Sunday, 12 February 2012

REFELECTIONS ON THE RE-AWAKENING EAST


REFELECTIONS ON THE
RE-AWAKENING EAST

Bertrand Russell

One of the most outstanding writers and thinkers of our time, Bertrand Russell was born in 1872. He inherited an earldom but did not make use of his title. Before becoming famous as a writer, he was an eminent mathematician and philosopher. Beginning with Principia Mathematica he has written many books on philosophy and mathematics. His more popular works have been notable for their introduction of scientific attitudes into the discussion of politics and sociology. Since the Second World War he has been greatly preoccupied with the nuclear threat to mankind and has been a warm advocate of technical aid to Asian countries. His recent books of general interest include New Hopes for a Changing World, The impact of Science on Society and Human Society in Ethics and Politics.

The re-awakening of the East is one of those enormous movements that can only be properly understood when viewed in a wide historical perspective. Alternations of power between East and West have occurred throughout the last two thousands years and more. In the earliest history, the East predominated. It was both more civilized and more powerful than the West. The West, however, acquired the lead in civilization with the rise of Greece and, in power, with the conquests of Alexander. From that time until the fall of Rome, that is to say for some seven or eight centuries, the West was dominant both in power and in culture. It lost this position through the wars between Romans and Germans: the Germans succeeded in destroying Roman power, but not in acquiring a similar position for themselves. With the West thus enfeebled, leadership in power and culture passed to the East. Very large parts of what had been the Roman Empire were conquered by Islam, which, in the great days of the Caliphate, had an Empire considerably larger than that of Rome in its greatest days. The Chinese Empire during the early part of the Tang dynasty (This powerful dynasty ruled China between 618 and 907 A.D. It extended Chinese rule over a vast area, but was also notable for its encouragement of the arts of peace within China itself. Paper money and printing were known in China during this period, centuries before they were known in Europe, Administration was efficient and the arts, particularly poetry and painting, flourished.) was equally glorious and almost equally extensive. The supremacy of the East was not only military but science, philosophy, poetry and the arts also flourished in China and the Muhammadan world at a time when Europe was sunk in barbarism, with unpardonable insularity, call this period “The Dark Ages”; But it was only in Europe that it was dark-indeed only in Christian Europe, for Spain, which was Muhammadan, had a brilliant culture. The Western world, however, gradually climbed out of the abyss of barbarism. Columbus and Vasco da Gama were the pioneers of the new Western Imperialism, and scientific technique was its main weapon. The East, which had led the world in science before the rise of Greece and after the fall of Rome, was completely out distanced by the West from the beginning of the Sixteenth Century onwards. Western conquest, or, at the very least, Western influence became dominant as a matter of course and as something likely to continue indefinitely. In this expectation as every one can now see, the West was mistaken. Once again, as at the time of the fall of Rome, wars between Germans and other Occidentals so enfeebled Europe that it was no longer able to hold Asia in subjection. It is now Europe whose freedom is threatened by the alliance of Moscow with Peking.
 
This a new fact which I think that even Asia has not yet adequately realized. For centuries Asia has suffered under the insolence of the White man. I have myself seen this insolence displayed in ways that made my blood boil and that, if I had been an Asian and not a European, would have roused me to fury. This long experience of European domination has naturally produced a mood of resistance and, as always happens in such cases, there is a danger lest the fight for independence should become a desire for conquest.
There are, it is true, some remnants of White Imperialism to be swept away. The French are reluctant to abandon their claims in Indo-China, the British cling to Malaya and still hope to salvage something in Western Asia and Egypt and the Sudan. (This sentence was written in 1954.) But, in a large view, it is clear that what remains of European power in Asia is doomed. No one can seriously suppose that Western Europe can no long retain such shreds of power as remain to it in Asia. Nor does it seem probable that American Imperialism will be able to replace that of Western Europe.
There is only one Imperialism which now offers any menace to Asia. It is that o Russia. The traditions of civilization in Asia are ancient and glorious. I do not wish to see them wiped out as I fear is happening in China, by a degraded form of Western culture. Communism, through this is not widely recognized either in the East or in the West, is the most modern and most virulent form of Western Imperialism. Its philosophy is German and its regime is imposed by military force. If the re-awakening of Asia were to take the form of subjection to Communism, there would be little in it that could be welcomed by any friend of humanity or of civilization.

