(What I have offered are a few excerpts, bits and pieces, from longer essays.
I urge readers not to be prisoner to my own selective bias but to read all this for themselves.
Here is an article to read that gives some of the political and ideological background for what Mohit is describing:
Postmodernism Hindu Nationalism, and 'vedic science'.
] (part one)
In part one of Hindu Nationalism, Postmoderism and 'Vedic Science' Meera Nanda writes
But first, I must clarify what I mean by postmodernism.
Postmodernism is a mood, a disposition. The chief characteristic of the postmodernist disposition is that it is opposed to the Enlightenment, which is taken to be the core of modernism. ...
The Enlightenment project was based upon a hope that improvement in secular scientific knowledge will lead to an improvement of the human condition, not just materially but also ethically and culturally. While the Enlightenment spirit flourished primarily in Europe and North America, intellectual movements in India, China, Japan, Latin America, Egypt and other parts of West Asia were also influenced by it.
Postmodernists are disillusioned with this triumphalist view of science dispelling ignorance and making the world a better place. Their despair leads them to question the possibility of progress toward some universal truth that everyone, everywhere must accept. Against the Enlightenment's faith in such universal "meta-narratives" advancing to truth, postmodernists prefer local traditions which are not entirely led by rational and instrumental criteria but make room for the sacred, the non-instrumental and even the irrational.
(Corboy note: The postmodernists who profess to be disillusioned by the triumphalist view of science are, very likely, affluent enough to have access to the comforts provided by science--such as dental novocaine. I invite anyone disillusioned by science to go back in time to the 1920s and an Irish village in County Armagh where a teacher of mine lived. Mr G told us that there was no dentist, one went to the blacksmith. You sat on the anvil and the smith did the rest. Mr G didnt mention whether the patient was given anything alcoholic. But he did mention that toothpulling always drew a crowd of spectators.)
Back to Nanda Meera:
However, the combined weight of colonialism and cultural nationalism thwarted the Enlightenment spirit in non-Western societies.
One of the most ludicrous mantras of Hindutva propaganda is that there is "no conflict" between modern science and Hinduism. In reality, everything we know about the workings of nature through the methods of modern science radically disconfirms the presence of any morally significant gunas, or shakti, or any other form of consciousness in nature, as taught by the Vedic cosmology which treats nature as a manifestation of divine consciousness.
Far from there being "no conflict" between science and Hinduism, a scientific understanding of nature completely and radically negates the "eternal laws" of Hindu dharma which teach an identity between spirit and matter.
That is precisely why the Hindutva apologists are so keen to tame modern science by reducing it to "simply another name for the One Truth" - the "one truth" of Absolute Consciousness contained in Hinduism's own classical texts.
If Hindu propagandists can go this far in U.K., imagine their power in India, where they control the Central government and its agencies for media, education and research. This obsession for finding all kinds of science in all kinds of obscure Hindu doctrines has been dictating the official educational policy of the Bharatiya Janata Party ever since it came to power nearly half a decade ago.
Indeed the BJP government can teach a thing or two to the creation scientists in the U.S. Creationists, old and new, are trying to smuggle in Christian dogma into secular schools in the U.S. by redefining science in a way that allows God to be brought in as a cause of natural phenomena. This "theistic science" is meant to serve as the thin-edge of the wedge that will pry open the secular establishment. Unlike the creationists who have to contend with the courts and the legislatures in the U.S., the Indian government itself wields the wedge of Vedic science intended to dismantle the (admittedly half-hearted) secularist education policies.
THE contemporary Hindu propagandists are inheritors of the 19th century neo-Hindu nationalists who started the tradition of dressing up the spirit-centered metaphysics of orthodox Hinduism in modern scientific clothes. The neo-Hindu intellectuals, in turn, were (consciously or unconsciously) displaying the well-known penchant of generations of Sanskrit pundits for drawing resemblances and correspondences between religious rituals, forces of nature and human destiny. ..
Postmodernist theories of knowledge have rehabilitated this "method" of drawing equivalences between different and contradictory worldviews and allowing them to "hybridise" across traditions. The postmodernist consensus is that since truth about the real world as-it-is cannot be known, all knowledge systems are equivalent to each other in being social constructions. Because they are all equally arbitrary, and none any more objective than other, they can be mixed and matched in order to serve the needs of human beings to live well in their own cultural universes.
