Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Individuality cannot be dissociated from the pursuit of a disinterested object

The Promise of American Lives - Heroic Individualism in the Writings of Herbert Croly
Kevin C. Murphy,
Columbia University (Copyright 2003-2009, All Rights Reserved) Crolian Means: Artisanal Fulfillment and Heroic Exemplars

Still, the question remains – if the nation is not the gardener but instead the fertile soil, what then brings on this flowering of diverse democratic individuality? Croly’s answer: aspiration itself. “The truth is that individuality cannot be dissociated from the pursuit of a disinterested object,” he writes. “It is a moral and intellectual quality, and it must be realized by moral and intellectual means. A man achieves individual distinction, not by the enterprise and vigor with which he accumulates money, but by the zeal and the skill with which he pursues an exclusive interest – an interest usually, but not necessarily connected with his means of livelihood.”20 Thus, concludes Croly, a person cultivates her own individuality by freely engaging in an aesthetic or occupational pursuit of her choosing, and the best form of government is one that offers a diversity of pursuits for such citizens to engage in.

In defining individuality thus, Croly acknowledges his intellectual debt to the writings of nineteenth century British cultural critics John Ruskin and William Morris, both of whom extolled “the insistence on the worker’s right to joyful and useful labor” as the “moral core” of their public philosophies. As historian T.J. Jackson Lears argues in his seminal work No Place of Grace, both Ruskin’s medievalist-centered appraisal of modern life and Morris’s socialist-leaning update of Ruskin’s thesis emphasize the critical importance of artisanal creation to the happiness of the individual. Similarly, both lament the “degradation of work” as the primary flaw in the organization of modern economic life. According to Lears, these antimodern arguments of Ruskin and Morris influenced a generation of American intellectuals and progressives, who in “yearning to reintegrate selfhood by resurrecting the authentic experience of manual labor…looked hopefully toward the figure of the premodern artisan.”21

Yet, Lears argues, the national predisposition toward progress caused American heirs of Ruskin and Morris, ranging from the wide-ranging thinkers of the Arts and Crafts Movement to the progressive founders of the Settlement Houses, to jettison the antimodernist component of their critiques and instead make peace with the emerging bureaucratic-industrial order. As American reformers “began unwittingly to accommodate themselves to the corporate system of organized capitalism,” remarks Lears, “their focus began to shift from social justice to personal fulfillment.” […]

Despite the much-heralded emphasis on nationalism throughout Promise of American Life, the central argument of Croly’s tome – the motive force that spurs his progressive vision of the ideal polity -- rests primarily in the hands of exemplary individuals.26 Indeed, the only way that the “noble and civilized democracy” which Croly has spent the entire book articulating can come to pass is if America’s citizens aspire and strive toward a heroic or saintly ideal.

In placing so much rhetorical weight upon the idea of heroism, Croly’s Promise enters into a dialogue with a number of intriguing canons, and none so obvious as that of his early progressive contemporaries. Historians as diverse as James HighamT.J. Jackson Lears, George Cotkin, and Gail Bederman have all noted the cultural veneration of the heroic ideal at the turn of the twentieth century. As Cotkin puts it in his study of William James’ own embrace of this heroic ideal, the “discourse of heroism…enthused American culture after 1880” and had “transformed itself into a full-fledged revitalization movement” soon thereafter. Be it in Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur, the dime novel adventures of Deadwood Dick, the sculling paintings of Thomas Eakins, the Muscular Christianity of Dwight Moody, the virile public image of Theodore Roosevelt, or the “capacity of the strenuous mood” idealized by William James, the discourse of heroism was omnipresent among the thinkers of Herbert Croly’s generation, and as such Promise falls clearly within the cultural mainstream of its time.27

Yet Croly’s use of heroic exemplars also speaks to longer-standing traditions in the American mind. For one, although it may at first seem counterintuitive given both Croly’s contempt for Jeffersonian provincialism and his arguments in favor of political centralization, the emphasis on democratic improvement through heroic emulation place Promise squarely in the civic republican tradition. In the words of political scientist Michael Sandel, “the republican conception of freedom…requires a formative politics, a politics that cultivates in citizens the qualities of character self-government requires.” And this type of formative politics is clearly at the center of Croly’s tome. As Sandel notes, “repeatedly and explicitly, Croly wrote of the ‘formative purpose’ of democratic life. More than a scheme for majority rule or individual liberty or equal rights, [Croly’s] democracy has as its highest purpose the moral and civic improvements of the people…the point of democracy [for Croly] was not to cater to people’s desires but to elevate their character, broaden their sympathies, and enlarge their civic spirit.”28 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Manmohan Singh has built a whole career evading limelight

Shekhar Gupta, IEJul 03, 2004

Manmohan Singh is known to be a quiet, self-effacing man, who has built a whole career and reputation by trying to personally stay out of limelight… His own non-political background and abhorrence of palace intrigue and lack of personal ambition or greed are comforting for Sonia Gandhi. 

