Thoughts on economics and liberty

Dadabhai Naoroji’s praise of Macaulay

Macaulay is greatly misunderstood in India – largely because no one cares to read the original.

We all know what a great Indian Dadabhai Naorji was. I'm trying to read his book (Poverty and UnBritish Rule in India) for any references to the institutions of Indian/ Hindu capitalism. So far I haven't found any, but I found Naoroji's praise of Macaulay who set the benchmark for the purpose of British rule in India.

Let those Indians who NEVER bother to read original work but form opinions blindly, please read this. Note that I'm not in the least suggesting that Macaulay was perfect, or knew everything about India, but he brought a very strong classical liberal perspective to policy making; a perspective that even Hayek learnt from.


At the enactment of this clause, Mr. Macaulay, on July to, 1833, in defending the East India Company’s Charter Bill on behalf of Government, said as follows—on this part of the Bill, in words worthy of an English gentleman:

“There is, however, one part of the Bill on which, after what has recently passed elsewhere, I feel myself irresistibly impelled to say a few words. I allude to that wise, that benevolent, that noble clause which enacts that no native of our Indian Empire shall, by reason of his colour, his descent, or his religion, be incapable of holding office. At the risk of being called by that nickname which is regarded as the most opprobrious of all nicknames by men of selfish hearts and contracted minds—at the risk of being called a philosopher—I must say that, to the last day of my life, I shall be proud of having been one of those who assisted in the framing of the Bill which contains that clause. We are told that the time can never come when the natives of India can be admitted to high civil and military office. We are told that this is the condition on which we hold our power. We are told that we are bound to confer on our subjects—every benefit which they are capable of enjoying?—No. Which it is in our power to confer on them?—No. But which we can confer on them without hazard to our own dominion. Against that proposition I solemnly protest, as inconsistent alike with sound policy and sound morality.

“I am far, very far, from wishing to proceed hastily in this delicate matter. I feel that, for the good of India itself, the admission of Natives to high offices must be effected by slow degrees. But that when the fulness of time is come, when the interest of India requires the change, we ought to refuse to make that change lest we should endanger our own power—this is a doctrine which I cannot think of without indignation. Governments, like men, may buy existence too dear.

“Proper vitam vivendi perdere causas is a despicable policy either in individuals or in States. In the present case, such a policy would be not only despicable but absurd. The mere extent of empire is not necessarily an advantage. To many Governments it has been cumbersome, to some it has been fatal. It will be allowed by every statesman of our time that the prosperity of a community is made up of the prosperity of those who compose the community, and that it is the most childish ambition to covet dominion which adds to no man’s comfort or security.

"To the great trading nation, to the great manufacturing nation, no progress which any portion of the human race can make in knowledge, in taste for the conveniences of life, or in the wealth by which those conveniences are produced, can be matter of indifference. It is scarcely possible to calculate the benefits which we might derive from the diffusion of European civilisation among the vast population of the East. It would be on the most selfish view of the case far better for us that the people of India were well-governed and independent of us, than ill-governed and subject to us—that they were ruled by their own kings, but wearing our broadcloth and working with our cutlery, than that they were performing their salaams to English collectors and English magistrates, but were too ignorant to value, or too poor to buy, English manufactures. To trade with civilised men is infinitely more profitable than to govern savages.

"That would, indeed, be a doting wisdom which, in order that India might remain a dependency, would make it a useless and costly dependency—which would keep a hundred millions of men from being our customers in order that they might continue to be our slaves.

"It was, as Bernier tells us, the practice of the miserable tyrants whom he found in India, when they dreaded the capacity and spirit of some distinguished subject, and yet could not venture to murder him, to administer to him a daily dose of the pousta—a preparation of opium, the effect of which was in a few months to destroy all the bodily and mental powers of the wretch who was drugged with it, and to turn him into a helpless idiot. That detestable artifice, more horrible than assassination itself, was worthy of those who employed it. It is no model for the English nation.

"We shall never consent to administer the pousta to a whole community, to stupify and paralyse a great people whom God has committed to our charge, for the wretched purpose of rendering them more amenable to our control. What is that power worth which is founded on vice, on ignorance, and on misery—which we can hold only by violating the most sacred duties which, as governors, we owe to the governed—which, as a people blessed with far more than an ordinary measure of political liberty, and of intellectual light, we owe to a race debased by three thousand years of despotism and priest-craft? [Sanjeev: Clearly Macaulay was deeply ignorant about India, but his sentiments were broadly in the right ballpark]

"We are free, we are civilised to little purpose, if we grudge to any portion of the human race an equal measure of freedom and civilisation. Are we to keep the people of India ignorant in order that we may keep them submissive? or do we think that we can give them knowledge without awaking ambition, or do we mean to awaken ambition, and to provide it with no legitimate vent? Who will answer any of these questions in the affirmative? Yet one of them must be answered in the affirmative by every person who maintains that we ought permanently to exclude the Natives from high office.I have no fears. The path of duty is plain before us; and it is also the path of wisdom, of national prosperity, of national honour.


