Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

It would not be fair to consider Sri Aurobindo complicit in the creation of Hindu nationalism

Home » Issue 1 Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality .:: www.jmmsweb.org ::.Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2007 The Bhagavadgita, Pistol, and the Lone Bhadralok Rini B. Mehta 2006-12-06 18:24

Synopsis: This article examines the nationalist writings and agenda of the revolutionary turned monk Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950), who consolidated the cult of the motherland with the politics of a virile masculine resistance to British colonialism. Aurobindo was the first significant political leader to formulate an agenda for direct political action on spiritual (Hindu) principles. The most portrayed and at times caricatured figure of the early twentieth century “Swadeshi” revolutionary was a young (upper-caste and middle-class) Hindu male who carries a pistol and a copy of the Bhagavadgita in his two pockets. And Aurobindo’s writings and speeches were the direct inspiration behind this figure. The extremists’ strong and addictive ideals of self-sacrifice (atmotsarga) and devotion towards nation (deshabhakti) retained their significance long after “armed struggle” declined in influence in the wake of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent “satyagraha." Document:Mehta.pdf (426.42 KB) Prior publication date: Tue, 2006-12-19 18:00 printer friendly version

The Bhagavadgita, Pistol, and the Lone Bhadralok
Aurobindo’s first contact with revolutionary ideas occurred as early as 1890, when he was in Cambridge, studying the classics and preparing for the Civil Service Examination. A recent volume by Elleke Boehmer (2002) details the influence of Irish nationalism on his thought, which would later intensify with his friendship with Margaret Noble, the Irish political activist who later came to be known as Nivedita, after she became Swami Vivekananda’s disciple (pp. 34]124). Boehmer speaks of Aurobindo’s continued support of armed revolutionary tactics that continued at least until his arrest in 1908. A significant current biographer of Aurobindo – Peter Heehs – has pointed out the lack of solid evidence for Aurobindo’s involvement with terrorist groups, especially Maniktala Secret Society of which his brother Barin was the leader. However, Heehs concurs with Amales Tripathi in the view that Aurobindo’s silences on the subject of his involvement spoke more than his non]admissions (Heehs, 1998, p. 43). It is significant that the Maniktala Secret Society grew out of the Calcutta Anushilan Samiti, an organization "founded in 1902 to promote physical, mental, and moral culture among Calcutta students" (Heehs, 1998, p. 18). The ideological blueprint for this society came from Aurobindo’s Bhawani Mandir, or Bankim’s Anandamath, or both. Aurobindo, however, did not admit to knowledge of or involvement in terrorist activities at his trial that followed a 12]month incarceration, and he was acquitted. A sea]change is discernible in his writings following his prison term and acquittal. His earlier speeches and writings, while replete with references to Hindu mythological figures and allegories, more often than not dealt with direct, immediate political issues and events. His post imprisonment writings are exceptionally vague and general in nature, the political astuteness of his earlier articles drowned here in spiritual overtones. In his first significant public appearance, he spoke of the epiphanies he had in prison, and ended his speech with a revision of a particularly poignant political point he had made a year and a half earlier. I will touch upon the relevant portions of the two speeches that speak clearly of the ideological shift that had taken place in the speaker’s political stance.

In a speech he delivered before his arrest, to the National Union in Bombay, Aurobindo had drawn applause from the crowd by championing nationalism as the singular plan of action that remained for the virtuous to follow:
There is a creed in India today which calls itself Nationalism, a creed which has come to you from Bengal. … What is Nationalism? Nationalism is not a mere political programme; Nationalism is a religion that has come from God; Nationalism is a creed in which you shall have to live. (Ghose, 1996, p. 251)
The use of religion in the above section comes across as strategic, and typical of Aurobindo’s fiery oratory style. The figure of Krishna as the visionary godhead partaking in human affairs in the epic Mahabharata recurs in this speech, as in numerous other writings by Aurobindo.