Abhishek Singvi, HT- April 21, 2004 3:46 PM

From time immemorial, we have idealized the rule of law in precept and undermined it in practice. We have forgotten Cicero’s warning that
“we are in bondage to the law so that we might be free”
and that
“howsoever high you may be, the law is above you.”
We ignore Montesquieu who saw
“liberty as the right to do as the law permits”
and we violate William Penn’s apt words,
“Law is the insurance we have on our lives and property. Obedience is the premium we pay for it.”

Vinay Kamat, STOI- February 22, 2004 3:51 PM

Our mental compasses do not point to the West alone. They point every-where. Not Lateral thinking; this is multilateral thinking.

Arun Maira, ET - February 19, 2004

The change springs from deeper roots. While initially slower, it is more sustainable because it is founded on commitment from the implementers towards their own aspirational plans rather than compliance with an expert’s plans. [Remaking India: One Country, One Destiny (Response Books)]

Friday, February 19, 2010

I do not believe in the real politik which you talked about

To date18 February 2010 19:40 mailed-by Dear Shri Mohapatra,

I hope you remember our long conversation on various issues starting from Unification of India and Pakistan for solving of J&K conflict and concluding after the discussion regarding the role of educated and enlightened people in capturing the democratic power through demand driven election.

While I found that there were some crucial differences between the way you and think, I still felt happy that I spoke to a person today who is committed to the welfare of the citizens of this country. I appreciate your efforts in forming a political party and making an attempt to enter the electoral politics. I sincerely wish you all the best in your endeavour.

As I told you over phone, my thinking is on similar lines, however I do not believe in the real politik which you talked about. I don't want to tread the path followed by other political parties, but want to travel in an entirely different direction. However, I may not be able to reach the goal in my life time, but I am sure that the idea and ideology will take roots and will have its positive outcome later. Nonetheless, it is important that educated people of this country should endeavour, though through different methodologies, to make a difference to the citizens of this country.

Please be in touch through e-mail. You are most welcome to meet me whenever you are in
Delhi and spend some quality time. 
To date 19 February 2010 19:59 mailed-by
Yes, I prefer to stick to an ethical line. You are right that there are no such examples in history. This is a case of who will bell the cat? We all know what is right, but we don't follow or strive to achieve it as it is a difficult path.
Further, I strongly believe in right means to achieve noble ends and I don't look forward for short cuts. What we strive to build should be on a solid foundation, despite the time it takes. In fact, movements aiming at bringing transformational changes in the society and civilisation should be at a different pedestal and quality, otherwise they will not last long and will degenerate in no time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Secularism can be seen as a rupture from the past and a prerequisite to Sri Aurobindo's "Subjective Age"

Some form of secularism (church-state separation) is necessary because it serves as a useful antidote to the infrarational forms of religion, whether it arises from Hinduism or Islam.  Secularism in that sense can be seen as a rupture from the past and a prerequisite to Sri Aurobindo's "Subjective Age".
Comment posted by: Govind
That is certainly the most positive way to look at it. I can detect a parallel between Sri Aurobindo's own experience as a child, with Krishnadhan Ghose attempting to bring about a similar drastic rupture from the past in the case of his own son. Our so-called founding fathers seem to have tried to do the same with Mother India. My faith tells me that India's further growth too will follow the trajectory of Sri Aurobindo's Life and She will arrive. Perhaps that is the inner significance of the 15th of August.
Comment posted by: auroman
Assuming you are referring to Nehruvian secularism, certainly there are opportunists who play vote bank politics but there may also be those who reach out to minorities because they want to be inclusive, help the poor and the downtrodden.  That instinct of compassion is laudable even though it sometimes leads to laxity in standards and govt excesses.

