actual societies, whether small like families or large like nations, in East or West, now or in the past, typically display these qualities in relative balance, excess, or shortage.6 Broadly speaking, throughout the vast span of Asia, there has been unstinting admiration over the last two hundred years for the contribution of the modern West to art, architecture and the growth of scientific knowledge. Where it has come to be known and applied, there has been admiration for liberal Western political thought; while ancient Asian nations which hastily imported ideologies like fascism and communism have lived to regret it. Western political morality at its finest derives from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant that rational beings recognise one another’s autonomy and treat one another as ends in themselves, not as means towards each other’s ends. 7 We see this in action today in for example the cordial relations between the USA and Canada, or between North America and Europe, or in recent attempts at European integration.
Asian nationalists in the 20th Century struggled to try to establish individual autonomous national identities, as the West had done in the 18th and 19th centuries. Asian nationalism represented an unwillingness to be treated as mere means towards the ends of Western nations, something we still see today when country B is used to counter A, then C used to counter B, then D used to counter C, etc in the old imperial manner of divide and rule This remains a serious problem of international relations but is something Asia can resolve independently by seeking to create for herself free societies which flourish in science, religion and the arts which would then be robust, self-confident and autonomous enough to decline to be used as means towards others’ ends. Furthermore, Asian societies in some respects all resemble one another and pre-modern Western societies more than they do the contemporary West. These pre-modern societies were ones in which a person was identified by rights and obligations flowing from the place he or she came to occupy through inheritance or brave achievement, and centred around the loyalty of friendship and kinship, as well as fidelity of the household. The relationships between the sexes, between generations, between friends, all these across Asia today may still perhaps resemble one another and the pre-modern West more than they do some trends in the contemporary West. History and identity continue to predominate our cultures in Asia: everyone is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister or friend or relative, everyone is from some place and is of some age; and every deed has a history to it which everyone knows about or wants to talk about.
In contrast, the modern Western financial economics which the present author teaches his students, describes a world of anonymous “efficient markets” with no memory; where anyone can thrive as long as he or she brings something of value to trade; where all information needed to determine prices tomorrow is contained in today’s prices and events; where nothing from yesterday is necessary to determine anything in the future; where the actual direction of price-change is random and cannot be consistently foretold, so we cannot in general make any prediction which will lead to profit without risk. We are to imagine a large number of players in such a market, each with only a tiny bit of market-power itself, and none able to move the terms of trade on its own. Each of these players then, according to the textbooks, seizes every chance to improve his or her own position regardless of all else, he or she will “buy low” and “sell high” whatever and whenever possible, until price differences between identical assets vanish and no extra profit remains to be squeezed out from anything. Such briefly is the pure theory of the efficient market economy which one teaches as an economist. One tells one’s students it is a good thing, and it is to be found, if anywhere in the best international financial markets, and that what globalization refers to is the whole world becoming like one big efficient marketplace.8
Yet, privately, Asia may have watched with dismay the near-collapse of family and social life which has sometimes accompanied the modern prosperity and technological advancement. The war in Vietnam brought obvious physical destruction to parts of Asia but may also have had more subtle corrosive long-term effects on the social fabric of the West. If there has been something liberal and humane about Western politics while Asian politics have been cruel and oppressive, there may also be something stable and chaste about traditional Asian family life while modern Western societies have sometimes seemed vapid and dissolute. Specifically, if it is fair to say there has been too little autonomy experienced by women and children in many Asian societies, it may be fair as well to observe a surfeit of choices may have arisen in some Western societies, greater than many women and children there may privately wish for. How does a society find its right balance on the question of the autonomy, modesty and protection of family life and other social relationships? The divorce courts of the ultra-modern world are places of deep misery for everyone except the lawyers involved in the trade, and as some Asian leaders have observed, something the globalization of Asia could well seek to avoid. Thus the dilemma faced by many Asians today may be how to absorb the efficiency of markets and sound governance of liberal political institutions, without the kind of private social collapse that seems to have occurred in many ultramodern societies, nor the kind of loss of political sovereignty against which Asian nationalists had struggled during the age of imperialism. We may now see how far this brief but general theory of globalization may be applied in explaining the bewildering events of September 11 2001.
5. September 11 : the Collapse of the Global Conversation
Words are also deeds while deeds may also convey meaning.9 The words and deeds of the perpetrators of September 11 2001, and of the nation-states organized against them since that date, are both components of a complex and subtle global conversation taking place as to the direction of our common future.
