(July 3, 1909, On Nationalism, pp. 408-414)
The Highest Synthesis
In the Bengalee's issue of the 29th June
there is a very
interesting article on Nationalism and Expediency, which seems to us to
call for some comment. The object of the article is to modify or water
the strong wine of Nationalism by a dash of expediency. Nationalism is
a faith, the writer admits; he even goes much farther than we are
prepared to go and claims for Nationalism that it is the highest of all
syntheses. This is a conclusion we are not prepared to accept; it is,
we know, the highest which European thought has arrived at so far as
that thought has expressed itself in the actual life and ideals of the
average European. In Positivism Europe has attempted to arrive at a
higher synthesis, the
synthesis of humanity; and Socialism and philosophical Anarchism,
the Anarchism of Tolstoy and Spencer, have even en visaged the
application of the higher intellectual synthesis to life. In India we
do not recognise the nation as the highest synthesis to which we can
rise. There is a higher synthesis, humanity; beyond that there is a
still higher synthesis, this living, suffering, aspiring world of
creatures, the synthesis of Buddhism; there is a highest of all, the
synthesis of God, and that is the Hindu synthesis, the synthesis of
Vedanta. With us today Nationalism is our immediate practical faith and
gospel not because it is the highest possible synthesis, but because it
must be realised in life if we are to have the chance of realising the
others. We must live as a nation before we can live in humanity. It is
for this reason that Nationalist thinkers have always urged the
necessity of realising our separateness from other nations and living
to ourselves for the present, not in order to shut out humanity, but
that we may get that individual strength, unity and wholeness which
will help us to live as a nation for humanity. A man must be strong and
free in himself before he can live usefully for others, so must a nation. But that does
not justify us in forgetting
the ultimate aim of evolution. God in the nation becomes the
realisation of the first moment to us because the nation is the chosen
means or condition through which we rise to the higher syntheses, God
in humanity, God in all creatures, God in Himself and ourself.
Faith and Analysis
Because Nationalism is the highest synthesis, it is more than a mere faith, says the Bengalee, it embodies an analysis, how ever unconscious or even inadequate, of the actual forces and conditions of life. We do not quite understand our contemporary's philosophy. An unconscious analysis is a contradiction in terms. There may be a vague and ill-expressed weighing of things in the rough, but that is not analysis. Analysis is in its nature a deliberate intellectual process; the other is merely a perception of things separately or together but without analysis. And analysis is not inconsistent with faith, but must accompany it unless the faith is merely superstition. Every faith is to a certain extent rational, it has its own analysis and synthesis by which it seeks to establish itself intellectually; so has Nationalism. What the Bengalee means is apparently that our faith ought not to exceed our observation; in other words, we ought to calculate the forces for and against us and if the favourable forces are weak and the unfavourable strong, we ought to move with caution and hesitation. Now that is a very different question which has nothing to do with the philosophical aspect of Nationalism but with the policy of the moment. Our position is that Nationalism is our faith, our dharma, and its realisation the duty which lies before the country at the present moment. If so, it is a thing which must be done and from which we cannot turn merely because the forces are against us. If we rely on an analysis of forces, what is it we arrive at? It was only yesterday that there was a series of articles in the Bengalee which sought to establish the proposition that the Hindus on whom the burden of the movement has fallen are a doomed and perishing race. The writer arrived at that conclusion by patient and exhaustive analysis. What else does analysis show us? It shows us one of the most powerful Governments in the world determined not to part with its absolute control and aided for the present by a large part of one of the chief communities in India. On the other side a people unequipped, unorganised, without means or resources, divided within itself, a considerable portion of it inert, and even in the educated class a part of it unsympathetic, afraid, insisting on caution and prudence. Shall we then turn from our work? Shall we deny God? Rationality demands that we should. And if we do not, it is simply because it would be to deny God, because we have "mere" faith, because we believe that God is within us, a spiritual force strong enough to overcome all physical obstacles, weaknesses, disabilities, that God is in the movement, that He is its leader and guides it, that we belong to the world and the future and are not a spent and dying force. This faith we hold because we understand the processes by which He works and can there fore see good in evil, light in the darkness, a preparation for victory in defeat, a new life in the apparent process of disintegration.
That the movement is from God has been apparent in its history. Our contemporary does not believe that God created and leads the movement, he thinks that Sj. Surendranath Banerji created it and leads it. Only so can we explain the extraordinary statement, "every step that has been taken in construction has been preceded by mature deliberation". Is this so? Was the Swadeshi movement preceded by mature deliberation? Everybody knows that it was scouted by our leaders and, if it had been again proposed to them a month before it suddenly seized the country, would still have been scouted. It came as a flood comes and swept away everybody in its mighty current. Was the Boycott preceded by mature deliberation? Everybody knows how it came, advocated by obscure mofussil towns, propagated by a Calcutta vernacular newspaper, forced on leaders who shrank from it with misgivings, accepted it with tremors and even then would only have used it for a short time as a means of pressure to get the Partition reversed. Everybody knows how it spread over Bengal with the impetuosity of a cyclone. Was the National Education movement preceded by mature deliberation? It came suddenly, it came unexpectedly, unwelcome to many and still damned with a half-hearted support by the leaders of the country. That is what we mean by saying that God is in the movement and leads it. It is a greater than human force, incalculable, sudden and impetuous, which has swept over the country shattering and recreating, transforming cowards into heroes, lovers of ease into martyrs, self-seekers into self-sacrificers, changing in a few years the whole outlook, temper and character of a nation.