I would digress a little to point towards the re]invention of the Krishna figure in Aurobindo’s writings, along with a renewed interest in the Bhagavadgita. The re]invention of Krishna in colonial India began notably with Bankim’s Krishnacharitra, a text that can be best described as a meticulous mixture of historical scholarship and literary criticism, coalesced with a revisionist sense of history and a nascent nationalism. Bankim found Krishna as capable of becoming the great unifying symbol for Indian culture and civilization, a flawless leading figure that could represent India in the sense that Christ represented Western civilization. But Krishna – as he was worshipped throughout India – was unacceptable to the revisionist nationalist historian whose role Bankim assumed for himself. Krishna had been, from at least the eleventh century onwards, a rustic figure approachable by the common populace through mystical devotion. Krishna was one of the few gods who became the focus of the Bhakti poets and saints who sang against the Brahminical control over the common people’s spiritual lives through their control of the temples and the Sanskrit language. This Krishna, the "beloved" of numerous Bhakti poets and saints all over India (many of whom were influenced by the teachings of Sufi mystics) was a rustic flute]playing cowherd, interested more in love than in war. The Krishna that would become Bankim’s "myth of praxis," had to be purged of the rusticity and eroticism that had accumulated over the dark centuries of emasculated Hinduism. Bankim’s Krishna (the "original" Krishna, according to him) became a robust politico, a spiritual leader par excellence and most important – a mainstream Hindu god. The Bhagavadgita was rediscovered as a text that provided guidance in time of war; and the lonely figure of Arjuna who must fight the long arduous war for justice in spite of his reluctance to kill became the symbol for the bhadralok revolutionary who must participate in a violent struggle to forge a nation out of blood and sacrifice. The non]violent religious practices of Vaishnavs (who did not practice animal sacrifice, for example) could meet the violence associated with Shakta mother]worship (animal]worship was almost mandatory in Shakta festivals) under the aegis of a new Hindu "wartime" philosophy. The selfless action performed by Arjuna who was nothing but an instrument in the grand divine design of things (nimitta, as he is called by Krishna in the Bhagavadgita), was valorized ad infinitum by the nationalist leaders. The extremist leaders used the model for action strategically and mercilessly in their propaganda to draw ingenuous students who were trained for terrorist tasks. Even in his speech in 1907, Aurobindo used the rhetoric of the Bhagavadgita to sway his audience:
Have you realised that you are merely instruments of God, that your bodies are not your own? You are merely instruments of God for the work of the Almighty. …If you have realised that, then you are truly Nationalists; then alone will you be able to restore this great nation. …and this great nation will rise again and become once more what it was in the days of its spiritual greatness. (Ghose, 1996, p. 252)
Here, Aurobindo used the celebrated discourse from Bhagavadgita on the immortality of the soul, the mortal fragility of the body and the ease with which the virtuous abandon their bodies for a just cause – in short, the ideal speech for the recruitment of prospective martyrs for the cause of the nation:
Sri Krishna cannot grow to manhood unless he is called upon to work for others, unless the Asuric forces of the world are about him and work against him and make him feel his strength. Therefore in Bengal there came a time, after the first outbreak of the triumphant hope, when all the material forces that can be brought to bear against Nationalism were gradually brought into play, and the question was asked of Bengal, ‘Can you suffer? Can you survive?’ The young men of Bengal who had rushed forward in the frenzy of the moment, in the inspiration of the new gospel they had received, rushed forward in the frenzy of the moment, in the inspiration of the new]found strength and expecting to bear down all obstacles that came in their way, and were now called upon to suffer. They were called upon to bear the crown, not of victory, but of martyrdom. They had to learn the real nature of their new strength. It was not their own strength, but it was the force which was working through them, and they had to learn to be the instruments of that force. (Ghose, 1996, p. 258)
It is worthwhile to remember, at this point, at least one young man – Khudiram Bose, who was hanged in 1910 for his attempt to kill Judge Douglas Kingsford – who probably received the instructions for the operation from Aurobindo, via middlemen. Heehs refers to a number of accounts by Aurobindo’s co]revolutionaries that mention Aurobindo’s direct involvement in terrorist activities, including the assassination attempt on Kingsford, in Muzaffarpur: "Jadugopal Mukherjee and Arun Chandra Guha write of Aurobindo not only as the founder of the revolutionary party but also as a member of a Russian]style ‘revolutionary tribunal’ that sentenced an unpopular judge to death. One writer goes so far as to have Aurobindo literally give his blessing to the young men chosen to carry out this mission."6 The files of the Home Department of the British Government also contained detailed reports on Aurobindo’s presence at the top of the chain of command in many terrorist operations (Heehs, 1998, p. 51). Incidentally, while Aurobindo was represented by the notable attorney C. R. Das in his trial and was acquitted, Khudiram was left to take his chances with the justice system. Tagore in Ghare Baire (1916) wrote apprehensively of the revolutionary leader Sandip fleeing the scene of unrest to save his own skin while his young disciple Amulya got killed in action. A parallel is evident, though Khudiram was not the only ‘soldier’ abandoned by his celebrity leaders and Aurobindo was not the only leader who did not take the fall for his subordinates, and Tagore denied any connection between his fictional character and Aurobindo.
Partha Chatterjee, in his seminal work on Indian nationalism, found the nationalist thought that originated in Bankim and was inherited culturally by Aurobindo’s generation was ideologically limited, as it was "born out of the encounter of a patriotic consciousness with the framework of knowledge imposed upon it by colonialism. It leads inevitably to an elitism of the intelligentsia, rooted in the vision of a radical regeneration of national culture"(Chatterjee, 1986, p. 79). Chatterjee had found it "not surprising that in the history of political movements in India, Bankim’s direct disciples were the ‘revolutionary terrorists,’ the small group of armed activists drawn from the Hindu middle classes, wedded to secret underground organization and planned assassination."

Chatterjee and other Marxist historians of Indian nationalism have repeatedly pointed out the problems inherent in imposing a national idea on a vastly agrarian population, without interceding in the class relationships. Aurobindo had begun his political career by attacking the old guard of the Indian National Congress for their elitism and for their distance from the needs and condition of the "people." As the commander of an army of bhadralok revolutionaries, Aurobindo practiced a different form of elitism. And faced with physical persecution, he retreated, famously, into spirituality. The retreat began in his first celebrated public appearance, a lecture popularly known as the Uttarpara Speech, in which Aurobindo emerged as a man of god. He spoke of the epiphanies he had inside the prison, his dialogues with Krishna (the god), and concluded with a complete reversal of his past ideas:
I spoke once before with this force in me and I said then that this movement is not a political movement and that Nationalism is not politics but a religion, a creed, a faith. I say it again today, but I put it in another way. I say no longer that Nationalism is a creed, a religion, a faith; I say that it is the sanatana dharma [Hinduism] which for us is Nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the sanatana dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows [sic]. Where the sanatana dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the sanatana dharma were capable of perishing, with the sanatana dharma it would perish. The sanatana dharma, that is Nationalism. This is the message that I have to speak to you. (Ghose, 1996, p. 376)

Aurobindo left Bengal in April 1910 to avoid further persecution by the British, to live in Pondicherry under French jurisdiction, where he became a recluse and wrote many philosophical and theosophical volumes. The references to "sanatana dharma" and the Bhagavadgita would return in Indian politics with the most successful leader – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – who would manage to mobilize more sections of the common population than any leader who came before or after. The validity of Gandhi’s theories and the eventual success of his version of nationalism, however, are still being debated.

The birth of the sovereign nation of India in August 15, 1947, coincided with Aurobindo’s birthday. On the eve of the much awaited Independence Day, Aurobindo’s message to his countrymen was broadcast by All India Radio. August 15 belonged to the bloodiest period in the history of the subcontinent, as at least 500,000 people died in the "partition riots" and many millions became official refugees. Punjab and Bengal, the two regions that were divided to give birth to Pakistan, were devastated by unprecedented violence – murder, rape, and arson.7 M. K. Gandhi was in East Bengal, trying to quell the riots, far from the regality of the Independence Celebrations in New Delhi. Aurobindo foresaw, in the event of the much awaited independence, neither the insurmountable challenges that faced the new leaders of a nation more diverse and heterogeneous than the entire continent of Europe, nor the absence of any revolutionary spirit of the people.