Posted by Tusar N Mohapatra at 7:17 PM
Indian politics, before fully recovering from the impact of colonialism, is grappling with multiple dimensions of the perceived menace of globalization. Opportunity, prosperity, and migration are drawing fresh contours of diversity thus confusing and destabilizing old affiliations and affections. Such a scenario stimulates breaking forth from the past and shedding meaningless embellishments yoked to culture and tradition.  Inculcating a modern outlook at the moment, therefore, is the need of the hour, and only Savitri Era Party is equipped with such a perspective. [TNM]

Posted by Tusar N Mohapatra at 6:27 PM 
The reformist role that The Mother & Sri Aurobindo have played is patently subversive not only to the Hindu but also for the Christian religion. This is inevitable when the idea is to forge a unity overarching diverse cultures and continents. [TNM] The Mother & Sri Aurobindo have paved the way for an epochal synthesis. [TNM]  2:53 PM

Posted by Tusar N Mohapatra at 8:29 PM
Jatindranath Mukherjee, M.N. Roy, Acharya Narendra Deva, Dr. K B Hedgewar, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad: a galaxy of front ranking patriots spanning the whole gamut of political spectrum have acknowledged their debt to Sri Aurobindo. There is no reason why the same elevating sentiments cannot be recreated in our time and a genuine nationalist revolution played out. [TNM]

Monday, February 15, 2010

To Bankimchandra, the whole of life was religion

M. N. Roy: Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism (Pathfinders) This idea of the cult of humanity emanated from the Positivist notion of the religion of humanity formulated by Auguste Comte, which had a great reception in Calcutta particularly from the 1880s onwards. (Geraldine Hancock Forbes, Positivism in Bengal: A Case Study in the Transmission and Assimilation of an Ideology, p.70)  Kris Manjapra, M. N. Roy, 2010, p. 22 

The Political Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo - Google Books Result V. P. Varma - 1990 - Philosophy - Since Aurobindo is a metaphysician accepting the ... 1 Sri Aurobindo refers to some significant institutions: (a) the Indian ...

line 5, read "in all (57) stages from the first thought of ... by SK Maitra - 1953
humanism of Comte or Mill, then certainly Sri Aurobindo is not a humanist, for he cannot subscribe to that view of man which forever pins him down to ... Review: [untitled] S. K. Maitra Reviewed work(s): The Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo Philosophy East and West, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Jul., 1953), pp. 178-182 (review consists of 5 pages) Published by: University of Hawai'i Press Stable URL:

Sri Aurobindo and Karl Marx: integral sociology and dialectical ... - Google Books Result Debi Prasad Chattopadhyaya - 1988 - Political Science - One naturally feels inclined to raise the question: what precisely did historicists like Comte, Marx and Sri Aurobindo mean by the invariable laws of ...

pad~16~2-Book Reviews by D Societies - 2006
particular, Sri Aurobindo confirms the Vedic vision in his writings. In The Human Cycle, in contrast to August Comte's depiction of the evolution of ...

Bankimchandra: Development of Nationalism and Indian Identity Dr. Anil Baran Ray Prabuddha Bharata August 2005
As regards the sources, Bankimchandra acknowledged the influence of English utilitarianism and French positivism on his political thought but asserted all the same his independence of them by critiquing them where they, in his opinion, deserved such criticism… Bankimchandra took Auguste Comte’s prescription, as offered in the latter’s philosophy of positivism, that the ‘human deity’ be worshipped, but did not take Comte’s reasons for such prescription. Comte argued that since God could not be seen but only imagined and that since He was extra-cosmic and superior to humanity, man should devote himself rather to the worship of concrete humanity than an abstract God. Unlike Comte, Bankimchandra did not want to make a distinction between abstract God and concrete humanity. He wished to combine the abstract and the concrete by observing that God was the inmost essence of all human beings and that ‘worship’ of the one was worship of the other as well. Having made God and humanity one, Bankimchandrnext observed that the dharma of man lay in his attainment of full humanity through the cultivation and harmonious development (anushilan, as he termed it) of all his physical and mental faculties as also through the performance of dutiful actions in the selfless spirit of Krishna, who, in Bankimchandra’s opinion, represented the best example of full humanity in respect of both being and doing. Bankimchandra then went on to assert that man attained his full ‘maturity’ when, having developed himself after the anushilan dharma, he directed his devotion to God. God was in all beings. Therefore, devotion to God meant progressively extending one’s love for oneself and one’s family to one’s community to one’s country and finally to whole of humanity or the entire human race. Love for the whole humanity, however, was an ideal very difficult to realize in actual practice and so Bankimchandra advised his countrymen to take love for one’s country as the highest religion. As he put it, ‘Considering the condition of mankind, love of one’s own country should be called the highest dharma’ (199). ..... Sri Aurobindo’s Bhavani Mandir was clearly a product of the inspiration he received from Bankimchandra’s Ananda Math. And that Bankimchandra inspired many revolutionaries of India to embrace the gallows with ‘Bande Mataram’ on their lips is a well-documented fact of history. Many have spoken against his theory of religious nationalism and criticized him for his failure to maintain the distinction between religion and politics, without realizing that, to him, the whole of life was religion and as per such a perception and philosophy of life, man’s spiritual and temporal lives were incapable of being distinguished. As Bankimchandra himself observed, ‘They form one compact whole, to separate which into component parts is to rend the entire fabric.’ (21) ... [Bankimchandra and the making of nationalist consciousness (Occasional paper)The Unhappy Consciousness: Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay and the Formation of Nationalist Discourse in India (Soas Studies on South Asia)]

