Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Macaulay

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.

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Clearing the mist around Max Muller

A few weeks ago, one of the commentators on this blog had very unpleasant things to say about Max Muller –  basically alleging that Max Muller had deliberately mistranslated the Vedas (and that Macaulay had set him up to this!).

I'm not an expert on such matters but even a casual look at the literature quickly allows us to reject such claims. Let's check a few texts:


First, the Hindu priests generally did not either want to teach Sanskrit to others nor translate ancient texts into other languages. When even Hindus themselves were not all allowed to read these texts, how would others be so permitted? This is evident from the following statement from Nehru's Discovery of India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981, paperback, p. 317) 

"If the British Government in India was reluctant to teach English to Indians, Brahmin scholars objected even more, but for different reasons, to teach Sanskrit to Englishmen. When Sir William Jones, already a linguist and a scholar, came to India as a judge of the Supreme Court, he expressed his desire to learn Sanskrit. But no Brahmin would agree to teach the sacred language to a foreigner and an intruder, even though handsome rewards were offered. Jones ultimately, with considerable difficulty, got hold of a non-Brahmin Vaidya or medical practitioner who agreed to teach, but on his own peculiar and stringent conditions. Jones agreed to every stipulation, so great was his eagerness to learn the ancient language of India. Sanskrit fascinated him and especially the discovery of the old Indian drama. It was through his writings and translations that Europe first had a glimpse of some of the treasurers of Sanskrit literature. In 1784 Sir William Jones established the Bengal Asiatic Society which later became the Royal Asiatic Society."


Later, in 1835, RRR, a Brahmin, translated many of the Upanishads into English. These included:

  • Translation of an Abridgment of the Vedant, or Resolution of all the Veds
  • Translation of the Moonduk Oopunishad of the Uthurvu-Ved
  • Translation of the Cena Oopanishad, one of the Chapters of the Sam Ved
  • Translation of the Kut h-Oopunishad of the Yajoor-Ved
  • Translation of the Ishopunishad, one of the Chapters of the Yajoor-Ved
  • Translation of a Sunscrit Tract on Different modes of Worship


Max Mueller came next in the series (I think!).

Nehru outlines Max Mueller's work in DOI (cited above, p.93):

"Max Muller says: "Schopenhauer was the last man to write at random, or to allow himself to go into ecstasies over so-called mystic and inarticulate thought. And I am neither afraid nor ashamed to say that I share his enthusiasm for the Vendanta, and feel indebted to it for much that has been helpful to me in my passage through life." In another place Max Muller says: "The Upanishads are the … sources of … the Vedanta philosophy, a system in which human speculation seems to me to have reached its very acme." "I spend my happiest hours in reading Vedantic books. They are to me like the light of the morning, like the pure air of the mountains – so simple, so true, if once understood."

Vivekananda considered Max Mueller a true Vedantin
Vivekananda wrote an extensive essay on Max Muller (here).He says:
  • What an extraordinary man is Prof. Max Müller!
  • Max Müller is a Vedantist of Vedantists. He has, indeed, caught the real soul of the melody of the Vedanta, in the midst of all its settings of harmonies and discords — the one light that lightens the sects and creeds of the world, the Vedanta, the one principle of which all religions are only applications.


Even if Max Muller made a few errors in his translation from Sanskrit, we must not forget that in his time there were not many Indians who understood both Sanskrit and English/German, to help him out in case of difficulties.
But more importantly, if there had been a major mistranslation then Vivekandana would have long picked up on it. But clearly he was happy with it. 
I am convinced that painting Macaulay and Max Muller with a black brush is totally unwarranted. Let's look at the facts dispassionately. Indeed, given the huge effort they put in, both Macaulay and Muller were India's great friends. 
I am loathe to have their memories blackened by commentators who use the lack of rigour of analysis, typical of internet commentary, to made highly inaccurate and biased claims against them. It is important that we study the outstanding scholars and leaders of the past with due diligence and not rush to conclusions either in favour or against them.
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Refusal of the British to teach English in India

Given the hoopla about the alleged unilateral influence of Macaulay's Minute on Education and the subsequent total misrepresentation of his work, it is crucial that Indians understand a few basic things about the use of English in India:

i) It was not the British to who pushed it down our throats. Many enlightened Indians wanted it. Indeed, the British REFUSED to teach English for quite a while, and it had to be coaxed out of them.

ii) It is clear that India is a single nation today ONLY because of the English language. Without it, India would have long ago split into multiple nations, each speaking their own language. That is a basic truth.

a) The British Government in India OPPOSED English education

Nehru, in his Discovery of India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981, paperback, p.316) writes:

"There were no English schools or colleges outside Calcutta and the Government's policy was definitely opposed to the teaching of English to Indians

[Instead, they focused on the local langauges]

"In 1781, the Calcutta Madrassa was started by the Government in Calcutta for Arabic studies. In 1817, a group of Indians and Europeans started the Hindu College in Calcutta, now called the Presidency College. In 1791, a Sanskrit College was started in Benares. Probably in the second decade of the nineteenth century some missionary schools were teaching English.