The Importance of the Individual
It is not surprising that with these ideas the Bengalee should deprecate the call for continued courage and self-sacrifice which has been made by Srijut Aurobindo Ghose in his speech at Jhalakati, for to that speech the article is a controversial answer. The cry for expediency resolves itself into an argument for individual prudence on the part of the leaders. "It seems to us to be a fatal idea that for the progress of the nation individuals are not necessary or that particular individuals are not more necessary than other individuals." And the writer asks whether an organ is justified in cutting itself off for the sake of the organism, and immediately answers his own question partially by saying, yes, when the interests of the organ ism require it. The metaphor is a false one; for the individual is not an organ, he is simply an atom, and atoms not only can be replaced but are daily replaced, and the replacement is necessary for the continued life of the organism. In times of stress or revolution the replacement is more rapid, that is all. Whatever the importance of particular individuals, — and the importance of men like Sj. Aswini Kumar Dutta or Sj. Krishna Kumar Mitra is not denied by any man in his senses and was not denied but dwelt upon by the speaker at Jhalakati, — they are not necessary, in the sense that God does not depend upon them for the execution of His purposes. Our contemporary does not expressly deny God's existence or His omnipotence or His providence, and if he accepts them, he is debarred from insisting that God cannot save India without Sj. Surendranath Banerji or Sj. Aswini Kumar Dutta, that He is unable to remove them and find other instruments or that their deportation or disappearance will defer the fulfilment of His purposes to future centuries.
The Fatalism of Action
Our contemporary does however seem to doubt these qualities in the Ruler of all. He holds it to be a fatal doctrine "that we are none of us necessary, that everything that is happening or can happen is for the best, that God is seeking His fulfilment in inscrutable ways, that He will Himself lead the country when our prominent men are removed from the arena". This, he says, is fatalism, and, by flinging the word fatalism at Srijut Aurobindo, he thinks he has damned his position. The word fatalism means usually a resigned passivity, and certainly any leader who preached such a gospel would be injuring the country. That would be indeed a fatal doctrine. But our contemporary admits that it is a fatalism of action and not of inaction he is censuring, he blames the speaker for advocating too much action and not too little. All that the "fatalism" censured means is a firm faith in the love and wisdom of God and a belief based on past experience that as it is His purpose to raise up India, therefore everything that happens or can happen just now will tend to the fulfilment of His purpose. In other words, there is now an upward tendency in the nation with an immense force behind it and, in such conditions, it is part of human experience that the force makes use of every event to assist the progress of the tendency until its contribution to human development is fulfilled. That is the idea of kaala or the Zeitgeist working, and, put religiously, it means that God being Supreme Wisdom uses everything for His supreme purposes and out of evil cometh good. This is true of our private life as every man of spiritual insight can testify; he can name and estimate the particular good which has come out of every apparent evil in his life. The same truth applies to the life of the nation.
When it is said that God's ways are inscrutable, it is simply meant that man's reason, on which the Bengalee lays so much stress, is not always sufficient to estimate at the time the object He has in a particular dispensation of calamity or defeat. It seems to be nothing but calamity and defeat and it is only afterwards that the light of reason looking backwards is able by the illumination of subsequent events to understand His doings. Therefore we must have faith and an invincible faith or else the calamities will be too great for our courage and endurance. Is this a false doctrine or a fatal doctrine? Will the country be injured by it or helped by it? Srijut Aurobindo never said that God would step in to fill the place of Srijut Aswini Dutta or others removed from the arena. His position was that God has been driving on the movement from the beginning and was always the leader when they were with us and remains the leader when *hey are taken from us.
The Bengalee insists however that individual life is quite as sacred for its own purposes as national life for its higher purposes, that the nation must get adequate value for each sacrifice that the individuals make, and that great men must protect themselves from danger because their removal at a critical moment may mean incalculable injury. We deny that individual life is as sacred as national life; the smaller cannot be so sacred as the greater, self cannot be so sacred as others, and to say that it is quite as sacred for its own purposes is to deify selfishness. Our lives are useful only in proportion as they help others by example or action or tend to fulfil God in man. It is not true that my ease is sacred, my safety is sacred, or my self-interest is sacred. This if anything is "a fatal doctrine". We do not deny that sacrifice cannot be an end to itself; no one is so foolish as to advance any such proposition. But when the Bengalee argues that the individual must demand adequate value for every sacrifice he makes on the national altar, it shows a complete inability to appreciate the nature of sacrifice and the laws of politics. If we had acted in this Baniya spirit, we should never have got beyond the point at which we stood four years ago. It is by unhesitating, whole-hearted and princely sacrifices that nations effect their liberty. It has always been so in the past and the laws of nature have not altered and will not alter to suit the calculating prudence of individuals. A great man is valuable to the nation and he should guard himself but only so far as he can do so without demoralising his followers, ceasing from the battle or abdicating his right to leadership. He should never forget that he leads and the nation looks up to him' as a fountain of steadfastness, unselfish sacrifice and courage. Expediency means national expediency, not individual expediency. Even so it must be the larger expediency which makes great sacrifices and faces great risks to secure great ends. Statesmanship is not summed up in the words prudence and caution, it has a place for strength and courage..
Expediency and Nationalism
We have met the arguments of the Bengalee at some length because we hold the teaching in this article to be perilous in its tendencies. There is plenty of selfishness, prudence, hesitating calculation in the country, plenty of fear and demoralisation in the older generation. There is no need to take thought and labour for increasing it. Steadfastness, courage, a calm and high spirit are what we now need, wisdom to plan and act, not prudence to abstain from action. Nationalism tempered by expediency is like the French despotism tempered by epigrams. The epigrams undermined the despotism, the expediency is likely to undermine and in some quarters is visibly undermining the Nationalism. More "incalculable injury" is likely to be done by teaching of this kind at this juncture than by the removal of any great man, however prominent and inspiring his greatness.