“The destinies of our Indian Empire are covered with thick darkness. It is difficult to form any conjectures as to the fate reserved for a State which resembles no other in history, and which forms by itself a separate class of political phenomena; the laws which regulate its growth and its decay are still unknown to us. It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system, till it has outgrown the system; that, by good government, we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government, that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may in some future age demand European institutions.

"Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or to retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English History. To have found a great people sunk in the lowest depths of slavery and superstition, to have so ruled them as to have made them desirous and capable of all the privileges of citizens, would indeed be a title to glory all our own. [Sanjeev: of course, here again Macaulay goes off into a delusional tangent, but we can let that pass]  The sceptre may pass away from us. Unforeseen accidents may derange our most profound schemes of policy. Victory may be inconstant to our arms. But there are triumphs which are followed by no reverses. There is an empire exempt from all natural causes of decay. Those triumphs are the pacific triumphs of reason over barbarism; that empire is the imperishable empire of our arts and our morals, our literature and our laws.”

I should not add one word of any other speeches, though others also had spoken at the time, and with general approbation, of the sentiments expressed; I would only say, that had these pledges and policy been faithfully followed, now, after forty years, great blessing would have been the result both to England and India. Once more I appeal to the British to revive the memory of those noble sentiments, follow the “ plain path of duty that is before you.” That unfortunate plea—unfortunate both for England and India—of political danger was fully considered and deliberately cast aside by the statesmen who enacted “that wise, that benevolent, that noble clause,” as unworthy of the British nation, and they as deliberately adopted the policy of plain duty and true glory. In such language and with such noble declaration was this clause proclaimed to the world.

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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2 thoughts on “Dadabhai Naoroji’s praise of Macaulay
  1. Sudeep

    Hi Sanjeev

    Your Knowledge About Lord Macauley is the same as How Much you Know About India’s Culture , Values , Traditions , methods , systems and everything .

    as you always give some references like Swamy Vivekananda Praise about Max -Muller and his works , but Indian Historian Proved that he is big Swindler and its has been agreed by European too , but yet you questions the authenticity of the report of Indian Historian without reading the books or any reference

    Dada Bhai Narojis book Poverty and Un-British Rule in India brought attention to the draining of India’s wealth into Britain , and About mecauley , i still doubt his Actual intention about India

    When Mecauley came to India in 1834. He served on the Supreme Council of India between 1834 and 1838. He introduced English education in India through his famous minute of February 1835. He called an educational system that would create a class of anglicised Indians who would serve as cultural intermediaries between the British and the Indians., Macaulay succeeded in implementing ideas previously put forward by Lord William Bentinck, the governor general since 1829. Bentinck favored the replacement of Persian by English as the official language, the use of English as the medium of instruction, and the training of English-speaking Indians as teachers. He was inspired by utilitarian ideas and called for “useful learning.” Macaulay convinced the Governor-General to adopt English as the medium of instruction in higher education, from the sixth year of schooling onwards, rather than Sanskrit or Persian then used in the institutions supported by the East India Company. By doing so, Macaulay wanted to “educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother tongue” and thus, by incorporating English, he sought to “enrich” the Indian languages so “that they could become vehicles for European scientific, historical, and literary expression”. Macaualay’s preference for the English language was based on his view of the local languages as “poor and rude” and on his belief that the body of writing available in Sanskrit and Arabic was no match for the scholarship available in English. He famously stated in his “Minute on Indian Education” (1835):
    “all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England.”

    This frame of mind of Mecaulys can be easily Understood
    The passage to which the term refers is from his Minute on Indian Education, delivered in 1835. It reads,
    “ It is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.”


  2. Sanjeev Sabhlok


    I’m sorry but you’re very wrong. You should start reading original work, and read widely. I’ve discussed Macaulay at length on this blog – at least 10 posts. Please read them first. Then read the original work of Macaulay. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest proponents of liberty the world has seen.

    Of course Macaulay was not God! But he promoted liberty and good governance in India. His few failings (and these were definitely there) do not, by any means, undermine his massive contributions to democracy and liberty in India.

    And Naoroji was right to cite him verbatim, for more than 2 pages! His only grievance was that British rulers were not following in Macaulay’s footsteps.

    I will not be debating Macaulay here, so please read on your own and once you’ve thoroughly read his work, then please publish your own blog post. Let me see your quality of analysis and I’ll respond there.


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