We live in a globalised world, right?
What is the future of global civilisation, if at all?
After the ‘Decline and Fall of Roman Civilisation’, what are the new features of a civilized world? What would shape man’s hopes for a better style of living? Is a more equal world, a more equitable world possible?
I didn’t study history at Oxford. But I studied under great thinkers and philosophers of history. At Oxford, next to philosophy, the history faculty in my time, just the middle of the twentieth century, was perhaps the largest and the most talked about of the academic faculties at both Oxford and Cambridge. In my own time, the most talked about of the thinkers were of course philosophers like Sir Jules Ayer and Gilbert Ryle who taught us. They were so influential that their great books were our philosophy classics. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic went into multiple editions. It sold like a detective novel, so controversial and its some of the famous lines were always on our lips, the students! If you can’t prove a proposition, for instance by the verification principle then, it is nonsense! What doesn’t make sense must be nonsense, right? That is how we asked every argument then in our time, inside and outside of our class-rooms! That was Logical Positivism, our core philosophic doctrine! Now, Gilbert Ryle, tall and almost athletic figure who used to pause and walk as he talked on the lecture stage and holding the cigar sometimes as he talked and still remember his figure when he thundered with such authority that when we say mind, it is a ghost in the machine. There was no such thing called mind as such separate from the body, it was a bodily process, or call it a mental process but certainly it is not a separate object away from the body, right? His book, the Concept of Mind was also my classic.
Of course there were other philosophy tutors for me. One, Mr. Anthony Quinton, later, Lord Quinton was a great influence on me and I learnt to write precise English when I learnt under him to write precise, exact and correct English words and phrase. At one point I felt ashamed to call myself an M.A from an Indian university! Such was my long-winded sentences and use of too many unwanted adjectives and other excesses.
But then history? Oh, here too are many names to mention here. There was Sir Isaiah Berlin, perhaps the most formidable intellect of my time. He was a Jew and a Russian, in fact a Latvian. Only those who know or care to know more precisely about history of the Soviet Russia know that the big country grabbed and absorbed the three small nations, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. I once encountered a short and bulky Latvian (or Estonian, I don’t remember correctly in Finland, in Helsinki and he grabbed me by his stout hand and went on giving me a long lecture on the street of the capital about how Soviet Russia almost destroyed his country! I was flabergausted! I was to reach St. Petersburg the next day by ship! So, my introduction to the Soviet Russian politics and history started with such a jolt!
Sir Isaiah Berlin is exactly from Latvia and a Jew too. And he had such a formidable brain that he was elected as a Fellow of All Souls College, a great honor. He dominated the Oxford debates of my time. His lectures drew large outside crowds too! Such a brilliant speaker. Now, his specialized field started with philosophy and continued in the history of ideas. He had the reputation of having read almost all the books that mattered. That was again one more characteristic of Oxford scholarship.
I have in my library almost all that had been written by Sir Berlin and I have the books by Harold Laski. Now, as for history, my favorite lecturer of history was Sir A.J.P Taylor. In my opinion, he was the most brilliant of the lecturers. His impromptu interventions in the famed BBC Brains Trust made him a household name! He has no parallel in my view on issues concerning the two world wars. His books are equally famed. So too his writings on Hitler and Soviet Russia.
Now, there were others. Sir Karl Popper and a long line of historians influenced me. Karl Popper’s classics: Open Society and Its Enemies, Poverty of Historicism had changed modern man’s attitudes towards a new political ideology and also of the other Viennese intellectuals and philosophers. Vienna Circle is one that changed my own intellectual beliefs.
Now, I come to my recent readings. While in England I missed travelling to Greece and Rome, the two usual Grand Tour destinations, every educated, upper class families used to make during their life time. I had the money but I missed somehow the opportunity. The rare opportunity came recently. Though late, I am glad I took my family this time when we visited Rome and Renaissance Florence and also Naples and the historicity of Pompeii.
I had read Edward Gibbon’ multi-volume history of Decline and Fall of Rome many times. But an actual visit to the historic spots opened up my eyes to a new reality. How we Indians were deprived by the Macaulay education! The ruling classes didn’t expose the Indians to the glories of Greek and Rome. And as a consequence our education remained clerical job-seeking exercise. Unfortunately it remains even to this day. Now, one or two observations.
The impact of Westernization. We, Indians, don’t understand how the latest globalization trend is a historic flow and direction of the great civilisations, Mesapotomia, Assyrians, the Persians and the Greeks and the Romans. It is the Roman civilization that gave the modern world the concepts of Republic, Rule of Law and urban government, roads, stadiums, modern civic life etc.
From now onwards too we would have to follow the very same flow and direction of history?
But then there is some new awakening possible. That is this: Democracy originated in Athens, Greece.
India’s place in the sun? Today, the world’s largest democracy is practiced in India with one billion citizens, right? This should give us a new impetus in self-discovery, a new self-confidence, right? This new historic realisation, now we have to impute to our people.
Unfortunately, this self-discovery was possible in the time of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
Many of our intellectuals, in the past or in the recent past too didn’t realize the flow and direction of history. We were narrowly focused on British rule. The time has come now afresh to re-connect with the past and join the world in its historic flow and direction.
After my visit to Rome and seeing Julius Caesar and his spots I feel I had become a new renaissance man! Let us join the civilization crowd!