Westernised and colonised underpinnings of social sciences in Bharat

In the second part of the series scholars Rajiv Malhotra and Come Carpentier explore and further dissect the underpinnings of how social sciences in contemporary Bharat is an entirely Western import, totally alienated and disconnected from our tradition.

RM: While this is happening in France, its influence in Britain (Britain is the East India Company), was far-reaching.  So, John Stuart Mill, one of the towering figures in the East India Company, was considered a liberal thinker about society and all that from the British side,  was influenced by these ideas from France.  Herbert  Spencer was the person who mentors or influences Lord Risley.

Lord Risley is the one who comes up with this caste system, caste hierarchy, the census of India. So, the influence of this kind of social thinking permeates the East India Company through many of its great people,  many of its powerful people. It also influences Germans like Karl Marx Max and Max Weber, towering figures in social thought, and Emile  Durkheim another French person.

So, I want to explain a little bit about his influence on Karl Marx.  But before Karl Marx,  also Hegel because Hegel is another German who has this idea of evolution in which civilizations are more evolved than others.  In fact, Hegel felt that it was good for India to be colonized because it would advance India from primitive state to a state where it could become more civilized! Karl Marx took that further and developed his own his own theories.

CC: Yes. Marx, like most social philosophers of his day, felt that the passage through Westernization was inevitable and beneficial. Westernization, however, meant essentially breaking up the ancient Indian social structures and religious structures, even though interestingly most of those people, including Karl Marx acknowledge that India was the source;   the fountainhead of Western religions and languages so they gave India the paternity!

RM: So,  it’s sort of like, you know, this is a problem where we have people are not good scholars. They quote something out of context and say he loved us!  A lot of Indians do that. We quote something out of context without doing the total study!  So, Marx,  you can get some good things from Marx about India.  But overall, while he’s appreciating  Bharat, but it’s very old,   decadent, It cannot advance on its own. It, therefore, needs the youth and vigor of the West.   And the main point is that therefore the  West is to lead and  India is to follow them for colonization is good. One of his important points is that India has to evolve to a feudal society before it can have a have a revolution and evolve to a capitalist society and then it has to have a revolution to overthrow capitalism. and evolve to a Communist society.

So,  you need Feudalism to Capitalism;  Capitalism to Communism. These are the stages that have to happen. So, you know, you’re not ready. You’re not ready for a Communist Revolution until you achieve the previous states! So,  therefore we are doing you a favor by saying you are feudal and the colonizer is going to move you forward. Whereas Europe is in a Capitalist mode and therefore they can go to the Communist mode directly. So, this evolution of society always ends up locating Asian countries in need of and dependent on Europe to pull them forward for their own good.

CC: Yes, and all those people are essentially technocrats!  Remember,  Communism as defined by Marx and Engels is very much a technocracy;  just a technocracy in the hands of the workers.! But of course,  the more advanced workers, which means engineers,  and in that sense, Marx is in the line of Comte and Saint-Simon, who were also technocrats who felt that technocracy was the leader; not religion anymore.

And you know, the influence of the steam engine…  how much they eulogized the steam engine saying that this is what will really revolutionize and transform India and bring it into civilization. So, Marx was very concerned that before the world could move towards the Communist state,  Asian civilizations had to be taken over, broken up, and transformed and as you know, he had a particular grudge against the village community in Bharat because he said the village is an autonomous community. It is more important than the state because while  the state changes, the village remains the same along the centuries and he said that is  the  source of feudalism,

Primitivity, and worship of animals, which he felt was very demeaning. He gave these famous examples in the worship of the cow and the monkey people are reduced to a level of chill childhood;  they can never grow up.

So, the whole emphasis was on breaking all that and he said in that sense,   the British are playing a great role because they have a superior civilization even though the East India Company is corrupt and  British colonialism has been highly exploitative and unfair;  still, it fulfills a purpose in history.

RM: So, we are continuing to continue to notice two trends in the evolution of European social thought. Trend Number one is that spirituality/divinity is out and this remains the case from the beginning of social thought till today. Therefore, it’s a Left-wing atheist.

Second,  is very very dangerous:  In the evolution of societies, Bharat is behind Asia,  in general, is behind Africa,  is even further behind, you know, the  West is ahead. So, for India’s own good. It must follow the West and the West must lead and therefore we need colonization. So, the principle of social scientists in  Bharat today is exactly the same.  Bharat is where the West was and the West is where Bharat should be in the future.

So, Bharat’s present is like the West’s past. So, Bharat’s present should be mapped onto all the Western past,  what they had, be it slavery or feudalism.  You should map Bharatiya society to that and the West’s present is India’s future.  This idea of social science is deeply rooted today—in  In our textbooks,  in the UPSC exam,  in all the social thought that comes out of Bharatiya universities, in the NCERT  books, and all kinds of things.  Interestingly,  this goes way back in European history

CC:  And it justifies colonialism. And you can find it in the most unlikely places.  For example,  in attempts to reform or revive Hinduism in the 19th century and Buddhism. Look at theosophy.  Basically,  a lot of what Madame Blavatsky said about  Bharat is that India is that the country is a repository of extraordinary knowledge. It is a source of knowledge for mankind, but Bharat has become polytheistic, pagan and fetishes and ancient Aryan gnosis or knowledge have to be rescued and restored primarily by Westerners so that Bharat can become truly monotheistic while keeping its ancient knowledge. So, there is a contradiction.  But it’s oriented towards the reform in the Western tradition.

