Free will (I don’t care if I’m branded superstitious)


There is no free will. Even in the attainment of good things or bad.


Iti horaśāstre(referring here to Bṛhat Parāśara hora śāstra,Chap 2,śloka 3)-


avatārāṇyanekāni hyajasya paramātmanaḥ/jīvānāṃ karmaphalado graharūpī janārdanaḥ//

अवताराण्यनेकानि ह्यजस्य परमात्मनः|
जीवानां कर्मफलदो ग्रहरूपी जनार्दनः||

[Indeed,the unborn paramātmā has had many avatāras. Janārdana in the form of grahas(graharūpī) grants the karmaphala of living beings.]

Basically,whatever little will you have is also coloured by your past karmas. Your svābhāva which influences how you respond to whatever situations you get and the impressions your receive in your formative phases –they too are a result of your prārabdha karma. What can possibly be changed to make this better in long run is your attitude towards what you receive and how you manage with the cards you have been dealt with.


Nietzsche and the Code of Manu


Editor’s Note: The Code of Manu (circa. 200 BC – 200 AD) is the earliest known work of Hindu law. The following discussion is from section no. 57 of Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ. The translation is by H. L. Menken. The paragraph breaks have been introduced for online readability. The ellipses are Nietzsche’s.

A book of laws such as the Code of Manu has the same origin as every other good law-book: it epitomizes the experience, the sagacity and the ethical experimentation of long centuries; it brings things to a conclusion; it no longer creates.

The prerequisite to a codification of this sort is recognition of the fact that the means which establish the authority of a slowly and painfully attained truth are fundamentally different from those which one would make use of to prove it. A law-book never recites the utility, the grounds, the casuistical antecedents of a law: for if it did so it would lose the imperative tone, the “thou shall,” on which obedience is based.

The problem lies exactly here.—At a certain point in the evolution of a people, the class within it of the greatest insight, which is to say, the greatest hindsight and foresight, declares that the series of experiences determining how all shall live—or can live—has come to an end. The object now is to reap as rich and as complete a harvest as possible from the days of experiment and hard experience.

In consequence, the thing that is to be avoided above everything is further experimentation—the continuation of the state in which values are fluent, and are tested, chosen and criticized ad infinitum.

Against this a double wall is set up: on the one hand, revelation, which is the assumption that the reasons lying behind the laws are not of human origin, that they were not sought out and found by a slow process and after many errors, but that they are of divine ancestry, and came into being complete, perfect, without a history, as a free gift, a miracle . . . ; and on the other hand, tradition, which is the assumption that the law has stood unchanged from time immemorial, and that it is impious and a crime against one’s forefathers to bring it into question. The authority of the law is thus grounded on the thesis: God gave it, and the fathers lived it.

The higher motive of such procedure lies in the design to distract consciousness, step by step, from its concern with notions of right living (that is to say, those that have been proved to be right by wide and carefully considered experience), so that instinct attains to a perfect automatism—a primary necessity to every sort of mastery, to every sort of perfection in the art of life. To draw up such a law-book as Manu’s means to lay before a people the possibility of future mastery, of attainable perfection—it permits them to aspire to the highest reaches of the art of life. To that end the thing must be made unconscious: that is the aim of every holy lie.

The order of castes, the highest, the dominating law, is merely the ratification of an order of nature, of a natural law of the first rank, over which no arbitrary fiat, no “modern idea,” can exert any influence. In every healthy society there are three physiological types, gravitating toward differentiation but mutually conditioning one another, and each of these has its own hygiene, its own sphere of work, its own special mastery and feeling of perfection.

It is not Manu but nature that sets off in one class those who are chiefly intellectual, in another those who are marked by muscular strength and temperament, and in a third those who are distinguished in neither one way or the other, but show only mediocrity—the last-named represents the great majority, and the first two the select.

The superior caste—I call it the fewest—has, as the most perfect, the privileges of the few: it stands for happiness, for beauty, for everything good upon earth. Only the most intellectual of men have any right to beauty, to the beautiful; only in them can goodness escape being weakness. Pulchrum est paucorum hominum [few men are noble]: goodness is a privilege.

Nothing could be more unbecoming to them than uncouth manners or a pessimistic look, or an eye that sees ugliness—or indignation against the general aspect of things. Indignation is the privilege of the Chandala; so is pessimism. “The world is perfect”—so prompts the instinct of the intellectual, the instinct of the man who says yes to life. “Imperfection, whatever is inferior to us, distance, the pathos of distance, even the Chandala themselves are parts of this perfection.”

The most intelligent men, like the strongest, find their happiness where others would find only disaster: in the labyrinth, in being hard with themselves and with others, in effort; their delight is in self-mastery; in them asceticism becomes second nature, a necessity, an instinct.

They regard a difficult task as a privilege; it is to them a recreation to play with burdens that would crush all others . . . . Knowledge—a form of asceticism.—They are the most honorable kind of men: but that does not prevent them being the most cheerful and most amiable. They rule, not because they want to, but because they are; they are not at liberty to play second.