Aurobindo spoke, in his address, of the absurdity of the partition of India, and then looked forward to a globalization of culture, with an Indian hegemony:
an international spirit and outlook must grow up and international forms and institutions; even it may be such developments as dual or multilateral citizenship and a voluntary fusion of cultures may appear in the process of the change and the spirit of nationalism losing its militancy may find these things perfectly compatible with the integrity of its own outlook. A new spirit of oneness will take hold of the human race.
The spiritual gift of India to the world has already begun. India’s spirituality is entering Europe and America in an ever increasing measure. That movement will grow; amid the disasters of the time more and more eyes are turning towards her with hope and there is even an increasing resort not only to her teachings, but to her psychic and spiritual practice. (Ghose, 1996, pp. 538]9)
A similar hope for India’s spiritual leadership of the world was predominant in Vivekananda’s writings. But Aurobindo’s choice of words came during a subcontinent] wide bloodbath, which followed closely the worst famines caused by the British hauling grains from India to feed the commonwealth’s soldiers fighting World War II. His "prophesizing" – considering his political revolutionary past – makes us pause, and question the various ideologies of Indian nationalism that produced the "terrorist leader turned philosopher" Sri Aurobindo, and millions of dead and displaced subjects. Beyond the violence of the 1947 partition, the postcolonial nation]state of India has had a complex relationship with religious nationalism. A complex line]up of lenses stands between our mind’s eyes and Aurobindo’s cultural nationalism and philosophical optimism: Gandhi’s murder in the hands of a Hindu nationalist in 1948 and the subsequent marginalizing of Hindu nationalism, five decades of state sponsored secularism punctuated by oppression of minorities, caste]based mobilizations and sporadic violence, the return of Hindu nationalism with a vengeance in the 1990s, and the constant ongoing negotiations of neo]liberal Hindu fundamentalism – both national and diasporic – with global capitalism, to mention a few. It would not be fair to consider Aurobindo complicit in the creation of an ideology by which more lives were destroyed than were built, but would it be fair to absolve him completely?

References
Basu, S. (2002). Religious revivalism as nationalist discourse: Swami Vivekananda and new
Hinduism in nineteenth]century Bengal. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Boehmer, E. (2002). Empire, the national, and the postcolonial, 1890]1920: Resistance in
interaction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bose, S. and Jalal, A. (Eds.). (1997). Nationalism, democracy and development: State and
politics in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Chatterjee, P. (1986). Nationalist thought and the colonial world: A derivative discourse?
Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality .:: www.jmmsweb.org ::.
Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2007 77]98.
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Ghose, A. (1996). Nationalism: Selected writings and speeches. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo
Ashram.
____. (1999). The essential writings of Sri Aurobindo (Edited by P. Heehs). New Delhi:
Oxford University Press.
Heehs, P. (1998). Nationalism, terrorism, communism: Essays in modern Indian history.
New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Pandey, G. (2002). Remembering partition: Violence, nationalism, and history in India.
New Delhi: Foundation Books.
Sarkar, S. (1973). Swadeshi movement in Bengal: 1903]1908. New Delhi: People’s
Publishing House.
____. (1983). Modern India; 1885]1947. Madras: Macmillan.
Notes
1 Bhadralok is a modern Bengali word, possibly meant for a Bengali equivalent of
"gentleman." Its meaning evolved during the late nineteenth century to denote the
specific class of upper]caste, (Western]) educated Hindu Bengali men who separated
themselves from the poor masses, the lower]caste Hindus, and the non]Hindus.
2 Quoted in Bose & Jalal (1997, p. 50).
3 "The Present Situation," a speech delivered in Bombay on 19 January 1907. Ghose (1999,
pp. 18]19).
4 Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (1838]1894) was the first significant novelist and essayist
in the Bengali language. In addition to his vast range of contribution to the creation of a
Bengali colonial bhadralok culture, Bankim’s symbolic juxtaposition of the nation and the
mother]goddess in his novel Anandamath (1882) created the image of "country as
mother," that influenced most Indian nationalist imaginings that followed. His novels also
marked the early consolidation of the "feeble domesticated woman" with the "mythically
powerful mother]goddess," thus instituting both the gendered representation of the
nation and the woman’s position within that nation. Aurobindo Ghose hailed Bankim as
the Rshi (seer) of Indian nationalism.
5 Shamita Basu (2002) has used the phrase "the theater of truth" convincingly in her
important work on Vivekananda.
6 Heehs (1996) mentions several other revolutionaries’ memoirs that refer to Aurobindo’s
involvement: "M. N. Roy, who as Narendranath Bhattacharya was active in Bengal
between 1906 and 1915, commented that Aurobindo was ‘the Supreme Commander of the
Revolution.’ Surendra Mohan Ghose, active from around 1908 (at which time he saw
Aurobindo in Mymensingh district) and later one of the leaders of the Jugantar Party,
stressed in a talk of 1971 that Aurobindo was ‘the founder of the Indian revolutionary
party." Jadugopal Mukherjee, active from 1905 and from around 1913 one of the principal
leaders of the Jugantar Party, wrote in his memoirs that he learned some time after
joining the party that Aurobindo was "the actual founder and leader of the new [that is,
the revolutionary] party." He also noted in passing that there was a legend that Aurobindo
and two others ordered that judge Douglas Kingsford should be killed. Arun Chandra
Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality .:: www.jmmsweb.org ::.
Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2007 77]98.
97
Guha, active from around 1908 and later an important member (and, still later, a
historian) of the Jugantar Party, wrote that Jugantar was the "brain]child of Aurobindo."
Like Jadugopal he claimed that Aurobindo helped make the decision that Kingsford should
be killed.
7 For a newly researched account of the partition, see Pandey (2002).
Rini Bhattacharya Mehta, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Program For The Study of Religion, University of Illinois at Urbana]Champaign
707 South Mathews, Urbana, Illinois 61801/USA e: rbhttchr@uiuc.edu
Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality .:: www.jmmsweb.org ::. Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2007 77]98.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A great scholar and poet, a revolutionary politician, he grew from height to height

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Sri Aurobindo Or The Yogi Of The Life Divine
Aju Mukhopadhyay 29 May 2008, 15:53

Introduction:
Of the many aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s life, yoga and philosophy based on spirituality is the highest and most important. Sri Aurobindo is known throughout the world more as a philosopher than as a poet or politician. But his philosophy was not born out of speculative thought-process. A great scholar and poet, a revolutionary politician, he grew from height to height.

His philosophy was based on his spiritual experiences, which guided him to a conviction of the existence of the divine and the possibility of founding a Divine Life on earth. The path to achieve the Divine Life was yoga. Synthesizing all the ancient yogas, he founded a path called Purna Yoga or Integral Yoga.

The highest goal of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga was to attain the Supermind, to bring down the supramental consciousness for the transformation of the earth. To achieve this he willingly gave up his body so that supramental light and consciousness might get a footing on earth consciousness, and in that he succeeded.

Sri Aurobindo’s politics was gradually moulded according to his spiritual experiences and convictions. He was the founder of Spiritual Nationalism. His aim was to bring harmony and unity among mankind on spiritual basis. His ultimate aim was the World Union on the basis of Divine Life on earth. To know Sri Aurobindo as a philosopher we have to know his political philosophy, philosophy of human unity and the philosophy of the Life Divine.

