Saturday, April 29, 2000

One World and India, Arnold Toynbee (1960)

Indian Council for Cultural Relations (Orient Longmans), Calcutta 1960.

{p. 1} Everyone bears some responsibility for what is done by the Government of his own country. One remains responsible in some degree for one's ovn Government's acts, even if one is opposing them. low here am I, an Englishman, speaking to this Indian audience, at your invitation, as your second Maulana Azad Lecturer. And I am a citizen of a country whose public authorities in India put in prison your fellow-countryman in whose memory this lectureship has been founded. They did the same to your other fellow-countryman who gave the Inaugural Address last year. So my first thought on reading Shri Humayun Kabir's letter was: 'This could only have happened in India.' And of course, its having happened, and happened to me, has touched me deeply. What I know of India and the Indian people makes me think that this invitation of yours to me was a characteristically Indian act. It was also an act that gave me my cue for my subject. Shri Humayun Kabir's letter had generously left the choice of subject entirely to me. I quickly decided to offer the subject which you have accepted, and which is therefore going to be my theme during these three days. The spirit that inspired your invitation to me is, I believe, the special Indian contribution to the great enterprise on which men and women of good will, all over the World, are engaged in our time.
I am speaking, as you will realise, of the movement, now astir in all mankind, to live together, for the first time in human history, as a single family. This enterprise is as ambitious as it is imperative. To carry it to success, many contributions will be needed - contributions of different kinds from different quarters. One can see, for instance, what some of the West's contributions will have been. The West will have provided the coming world-community with the technological framework without which it would be impossible to establish and maintain a community on this unprecedentedly large scale. This Western gift of technology has been one of the fruits of the Western scientific method and outlook, and this, in turn, has been one of the fruits of a liberal spirit that began to make itself felt in the West about three hundred years ago. India's special contribution, as I see it, will have been her large-heartedness and broad-mindedness. This will have been a gift of priceless value to mankind in the new age into which mankind has now been launched by the West's special contribution to the unification of the World. The West's prowess in technology has, as we put it poeticaly, 'annihilated distance' and has at the same time armed human hands, for the first time in history, with weapons capable of annihilating the human race. With these terrible new weapons in our hands, we, the still un-unified fractions of the human race, now find ourselves within point-blank of each other. We have fallen into this plight at a stage at which we are still more or less strangers to each other, notwithstanding our common humanity. Mankind has never been in such danger of destruction since the date, part way through the Palaeolithic Age, at which our ancestors once and for all gained the upper hand over all non-human nature on this planet except bacteria. No non-human living creatures - not lions and tigers, and not even bacteria and viruses - have ever been so dangerous to Man as Man himself has now come to be at this moment at which Man has got the better of bacteria too. Man has got the better of bacteria, but not yet of himself, and he has now armed himself with weapons that make bacteria and tigers seem almost innocuous by comparison. In this perilous situation, a spirit of reconciliation is mankind's most urgent need; and this, I believe, is going to be recognised by future generations, in retrospect, as having been India's characteristic gift to a united human race.
I have mentioned, in passing, the West and its possible gifts. I want to add a further word about the West in parenthesis, before I pass on to my main subject. I have spoken of modern Western liberalism. This is, I should say, a gift of which the West can properly be proud, and it has some fine deeds to its credit. For instance, it moved my countrymen in the end to give up their rule over India and to hand the government of India over to the Indian people's chosen leaders whom their British predecessors had previously imprisoned. I feel proud of this act of Western liberalism, though I recognise that the happy ending of an unhappy chapter of relations between our two countries was due to an interplay between Western liberalism and an Indian spirit of freedom from hate which was given a consummate expression, in the crucial generation, by the Mahatma Gandhi. The liberal spirit on our part chimed in with the Gandhian spirit on India's part. And you yourselves have signified your appreciation of Western liberalism by the biggest political decision that you have taken, so far, since you recovered your political independence. You have chosen to adopt the democratic parliamentary constitutional Western system of self-government.