The second caste: to this belong the guardians of the law, the keepers of order and security, the more noble warriors, above all, the king as the highest form of warrior, judge and preserver of the law. The second in rank constitute the executive arm of the intellectuals, the next to them in rank, taking from them all that is rough in the business of ruling—their followers, their right hand, their most apt disciples.

In all this, I repeat, there is nothing arbitrary, nothing “made up”; whatever is to the contrary is made up—by it nature is brought to shame. . . . The order of castes, the order of rank, simply formulates the supreme law of life itself; the separation of the three types is necessary to the maintenance of society, and to the evolution of higher types, and the highest types—the inequality of rights is essential to the existence of any rights at all.

A right is a privilege. Every one enjoys the privileges that accord with his state of existence. Let us not underestimate the privileges of the mediocre. Life is always harder as one mounts the heights—the cold increases, responsibility increases. A high civilization is a pyramid: it can stand only on a broad base; its primary prerequisite is a strong and soundly consolidated mediocrity.

The handicrafts, commerce, agriculture, science, the greater part of art, in brief, the whole range of occupational activities, are compatible only with mediocre ability and aspiration; such callings would be out of place for exceptional men; the instincts which belong to them stand as much opposed to aristocracy as to anarchism.

The fact that a man is publicly useful, that he is a wheel, a function, is evidence of a natural predisposition; it is not society, but the only sort of happiness that the majority are capable of, that makes them intelligent machines. To the mediocre mediocrity is a form of happiness; they have a natural instinct for mastering one thing, for specialization.

It would be altogether unworthy of a profound intellect to see anything objectionable in mediocrity in itself. It is, in fact, the first prerequisite to the appearance of the exceptional: it is a necessary condition to a high degree of civilization. When the exceptional man handles the mediocre man with more delicate fingers than he applies to himself or to his equals, this is not merely kindness of heart—it is simply his duty . . . .

Whom do I hate most heartily among the rabbles of today? The rabble of Socialists, the apostles to the Chandala, who undermine the workingman’s instincts, his pleasure, his feeling of contentment with his petty existence—who make him envious and teach him revenge . . . . Wrong never lies in unequal rights; it lies in the assertion of “equal” rights . . . . What is bad? But I have already answered: all that proceeds from weakness, from envy, from revenge.

Women in Vedanta


How Marxism Undermined Science


Can a theology rest on the hand movements of a chimpanzee?

Not only did a theology that mercilessly ruled almost half the world population for more than fifty years rest on the way the hands of a chimpanzee move, but it also effectively inhibited the way we understand human evolution and human nature for more than a century.

It all started with Friedrich Engels. In his 1876 written essay ‘The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man‘, the founding father of Marxist dialectics declared how labour had shaped and fine-tuned human hand. This according to him made our branch of apes uniquely human.

Engels in 1893 (Credits: Wikimedia Commons)
Engels in 1893 (Credits: Wikimedia Commons)

Soon this became central to Marxist theology. One can note that the evolution envisioned here is based on the notion of the inheritance of acquired characters. This mechanism first proposed by French Zoologist Lamarck had been a favored and dominant view of evolution. It is also a mechanism that is favoured by racists and adherents to birth based caste system. For example in India, a very venerable Sankaracharya of recent times had claimed that the Brahmin voices have become naturally tuned to Vedic chanting through generations of recitations!

In other words, according to the theory of Lamarck, the environment in which one lives directly has an impact on the genes you pass on to the next generation. This notion of inheritance is called Lamarckian and it is easy to see why this may still appeal to people who favor caste and race.

Engels himself believed in racial superiority or rather the evolutionary advancement of European race over the others and hence his embracing of Lamarckian mechanism is not exactly a puzzle.


To be fair to Engels, he could only use Lamarckian framework to explain ‘labour’ and ‘hands’. The alternative and the correct view of inheritance, the Mendelian, though published by the Austrian abbot in 1865 went unnoticed even by the scientific community. It would have to wait until the 20th century to get synthesized with Darwinian evolution to become what we call today ‘Neo-Darwinism’.

It was only in 1892, more than a decade after Engels wrote his tract, that German biologist August Weismann had completely ruled out the possibility of Lamarckian mechanism when he distinguished between the somatic cells that face the influence of the environment in which the organism lives and the germ cells that actually transmit the genetic information to the next generation.

So, if in his times Engels were to establish that labour was the actual factor that ‘produced’ the hand, the inheritance had to be Lamarckian.

Thus over the course of years Engels’ flawed view became the dominant one in Marxist anthropology. In Indian Left circles this was treated like a revealed truth. For every organ considered uniquely human, Engels provided similar evolutionary explanation within the Lamarckian framework. Thus, he explained, the organ of speech –as the language is uniquely human- also developed because of social conditions creating the need and the organ becoming more and more perfect over the generations. In the same essay Engels would point out:

Necessity created the organ; the undeveloped larynx of the ape was slowly but surely transformed by modulation to produce constantly more developed modulation, and the organs of the mouth gradually learned to pronounce one articulate sound after another. (Engels, 1876:1895)

First labour, after it and then with it speech’ Engels had pronounced.