RM: This is an important reminder. A lot of Indians think that theosophy was a big deal for us; a  big favor to us;  they were praising us.  Because if you are not well informed and you’re not a good scholar you’ll be able to pick and choose quotes from here and there where theosophists are saying great things about Hinduism, Vedas, and all that. But they are saying it in a certain context.  Firstly, they believe that these are Aryan and they believe in Aryan invasion. Secondly,  they believe that these things are stagnant and decayed and disintegrated into polytheism and paganism and all these kinds of things which are modern Hinduism. So, they do not much of modern Hinduism.

Thirdly, they are digesting things that they are discovering in the  Vedas into a Christian monotheistic model as the way forward. So,  theosophy is one of those U-turners,  theosophy is one of those digesters of Hindu thought and I think we have been very careful when we praise the theosophists. There’s this theosophy society in Chennai and a lot of local people think very highly of them and I have read theosophy and I would caution you to be really careful,  suspicious, and balanced in your evaluation of theosophy when you say that when you praise them for the great things they have to say about Hindu culture.

The next big figure in Western social thought is Durkheim and he’s quoted all over.  So, tell us something about it.

CC: Durkheim was a Jewish social scientist who is regarded as a  systematic exponent of Sociology and was its founder. But Comte was also an idea log ideologue who wanted to spread his own theories. Whereas Durkheim is an objective observer and he tries to eliminate as many personal opinions as possible. He tries to be purely analytical and scientific. Therefore, he takes a particular viewpoint. For example, he says, all religions are methods that mankind has devised at various times, to not only understand but also to use a reality for its own benefit for its survival.  Therefore, you have to understand religion as a structure and function.  Religion has a function.  You don’t have beliefs because you just have beliefs!  You have beliefs because they are useful to you at a particular time; in a particular context.

And in that way, Durkheim is a real scientist because he tries to avoid making judgments. However, he is, of course,  influenced by his materialistic positivist background. He doesn’t really take into account the transcendent factor because to him the supernatural cannot really exist. He doesn’t really make too many judgments about it. But he says it’s not the supernatural that I’m interested in. Its why socially, in terms of evolution, why was that belief adopted?

RM: So, what is his view on West vis-à-vis Bharat in terms of superiority and those kinds of things?

CC: You see, he doesn’t specifically say the West is superior, but he says all societies are like living organisms. They evolve, by the way, this is Herbert Spencer, who says that everything is organic.  So, society or individuals are in a way similar because they are organisms and their different parts are organs. For example,  region is an organ of society. And therefore, it is born;  it grows; It gets old and it dies. So, in that sense, there is a certain concept of cyclicity, which is interesting. But he believes that evolution definitely goes towards greater rationalism, which goes on par with industrialization. So, he clearly defines industrialization as a more advanced form of society that requires certain things such as the adoption of a scientific perspective of scientific worldview.

So, you no longer are a mystic or just a believer. You have to be a scientific analyst. This doesn’t mean that you don’t respect the believer and the mystic—they have their place—but perhaps when times change, they become irrelevant or at least outdated. So,  they become objects of curiosity and I think this is the whole point about sociology that its studies people and anthropology. They study people as if they were animals or machines. Or like all animals in a given ecological system. So, you know sociologists and anthropologists are famous for studying the so-called primitive tribes and putting them under certain experiments and saying, let’s see how they react!

RM: So, let’s move on to Max Weber because he had a huge influence on Western thought particularly his Protestant ethic.

CC: Well,  Weber was working in the beginning of the late 19th century or beginning of the 20th century and he spent a lot of time researching Bhartiya society and   Bharatiya religions. He also studied and researched Chinese and other civilizations, but one of his most famous works is about the Hindu religion. He pretty much relied on Western translations of ancient  Bharatiya texts. He didn’t know much about contemporary  Bharatiya religious practices but his focus was on understanding what rule regions plays in economic and social organization.

His conclusion was that Hindu dharma is focused on otherworldly and goals,  like Buddhism and therefore it is cyclical, does not allow for progress and it is stagnant.

RM: So, this whole idea gets further crystallized in the Western mind that Hindu dharma is otherworldly and therefore not capable of social progress. Soon, thereafter, they start saying human rights can’t exist in Hinduism and hence we’ve got to convert them because the Hindu elite are so concerned about moksha and otherworldly escape from here and they’re also into this cyclical thing.

So,  you cannot have progress if your metaphysics is cyclical!  What they don’t understand is that cyclical can be healings.  It can go round but it can also go up at the same time! So, they don’t understand the cyclicality is not that you come back to the exact same point; cyclicality can also be a helix. You also moving up at the same time.

Whereas their idea of progress is sort of this kind of a linear progress. He studied India, but not accurately from an Indian perspective;  mostly translations.

CC:  Yes, and remember, Weber,  like all Westerners, was also trying to understand why Bharat,   such an ancient culture had been colonized. So, the inevitable conclusion was that Bharat must have been inferior in some way, and in his view, what had created Capitalism was Protestant ethics and Hinduism didn’t have it doesn’t have it and therefore was obstructing the development of capitalism.

I must, however, give justice to Max Weber because he did come up with a number of interesting conclusions which are basically right. For example, he said that varna is not caste; it’s a social-professional category and he made all sorts of subtle distinctions which were not necessarily known at that time. But still, his general conclusion is somehow that you can’t build a modern capitalist society on the basis of Hinduism and so have to adopt another form of organization.

RM: So, we’re seeing the continuation of the thread from the very beginning till the early 1900s in social thought that India’s future depends on adopting Western models, with the West guiding, leading, colonizing, and managing India. And that, of course,  is what the social sciences today continue to do so.

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About the Author

Dr. Nandini Murali
Dr. Nandini Murali is a communications professional,  author and researcher in Indic Studies.  She is a Contributing Editor with the HinduPost. She loves to wander in the forests with her camera.