This is certainly the characteristic political expression of Western liberalism. But Westerners have to face the truth that liberalism has never been the sole and exclusive Western philosophy of life. Western liberalism was born in the seventeenth century as a moral reaction against the spirit of violence and hatred that had previously broken out in the West in a bout of atrocious Western civil wars: the Catholic-Protestant Wars of Religion. And, from the time of its birth till now, liberalism has never gone unchallenged in the West itself. Westerners of my age have lived through another atrocious bout of Western civil wars - the two wars that each started in Europe and each grew into a devastating world-war. In both those wars, Western liberalism came within an ace of being forcibly suppressed by anti-liberal Western hands. So the West is Janus-faced, and its double face is the expression of a conflict in its soul between two incompatible outlooks and sets of values. This is a truth that makes liberal Westerners wince. We find it hard to face up to it. But I realise that it is patent to the great non-Western majority of mankind. The West's two incompatible faces have, both of them, long been familiar to the Jews, and more recently they have become familiar to the peoples of Asia and Africa too.
{p. 5} The reason why we need unity so urgently now is both sensational and commonplace. It has been put curtly in the epigram 'One world or none'. It is obvious to every politically conscious man and woman in the world today that, in the Atomic Age, if we do not now abolish war, war is going to abolish us. ...
{p. 6} Abolishing war would involve setting up at least a rudimentary world-government. The first world-authority that it would be necessary for us to establish - and, of course, also to endow with effective power - would be a central agency for controlling the production and the use of atomic energy. ...
Till recently, mankind did not possess the power to regulate the size of the human population of the planet in accordance with our human ideas and ideals. We human beings place an absolute value on each one of us that is bom into the World. ... But Nature treats all specimens of her various species as being lavishly expendable ... Nature lets the specimens of a species be destroyed in myriads, before they have lived out their lives to their natural terms; and she keeps the species going by making it breed in a still larger number of myriads.
For keeping down mankind's numbers, while at the same time making mankind breed like rabbit-kind, up to the limit, Nature has had in her armoury three lethal weapons: famine, disease, and war. And one of these, war, has been provided for Nature by human perversity.
{p. 9} If we achieve this double victory over Nature, we shall have entirely upset the natural balance between births and deaths in the case of the human race. Though we have made two world wars in one life-time, and though the second of the two ended less than fifteen years ago, our recent success in reducing the toll of premature deaths by disease has already been enough to set human population increasing explosively, and this at a fast accelerating rate. ... We can choose to complete our victory over Nature in this field by taking control over our human birth-rate. That is to say, we can deliberately reduce and limit the birth-rate to the extent required in order to bring this back into balance with the death-rate, now that the death-rate has been sensationally reduced by human action.
{p. 12} So I have merely to make the point that a union of mankind in a single world-community is called for by our need to solve the problem of food and population, as well as by our need to abolish war. The limitation of the birth-rate in one country or in one continent only will not solve mankind's population problem. Limitation has already been achieved in a number of Western countries, yet the size of the World's population continues to grow, and this at a menacing rate. To be effective, the movement for limiting the birth-rate must be world-wide. Again, for a scientific increase of food-production to be effective, the whole food-producing surface-layer of the planet must be managed as a single economic unit, and food produced at any place in the World must be brought to the mouths of any hungry people at any other place in the World. ...
{p. 24} This becomes clear when we shift our attention from the negative to the positive aspect of present-day nationalism. In its negative aspect it is a revolt - a natural and a healthy one - against the political abnormality of being under foreign rule. At the same time it is, in its positive aspect, a movement for entering into a world-wide modern society based on a common allegiance to a new world-wide modern civilisation.
As this new world-civilisation develops, it will no doubt be enriched progressively by receiving and absorbing major cultural contributions from all the historic regional civilisations. But what we might perhaps call the paid-up capital with which this new world-civilisation has set up business has been mainly contributed, at this initial stage, by one particular regional civilisation, namely the Western. The historical reason for this is transparent. In the Modern Age the West has taken the initiative in bringing mankind together. It is therefore natural that the framework of the new world-civilisation should be predominantly Western at the start.