In Soviet anthropology these were revealed truths, basic axioms that could not be questioned. Even in certain quarters of the Western anthropological circles, the idea that human uniqueness comes from tool making gained credence. Socialist author Daniel Gaido in his 1970 article wrote:

The central source of this uniqueness has been pinpointed by the Marxists. It is the capacity of humans to engage in labor activities and produce the necessities of life. No animal species does that. This “labor theory” of human origins was first set forth by Engels in his essay “The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man.” Today such leading authorities in archaeology and anthropology as Sherwood Washburn, William Howells, Kenneth Oakley, V. Gordon Childe, and others use tool-making as the criterion that distinguishes humans from animals. (Daniel Gaido, Is Biology Woman’s Destiny?, International Socialist Review, December 1971, Vol. 32, No. 11, pp. 7-11, 35-39;)

Yet there were two fundamental problems in this scenario. One is that tool making has been found to be not at all limited to human species. As anthropologist Paul Bohannan pointed out, ‘before Jane Goodall discovered chimpanzees making tools, culture was usually said to be the prerogative of human beings. But now either we had to stop defining culture by mere tool use or else we had to extend the idea of culture.’ (‘How Culture Works?’, 1995, p.9)

Marxist response to this discovery of Chimp tool making has been an extraordinary exercise in negation. As late as 2004 in the introduction to a reprint of Engels’s ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State‘, Pat Brewer, a prominent Marxist author not only dismissed the evidence of widespread Chimpanzee tool making as ‘sporadic and a sideline in gaining sustenance’ but emphasized that ‘tool-making and tool use by humans’ as a ‘species-specific’. (Resistance Books, 2004, p.13)

Again, the Marxist response to the scientific dismissal of Lamarckian theory has occupied the broad spectrum of inventing officially sanctioned neo-Lamarckian pseudo-sciences (courtesy Lysenko) to cling on to the lines of Engels like they are unalterable gospel truth. Thus, Pat Brewer claims in his 2004 introduction that the increased ability in tool use and tool making led ‘to further changes in the structure of the hand’ and thus asserts the declaration of Engels that hand ‘not only became the “organ of labour” but also the “product of labour”.

Evolutionists sympathetic to the Marxist worldview, like Stephen Jay Gould, had considered the reasoning and synthesis of Engels as brilliant insight despite its cardinal Lamarckian deficiency. Jay Gould even goes to the extent of saying that Engels explanation was so far ‘the best 19th century case for gene-culture co-evolution’. Though Engels did make a brilliant correlation, he was wrong both in terms of direction (‘first labour’) as well as the process (Lamarckian).

Here is anthropologist Tim Ingold explaining the fallacy and the damage it has done to the understanding of human evolution:

The trouble with such statements lie in their fostering of the impression that tool use and manufacture generate anatomical modification in just the same way that brain and hand combine in generation of tools. Nothing could be further from the truth. (The Appropriation of Nature: Essays on Human Ecology and Social Relations, University of Iowa Press, 1987, pp.64-5 : emphasis not in the original)

In any case modern research shows that the hand does have a significant role in the manifestation of speech. More than the tool making, it is the social cognitive developments in human species which have been associated with the hands. The discovery comes from an unexpected quarters.

Roger Fouts, a psychologist, who explored human-chimp communication for decades, discovered that ‘they can use abstract symbols and metaphors, have a mental grasp of classifications and understand simple grammar. They are also able to use syntax, i.e. to combine symbols in an order that conveys meaning, and they creatively combine signs in new ways to invent new words.’ (Capra, Hidden Connections, 2002, p.58).

The discovery led him to a work by an anthropologist in 1970s which was given scant attention: Gordon Hewes had proposed that the origin of human language might have its roots in more and more sophisticated hand movements – gestures. So the problem for Fouts was to find out the process by which human speech evolved out of hand gestures. This problem was later solved by the work of a neurologist Doreen Kimura. She discovered that both human speech and hand movements were probably rooted in the same motor region of the brain. Physicist turned deep-ecologist and author Fritjof Capra explains:

The realization enabled Fouts to formulate his basic theory of the evolutionary origin of spoken language. Our hominid ancestors must have communicated with their hands, just as their ape cousins did. Once they began to walk upright, their hands were free to develop more elaborate and refined gestures.

Over time, their gestural grammar would have become more and more complex, as the gestures themselves evolved from gross to more precise movements. Eventually, the precise movements of their hands would have triggered precise movements of their tongues, and thus the evolution of gesture produced two important dividends: the ability to make and use more complex tools, and the ability to produce sophisticated vocal sounds. (Capra, 2002, p.59)

Engels had stated ‘First labour, after it and then with it speech’. Now we have to reverse the statement and may have to say ‘First gestures, after it and then with it speech’.