In earlier times, Gandhi, King and Mandela each led successful non-violent political protests of “non-white” peoples against “white” organized authorities. Their protests assumed a level of tolerance arising out of mutual respect between rebel and authority. None was a totalitarian revolutionary out to destroy his adversary in toto but rather each intended to preserve and nurture many aspects of the existing order. Each had first become the master of the (Christian?) political idiom of his adversary and was willing and able to employ this idiom to demonstrate the selfcontradiction of his opponent, who was typically faced with a charge of hypocrisy, of maintaining both x and its contrary ~x and so becoming devoid of meaning. Such political conversations of words and deeds required time and patience, and the movements of Gandhi, King and Mandela each took decades to fructify during the 20th Century. They had more conservative accommodative currents on one side, and more impatient radical terroristic offshoots on the other.
All such aspects seem absent from September 11 and its aftermath, which seems at first sight sui generis. No patient non-violent political protest movement can be identified of which September 11 was a violent terroristic offshoot or parallel. Tolerance has not merely vanished but been replaced by panic, mutual fear and hatred. Violence appears as the first and not last recourse of political discussion. The high speed of the modern world almost demands a winner to be declared instantly in conflicts with subtle and unobvious roots, and the only way to seem to win at speed is by perpetrating the largest or most dramatic amount of violence or cruelty. The world after September 11 2001 has seemed a very bewildering place — as if all liberal notions of universal reason, freedom, tolerance and the rule of law since the Enlightenment have been proven a lie overnight, deserving only to be flushed away in face of a resurgence of ancient savageries.
But this would be too hasty an assessment. The global conversation clearly collapsed very badly from the time of e.g. Carlyle’s effort in 1842 to understand Islam’s legacy to the point of September 11 2001 being carried out against the United States or Western civilisation in general in Islam’s name. Even so, the universal liberal virtues of patience, tolerance and common reasoning can still find use here — in identifying possible deep, long-term historical factors which may have accumulated or congregated together to cause such a crime to take place.
One such historical factor has been technological and economic: the invention and immense use of the internal combustion engine throughout the 20th Century, coupled with discovery of petroleum beneath the sands of Arabia — all of which has made the material prosperity of the modern West depend, in the current state of technology, on this link not becoming ruptured. A second and independent factor has been the history of Christian Europe’s alternating persecution and emancipation of the Jewish people, which leads in due course to the Balfour declaration of 1919 and, following the Nazi Holocaust, to the creation of modern Israel among the Arabic- speaking peoples. The history between Christianity and Judaism is one in which the Arabic-speaking peoples were largely passive bystanders. Indeed, they may have been almost passive bystanders in creation of their own nation-states as well — for a third historical factor must be the lack of robust development of modern political and economic institutions among them, with mechanisms of political expression and accountability often having remained backward perhaps more so than in many other parts of Asia.
The end of World War I saw not only Balfour’s declaration but also Kitchener, Allenby and T. E. Lawrence literally designing or inventing new nationstates from areas on a desert-map:
“Our aim was an Arab Government, with foundations large and native enough to employ the enthusiasm and self-sacrifice of the rebellion, translated into terms of peace. We had to … carry that ninety percent of the population who had been too solid to rebel, and on whose solidity the new State must rest…. In ten words, (Allenby) gave his approval to my having impertinently imposed Arab Governments… upon the chaos of victory…”
“(The secret Arab societies) were pro-Arab only, willing to fight for nothing but Arab independence; and they could see no advantage in supporting the Allies rather than the Turks, since they did not believe our assurances that we would leave them free. Indeed, many of them preferred an Arabia united by Turkey in miserable subjection, to an Arabia divided up and slothful under the easier control of several European powers in spheres of influence.” 10
Beginning with the Allied-induced Arab revolt against the Turks, the classic imperial doctrine of “balance of powers” or “divide and rule” has seemed to continue to be applied in rather more subtle diplomatic form up until the present: with post-Mossadeq Iran against any incipient Arab nationalism, then with Iraq against post-Revolutionary Iran, then against Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991. It is only during and after the Gulf War that Osama Bin Laden, as a totalitarian revolutionary, arose as an adversary of the West.
Throughout these decades, little or no spontaneous cosmopolitan political conversation seems to have occurred from which a mature, sustained indigenous Arab or other Muslim nationalism may have arisen as the basis for nation-states, as had done e.g. with Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian or Vietnamese nationalism.11
From 1919 to 1945, the global conversation became preoccupied with other matters, and from 1945 to the end of the Cold War, with yet other matters again. While the three long-term factors unfolded themselves through these turbulent decades, the natural vibrant free conversation vitally necessary for the political life of any people continued for the Arabic-speaking peoples to remain mostly stifled, dormant, inchoate or abortive. Expectedly enough, whatever little current it had turned inward to the insular austere roots of a faith of the desert:
“The Beduin of the desert…found himself indubitably free…. In his life he had air and winds, sun and light, open spaces and a great emptiness. There was no human effort, no fecundity in Nature: just the heaven above and the unspotted earth beneath. There unconsciously he became near God…. The Beduin could not look for God within him: he was too sure that he was within God. He could not conceive anything which was or was not God, Who alone was great…. This creed of the desert seemed inexpressible in words, and indeed in thought. It was easily felt as an influence, and those who went into the desert long enough to forget its open spaces and its emptiness were inevitably thrust upon God as the only refuge and rhythm of being…. This faith of the desert was impossible in the towns…” 12
But this attempt to return inevitably became something reactionary in the late 20th Century. Finding the Beduin and the original deserts of Arabia transformed over the intervening decades, it could only try to recreate itself among the Pashtoon in the barrenness of Afghanistan, and led to the bizarre scenes of the Taliban attempting to destroy televisions and cassette-tapes in the name of Islam.