{p. 25} On the political plane, the liberated peoples' nationalism has been directed against Western political domination, but it has been directed against this in the name of Western political ideals. These Western political ideals (I am referring, of course, to Western democracy, not to its grim competitor, Western totalitarianism) are derived from ethical principles that are common to all men; and, in the name of these same principles, the national movements of the non-Western peoples have been directed, on the cultural plane, against incompatible elements in their own cultural heritages.
The current revolution in non-Western countries is, in fact, a double one; and, of these two simultaneous revolutions, the political revolt against Western rule is a mild and superficial movement by comparison with the Western-inspired ethical revolt in domestic legacies from the past. On this plane, the newly independent peoples have immediately started to make radical changes ip their traditional ways of life - changes that are far more radical than any that the foreign rulers of these countries under the previous colonial regime ever dreamed of attempting to introduce. This break with a number of local ethical and cultural traditions is the great upheaval of our time; and this radical revolution is leading mankind in the opposite direction to the tendency of the preliminary political revolution. It is leading, not away from unity, but towards it.
{p. 26} In an age in which the World as a whole has become the effective field for human activities, even states of the calibre of the United States and the Soviet Union will find that, for them too, interdependence is one of the necessities of life.
Even in a world in which technology has 'annihilated distance', there will, no doubt, continue to be a role, and an important one, for local states to play. There are municipal services that, by their very nature, must always be administered locally. Minding and-mending the drains is a humble but vital service of the kind. But, in a world-community, the constituent local states will also have a cultural part to play, and this will be more important than it ever was in the old days when local states were man-eating goddesses. For the sake of mankind's self-preservation, we have to draw these goddesses' teeth. We have, I mean, to deprive local states of their traditional prerogative of making war. ...
On the level of world organisation, standardisation and unifority will be part of the price of unity. The payment of this price is going to be forced upon us not only by our invention of lethal weapons that we cannot afford to use, but also by the tendency, on which I have dwelt already, for all important human activities to expand to a world-wide scale. On the ethical plane, in contrast to the technological, world unity will, of course, be not depressing, but inspiring.
{p. 47} ... it looks as if the Aryan invaders of India must have been less civilised, as well as less numerous, than the heirs of the Indus Culture whom the Aryan conquerors reduced to the status of an inferior caste. The vast majority of the present population of this sub-continent must be descended from the Aryans' predecessors and victims, and can have in its veins few drops, or none, of the Aryans' barbarian blood.
I happen myself to be of doubly barbarian origin. My family comes from one of those eastern counties of England that received a double dose of barbarian invasion after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. As if the English barbarian invasion had not been enough of a calamity, this unfortunate derelict fragment of the Roman Empire suffered a second barbarian invasion at the hands of the Danes. I am a bit of jetsam from the Danish second wave of barbarian invasion. My surname gives tell-tale evidence of my Danish barbarian lineage. Any members of this audience who happen to be Panjabis will have a fellow-feeling for me, because the Panjab, like Lincolnshire, has been drenched by more than one wave of Aryan-speaking and Iranian-speaking barbarian invaders.
The Aryan-speaking and the Teutonic-speaking peoples are the two extreme wings of the huge Indo-European-speaking horde that has invaded the Oikoumne within the last three or four thousand years. Why is it that these two groups, in particular, have been so acutely race-conscious?
{p. 49} What is the origin of the Spanish and Portugese-speaking peoples' relative freedom from race-prejudice? Perhaps it is a legacy from the centuries during which most of what is now Spain and Portugal was under Muslim rule. Certainly the ruling Muslim minority there showed no race-prejudice in its dealings with its Latin subjects, and this liberality in matters of race is surely characteristic of Muslim everywhere. If I am right, it is the influence of Islam that has moved the Sikhs to ignore caste-distinctions. The Spaniards and Portuguese may have learnt the same lesson from the same source. Would it be fair to draw the following distinction between the social effects of Hinduism on the one hand and of Islam and Roman Catholic Christianity on the other? Islam and Catholicism break down the barriers of race-feeling when peoples who differ in race become co-religionists. By contrast Hinduism does not divide its adherents so militantly as Islam and Christianity divide their adherents from the followers of other religions. But Hinduism also does not unite Indians of different castes, as Islam, Christianity, and Sikhism do.

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