And by the way, a team of scientists from George Washington University have discovered that chimpanzees have more ‘evolved’ hands than ours. (Journal reference: Sergio Almécija et al, The evolution of human and ape hand proportions, Nature Communications 6, Article number: 7717, 14-July-2015).

The human and chimp branches had split from the last common ancestor (LCA) almost 7 million years ago. Studies have shown that human hands, in some crucial aspects, resemble the hands of our last common ancestor more than the hands of the chimpanzees! Wonder if the Left would attribute ‘labour’ as the reason for this too!


Fate of Empires


The Fate of Empires

Frannie,” he said, and turned her around so he could look into her eyes.

“What, Stuart?”

“Do you think… do you think people ever learn anything?”

She opened her mouth to speak, hesitated, fell silent. The kerosene lamp flickered.

Her eyes seemed very blue.

“I don’t know,” she said at last. She seemed unpleased with her answer; she struggled to say something more; to illuminate her first response; and could only say it again:

I don’t know.

~~Stephen King, The Stand (uncut version, 1990)

We know the old saw: the one thing we learn from history is that no one ever learns anything from history. If true, this would be unfortunate, because history offers gold mines of learning opportunities for those willing to study it.

Most people probably haven’t heard of Sir John Bagot Glubb (1897 – 1986). He was a British soldier who rose in the ranks until he was able to create and, as General, command the Arab Legion military force in Jordan from 1939 to 1956 (it was Transjordan until 1949). He had largely assimilated into Arab culture where he was known as Glubb Pasha. His fortunes dropped along with those of his native Great Britain in 1956. Back home and knighted that year, and with two books about Arab history and culture already behind him, he turned to full-time historical research and writing, producing several more volumes on the Arab world, a world he’d found extremely interesting—and which he’d passionately cared about. He’d noticed some curious parallels between past phases of the Arab world and present phases of his native Great Britain. More study of other cultures and their trajectories led him towards original work on the nature of civilization—in particular, observing the rise and decline of empires. Among these was a Spenglerian essay, “The Fate of Empires” (1976).

It is this essay we are concerned with here. It provides very good reasons for thinking the fate of Anglo-European civilization, including the U.S., is already decided.

Glubb analysed 11 empires (he does not include either the Soviet Union or the U.S. on this list, neither of which had run its course*). These include: Assyria (859 – 612 B.C.), Persia (ancient Iran, 538 – 330 B.C.), Alexander the Great’s Macedonia (331 – 100 B.C.), the Roman Republic (260 – 27 B.C.), the Roman Empire (27 B.C. – 180 A.D.), the Arab Empire (634 – 880, the rise of Islam), the Mameluke Empire (1250 – 1517), the Ottoman Empire (1320 – 1570), Spain (1500 – 1750), Romanov Russia (1682 – 1916), and the British Empire (1700 – 1950). He notes that despite vast differences in size and level of technology, empires have one thing in common: they tend to last from 200 to 267 years. He explains this noting that they all span around ten generations, from a fairly sudden inception to final decadence. Thus—as Spengler, Quigley, and others have observed—we can speak of the life cycle of an empire just as we can a person.

According to Glubb, empires go through fairly specific (often overlapping) stages:

(1) An Age of Pioneers.
(2) An Age of Conquest.
(3) An Age of Commerce.
(4) An Age of Affluence.
(5) An Age of Intellect.
(6) An Age of Decadence.

An Age of Pioneers is characterized by a relatively sudden breakout, during which an obscure and perhaps unpromising looking people dramatically achieve independence and begin autonomous development, sometimes at the hands of a single charismatic leader. Those who follow in the leader’s wake display tremendous energy and courage, often building from very few resources. Sometimes the incipient empire will fill a vacuum being left by the ongoing collapse of a predecessor, as King Philip’s Macedon did Persia. Other Pioneers may have just won a war for independence, as did Spain following Arab domination at the end of the 15th century or the U.S. Founding Fathers did against the British in the 1770s. Glubb offers several more examples.

An Age of Conquest builds the empire into a force to be reckoned in its region, as Alexander the Great did with the Macedon he inherited from his father Philip, or which the U.S. did during the 1800s. Energy and great courage continue. During this period the new civilization expands mightily, developing its identity, organization, and discipline. It commands the unquestioned and enthusiastic loyalty of its people. This is not to say it won’t suffer major bumps in the road as Great Britain did in wars with France, and we did with our unresolved issues surrounding slavery. Overall, however, heaven help lesser peoples who are in the way of the expansion. Ask Native Americans whose indigenous societies were overrun by U.S. expansion and who were pushed unceremoniously out of the way when they weren’t simply killed.

An Age of Commerce begins within central regions of a now-tamed political unit. Land has been homesteaded; resources are developed; trade routes are laid down; patterns of exchange emerge spontaneously. By this time there is a single language, administration, and culture spanning a wide geographical area, enabling commerce to grow in an environment of relative stability. This occurred throughout Alexander’s empire; it occurred again during Imperial Rome; it occurred yet again during the golden age of Arabia; yet again in Spain and in Great Britain. The U.S. arguably entered its golden Age of Commerce following the War Between the States with the rise of industrialists such as John D. Rockefeller in oil, Andrew Carnegie in steel, Cornelius Vanderbilt in railroads, and so on.