As the basis of his philosophy was spiritual experiences, we have to know the story of such experiences. As the path to achieve his philosophical goal was yoga, his yoga philosophy becomes a part of our study. As Supermind, a word coined by him meaning Truth Consciousness, was his highest goal to attain, the story of the supermind also becomes an essential part of it. Sri Aurobindo willingly gave up his body to bring down the Supermind. So the story about his last earthly days will complete our knowledge about Sri Aurobindo the Philosopher. The whole subject is divided in the following nine chapters with brief synopsis at the beginning. The total length of the book is approximately 32000 words.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

“Free market” became an imperative, a coerced activity, instead of an opportunity

Agamben Translation: “Threshold” to Ch. 5 from An und für sich by Adam

The economico-providential paradigm is, in this sense, the paradigm of democratic governance, just as the theologico-political is the paradigm of absolutism.
It’s not surprising, in this sense, that the collateral effect appears ever more frequently to be consubstantial with every act of governance. What the government aims at can be, by its very nature, reached only as a collateral effect, in a zone in which general and particular, positive and negative, calculated and unforeseen tend to be superimposed onto each other. To govern means to allow to be produced the concomitant particular effects of a general “economy” that would remain in itself entirely ineffective, but without which no governance would be possible. It is not so much that the effects (Governance) depend on being (Kingship), but being consists rather in its effects: such is the vicarious and effectual ontology that defines acts of governance. And when the providential paradigm, at least in its transcendent aspect, begins to decline, providence-State and destiny-State tend progressively to become identified in the figure of the State of modern law, in which the law regulates administration and the administrative apparatus applies and carries out the law. But, even in this case, the decisive element remains that to which, from the very beginning, the machine as a whole has been destined: the oikonomia, that is, the governance of human beings and of things. The economico-governmental vocation of contemporary democracies is not an incident along the way, but is an integral part of the theological inheritance of which they are trustees.

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Transcendental Monsters from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro
In a brilliant article that draws surprising parallels between Husserl’s phenomenology and the “weird fiction” of H. P. Lovecraft, Graham Harman (2008) argues that Lovecraft’s tales of unrepresentable monsters cannot be read in a Kantian register...

Wood, more historically precise than Deleuze and Guattari, shows how it was only in post-feudal agrarian England that recourse to the market became, not just an opportunity (as it was for late medieval merchants in Italy, and early modern financial speculators in Holland) but an absolute imperative for both landowners and workers. “Markets of various kinds have existed throughout recorded history and no doubt before, as people have exchanged and sold their surpluses in many different ways and for many different purposes. But the market in capitalism has a distinctive, unprecedented function. Virtually everything in capitalist society is a commodity produced for the market. And even more fundamentally, both capital and labour are utterly dependent on the market for the most basic conditions of their own reproduction. . . This market dependence gives the market an unprecedented role in capitalist societies, as not only a simple mechanism of exchange or distribution but the principal determinant and regulator of social reproduction” (2002, 96-97).

In other words, there are markets without capitalism, but there is no capitalism without the absolute reign of the market. As Wood puts it, “this unique system of market-dependence means that the dictates of the capitalist market – its imperatives of competition, accumulation, profit-maximization, and increasing labour-productivity – regulate not only all economic transactions but social relations in general” (2002, 7). And this is the key to what I have been calling the monstrosity of capital. It is utterly contingent in its origins; and yet, once it has arrived, it imposes itself universally. Capitalism might never have emerged out of the chaos of feudal, commercial, religious, and State institutions that preceded it, just as Cthulhu might never have stumbled upon our planet. But in both cases, the unfortunate encounter did, in fact, take place. And it is only afterwards, in its subsequent effects, once it has in fact arrived on the scene and subjugated all its rivals, that capitalism is able – again, much like Cthulhu – to present itself retro spectively as an irresistible and all-embracing force. Capitalism arose “in a very specific place, and very late in human history” (2002, 95). But once it arose, it made market relations compulsory: as Wood says, the so-called “free market” became an imperative, a coerced activity, instead of an opportunity (6-7).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Freedom is as necessary to life as law and regime; diversity is as necessary as unity to our true completeness

Therefore it would seem that the ideal or ultimate aim of Nature must be to develop the individual and all individuals to their full capacity, to develop the community and all communities to the full expression of that many-sided existence and potentiality which their differences were created to express, and to evolve the united life of mankind to its full common capacity and satisfaction, not by suppression of the fullness of life of the individual or the smaller commonalty, but by full advantage taken of the diversity which they develop. This would seem the soundest way to increase the total riches of mankind and throw them into a fund of common possession and enjoyment.

The united progress of mankind would thus be realised by a general principle of interchange and assimilation between individual and individual and again between individual and community, between community and community and again between the smaller commonalty and the totality of mankind, between the common life and consciousness of mankind and its freely developing communal and individual constituents. As a matter of fact, although this interchange is what Nature even now contrives to bring about to a certain extent, life is far from being governed by such a principle of free and harmonious mutuality.

There is a struggle, an opposition of ideas, impulses and interests, an at- tempt of each to profit by various kinds of war on the others, by a kind of intellectual, vital, physical robbery and theft or even by the suppression, devouring, digestion of its fellows rather than by a free and rich interchange. This is the aspect of life which humanity in its highest thought and aspiration knows that it has to transcend, but has either not yet discovered the right means or else has not had the force to apply it. It now endeavours instead to get rid of strife and the disorders of growth by a strong subordination or servitude of the life of the individual to the life of the community and, logically, it will be led to the attempt to get rid of strife between communities by a strong subordination or servitude of the life of the community to the united and organised life of the human race. To remove freedom in order to get rid of disorder, strife and waste, to remove diversity in order to get rid of separatism and jarring complexities is the impulse of order and regimentation by which the arbitrary rigidity of the intellectual reason seeks to substitute its straight line for the difficult curves of the process of Nature.

But freedom is as necessary to life as law and regime; diversity is as necessary as unity to our true completeness. Existence is only one in its essence and totality, in its play it is necessarily multiform. Absolute uniformity would mean the cessation of life, while on the other hand, the vigour of the pulse of life may be measured by the richness of the diversities which it creates. At the same time, while diversity is essential for power and fruitfulness of life, unity is necessary for its order, arrangement and stability. Unity we must create, but not necessarily uniformity. If man could realise a perfect spiritual unity, no sort of uniformity would be necessary; for the utmost play of diversity would be securely possible on that foundation. If again he could realise a secure, clear, firmly-held unity in the principle, a rich, even an unlimited diversity in its application might be possible without any fear of disorder, confusion or strife. Because he cannot do either of these things he is tempted always to substitute uniformity for real unity. While the life-power in man demands diversity, his reason favours uniformity.