The crimes of September 11 2001 were ones of perverse terroristic political protest, akin on a global scale to the adolescent youth in angry frustration who kills his schoolmates and his teachers with an automatic weapon. But they were not something inexplicable or sui generis. They represented a final collapse of the centuries-old cosmopolitan conversation with Islam, while at the same time it was an incoherent cry of a stifled people trying to return to the austere faith of the desert. Words are also deeds, and deeds may also be language. What September 11 has demonstrated is that even while the information we have about one another and ourselves has increased exponentially in recent years, our mutual comprehension of one another and ourselves may well have grossly deteriorated in quality.
Reversing such atrophy in our self-knowledge and mutual comprehension requires, in the opinion of the present author, the encouragement of all societies of all sizes to flourish in their scientific knowledge, their religious and philosophical consciousness and self-discovery, and their artistic expressiveness under conditions of freedom. Ultra-modern societies like some in North America or Europe may then perhaps become more reflective during their pursuit of material advancement and prosperity, while ancient societies like those in Asia or elsewhere may perhaps become less fearful of their capacity to engage in the transition between tradition and modernity, indeed, may even affect the direction or speed of change in a positive manner.
To use a metaphor of Otto Neurath, we are as if sailors on a ship, who, even while sailing on the water, have to change the old planks of the ship with new planks one by one. In due course of time, all the planks get changed one at a time, but at no time has there not been a ship existing in the process — at no time need we have lost our history or our identity.
© Subroto Roy, November 16 2001; January 26 2004
1 Thomas Carlyle, Heroes and Hero Worship, London 1842.
2 In fact, “Gandhi’s correspondence with Tolstoy… only started after passive resistance had begun, and he only read Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience when he was in prison for that very offence”. Judith M. Brown, Gandhi’s Rise to Power,Indian Politics 1915-1922, Cambridge University Press 1972.
3 Cf. The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Princeton, 1961, Gorgias 474b, 483a, b.Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, Thinking, pp. 181-182, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971
4 Applying this to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the precise question would be
how far the present Palestinian authority may be objectively considered the organized authority of a nation-state: if it is, then Palestinian suicide-killings are acts of war; if it is not, they are acts of terrorism. The rhetoric on each side
5 Finding water or even primitive life elsewhere will not change this.
6 For example, the relatively new nation-states created upon the ancient societies of the Indian subcontinent to which the present author belongs, apparently display a surfeit of religiosity combined with a shortage of rational scientific growth, including the sciences of governance and economics. Despite the examples of solitary thinkers from Kabir and Nanak to Gandhi, the political and economic benefits of social tolerance still seem badly understood in the subcontinent. Equally, the mechanism of holding those in power accountable for their actions or omissions in the public domain has often remained extremely backward. A mature grasp of the division between the private and public spheres may also have been absent in Asia; the distinction between private and public property is often fuzzy or opaque; the phenomena of corruption and pollution are then easily explained as mirror-images of one another: corruption is the transmutation of something valuable from the public domain into private property; pollution is the expulsion of private waste into the public domain. Each is likely to be found with the other.
7 Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, ed. H. J. Paton, Oxford
8 The contrast between “named” and “anonymous” societies occurred to the
author on the basis of the theoretical work of Professor Frank Hahn of Cambridge University, Cf. Equilibrium and Macroeconomics, MIT 1984.
9 This was emphasized by the late Cambridge philosopher Renford Bambrough, “Thought, word and deed”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supp. Vol.
LIV, 1980, pp. 105-117.
10 T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, A Triumph, 1926, Doubleday 1935, pp. 649, 659; pp. 46-47
11 The most may have been Attaturk’s Turkey, M. A. Jinnah’s creation of a Pakistan separate from India, and Algeria’s independence from France — all distant from the fulcrum of Arabia. In case of Pakistan, it was Hitler’s invasion of Poland that led the British, in something of a panic, to begin on September 3 1939 to treat Jinnah’s Muslim League on par with Gandhi ‘s Indian National Congress. The 1937 provincial election results had shown little support for Pakistan in the areas which today constitute that country. Cf. F. Robinson, “Origins” in Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by William E. James & Subroto Roy, Hawaii MS 1989, Sage 1992, Karachi OUP 1993.
12 Seven Pillars of Wisdom, pp. 40-41
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