Arguably, Glubb observes, it is during an Age of Commerce that the first signs of trouble appear for any who happen to be looking. For the first time, a few children of the Pioneers are able to make large sums of money. They begin to like it. Their allegiance—or that of their children—shifts from the good of the nation to money, and their goals from furthering its best interests to their own interests. Ideally, as Adam Smith would have it, these are one and the same if his “invisible hand” is operating; but a closer reading of his Wealth of Nations reveals that he wasn’t a friend to business and believed it needed to operate within a larger regulatory structure to prevent the wealthy from conspiring against the public interest. (Typically, this aspect of his work goes unnoticed.)

As the standard of living rises, an Age of Commerce gives rise to an Age of Affluence; for a time, a rising tide really does lift most of the boats (except for those of previously subjugated peoples such as, in the U.S., former slaves and Native Americans on reservations). Those at the core of the commercial classes, as Glubb called them, grow immensely rich, as did Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and other “captains of industry.” They can create and endow universities, or establish tax-exempt foundations in which to sink their wealth to protect it from the tax man. Thus does wealth begin to be used for a variety of extra-market purposes which may or may not further the best interests of the nation.

Ages of Commerce and Affluence obviously overlap. As Glubb describes matters, empires which reach this state of affairs are at their High Noon moment of confidence: Augustus in Rome, Sulaiman the Magnificent in the Ottoman Empire, Queen Victoria in Great Britain, the early twentieth century in a U.S. eager to “make the world safe for democracy.” We should note Glubb’s description of this moment: “The immense wealth accumulated in the nation dazzles the onlookers. Enough of the ancient virtues of courage, energy and patriotism survive to enable the state successfully to defend its frontiers. But, beneath the surface, greed for money is gradually replacing duty and public service.”

Stated in terms of basic worldviews—this is the period during which materialism replaced Christianity as the guiding public ethos in the U.S., and public education was hijacked.

As universities are endowed and media begin to grow, an Age of Affluence gives rise to an Age of Intellect. Intellectuals thrive because most citizens’ basic needs are now satisfied, and within a leisured middle class, they have time to think and speak and write. The U.S., with its growing technological edge, saw a proliferation of books and magazines, and eventually the emergence of radio and television. Some of the wealthy became patrons of the arts: museums were built and flourished; symphonies were sponsored. With ample funds available for the pursuit of knowledge, universities developed curricula; scientific research was excitedly pursued in every area and became increasingly exacting; the number of advanced degrees skyrocketed.

It’s happened before. Both Egyptians and Arabs measured the Earth’s circumference with surprising accuracy. The ideas of Aristotle and Ptolemy flourish in the post-Alexandrian world, and were used to develop sophisticated means of navigating around the globe. Glubb observes that the Arab empire had its Age of Intellect, during the reign of the Seljuk sultan Malik Shah who oversaw the creation of what we would today call universities.

“It is remarkable,” writes Glubb, “with what regularity this phase follows on that of wealth, in empire after empire, divided by many centuries.”
Gradually, among those so endowed, the desire for wealth is replaced by a desire for honors, whether scientific and academic, or artistic and literary.

But as an Age of Intellect progresses, its weaknesses become apparent. Egyptian and Arab knowledge disappeared. Unfortunately, few members of the intellectual class can support themselves through productive activity. Most end up working under the thumb of those supporting universities: government and corporations. Those with the purse strings typically have agendas of their own. The search for truth is replaced by a search for what will be subsidized, and few are willing to bite the hand that is feeding them. Overall, therefore, an intellectual culture enters a period of unease and self-doubt. This is eventually noticed and commented on. It is part of how “postmodernism” came about in the West.

We’ve often made the assumption that rational “proofs” can be given for everything, be it God’s existence or how the universe began naturalistically. The rationalist intellectual has no patience with genuine mystery. But neither science nor philosophy can answer every question we can ask. There is no “philosopher’s stone” or even a single “scientific method” guaranteed to supply truth by following a pre-set book of rules. The assumption persists, however.

Thus when intellectuals are able to talk and write, they do so interminably. Even the most intelligent people are “wired” differently; some, for whatever reason, hold unshakably to the necessity of belief in a God or Supreme Creator as a condition for a moral view of the universe. Others see this as just a deception of a powerful priestly caste and resist its authority, becoming atheists even if this means embracing the idea that as moral agents we are on our own. Intellectuals thus divide into camps and argue with one another, resulting in endless debate and a confused public.

