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Editorial on David Frawley's Work in the European Business Review

Editorial on David Frawley's Work in the European Business Review

Editorial on Indic Studies
New European, Volume 13, No. 6, 2001

When a journalist asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of Western civilisation, he famously replied that it would be a good idea. Like so much humour, this remark had an underlying seriousness, which is why it is remembered and quoted so often. I doubt that Gandhi regarded the West, or Westerners, as wholly barbarous, or that he dismissed every aspect of Western culture. This is highly unlikely, given that he had mastered UK law and used it successfully against the UK authorities. More importantly, he was influenced by the pacifist-anarchist philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, a pioneer of what we now call "green" thinking.

Nonetheless, it is clear that the Mahatma was aware of certain tendencies in Western culture and thought that pointed away from civilised values towards the conquest and subjugation of others. This was true of the British Empire , the authority of which he challenged through a non-violent "truth struggle". However, it must be said that British dominance, although often arbitrary, corrupt and cruel, compared favourably with the rival imperialisms of Europe and with future empires, from the overtly conquering Soviet Union , now destroyed, to the subtler but no less ruthless hegemony of the USA . A good number of British administrators, after all, were humane and scholarly men, who studied the cultures and religions of their "subject peoples" and sometimes protected them from zealous missionaries.

The desire to conquer and oppress is not confined to the West or its increasingly shaky "civilisation". It is one of the attributes of man (and woman, too, but that is another story), along with compassion, sexual urges, or the ability to think, reason, love and create. True civilisation, as Gandhi realised, means creating the conditions where the best human qualities can express themselves. It does not mean refashioning human nature, to make man wholly "good", but it does mean enabling individuals to live both virtuous and fulfilled lives. "Fulfilled" here should not simply mean materially abundant, for true civilisation values the life of the mind and the spirit far above the profit motive. In modern Western civilisation, by contrast, Gandhi saw crass materialism combined with an intolerant certainty about its own rightness and about the inevitability of "progress" towards Western norms, because these possess a universal validity.

David Frawley reminds us of the Mahatma's famous joke as he urges India to look within herself, and not to the West, to solve her human and ecological problems. Frawley is a US citizen who is recognised in India as a teacher of Vedic philosophy and science. In the USA , he is known for his writings on Vedanta and Yoga. There is, therefore, a double irony in Frawley's exhortation which I am sure would not be lost on him, but which in our letters to each other I have not yet dared to point out. In the Indian context, he denounces missionary activities, religious or secular, with a rage that is reminiscent of missionaries of old. In the US context, he seeks with some success to fill the spiritual vacuum created by consumer culture with the insights of a far older and richer civilisation. There is a sense, therefore, in which Frawley's position verges upon the missionary, but such paradoxes are the stuff of these disturbed times.

A Westerner who has sloughed off the Western world view, Frawley looks Eastwards, finding in the ancient Indo-European tradition of the Vedas spiritual nourishment and superior insights into the moral, environmental and political questions faced by all mankind. He sees in Western monotheism the basis for the present commercial monoculture of "globalisation". That is to say, the singularity and certainty underlying so much of the Judaeo-Christian mindset is finding new and secular outlets. Those who promote Western notions of "democracy" and "human rights" above all other forms of social organisation, who regard "market forces" as all-powerful (surely a modern superstition) and who wish to impose a politically-correct blandness on the world are "secular missionaries" as fanatical as their religious antecedents, if not far more so.

Frawley values the ancient wisdom of the Vedas above the mainstream Judaeo-Christian tradition because the latter (with notable exceptions, such as the Cabbalists and the followers of St Francis) has falsely enthroned man over nature. The Vedic tradition, by contrast, is pluralistic and ecologically aware. In this sense it is, like the cosmology of native Americans, better equipped to grapple with the conclusions of modern science which are, at their best, holistic and conscious of the interconnectedness of all life. Frawley, whose native "civilisation" (the USA ) is ethically challenged, calls for a renaissance of Indian culture. He believes that there should be a new form of "truth struggle", or satyagraha, to use Gandhi's word, against the soul-destroying influence of global monoculture.

Alan Pond writes in almost bucolic tones. These are, in a sense, deceptive. Pond writes in a gentle, reassuring way but his arguments are incisive and the intellectual task he sets himself is bold indeed. For he is seeking to reclaim England and "Englishness" as force for good, both in England and in the world at large. He believes that a positive form of "English nationalism" can develop, or rather that it has always existed, but in a largely unspoken form, beneath the Norman yoke that has bound the English peoples and shaped their dominant institutions. This form of English nationalism delights in English distinctiveness, but is respectful of other cultures. It is a "green nationalism", because it is linked intimately with the English landscape and the variety of local cultures that make England unique.

Were Allan Pond a Welshman, instead of an Englishman, his arguments would be uncontroversial, even slightly banal. Welsh nationalism, although often far from "inclusive", has always contained a strong ecological component. Plaid Cymru, the "Party of Wales", was green before the Ecology Party existed. Yet Pond is an Englishman and that is a crucial difference. English patriotism is the new love that dare not speak its name, because of the influence of politically-correct prigs and prigesses. In the media and what now passes for academic life, they are the new Puritans, who seek to destroy what they are too brainwashed to understand. Pond shows an old-fashioned English courage and a refusal to bow before trivial fashion. I believe that George Orwell would be proud of him.

Pond could be said to be doing for England what Frawley is doing for India. He is reviving its ancient wisdom as a defence against the sterile internationalism of the marketplace. At the same time, he is showing that nationalism and its political expression, the nation state can be a benevolent, peaceful force, unlike the passionate intensity of the Balkans. Both in Europe and on the Indian subcontinent, a humane vision of nationhood is desperately needed. This requires us to respect natural differences between peoples and cultures, value the spiritual above the material and restore economics to its rightful place: the servant of man, instead of his slave driver.

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