progress and spiritual insight into the works of John Stuart Mill, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer and G.W.F. Hegel. ..... Aurobindo Ghosh considered Vivekananda as his spiritual mentor. ... –Sri Aurobindo–1915 in Vedic Magazine. ...

The Spirit and Form of an Ethical Polity: a Meditation on Aurobindo’s Thought by Sugata Bose, Modern Intellectual History, 4, 1 (2007), By debbanerji Posthuman Destinies
It engages in that exercise of elucidation by interpreting a few of the key texts by Aurobindo Ghose on the relationship between ethics and politics in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Both secularist and subalternist ...
The misappropriation of Aurobindo by the Hindu right has been facilitated by the secularists’ abandonment of the domain of religion to the religious bigots. To a secularist historian like Sumit Sarkar the invocation to sanatan dharma by Aurobindo is deeply troubling and makes him implicitly, if not explicitly, the harbinger of communalism in the pejorative sense the term came to acquire some two decades after Aurobindo had retired from active political life.4 To an anti-secularist scholar like Ashis Nandy the “nationalist passions” of Aurobindo located in “a theory of transcendence” are mistakenly deemed to be too narrowly conceived compared to the broader humanism of the more universalist, civilizational discourses ascribed to Tagore and Gandhi.5 The specific failures in fathoming the depths of Aurobindo’s thought are related to more general infirmities that have afflicted the history of political and economic ideas in colonial India…
The Indian intellectual deserves to be put on a par with the European thinker and, as Kris Manjapra argues, ought to be viewed “as engaging and revising through phronesis” the full range of Indian, European and in-between ideational traditions which he or she encountered.9 … In 1905 Bepin Pal wrote of the new patriotism in India, different from the period when Pym, Hampden, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Kossuth and Washington were “the models of young India”. The old patriotism “panted for the realities of Europe and America only under an Indian name”. “We loved the abstraction we called India”, Pal wrote, “but, yes, we hated the thing that it actually was”…
“And so”, Sumit Sarkar writes somewhat derisively, “the revolutionary leader becomes the yogi of Pondicherry”. 31 Aurobindo may have retired from active participation in politics, but his days as a thinker on the problem of ethics and politics were far from over. In that respect the best was perhaps yet to come.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Kant's common sense in the double meaning of shared intelligence and taste