In U.S. universities, moreover, disputes among academics were increasingly over minutia as the 20th century progressed: inevitably channeled into and confined within a safety zone not threatening to those signing their paychecks or endowing or accrediting their institutions. Thus a lot of important problems are verboten. Among Athenians, assemblies were filled with talk and more talk; nothing was accomplished; finally they were conquered. American academics (with rare exceptions) resist talking about how leviathan banks actually operate, and how the Anglo-European world has become a corporatist plutocracy. Some will publish rants against “capitalism” because this is relatively safe. Most professional intellectuals resist the idea that the U.S. federal government is capable of, e.g., an Operation Northwoods despite the documentary evidence; or detailed reasons for rejecting the official 9/11 narrative including its physical impossibility. Arguably the U.S. empire has fallen under domination by a plutocracy centered in investment banks with no loyalty to truth, none to liberty, none to morality, and none to the good of the common people.

Thus intellectuals have fallen into endless pointless quarrels over trivia, doubt about their own capacities to reach humanly important truth, and sometimes self-deception over whose interests they are serving. Many of their dominant ideas actually weaken the nation: an arrogant and cynical irreligiosity, increasing cultural and moral relativism, doubts about their nation’s own founding principles, and a cosmopolitanism allowing them to see themselves as “citizens of the world.” This last leads to calls for open borders for immigrants under the absurd notion that “all cultures are equal.” The wealthy, equally cynical, don’t care about “multiculturalism”; to them, immigrants are cheap labor. To the political class, they are potential votes. Rudderless, the ship of empire drifts from its Age of Intellect into its Age of Decadence.

An Age of Decadence is characterized by many or all of the following: growing pessimism and withdrawal into one’s own private affairs; increased frivolity among masses whose heroes are no longer statesmen or even captains of industry but athletes and celebrities who contribute little or nothing to the actual public good (think of the Roman Empire’s gladiatorial contests; then, think of our Super Bowl). One sees a deepening materialism and pursuit of things, as mindless as it is frantic (think of Black Friday!). One sees, finally, a gradual across-the-board lowering of moral standards and a growing obsession with sex.

Via the relativism of its intellectuals and the cynicism of its political-corporate class, an Age of Decadence sees an influx of foreigners who settle in and around cities. They refuse to assimilate. The cleverer of them can employ relativists’ own arguments against any such need, or even a need to learn the dominant language. We currently see this in all the advanced nations of the Anglo-European world. An Age of Decadence sees a desire by more and more to live at the expense of an increasingly bloated and bureaucratic welfare state. It sees irrational foreign expansionism and an overextended military (the Roman Empire overextended its borders; the U.S. starts a pointless war in Iraq, and its present “leaders” currently threaten Russia). An Age of Decadence witnesses conspicuous and cynical displays of wealth amidst massive and rising disparities between rich and poor. It suffers from endless dishonest rationalizing as its chatterers struggle to hide the fundamental brokenness of its systems.

The only thing Glubb’s analysis misses—probably because he was writing in the 1970s when the problem in the West was still relatively mild—is the systemic debasement of the currency apt to take place under empires as they near the end. Rome destroyed the value of its currency. The U.S. turned investment banks loose. Arguably we set ourselves on course for the present wage gap through nothing more than the severing of all remaining ties between the dollar and gold that took place on August 15, 1971, and began to pursue prosperity not through production but financialization, an ultimately unsustainable process supported by a bought-and-paid-for economics establishment. One could, of course, look to December 23, 1913 as an earlier pivotal date: the creation of the Federal Reserve System, another entity of which few professional intellectuals are willing to speak. During the hundred years this system has been in place, the dollar has lost 98% of its purchasing power. Much of this loss has occurred since 1971.

The fall of empires is diverse, as Glubb notes. Some are dismembered by conquest (as was the late Alexander’s empire) or decline following major military losses (as did Spain, which also lost its colonies). Some divide into sections which continue for a while, as did Rome. All, however, fall from within prior to such events. With this in mind, we can ponder the fate of the U.S., its universities hopelessly corrupted, its major media corporatized and controlled, its political class having convinced itself that the money well available for federal spending is bottomless. Its leading “conservatives” have become a controlled loyal opposition with no idea what they want to conserve. There is a general shunning of ideas derided as “conspiracy theories.” These often come down to anything questioning an official government story, although no one with functioning brain cells really believes wealthy and powerful people have never gotten together and conspired against the public interest.

I believe we nevertheless have a responsibility to do our best. Perhaps we can increase whatever small hope exists that our descendents will do better than we did. That they will have learned from our mistakes. Whatever our doubts that anyone ever really learns anything from history.The point is, if Glubb is right and this trajectory of “the fate of empires” is irreversible, then Patriots who are “trying to take back the republic” or however they describe it are—sadly!—on fools’ missions. Even those of us who write about freedom and liberty have to face the possibility—nay, likelihood—that we are working out a potential foundation of ideas for a people yet unborn, those who will build a civilization able to rise from the ashes of a fallen U.S. following the crisis of legitimacy its central government will doubtless face in the near future, however it comes about.

* Some might point to the Soviet Union as a counter-example to Glubb’s analysis. The Soviets, however, driven by the hostility towards free enterprise built into their interpretation of classical Marxism, never allowed an Age of Commerce to develop. Hence they thwarted the normal lifecycle of an empire and caused it to go into a tailspin much more quickly than it otherwise would have. For part two click below.


