Asiatic Democracy – Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

{ CALCUTTA, March16th, 1908 }

Asiatic Democracy

Asia is not Europe and never will be Europe. The political ideals

of the West are not the mainspring of the political movements

in the East, and those who do not realise this great truth, are

mistaken; for they suppose that the history of Europe is a sure

and certain guide to India in her political development. A great

deal of the political history of Europe will be repeated in Asia,

no doubt; democracy has travelled from the East to the West

in the shape of Christianity, and after a long struggle with the

feudal instincts of the Germanic races has returned to Asia transformed

and in a new body. But when Asia takes back democracy

into herself she will first transmute it in her own temperament

and make it once more Asiatic. Christianity was an assertion

of human equality in the spirit, a great assertion of the unity

of the divine spirit in man, which did not seek to overthrow

the established systems of government and society but to inform

them with the spirit of human brotherhood and unity. It was

greatly hampered in this work by the fact that the European

races were in a state of transition from the old Aryan civilization

of Greece and Rome to one less advanced and enlightened. The

German nations were wedded to a military civilisation which

was wholly inconsistent with the ideals of Christianity, and the

new religion in their hands became a thing quite unrecognizable

to the Asiatic mind which had engendered it. When Mahomedanism

appeared, Christianity vanished out of Asia, because it

had lost its meaning. Mahomed tried to re-establish the Asiatic

gospel of human equality in the spirit. All men are equal in Islam,

whatever their social position or political power, nor is any man

debarred from the full development of his manhood by his birth

or low original station in life. All men are brothers in Islam

and the bond of religious unity overrides all other divisions and

differences. But Islam also was limited and imperfect, because it

confined the ideal of brotherhood and equality to the limits of

a single creed, and was farther deflected from its true path by

the rude and undeveloped races which it drew into its embrace.

Another revelation of the old truth is needed.

India from ancient times had received the gospel of Vedanta

which sought to establish the divine unity of man in spirit; but

in order to secure an ordered society in which she could develop

her spiritual insight and perfect her civilization, she had invented

the system of caste which by corruptions and departures from

caste ideals came to be an obstacle to the fulfilment in society of

the Vedantic ideal. From the time of Buddha to that of the saints

of Maharashtra every great religious awakening has sought to

restore the ancient meaning of Hinduism and reduce caste to

its original subordinate importance as a social convenience, to

exorcise the spirit of caste pride and restore that of brotherhood

and the eternal principles of love and justice in society. But the

feudal spirit had taken possession of India and the feudal spirit

is wedded to inequality and the pride of caste.

When the feudal system was broken in Europe by the rise

of the middle class, the ideals of Christianity began to emerge

once more to light, but by this time the Christian Church had

itself become feudalized, and the curious spectacle presents itself

of Christian ideals struggling to establish themselves by the

destruction of the very institution which had been created to

preserve Christianity. When the ideals of liberty, equality and

fraternity were declared at the time of the French Revolution

and mankind demanded that society should recognise them as

the foundation of its structure, they were associated with a fierce

revolt against the relics of feudalism and against the travesty of

the Christian religion which had become an integral part of that

feudalism. This was the weakness of European democracy and

the source of its failure. It took as its motive the rights of man

and not the dharma of humanity; it appealed to the selfishness of

the lower classes against the pride of the upper; it made hatred

and internecine war the permanent allies of Christian ideals and

wrought an inextricable confusion which is the modern malady

of Europe. It was in vain that the genius of Mazzini rediscovered

the heart of Christianity and sought to remodel European

ideas; the French Revolution had become the starting point of

European democracy and coloured the European mind. Now

that democracy has returned to Asia, its cradle and home, it

will be purged of its foreign elements and restored to its original

purity. The movements of the nineteenth century in India were

European movements, they were coloured with the hues of the

West. Instead of seeking for strength in the spirit, they adopted

the machinery and motives of Europe, the appeal to the rights of

humanity or the equality of social status and an impossible dead

level which Nature has always refused to allow. Mingled with

these false gospels was a strain of hatred and bitterness, which

showed itself in the condemnation of Brahminical priestcraft,

the hostility to Hinduism and the ignorant breaking away from

the hallowed traditions of the past. What was true and eternal

in that past was likened to what was false or transitory, and

the nation was in danger of losing its soul by an insensate

surrender to the aberrations of European materialism. Not in

this spirit was India intended to receive the mighty opportunity

which the impact of Europe gave to her. When the danger was

greatest, a number of great spirits were sent to stem the tide

flowing in from the West and recall her to her mission; for, if

she had gone astray the world would have gone astray with


Her mission is to point back humanity to the true source

of human liberty, human equality, human brotherhood. When

man is free in spirit, all other freedom is at his command; for

the Free is the Lord who cannot be bound. When he is liberated

from delusion, he perceives the divine equality of the world

which fulfils itself through love and justice, and this perception

transfuses itself into the law of government and society. When

he has perceived this divine equality, he is brother to the whole

world, and in whatever position he is placed he serves all men as

his brothers by the law of love, by the law of justice. When this

perception becomes the basis of religion, of philosophy, of social

speculation and political aspiration, then will liberty, equality

and fraternity take their place in the structure of society and

the Satya Yuga return. This is the Asiatic reading of democracy

which India must rediscover for herself before she can give it

to the world. It is the dharma of every man to be free in soul,

bound to service not by compulsion but by love; to be equal

in spirit, apportioned his place in society by his capacity to

serve society, not by the interested selfishness of others; to be

in harmonious relations with his brother men, linked to them

by mutual love and service, not by shackles of servitude, or the

relations of the exploiter and the exploited, the eater and the

eaten. It has been said that democracy is based on the rights of

man; it has been replied that it should rather take its stand on

the duties of man; but both rights and duties are European ideas.

Dharma is the Indian conception in which rights and duties lose

the artificial antagonism created by a view of the world which

makes selfishness the root of action, and regain their deep and

eternal unity. Dharma is the basis of democracy which Asiamust

recognise, for in this lies the distinction between the soul of Asia

and the soul of Europe. Through Dharma the Asiatic evolution

fulfils itself; this is her secret.

VOLUME 6 and 7


Bandemataram P 929


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