A Kantian anthropology for the internet age

What then might be an anthropology for the internet age? I would start with Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace: a Philosophical Sketch. He held that Cosmopolitan Right, the basic right of all world citizens, should rest on conditions of universal hospitality, that is, the right of a stranger not to be treated with hostility when he arrives on someone else’s territory. In other words, we should be free to go wherever we like in the world, since it belongs to all of us equally. The contrast with our routine experience of international travel today could not be more marked. He says, “The peoples of the earth have entered in varying degree into a universal community, and it has developed to the point where a violation of rights in one part of the world is felt everywhere. The idea of a cosmopolitan right is not fantastic and overstrained; it is a necessary complement to the unwritten code of political and international right, transforming it into a universal right of humanity.” This confident sense of an emergent world order, written over 200 years ago by the man who defined ‘anthropology’ for modern purposes, can now be seen to be a product of the high point of the liberal revolution, before it was overwhelmed by its twin offspring, industrial capitalism and the nation state. We now live in a less confident world, but it can still generate moments that touch our universal humanity, like the first man to orbit the earth in space or a Chinese man confronting a tank on global television.
Kant believed that human co-operation in society required us to rely on personal judgement moderated by common sense, in the double meaning of shared intelligence and taste. This common sense, also the title of his contemporary Tom Paine’s revolutionary pamphlet that launched the American war of independence, was generated in everyday life, in shared social experience (good food, good talk, good company). Earlier he wrote an essay, “Idea for a universal history with a cosmopolitan purpose”, which included these propositions:
In man (as the only rational creature on earth) those natural faculties which aim at the use of reason shall be fully developed in the species, not in the individual.
The means that nature employs to accomplish the development of all faculties is the antagonism of men in society, since this antagonism becomes, in the end, the cause of a lawful order of this society.
The latest problem for mankind, the solution of which nature forces us to seek, is the achievement of a civil society which is capable of administering law universally.
This problem is both the most difficult and the last to be solved by mankind.
A philosophical attempt to write a universal world history according to a plan of nature which aims at perfect civic association of mankind must be considered to be possible and even as capable of furthering nature’s purpose.
The world is much more socially integrated today than two centuries ago and its economy is palpably unjust. We have barely survived three world wars (two hot, one cold) and brutality provokes fear everywhere. Moreover, the natural (we would say ‘ecological’) consequences of human actions are likely to be severely disruptive, if left unchecked. Histories of the universe we inhabit do seem to be indispensable to the construction of institutions capable of administering justice worldwide. When Roy Rappaport wrote recently that “Humanity…is that part of the world through which the world as a whole can think about itself”, he was repeating the central idea of Kant’s prescient essay. The task of building a global civil society for the 21st century is urgent and anthropological visions must play their part in that.

Copernicus solved the problem of the movement of the heavenly bodies by having the spectator revolve while they were at rest, instead of them revolve around the spectator. Kant extended this achievement for physics into metaphysics. In his preface to The Critique of Pure Reason, he writes, “Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects… (but what) if we pose that objects must conform to our knowledge?”. In order to understand the world, we must begin not with the empirical existence of objects, but with the reasoning embedded in our experience itself and in all the judgments we have made. Which is to say that the world is inside each of us as much as it is out there. This is why one definition of ‘world’ is ‘ all that relates to or affects the life of a person’. Our task is to bring the two poles together as subjective individuals who share the object world in common with the rest of humanity.
The 19th and 20th centuries, in identifying society with the state, constitute a counter-revolution against Kant’s Copernican revolution. This was launched by Hegel, whose Philosophy of Right contains the programmes of all three founding fathers of modern social theory (Marx, Weber, Durkheim) rolled into one. This counter-revolution was only truly consummated after the first world war. The result was a separation of the personal from the impersonal, the subject from the object, humanism from science. It was enshrined in the academic division of labour and it is why most people have never heard of Kant’s seminal contribution to anthropology. This is the split that the decline of national capitalism in the face of the digital revolution might allow us to reverse. In my book, I argued that the cheapening of the cost of information transfers as a result of the digital revolution makes it possible for much more information about individuals to enter into commercial transactions at distance that were until recently largely impersonal. This repersonalization of the economy has its counterpart in many aspects of contemporary social life, not just in the forms of money and exchange. It involves a new idea of the person, one that is based on digital abstractions as much as on the emergence of more concrete forms of individuality. The customized interactions that most academics now have with and similar pliers of books reflect this trend, at the same time personal and remote.

I do not imagine that I am alone when I respond in this way to our moment of history. Clearly one consequence of the use of new technologies in teaching is that learning can now be much more individualized and ecumenical at the same time; and this juxtaposition of self and the world in itself poses a threat to the traditions of the academic guild. Here then is one source of a renewed emphasis on subjectivity. It all adds up to a radical revision of conventional attitudes to subject-object relations, grounds indeed for us to reconsider the positivist dogmas on which so many modern university disciplines are based, including social anthropology’s paradigm of scientific ethnography. It has long been obvious to me that learning anthropology would be impossible if we were not, each of us, human beings in the first place. Anthropologists who once could rely on public ignorance as support for their exotic tales must now cope with mass mobility and communications. We have to consider seriously what our expertise can offer that is not delivered more effectively through novels and films, journalism or tourism. We live in a time when both the rhetoric and the reality of markets encourage individuals to choose the means of their own Enlightenment. It would be surprising if trends in the teaching of anthropology did not reflect all this; perhaps we are on the verge of a new paradigm for the discipline, one that will reflect the social and technological changes of which the internet is the most tangible symbol.
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