  • It prefers it because uniformity gives him a strong and ready illusion of unity in place of the real oneness at which it is so much more difficult to arrive.
  • It prefers it, secondly, because uniformity makes easy for him the otherwise difficult business of law, order and regimentation.
  • It prefers it too because the impulse of the mind in man is to make every considerable diversity an excuse for strife and separation and therefore uniformity seems to him the one secure and easy way to unification.
  • Morever, uniformity in anyone direction or department of life helps him to economise his energies for development in other directions. If he can standardise his economic existence and escape from its problems, he is likely to have more leisure and room to attend to his intellectual and cultural growth.
  • Or again, if he standardises his whole social existence and rejects its farther possible problems, he is likely to have peace and a free mind to attend more energetically to his spiritual development.

Even here, however, the complex unity of existence asserts its truth: in the end man's total intellectual and cultural growth suffers by social immobility, - by any restriction or poverty of his economic life; the spiritual existence of the race, if it attains to remote heights, weakens at last in its richness and continued sources of vivacity when it depends on a too standardised and regimented society; the inertia from below rises and touches even the summits.

Owing to the defects of our mentality uniformity has to a certain extent to be admitted and sought after; still the real aim of Nature is a true unity supporting a rich diversity. Her secret is clear enough from the fact that though she moulds on one general plan, she insists always on an infinite variation. The plan of the human form is one, yet no two human beings are precisely alike in their physical characteristics. Human nature is one in its constituents and its grand lines, but no two human beings are precisely alike in their temperament, characteristics and psychological substance. All life is one in its essential plan and principle; even the plant is a recognisable brother of the animal, but the unity of life admits and encourages an infinite variety of types.

The natural variation of human communities from each other proceeds on the same plan as the variation of individuals; each develops its own character, variant principle, natural law. This variation and fundamental following of its own separate law is necessary to its life, but it is equally necessary to the healthy total life of mankind. For the principle of variation does not prevent free interchange, does not oppose the enrichment of all from a common stock and of the common stock by all which we have seen to be the ideal principle of existence; on the contrary, without a secure variation such interchange and mutual assimilation would be out of the question. Therefore we see that in this harmony between our unity and our diversity lies the secret of life; Nature insists equally in all her works upon unity and upon variation. We shall find that a real spiritual and psychological unity can allow a free diversity and dispense with all but the minimum of uniformity which is sufficient to embody the community of nature and of essential principle. Until we can arrive at that perfection, the method of uniformity has to be applied, but we must not over apply it on peril of discouraging life in the very sources of its power, richness and sane natural self-unfolding.

The quarrel between law and liberty stands on the same ground and moves to the same solution. The diversity, the variation must be a free variation. Nature does not manufacture, does not impose a pattern or a rule from outside; she impels life to grow from within and to assert its own natural law and development modified only by its commerce with its environment. All liberty, individual, national, religious, social, ethical, takes its ground upon this fundamental principle of our existence.

By liberty we mean the freedom to obey the law of our being, to grow to our natural self-fulfilment, to find out naturally and freely our harmony with our environment. The dangers and disadvantages of liberty, the disorder, strife, waste and confusion to which its wrong use leads are indeed obvious. But they arise from the absence or defect of the sense of unity between individual and individual, between community and community, which pushes them to assert themselves at the expense of each other instead of growing by mutual help and interchange and to assert freedom for themselves in the very act of encroaching on the free development of their fellows. If a real, a spiritual and psycho- logical unity were effectuated, liberty would have no perils and disadvantages; for free individuals enamoured of unity would be compelled by themselves, by their own need, to accommodate perfectly their own growth with the growth of their fellows and would not feel themselves complete except in the free growth of others. Because of our present imperfection and the ignorance of our mind and will, law and regimentation have to be called in to restrain and to compel from outside.

The facile advantages of a strong law and compulsion are obvious, but equally great are the disadvantages. Such perfection as it succeeds in creating tends to be mechanical and even the order it imposes turns out to be artificial and liable to break down if the yoke is loosened or the restraining grasp withdrawn. Carried too far, an imposed order discourages the principle of natural growth which is the true method of life and may even slay the capacity for real growth. We repress and overstandardise life at our peril; by over-regimentation we crush Nature's initiative and habit of intuitive self-adaptation. Dwarfed or robbed of elasticity, the devitalised individuality, even while it seems outwardly fair and symmetrical, perishes from within.

Better anarchy than the long continuance of a law which is not our own or which our real nature cannot assimilate. And all repressive or preventive law is only a make- shift, a substitute for the true law which must develop from within and be not a check on liberty, but its outward image and visible expression. Human society progresses really and vitally in proportion as law becomes the child of freedom; it will reach its perfection when, man having learned to know and become spiritually one with his fellow-man, the spontaneous law of his society exists only as the outward mould of his self-governed inner liberty. Page-404 Home Location: Home > E-Library > Works Of Sri Aurobindo > English > Social And Political Thought Volume-15 > Nature's Law In Our Progress 8:19 PM

Auroville represents a very significant effort of the human spirit for another world, another future

Presenter: KAPOOR, Rakesh, researcher, writer and editor based in New Delhi, and founder-director of Alternative Futures

Title: Auroville – the City of the Future

Abstract: Auroville is a rare, living manifestation of a futuristic ideology and system of thought that has inspired millions. It is based on the ideas of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, whereby human beings are destined to overcome their divisive consciousness and to evolve, through inner self development, to a higher than mental (supramental) state of consciousness and being, which will transform and divinise human nature. Based on these ideas the Mother dreamt of Auroville as “a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.” This international ‘city of the future’ was set up in 1968 in southern India, with support of the Indian government and UNESCO.

For four decades this vibrant community, with 1800 residents today, has been experimenting and innovating in a remarkable way that has three aspects: the spiritual, the social and the ecological. The presentation will cover the origin of this fascinating experiment, the design of the township, the manner in which it has grown and has restored the ecology of the area, and the social, economic and political organisation of the community. Auroville represents a very significant effort of the human spirit for another world, another future. The presentation will discuss what makes Auroville a radically transformative and futuristic initiative, and what hope it represents for humanity.