"During the twenties a school of thought arose in government circles in favour of teaching English, but this was opposed. However, as an experimental measure some English classes were attached to the Arabic schools in Delhi and to some institutions in Calcutta."

b) It was Indians (in particular the enlightened Hindus) who funded colleges for English education

 A number of Hindu donors including Jai Narayana, Raja Badrinath Rai and anynomyous donors funded colleges for English education WELL BEFORE Macaulay even reached India or considered this matter. That this achieved immediate good results is evident from the fact that one of the Vidyalayas' "student body bought up a sizable shipment of Thomas Paine's Rights of Man and Age of Reason." What better than educating Indians in English so they could directly understand the dramatic and far-reaching conceptions about liberty?

c) Raja Rammohun Roy, the great Indian classical liberal, actively advocated English education and science during 1823-1831

"Rammohun Roy did much more to promote English-language instruction in India. In 1823, he sent a long memorial to Lord Amherst attacking the policy of the General Committee of Public Instruction. Under the leadership of H. H. Wilson, that committee had founded a Sanskrit College in Calcutta in I823. Roy called for the establishment of a college devoted to European learning instead of a Sanskrit college. He questioned the usefulness of Sanskrit studies. He argued that the lakh of rupees devoted to education of Indians which Parliament had written into the East India Company's charter in 1813 should be laid out in employing European gentlemen of talents and education to instruct the natives of India in mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, and other useful sciences that have raised them above the inhabitants of the rest of the world.

"Ram Mohun Roy appeared in 1831 before a parliamentary committee in England studying the renewal of the company's charter. While giving testimony on the question of free European emigration to India, Roy expressed the opinion that English emigration should be unrestricted since English settlers in India "from motives of benevolence, public spirit, and fellow feeling toward their native neighbours, would establish schools and other seminaries of education for the cultivation of the English language throughout the country, and for the diffusion of a knowledge of European arts and sciences.""
Source:  Elmer H. Cutts, "The Background of Macaulay's Minute", The American Historical Review, Vol. 58, No. 4 Jul., 1953, p. 828.
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Macaulay’s insistence on the same standard of justice for the British and the Indians in India

In continuing with my analysis of Macaulay's works, here's an extract from his life and works that talks about the calumny and unpopularity he suffered at the hands of British citizens in India by insisting that they access the same justice system that was available to the Indians

EXTRACT (p.394-6)

The motive for the scurrility with which Macaulay was assailed by a handful of sorry scribblers was his advocacy of the Act familiarly known as the Black Act, which withdrew from British subjects resident in the provinces their so-called privilege of bringing civil appeals before the Supreme Court at Calcutta. Such appeals were thenceforward to be tried by the Sudder Court, which was manned by the Company's judges, "all of them English gentlemen of liberal education; as free as even the judges of the Supreme Court from any imputation of personal corruption, and selected by the Government from a body which abounds in men as honourable and as intelligent as ever were employed in the service of any state." The change embodied in the Act was one of little practical moment; but it excited an opposition based upon arguments and assertions of such a nature that the success or failure of the proposed measure became a question of high and undeniable importance.

"In my opinion," writes Macaulay, "the chief reason for preferring the Sudder Court is this–that it is the court which we have provided to administer justice, in the last resort, to the great body of the people. If it is not fit for that purpose, it ought to be made so. If it is fit to administer justice to the great body of the people, why should we exempt a mere handful of settlers from its jurisdiction? There certainly is, I will not say the reality, but the semblance of partiality and tyranny in the distinction made by the Charter Act of 1813. That distinction seems to indicate a notion that the natives of India may well put up with something less than justice, or that Englishmen in India have a title to something more than justice. If we give our own countrymen an appeal to the King's Courts, in cases in which all others are forced to be contented with the Company's Courts, we do in fact cry down the Company's Courts. We proclaim to the Indian people that there are two sorts of justice–a coarse one, which we think good enough for then, and another of superior quality, which we keep for ourselves. If we take pains to show that we distrust our highest courts, how can we expect that the natives of the country will place confidence in them?

"The draft of the Act was published, and was, as I fully expected, not unfavourably received by the British in the Mofussil. [The term "Mofussil" is used to denote the provinces of the Bengal Presidency, as opposed to the Capital.] Seven weeks have elapsed since the notification took place. Time has been allowed for petitions from the furthest corners of the territories subject to this Presidency. But I have heard of only one attempt in the Mofussil to get up a remonstrance; and the Mofussil newspapers which I have seen, though generally disposed to cavil at all the acts of the Government, have spoken favourably of this measure.

"In Calcutta the case has been somewhat different; and this is a remarkable fact. The British inhabitants of Calcutta are the only British-born subjects in Bengal who will not be affected by the proposed Act; and they are the only British subjects in Bengal who have expressed the smallest objection to it. The clamour, indeed, has proceeded from a very small portion of the society of Calcutta. The objectors have not ventured to call a public meeting, and their memorial has obtained very few signatures. But they have attempted to make up by noise and virulence for what has been wanting in strength. It may at first sight appear strange that a law, which is not unwelcome to those who are to live under it, should excite such acrimonious feelings among people who are wholly exempted from its operation. But the explanation is simple. Though nobody who resides at Calcutta will be sued in the Mofussil courts, many people who reside at Calcutta have, or wish to have, practice in the Supreme Court. Great exertions have accordingly been made, though with little success, to excite a feeling against this measure among the English inhabitants of Calcutta.

"The political phraseology of the English in India is the same with the political phraseology of our countrymen at home; but it is never to be forgotten that the same words stand for very different things at London and at Calcutta. We hear much about public opinion, the love of liberty, the influence of the Press. But we must remember that public opinion means the opinion of five hundred persons who have no interest, feeling, or taste in common with the fifty millions among whom they live; that the love of liberty means the strong objection which the five hundred feel to every measure which can prevent them from acting as they choose towards the fifty millions, that the Press is altogether supported by the five hundred, and has no motive to plead the cause of the fifty millions.

"We know that India cannot have a free Government. But she may have the next best thing–a firm and impartial despotism. The worst state in which she can possibly be placed is that in which the memorialists would place her. They call on us to recognise them as a privileged order of freemen in the midst of slaves. It was for the purpose of averting this great evil that Parliament, at the same time at which it suffered Englishmen to settle in India, armed us with those large powers which, in my opinion, we ill deserve to possess, if we have, not the spirit to use them now."

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