Secularism as a Colonial Project


Two years ago, on one fine afternoon, I happened to run into a congregation by Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, an Islamic organization, at Kolkata. The volunteers were dressed in a distinctly Muslim attire with the skullcap as their headgear. The temporary bookstall at the congregation offered a few booklets on the precepts of Islam—nothing unexpected. The demands of the assembly were familiar and again expected, which were generally geared towards supporting the Islamic way of life. Oh, I have not deliberately mentioned their principal cause which was prominently printed in the chest-badges of the participants: The demand for more…hold your breath…Secularism!


Ironies are not exactly rare in India but this one takes the cake, isn’t it?  Typically, any discussion on an irony of secularism will end up with the discussants pinning down the responsibility on the poor ethical standards of the Indian politicians. Jakob De Roover tells us through his book why, at least in this case, our politicians are not as blameworthy as we tend to believe. Much more culpable are our scholars and jurists who have used this word in our constitution without comprehending its full implication.


The author motivates the readers through glaring inconsistencies in judicial interpretations of secularism in Europe—albeit the ironies are less stark than what I have described above—and start an exploration towards genesis of the word, Secular. It is a word that is universally characterized by a negation of the ideas that are religious.  Therefore, to understand the word secular, we must have a definite understanding of the word religion.

What precisely is denoted by the word, religion?

The failure of the western scholars is colossal, De Roover illustrates, in defining religion. Their understanding of religion, as has been shown on a case by case basis, is limited to characterizing Christianity and simply assuming that such characteristics would be sufficient for any other phenomena they refer to as a “religion”, such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, the Chinese and Japanese “religions”. A part of this failure can be traced to being convinced of the superiority of the present Western culture and belief in a linear history that assumes that all cultures go through the exact same trajectory, and the present age technological superiority of the West connotes to its culture or religion being more advanced than the others. Therefore, Christianity “has to be” the most advanced religion and other religions are its primitive version.


The mode of defining Christianity is wholesome inadequate to define Hinduism—the Indian Constitution is a living testament to this fact. A Hindu, as per the Indian Constitution, is not defined in any affirmative way. Rather, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 defines a Hindu as:


(a) any person who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms and developments, including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj,

(b) any person who is a Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion, and

(c) any other person domiciled in the territories to which this Act extends who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion


The negationist principal of clause (c)—which incidentally defines the vast majority of the Hindus— demonstrates the problem of categorizing Hinduism as a religion, particularly when we bear in mind that no such problem comes up in defining a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew, the adherents of the Abrahamic religions.


De Roover correctly points out that the conceptual rigidity inherent to the terms Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism or Jainism makes sense only to a Western audience; these terms have no relevance from the point of view of the actual Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhists. No one knows where Hinduism ends and Buddhism begins. Almost all Hindus offer their respect to the Buddha as the ninth Avatar (the most respectable human being) without calling themselves Buddhists. One can easily find Buddhist scriptures that, as Subhash Kak notes, have many more verses on Hindu deities like Shiva and Vishnu than on Buddha.


Such a porous borderline between Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism or Jainism may not be very surprising to most Indians or for that matter to inheritors of the most Asian cultures; an average Japanese may identify himself/ herself with two different “religions”, Shintoism and Buddhism, at the same time, without any trouble. However, when S. N. Balagangadhara, the author’s illustrious mentor, presented his hypothesis to formally recognize this phenomenon, it appeared to be not so incontrovertible to the Western scholars. Balu—as Balagangadhara is popularly known—challenged the presupposed Western Academic notion that all cultures have religion.


The concept of religion, Balu argues, lies in theorizing. European cultures believe in theory; Indian and other ancient Asian cultures believe in “empiricism”. For example, Christianity theorizes itself into a monotheistic religion; on the contrary, nobody knows whether Hinduism is a monotheistic or polytheistic religion on account of lack of theorizing and focus on empiricism. No Japanese feels any contradiction in simultaneously being a Shinto and a Buddhist, but the European scholar finds it peculiar going by his textbook theory. The only religions, as per Balu’s definition, that exist are the Abrahamic ones. The other isms that are popularly known as religion—for example, Hinduism or Shintoism—are not exactly religions, much like the whale is not a type of fish but a mammal living in water.


Balu posits that European cultures are religious whereas Indian cultures are essentially non-religious: a proposition that diametrically violates our mainstream narrative. What about Western secular cultures? Can they ever be called religious? And, this is exactly the essence of De Roover’s core hypothesis. De Roover deconstructs Secularism and demonstrates convincingly that Secularism is—idea wise—akin to Christianity. The genesis of the idea of Secularism is rooted in the Bible in the words of Jesus: Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:21). The idea of demarcation of God’s affairs and Government affairs, of separation of the public sphere and the private sphere, all started with Jesus Christ himself and ended up as Secularism.