Author biography – Rakesh Kapoor is a researcher, writer and editor based in New Delhi. Trained as a sociologist, he has worked with a number of Indian and international organisations. Since 2000, he is founder-director of Alternative Futures, a research and communication group that seeks to document and promote viable alternatives, ideas, policies, efforts and innovations for a more sustainable, humane and just future. He is a Consulting Editor of Futures and an Executive Board member of WFSF during the previous term (2001-2005), and the current term (2005-09).Last Updated ( Monday, 26 May 2008 08:23 )

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What would be required for democracy to be genuinely realized

Perverse Egalitarianism from Larval Subjects by larvalsubjects

Setting aside the possibility of moral realism (which is a position I reject due to it’s commitment to transcendence), what might lead to the conclusion that democracy– which I do not believe has ever existed –is the one true form of politics? If democracy is the one true form of politics, then this is because it is that form of the political where relations of power are least obfuscated.

Here my inspiration is Feuerbachian. Feuerbach famously argued that God is nothing but alienated man. That is, we project our highest aspirations and desires onto another being, but then experience these qualities not as existing in itself, but in something else. God is thus an alienation and distorted image of our own essence or nature. Something similar seems to occur in the case of political systems.

Let us take the example of a monarchial system. In a monarchial system I experience power as residing elsewhere in the figure of the monarch. The monarch possesses some enigmatic feature that grants the monarch a power that other subjects do not possess. However, just as the protagonist of Kafka’s Before the Law is the secret of the law, the source of the law’s power, so too can the monarch only be a monarch if his subjects recognize him as a monarch. In short, the source of the monarch’s power is the monarch’s subjects, yet the monarch’s subjects do not recognize themselves as the ones who give the monarch his power, but instead, like Feuerbach’s religious subjects, see the power of the monarch as a mysterious and enigmatic property that is “in the monarch more than himself”.

In light of this line of reasoning, democracy would be the “true” form of politics insofar as it is that form of politics where the social relations underlying power are no longer obfuscated, but are now encountered directly and immanently. Under democracy social subjects encounter themselves as both the source of power and the principle of their own constraint. Or to put the point a bit differently, every form of politics is democratic since every social organization only sustains itself through the consent of the demos, but only democracy reveals this truth in and for itself.

In this connection, rather than claiming that democracy is the “true” politics, it could instead be said that democracy is the real of the political, or the truth of the political. The question would then become that of what would be required for democracy to be genuinely realized. Negri and Hardt have a great deal of interesting things to say, for example, about the problems of representation with regard to radical democracy in Multitudes. At any rate, perhaps others could explain to me why I’m suspicious of this argument or why I should be suspicious of this argument.

Friday, June 13, 2008

We don’t have a political party as yet – because of legislation banning liberals

Opportunity Knocks for Indian Liberals - Twice
from ANTIDOTE by Sauvik New Delhi: June 13, 2008: 1000hrs

There are two interesting lead editorials in the papers today. The Times of India says that urbanization is going to be a poll issue. The Indian Express says something deeper: that monetary policy is going to be a poll issue.

Both editorials should be carefully read by all the liberals of India, for it is we who have been talking for long about our urban vision, and about sound money. Of course, we don’t have a political party as yet – because of legislation banning liberals from participating in the political process, which remains a "socialist" monopoly. Not that parties like the BJP or the Shiv Sena are "socialist" in any meaningful way.

But these limitations should not stop us from campaigning. If urbanization is what the people are demanding, and if the number of urban constituencies is rising (as the ToI edit says) – we can support independents in cities and towns. Similarly, if inflationism is a poll issue (as the Express edit says), then we must highlight the importance of sound money to the really poor: the fact that inflation results in a redistribution of real wealth from the poor to the State (and its hangers-on). Looks like Time is on our side.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rousseau presents a decidedly more optimistic of humans in the state of nature

Rousseau on Natural Religion
from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen

Part of Rousseau’s project is to try to create citizens who are both courageous (his “savage man” in the state of nature) and yet tolerant. In book IV.viii of the Social Contract, Rousseau divides religion into two types: (1) “religion of man,” “true theism,” or “natural divine right,” and (2) religion of the citizen (p. 127). The religion of man has no particular ceremonies, rituals or dogmas, whereas the latter is permeated with these and considers all who do not subscribe to its beliefs and practices “infidel” and “barbarous” (p. 127). The problem of the religion of the citizen for Rousseau is that it makes humans intolerant-what he wants are courageous and tolerant citizens, which is what his “natural religion” hopes to accomplish. Rousseau also mentions a third type of religion, Roman Catholicism. The problem with Roman Catholicism according to Rousseau (in a very Nietzschean key) is that it puts “man in contradiction with himself,” and hence promotes man’s alienation by forcing him to be both a citizen of the world and a citizen of heaven (or an other worldly world) (p. 128).

From one perspective Rousseau’s civil religion shares much in common with Hobbes’ view, as both men find the “two heads” generated by Christianity to be problematic, as they lead to sectarianism. As mentioned above, the problem with the religion of the citizen is intolerance, so Rousseau must re-fashion this religion so that his chief goal of tolerance is met. According to Rousseau what is needed for the proper religion are not particular dogmas of faith (excepting those that promote a certain kind of morality useful for Rousseau’s project), but instead this religion must make citizens love their duties. As Rousseau explains,

“[t]here is, therefore, a purely civil profession of faith, the articles of which are for the sovereign to establish, not exactly as religious dogmas, but as sentiments of sociability without which it is impossible to be a good citizen or a faithful subject” (p. 130).

Rousseau goes on to say that this religion does not produce piety or love of God, but “sentiments of sociability” (one can even be banned for unsociability rather than impiety) (p. 131). In sum, Rousseau gives us a religion quite similar to that which Spinoza espouses in the Theological Political Tractatus in which the only dogmas that are allowed are those that serve morality. Rousseau, however, makes quite explicit that intolerance has no place in his religion.