What then should an enlightened and impartial spectator hope as regards to development of Asia? There are some things which, though in many ways regrettable, it is necessary to accept as conditions of survival in the modern world. The most important of these is the growth of industrialism. The power of England in the early Nineteenth Century was based upon a virtual monopoly of machine production, and the power of Russia and the United States in the present day is due to their supremacy in this respect. It is useless to talk against mechanization, because it is the source of power and because those who lag behind have difficulty in preserving independence. When industrialism was new in England, it roused indignant protests on account of its ruthlessness and destruction of beauty. These protests were eloquently expressed in Carlyle’s Past and Present; but they remained completely ineffective. They are similarly ineffective in the present day. Gandhi, in spite of his immense influence over his compatriots, was totally unable to restore the spinning-wheel. (Gandhi made the spinning-wheel the symbol of his social philosophy-the virtual boycott of foreign-made goods and the fostering of domestic cottage industries.) Machine production, and scientific technique generally, is bound to prevail wherever there is sufficient civilization to make it possible.

The most sinister application of scientific techniques is in regard to weapons of war. Must we fear that the independence of Asian countries will bring an increase in the amount of human energy devoted to war? Or may we hope that the new influence of Asia in the world will be thrown on the side of peace? I think it is too early to have an opinion as to what is likely to happen in this respect, but is not too early to have an opinion as to what is desirable. The organization of the world into two vast blocs, filled with bitter hostility to each other, is disastrous. The existence of states not belonging to either bloc is to be welcomed since; it gives some hope that, if a third World War breaks out, a portion of mankind will escape its horrors. I think Asia should seek to preserve what has been of value in its own traditional civilization and should not allow itself to be swamped by some of the worst features of Western thinking under the impression that this is the only way to preserve independence.
It is of course a trifle absurd to speak of Asia as a unity, and only opposition to Western Imperialism has caused people to think in these terms. Asia contains half the population of the world and at least three very distinct civilizations: that of Islam, that of India, and that of China. These differ from each other just as much as they differ from the civilization of Christened, and there is not the faintest reason to expect them all to act in unison. What is to be hoped is, not an endeavor after cultural or political unity, but a determination to uphold independence at home and to respect it elsewhere-and when I speak of independence, I am not thinking only of politics, but also of culture. There is a great danger of too much cultural uniformity. No great civilization has ever been cosmopolitan.    

Modern cosmopolitanism (international culture divorced from local characteristics; the feeling of belonging to the world rather than to any particular country.) is based upon science and machinery. These two new elements in civilization has been superimposed upon older cultures and have shown themselves such powerful solvents that they tend to put an end not only to what was bad but also to what was good in the culture of the past. It must be admitted that they are necessary, and that they are good if rightly controlled, but it need not be admitted that adulation of them should sweep away everything else. If human life is to be tolerable, it cannot be wholly mechanized. It must continue to contain poetry and music and art and love and the simple joys of life. These are things that tend to be forgotten in a Machine Age. They are forgotten in the Communist philosophy, and they are not given sufficient weight by many men who think themselves in the forefront of progress. I should like to hope that re-awakening Asia will remember these elements in the good life. I should like to think that rivalries and the struggle for national independence will not be so severe as to compel militaristic mechanization. I should say to be re-awakening nation of Asia: “Your independence will not be very difficult to preserve, especially in view of the division of the rest of the world into two hostile camps. But what will perhaps be more difficult will be to refrain from copying the mistakes of the West.” The West throughout the last five centuries has displayed extraordinary energy-energy which has taken many forms, some good, some bad. It has explored the world from Pole to Pole. It has learn’t the secrets of atoms and stars. It has discovered how to produce such an abundance of necessaries and comforts as previous ages would have thought unimaginable. But all this, which might have ministered to human happiness, has been vitiated by one fatal fault; the love of power over other human beings. Africans and Asians alike have been tortured and oppressed by the energetic ingenuity of Western conquest. If the world is to be happy, energy and ingenuity must no longer be expended in the exploitation of those who have less of these qualities. Mankind must learn a degree of mutual respect which has never hitherto existed. Perhaps some at least of the nations of Asia will have learn’t this lesson from their sufferings at the hands of ingenious despots. Perhaps, on the other hand, they will only have acquired a wish to imitate the ruthless mastodons (gigantic prehistoric animals, similar to elephants but larger and even more powerful.) who are bringing the West to disaster. I have not the gift of prophecy and I cannot plumb the depths of human folly, but, while there is uncertainty, hope and apprehension are equally rational, and hope is more likely to be beneficial. So long, therefore, as hope remains possible, I shall continue to hope. And a large part of my hope will be centered in the East.

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