26th April 2011
Reviling Macaulay is India’s favourite pastime now, it would appear
I have no heros. I analyse, never worship. Only If I personally confirm the existence of God, and identify his whereabouts (if any) can I consider worshipping something or "someone". But that has not yet happened.
And so let me make note (again!) that Macaulay is NOT my hero, NOR anyone else.
In the meanwhile I'm tired to death of the fanatic nonsense being spewed in India about Macaulay, particularly by those who have neither read history nor economics nor political thought, but who, on the basis of flimsy extrapolations, presume to not only know about Macaulay but what he stood for, and the circumstances of his existence.
But as Macaulay himself noted:
"It will be no gross injustice to our grandchildren to talk of us with contempt because they have surpassed us. . . As we have our descendants to judge us, so ought we to judge our fathers. In order to form a correct estimate of their merits, we ought to place ourselves in their situation, to put out of our minds, for a time, all that knowledge which they, how ever eager in the pursuit of truth, could not have, and which we, however negligent we may have been, could not help having. … But it is too much that the benefactors of man kind, after having been reviled by the dunces of their own generation for going too far, should be reviled by the dunces of the next generation for not going far enough."
If only I could be spared the dunces of these future generations.
A Whig politician, maneuvering through the complexities of the politics of his age, smitten by the natural weaknesses of his era, Macaulay is important (although not particularly so) because he nudged both England and India in the direction of better institutions and better principles of governance. But instead of understanding the full picture, he is now attributed with having caused "genocides" and things far greater than his contributions (even in the positive direction) can possibly warrant. He surely held prejudices typical of his age and era, but somehow, in his mouth, they appear to today's dunces to have been the fountainhead of all such prejudice. Those, for instance, who have a feeble understanding of the great battles of England between the Catholics and Protestants simply can't understand him.
Macaulay is undoubtedly one of the world's top 100 classical liberals (if such a list should be made), but nowhere in the league of John Locke, Edmund Burke, David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, or J.S. Mill – or many others. And in the sphere of economic thinking he pales in front of virtually anyone of his era.
But his influence has been important in nudging the world towards greater liberty. His oratory and literary skills were extremely high, and in this manner he was an important player in his times. His influence was particularly long-lasting through his description of the evolution of England's constitutional history.
In his ambitious History of England he wrote a profound "tract for the times", reminding those who were all for immediate precipitate violence how England had, since its "glorious Revolution" of 1688, progressed to prosperity by timely appeasements through the conditions of patience, liberty, reason, and constitutional legislation.
The key to this was his understanding of events as a whole, not peacemeal or driven by "great" men. He saw how ideas mattered. And the ideas of liberty and reason were paramount. He was a communicator. In that lies his great contribution.
Unfortunately, the dunces of today's India have no idea either of his theory of history, or of history itself. They also don't understand how he saw the key to development of societies the growth of education and reason: two things he tried to bring to India during his brief tenure. In that he has clearly failed, for many shallow Indians today, intent on pinning the "blame" for the pathetic capitulations of Indian traitors and self-seekers in Indian history on someone from the "West", can only think of him as their scapegoat.
I'm afraid, dear Indians, he is DEAD AND GONE, and THE MESS in India today is NOT attributable to Macaulay. Instead, the constitutional frameworks which still support India ARE indirectly attributable to Macaulay. The mess is ENTIRELY of the making of Indian dunces who are mindlessly obsessed with Macaulay when they should be reading F.A.Hayek, Julian Simon, and Demsetz. Macaulay made many contributions but the world has moved on. (Actually I don't mind if the actually read Macaulay as well).
For God's sake, either read history properly, and focus on being a professional historian, or stop looking backward and pay attention to how India should be governed today. And don't waste my time any further with Macaulay. He is important. Doesn't mean I spend my time reading his work.