When we turn to Rousseau’s “Savoyard Vicar,” we also find an account of religion with a moral trajectory-something very similar to the civil religion set forth in Rousseau’s Social Contract. (This is not to identify the vicar with Rousseau; the character is fictional, yet the general account given harmonizes with what Rousseau says in the Social Contract). In the Emile, we find the vicar promoting a religion that on the surface gives the impression that will plays a prominent role (as in Christianity). For example, in his discussion of the will, the vicar rejects the modern doctrine of inertia and advocates a more pre-modern view in which the will serves as the source of movement (pp. 272-274). With the doctrine of inertia, one can then do away with the need for (1) the soul as the cause of motion, and (2) God as the first cause. By eliminating these two features, one is poised to develop a religion that promotes tolerance (again, cf. Spinoza). So what the vicar wants to do is to re-insert premodern ideas that speak against the modern doctrine of inertia, all of which give the appearance of the primacy of the will. However, as we read on, we begin to question the character of the will being presented. For example, of the vicar’s second article of faith, we read, “[i]f moved matter shows me a will, matter moved according to certain laws shows me an intelligence” (p. 275). By affirming an intelligence that moves according to laws, the vicar cancels the effectiveness of the will and in essence does away with freedom. Here it seems that we have a modern notion of movement according to laws of nature which does not require a first cause.

In article three, we are told (with no argument given) that man is “free in his actions and as such is animated by an immaterial substance” (p. 281). The idea is that the body (material) is passive and the will (immaterial), which moves the body, is active. So we have two substances in the vicar’s account. This then allows the vicar to assert that we have some kind of immortality; however, the vicar is quick to qualify his claims.

“My limited understanding conceives nothing without limits. All that is called infinite escapes me. What can I deny and affirm, what argument can I make about that which I cannot conceive? I believe that the soul survives the body long enough for the maintenance of order. Who knows whether that is long enough to last forever?” (p. 283).

So the vicar is only willing to go so far-he allows for the possibility of the soul surviving the body, but will not claim that the soul/will is eternal. Having made this move, the vicar can easily promote a religion without eternal punishment, and this, of course, harmonizes perfectly with a religion of tolerance. Anticipating Kant, the vicar emphasizes the limitations of human knowledge, calls eternal punishment into question, and wants humans to think that they are free and in some sense not simply material beings; yet, he also has to keep things “watered down” such that people will not take this seriously enough to be willing to “force” their views on others.

The complexity of discerning the correct authorial voice in this work is exceedingly difficult; however, as the narrative unfolds, we read a footnote that seems to establish a clear distinction between Rousseau and the vicar. The footnote reads,

“This is, I believe, what the good vicar could say to the public at present” (p. 295).

Overall, the vicar is more hostile to modern skepticism and materialism than Rousseau. So why does Rousseau have a fallen priest promote this rather ‘thin’ religious teaching? Here we find a connection between what was said in the Social Contract regarding the legislature as a kind of “god” who via laws re-fashions humans. Similarly, in the vicar’s discussion, he emphasizes that religion is able to convince people of things which philosophy cannot because of the absence of divine authority in the latter. Philosophy, of course, is supposed to appeal to reason alone and this, as many in the Western tradition have highlighted, is insufficient to motivate people to obey the law.

So, in contrast to Rousseau, the vicar is crafted as having significantly more hostility toward philosophy and the science of the day which was so shot through with materialism. Likewise, the vicar’s view is presented as a kind of common sense position with regard to metaphysics and physics, and his real concern is clearly with morality. This concern with morality is where we see an overlap between the vicar and Rousseau. In short, the vicar presents a view that although manifesting distinct differences, is quite compatible with Rousseau’s teaching in the Social Contract (as well as the Reveries), however, he, as it were, dresses it up religious garb.

Near the end of the “Savoyard Vicar,” we are told in a footnote that “fanaticism is more pernicious than atheism” (p. 312); thus, we must at all costs avoid religions that promote intolerance. In spite of that, Rousseau also admits that there are certain aspects of “fanaticism” that are worth keeping (e.g., courage). Yet, Rousseau is of course concerned to control the fanaticism of the modern soul. Thus, in Rousseau’s account, humans in the state of nature are painted as good (contra Hobbes), and they are free, that is, not dependent on others (no conflicts with sovereigns here). Hobbes, in contrast, attempts to control the nastiness of humans by stressing their fear of death. That is, according to Hobbes, humans naturally fear death and this fear itself breeds fanaticism in religion. Rousseau presents a decidedly more optimistic of humans in the state of nature and emphasizes (e.g., in the Reveries) the “sweetness of existence”-even in the midst of persecution. For Rousseau, the state of nature represents a “wholeness” that is the antithesis of the alienation that comes with society and its vanity, and this picture of integrated man (this is man who has his place in the whole of nature and has not elevated the part over the whole, as is the case according to Rousseau with dogmatic rather than “natural” religion) is the polar opposite of what we find in fanaticism.

I will persist, O Lord

The Challenge of Death and Conquest of Immortality
Talk by Dr. Alok Pandey, November 11, 2007, Invocation 28.pdf

Death is about living in boundaries; so we test the boundaries. Every time Man tries to exceed the boundaries, he becomes a claimant to immortality. It is very interesting: what is the path to immortality? By gradually expanding the limits and the boundaries. And if we look at it from that point of view, we see that throughout the history of evolution, though we may say that Death is the last victor, ultimately that is not true. If we look at it closely we see that Life is the victor. When the first living beings appear, the boundaries of Matter are pushed a little further, and rigid matter begins to become pliable matter, breathing matter. There is a pushing of the boundaries. Again when Man comes, the boundaries are pushed back further. Savitri gives this logic to Death, saying ‘Look how every time boundaries are being pushed back – again now with human beings.’

There is a natural urge to push at the limits of things, and especially now in our own age we see this coming up in a very big way, whether at the level of Science, of Art, Music…. Everywhere we want to break the norms and push beyond them. And every effort to push back the boundaries, every effort to exceed the limits, every effort to go beyond the law – not just to break the law, but to go beyond the law and exceed it – is essentially a step that humanity takes towards immortality. That is the great labour in which the Ancient Mother is engaged. So Death, when Savitri speaks about all this – that is the context which we are speaking about – he asks her, ‘What is the purpose of all this?’ And she gives the whole story of creation, of how you, Death, have been born: it is the Divine who has plunged into this darkness and is rescuing consciousness out of this darkness. The first sign of this rescue is that Matter is born. The second sign is the rescue of Life, then comes the rescue of Mind. And now, following that inevitable process of logic, Sri Aurobindo comes to rescue the eighth sun of Aditi, the Supramental, which is also plunged into this darkness, hidden in its dark cave. He is rescuing it. That is the whole labour.

In every life, the moment a psychic being is born into matter, some consciousness, however little it be, is increased upon earth. That is the little victory that each one wins. Mother speaks about this. She says, ‘Well, your little victories may not lead to the universal victory right away, but that is what is given to us, and we must do that. And if we do that, we add to the sum of the victory of the universe.’

