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Modernization and Westernization

It is of interest to any social scientist and also any intelligent layman to speculate upon the
nature of contemporary society and the significant civilizational trends of the day. It is perhaps
easy to make some significant observations if we do not attempt to discover a unified vision. On
the other hand it is a much more difficult problem to form a coherent vision about human society
as a whole.
As with any summary of human civilizational trends, even this must carry the burden of gross
oversimplification and deliberate caricature. But we do it with a conscious and transparent
openness. And we do it with the purpose of illustrating long term trends in very sharp relief.
Rather than as a pursuit of some undeclared political objectives.
Over the past several centuries, Europe and European colonial ventures such as the new world,
have dominated global history. And consequently they have imposed their world view upon most
of the world, either by the force of arms and economic muscle and quite simply by the prestige
of their dominance. As the Panchatantra illustrates that even a lowly mouse gains extraordinary
abilities simply by possessing extraordinary wealth.
European dominance upon the world started around the beginning of the 16th century AD. And
this dominance continues today though it is rapidly giving way to rising Asian power. The
modern age commences roughly with the rise of global European power.
The dawn of the modern era corresponds to the European renaissance. Essentially it was the
rise of reason in contrast to faith. The age of faith / christianity / dark ages in Europe lasting
from around 400 AD to 1500 AD was one of a politically weak but organizationally coherent
Roman Catholic church attempting to impose a theocratic order over all of Europe. A residue of
the imperialist impulse of the Roman Empire after the fall of the western Roman Empire.
The dark ages in Europe were dominated by strange notions, a relapse into savagery beggaring
description. In such surprising and frightening contrast to the more cultured and advanced
societies of ancient Rome and Greece. A number of very destructive ideas persist to this day. A
small summary of some of the great struggles between faith and science illustrates some
To name these, even peripherally would be often comical, when not horrific. Ofcourse the most
momentous of these, monotheism, for which hundreds of millions, if not billions of human beings
have been butchered over two thousand years of pursuit of an intense faith in the limitless
mercy of such a god. And then there are societies that attempt free debate upon the question
of a flat earth, the blasphemies of irrational numbers and other such momentous issues. One of
the more sophisticated among such acts of faith was the Indiana Pi Bill of 1897, which
attempted to set the value of Pi by legislative fiat. . It
is perhaps unfair to speculate too much about the motives of this bill. But perhaps it would not
be too far from the truth to imagine that it had something to do with God in heaven and his

divine revelations. This was around the time when Swami Vivekananda was touring the west
with his exposition of Vedanta.
However we must not in the space of this short essay attempt to make factual assertions about
specifics but we must aim to identify some large historical trends.
We must also contrast this with the civilizational experiences in other cultures and settings.
We must consider the other civilizations of the world. The Hindus, the Turks, The Arabs, the
Chinese, the Russians and so on. In each civilization, there is a very different narrative of
history and geography. Infact each civilization must be expected to have a different view and
take on world. Not just in terms of phases of civilization but also geography as a whole. And this
view will change from time to time.
Usually when we think of Europe, we really imagine the colonial powers of western Europe.
Central and Eastern Europe do not so much figure in this imagination except for their
association with Western Europe. The world wars of the 20th century are a history of the
imperialist power struggle between the established colonial powers of Western Europe and the
soaring ambitions of newly emerging central European powers and the laggardly behemoth,
Russia. The world wars of the 20th century were infact a continuation and transformation of the
world wars of the 19th century between the great West European powers of that day.
Even the different powers of Europe have different narratives about what amounts to the history
of the modern era. The communists developed a deep theology of science, history and
economy, questioning which would be hazardous to the health of not only the questioner but
also anybody remotely friendly to such a questioner.
In the 18th century it was common for the west european to imagine the world divided into the
occident and the orient. Whereas after the end of the 2nd world war, the world is now described
in a much more nuanced if not a more merciful manner. We still largely ignore Africa, which
perhaps figures in the minds of most students of sociology as a large safari park.
Five centuries of West European colonial enterprise has strongly stamped the mark of west
European philosophy, culture, technology and attitudes all over the world. And reality itself
appears a natural subordinate to West European / American endorsement.
The middle east resists this dominance like a cornered wild beast. But apparently not in a
philosophical conflict so much as a political conflict. They would like the privilege of dominating
the world rather than deferring the privilege to another. Modern Jihadi Islam is scarcely different
from the theocratic impulses of the medieval Roman Catholic church. The modern muslims on
the other hand bear the burden of the same confusions that bedeviled the European
renaissance thinkers. They are enamored by the glitter of the modern world while continuing to
worry about the wrath of an extra terrestrial god who waits with vengeance upon doubters and
transgressors. The west hopes with some justification that a few centuries of capitalist
temptation will eventually weaken the strength of Allah's influence upon such people.