De Roover further explains: ideas do come from recurrent patterns in a tradition of thought, called “Tropes”, to a social sphere. An idea that takes shape as the popular narrative when the social ground is fertile for the particular idea is called “Topoi”. De Roover’s book traces the topoi of liberal secularism—such as the idea of separation between the public secular sphere and private sphere concerning religion, the idea of toleration, the idea of government being completely separate from the religious leadership—from the tropes of Protestant Christianity. The leading thinkers of secular liberalism simply presented the conclusions derived from Christian theology without explicitly justifying them using Christian theological terminology. The society accepted such a line of thinking on account of their deep-rooted support in the mainstream social narrative dominated by protestant Christianity. Therefore, liberal secularism is not even a break (forget about any radical departure) from the Christian tradition but part of the continuity of that very tradition.


De Roover’s book engenders quite a few iconoclastic positions. Take, for example, John Locke, the proponent of classical liberalism. Contrary to popular perception of Locke’s political thought being divorced from religious ideas, it is found to be “Christian to the core”. Nehru and Ambedkar, two prominent makers of modern India, are credited with espousing two causes of modernity in India, treating India’s lack of “scientific temperament” and undertaking the project of “Annihilation of Caste”, respectively. It turns out that both of these ideas are colonial projects. Christian missionaries rued the lack of scientific reasoning in India for Indian’s general unwillingness to embrace a rational religion (Christianity). Similarly, “Annihilation of Caste” is a colonial project in which the European social model is deemed ideal and the ‘other’ society is, naturally, found to be deficient for its lack of fit with the European model. The deficiency can be removed by means of an annihilation of the social system of the colonized people.


The implications of De Roover’s study are of enormous importance. First and foremost, though Secularism is hailed as the universal plan for pluralistic society, it is shown to be considerably untrue. As a matter of fact, European societies historically faced much more religious conflicts compared to other societies like India, Japan or the Mongol empire, even though the former societies were, religious diversity wise, much more homogeneous. The European nations discovered the road to pluralistic society through secularism which is a continuation of their own Christian culture.


So far, so good. There is, however, absolutely no reason that secularization for other societies will actually be beneficial for them. When Ayaan Hirsi Ali talked about reformation and secularization of Islamic society, she assumed the universal nature of the Secularism principle. Since Secularism is not a universal theme but grew out of European Christian culture, forcing secularism against the cultural matrix of the Islamic nations will not be successful and will provide no lasting solution to radical Islamism. Shah of Persia, Najib of Afghanistan or even Kemal Atatürk of Turkey are glaring examples of failure when a leader attempted to bring modernity to his society by ushering upon secularism in the same society.

Secularism is tantamount to all good things like progress, peace and harmony in the mainstream Indian narrative. The colonized Indian minds typically think that Secularism is the only path to ensure pluralism with Nehru as the Prophet of Secularism who revealed this ‘ism’ to Indians. However, none exactly seems to know how secularism would ensure peace and harmony in India. In Europe, different Christians denomination were vying for being the One True Religion, and secularism meant State’s non-patronage to any one of them to create a level field that was central to peace in society. Protestant Christianity is mostly about faith and has little to do with rituals; possibly that is how the idea of secularism worked there.


The context is radically different In India: here riots are not uncommon and the Hindus may participate in the violence (for example the post-Godhra riot in 2002); nevertheless no Hindu takes part in violence on account of anointing Hinduism as the One True Religion. Then, what is the relevance of divorce of the public sphere and private sphere in the Indian context? And, how exactly does Secularism plan to reduce the recurrent problem of riots in India? This is a question that academicians never attempt to answer.


The only way secularism can ensure more peace for India—as per standard understanding of the secularists—is that if Hindus become less religious, the basis of religious conflict may vanish. Even if (which is incidentally a big IF) this is a viable proposition, the idea is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Here is a real example: During 1999-2000, the question of the appropriateness of Saraswati—the goddess of learning and knowledge—Puja in public schools was raised in West Bengal. Secularism definitely means no “religion” in public sphere and no public school, therefore, should allow Saraswati Puja. But banning Saraswati Puja from the schools is deliberate destruction of culture when most of the Bengali children start their student-hood through rituals associated with Saraswati puja. From this sense, foisting upon secularism in India means imposing European protestant Christian tradition on Indian minds and total denudation of Indian tradition.


Why should India look forward to the same failed Secular model for social harmony? Why should India look forward to Uniform Civil Code for building a more progressive nation? Progress, now, demands a deep study of the Indian and other Asian models for a stable plural social system with decolonised social narrative. It is perhaps time to end the obsession with European models and attempt to build our own indigenous understanding. As an instance, Rajiv Malhotra has offered the example of Indian “Jati” system in his book Being Different, which used to ensure divergent laws across communities in India. In spite of non-existence of any artificial separation of the public sphere and private sphere, this system helped India maintain cultural diversity and pluralism for thousands of years. Instead of debating true secularism, wrong secularism, or pseudo-secularism, we should talk about modes of ascertaining pluralism in society that are beyond secularism.



Europe, India, and the Limits of Secularism (Religion and Democracy), Jakob De Roover, 296 Pages, Oxford University Press (14 September 2015).

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