It is very beautiful to live with that divine humility. It is really not so necessary for our individual body to become immortal. It is amazing that, even Mother, at the level she had reached, the level from which She came, even at the very highest, could say, ‘It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether it is this body or some other’ She could have that humility, to say, ‘It doesn’t matter’… She, armed with all the knowledge and the power, armed with such a wonderful preparation, could say, ‘It doesn’t matter whether it is going to be this body or some other body’.

Of course the ego has a penchant for taking every statement that the Divine gives, and twisting it. Ego can reflect and say, ‘Some other body – maybe mine is the one’. We should be very careful about these whispers, how death deceives us. ‘Some other body’ she says, with that humility. But everything that is achieved, every little victory, is a victory for the earth. It is that sense of the collective in which one has to live – that whatever little is stamped upon matter, whatever little truth one can bring down, whatever little light, contributes to the forward movement of the whole...

What does it mean, the Divine reign upon earth? It is not about the victory of a particular religion, or a universal religion spreading over all other religions. It is very simple: it is the victory of the Divine upon earth, the victory of godhead in Matter, Matter divinising itself, and discovering its own spiritual substance. Because it is then and then alone that the embodied Divine need not leave the earth. That is the second coming. That is, as the Mother says, the true resurrection.

It is Matter being lifted up to its true status. That is the coming for which we wait, and Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have made it very, very clear, they have not left any iota of doubt that this is the work we have to do, and it doesn’t matter whether it takes 100 years, 1000 years, 10,000 years, a million years. Have we not been engaged in it for a million years? In a very beautiful poem of Sri Aurobindo, Meditations of Mandavya, he says:

I will not faint, O God. There is the thirst,
And thirst supposes water somewhere. Yes,
But in this life we may not ever find;
Old nature sits a phantom by the way,
Old passions may forbid, old doubts return.
Then are there other lives here or beyond
To satisfy us? I will persist, O Lord.
SABCL 5:89

This is the perseverance required for the seeker of immortality: what does it matter? We have left behind a hundred thousand lives, even if we have to go through a hundred thousand lives more, we’ll have the joy of the labour. If there is something to be done, this is it. And this is the fire that the Mother, I suppose, has awakened in earth. How beautifully she says, this should be the fire with which we should approach. What is that fire? She says, ‘When you feel that this is the thing you are meant to do, and you don’t want to do anything else, this alone attracts you, no longer for your own sake.’ Not that this little personality will become immortal, that everybody knows as Mr. X or Mr Y. – that would be an absurdity, for in all the masks of various personalities is it not the One alone playing with Himself!

But the work of the triumph of the Divine in Matter, the redemption of Matter by the touch divine. That is the task, a task worthy of being Man. And what does it matter how many times we have been born, how many times we have died, how many times death has claimed our bodies, our lives, our minds? How many times this has happened, and yet there is something it cannot claim – and that is what we truly are. That something, and the Grace Divine, will rescue Matter one day out of its inertia and somnolence, and upon this earth will bloom the heavenly Rose, the deathless Rose. Then will the seed of immortality bloom upon earth and then will the divine family be born!

To summarise we may say that there is a double immortality to which man can aspire. The first is to discover his immortal self, the individual soul, and through its doors the eternal Self. The second is to discover the possibility of divinising nature and the stuff of which our mortal sheaths are made. The first has been achieved by rare seers and sages of Truth in different ages of mankind. It is now even more easily accessible because of the coming of the New Force that is awakening matter and helping man in his godward aspiration. But the second is yet to be realised and it is only through a progressive change of the earth consciousness and as its spearhead, of human nature, that this too will become possible one day: for man to enjoy the immortality of the gods. Of course if we take the universal scale, then there is no death, whether at the material, vital or other levels there is no death, only a change of status and condition of organisation in individual beings. But the individual sheaths do dissolve since like their universal counterparts they partake of the nature of Ignorance.

When this Ignorance disappears that divides these sheaths from the One who is their secret origin and Master, then they would not have any reason to disintegrate. Then mind would discover its own supramental infinities and Light and Truth, then life would recover its home of Bliss and Conscious Power from where it has strayed into the dark depths of Inconscience to create and to endure, then matter itself would wake up from the Inconscient’s spell and remember that it is, like everything else, in its origin Divine, a fall from the one and only true Existence. Then shall the spell of Death be broken and we may say not only of our soul but also of our nature that all is indeed divine and shares his infinity and eternity.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Adam Smith’s important message: we serve our self interests best by serving the self-interests of others

We Serve Our Self Interests Best By Serving the Self Inerests of Others
from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy Adam Smith’s important message: we serve our self interests best by serving the self-interests of others.

It is the mutual exchange of our offers that are in each party’s self interest, which creates the positive harmony of the commercial society. Exchange is not a zero-sum game: what I gain is not at the expense of what you gain – there is a mutual exchange that makes both of us better off than we would be without such an exchange.

I gain my dinner and you gain the wherewithal to acquire what you wish from third parties:

“Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer, and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of” (WN I.ii.2: p 26)

Leaving this part of Adam Smith’s exposition unsaid, leaves the reader with the idea that the blind search for one’s self-interested requirements somehow leads to the ‘greatest social good’, which is a short step from asserting that it is OK to act selfishly because social benefits, a view that was anathema to Adam Smith, the moral philosopher and contrary to his meaning.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The man within calls to us

  • When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble?
  • When we are always so much more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves, than by whatever concerns other men; what is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others?

It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct. It is he who, whenever we are about to act so as to affect the happiness of others, calls to us, with a voice capable of astonishing the most presumptuous of our passions, that we are but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any other in it; and that when we prefer ourselves so shamefully and so blindly to others, we become the proper objects of resentment, abhorrence, and execration.

It is from him only that we learn the real littleness of ourselves, and of whatever relates to ourselves, and the natural misrepresentations of self-love can be corrected only by the eye of this impartial spectator. It is he who shows us the propriety of generosity and the deformity of injustice; the propriety of resigning the greatest interests of our own, for the yet greater interests of others, and the deformity of doing the smallest injury to another, in order to obtain the greatest benefit to ourselves. It is not the love of our neighbour, it is not the love of mankind, which upon many occasions prompts us to the practice of those divine virtues.

It is a stronger love, a more powerful affection, which generally takes place upon such occasions; the love of what is honourable and noble, of the grandeur, and dignity, and superiority of our own characters. -- Adam Smith Moral Sentiments (TMS III.4: pp 136-7)