Even China with its ancient national resolve appears to have been swept off its feet by the
glittering promises of the most extreme of European philosophies. Totalitarian communism and
reckless capitalist exploitation find equal expression in today's China. Chinese society perhaps
with its ancient disinterest in the philosophical regards any philosophy including nationalism as a
mere expedient in the pursuit of imperial power.
But the millennial spiritual and cultural legacy of the Hindus stands in a transcendent contrast. It
is as if volcanoes of philosophical, political, social, economic and technological upheaval erupt
beneath our feet and yet we remain firmly upon our resolutions, convictions and objectives quite
undisturbed. Not so much in defiance as in sublime self assurance.
Therefore we must ask if in a Hindu world view, the notion of even modernization can
be relevant, let alone westernization.
Modernization we must understand is a west European phenomenon, later reluctantly and
grudgingly absorbed by central and eastern Europe. It will be useful but perhaps not practical,
within this short paper, to conduct a historical survey about this development.
The Hindu, with very powerful justification, still considers the modern world as barely evolved
savagery. Sure, the Hindu has his faults, glaring ones at that. But the Hindu world view has no
natural division between the ancient and the modern. The Hindu has evolved beyond stone age
savagery tens of thousand of years ago. It is easy to imagine and perhaps possible to recount
the story of a thousand shining centuries of the Hindus.
Whereas Europe emerged from the obscurity of the last ice age only about seven thousand
years ago. Even so much of Europe was a large, cold, dark and forbidding forest with savage
and ferocious inhabitants, that even Imperial Rome could not dare to invade. Greece and Rome
date barely to the eighth century BC. And the Germans to a date not prior to the 2nd century BC.
Modernization and Westernization
Let us form a quick working understanding about the major achievements of modernization. As
earlier observed, these will be gross oversimplifications only intended to illustrate certain facets
of the question being examined rather than an accurate representation of the complete truth.

Separating material science from the dictates of divine revelation. Hence the developing
of a magnificent edifice of material science, technology and global scale industry that
forms visually and intellectually overpowering impression upon the human mind.
Asserting of individual rights and the forming of formal theories about the modern nation
state as a means of securing these individual rights. Significant departures exist in this
regard. The communist state for instance, is in theory, not a nation state. Instead it is
ostensibly a proletarian state for all the workers of the world. The boundaries of such a
state defined by pragmatic considerations, the most significant being capitalist / feudal
neighbours whose boundaries are defended by steel.

To form a reasonably complete understanding of the phenomenon of modernization, one must

understand with sufficient clarity, the historical background to this phenomenon. It is a European
phenomenon with all its raucous confusions and conflicts between god and the material world
either in violent and bloody conflict or perhaps in a sinister blood thirsty partnership.
Modernization does not mean so much to the rest of the world except for the centuries of
genocides and humiliations that they had to suffer. The promise if not the fact of modern
human dignities to the non western world date only from the later half of the 20th century. Only in
the last couple of decades is there a widespread hope, even if unreal, of the realization of these
promises. The ancient ages by any measure were more prosperous, enlightened, peaceful and
merciful to the vast majority of the eastern world.
The east looks to industrialization or rather reindustrialization, rather than modernization. The
benefits of european modernization were infact destroyed in the east by the very process of
european modernization. For the eastern world, modernization means the recovering and
restoration of the ancient prosperity, grace and culture destroyed by European modernization.
However the phase of european colonial domination has caused a large and powerful
westernization of the cultures of the east. For the moment western cultural influence is powerful.
It appeared atleast superficially in the 19th century as if the east had lost its cultural dynamism
and may never reassert its cultural leadership or even autonomy.

However the process of eastern cultural and spiritual reassertion is well underway for the
past century or more. By far the strongest currents in this movement come from the Hindus.

For the moment even the Hindus seem to be caught up in the rush for modernization where
westernization comes by default. But ultimately the Hindu like the many ancient nations of
the east will naturally reassert his cultural and spiritual genius. Again we will not go very
much into details about how this will happen. The global dominance of the west hangs on
rather flimsy pretexts. And these flimsy pretexts are being battered, not the least, by
technological advances within the west. When these flimsy pretexts are broken down, the
edifice that holds and dominates the world into a european paradigm of modernity and
cultural dominance will rapidly collapse. The cracks in the structure are widely visible to any
interested observer.