It is a well-known fact that Hinduism uses its eclectic mantra - "Truth is one, the wise call it by different names" - as an instrument for self-aggrandisement.
Abrahamic religions go about converting the Other through persuasion and through the use of physical force. Hinduism, in contrast, absorbs the alien Other by proclaiming its doctrines to be only "different names for the One Truth" contained in Hinduism's own Perennial Wisdom.
The teachings of the outsider, the dissenter or the innovator are simply declared to be merely nominally different, a minor and inferior variation of the Absolute and Universal Truth known to Vedic Hindus from time immemorial.
Christianity and Islam at least acknowledge the radical otherness and difference of other faiths, even as they attempt to convert them, even at the cost of great violence and mayhem.
Hinduism refuses to grant other faiths their distinctiveness and difference, even as it proclaims its great "tolerance". ...
Social constructivist and postmodernist attacks on science have proven to be a blessing for all religious zealots, in all major faiths, as they no longer feel compelled to revise their metaphysics in the light of progress in our understanding of nature in relevant fields. But Hinduism displays a special resonance with the relativistic and holistic thought that finds favour among postmodernists. In the rest of this two-part paper, I will examine the general overlap between Hindu apologetics and postmodernist view of hybridity (part I) and alternative sciences (part II).
Quote from part 2 of this essay
The problem is that postmodernist intellectuals do not stop at criticising any specific political abuse of scientific knowledge. Instead, they attack the very idea of objective knowledge as a myth of the powerful who want to claim the status of truth for their own self-serving social constructions of reality. Likewise, postmodernist attack on the "Western-ness" of science goes beyond pointing out any specific linkages between science and Western/imperialist interests. Instead they attack the claim of universalism of science as a cover for Western dominance.
(For which Western dominence they substitute dominance and oppression by gurus, brutality of husbands and greedy inlaws towards young married women whose families are unable to comply with dowry demands mandated by Hindu tradition Corboy)
Hindutva ideologues see themselves as part and parcel of postcolonial studies. Decolonisation of the Hindu mind, the Hindu Right claims, requires understanding science through Hindu categories. Echoing the postcolonial critiques of epistemic violence, Hindutva ideologues such as Murli Manohar Joshi, Konrad Elst, Girilal Jain, David Frawley, N.S. Rajaram and others see any scientific assessment of the empirical claims made by the Vedic texts as a sign of mental colonialism and Western imperialism. Many of these Hindutva ideologues cite the work of postcolonial scholars such as Edward Said, Roland Inden, Ashis Nandy, Claude Alvares, Gayatri Spivak and subaltern studies historians with great respect.
This remarkable compendium of pseudo-science is premised upon the assumption that modern science is a prisoner of Western cultural and religious biases and, as a result, Western scientists have created a "knowledge filter" which keeps out the evidence that supports the Vedic cosmology. Their point is that once you remove the Western assumptions, the method of yoga can be treated as a legitimate source of scientific hypotheses. These Vedic knowledge-claims can be verified by the community of other yogic knowers who have "purified" their sense through meditation to such an extent that they can "directly realise" those signs from the spirit-world that are looked down upon by Western-trained scientists as "paranormal".
Utterly incredible though they are, and utterly devoid of any empirical support, Vedic physics and Vedic creationism are being touted as serious scholarship based upon the assumption that different cultural assumptions sanction alternative methods as rational and scientific.
POSTMODERN intellectuals have taken their disillusionment with the many shortcomings of the modern world into a radical denunciation of modern science itself. They have denounced the status of modern science as a source of universally valid and objective knowledge as a sign of Western imperialism, patriarchal biases and Christian dualist thinking. Many prominent public intellectuals in India, sympathetic to populist, indigenist currents in left-inclined social movements, have embraced the postmodernist suspicion of science, and called for "alternative sciences" which reflect the cultural preferences of India's non-modern masses.
The question before the defenders of "alternative sciences" is this: What do they have to say to the defenders of "Vedic sciences"? For example, what reasons can they give against the supposed scientificity of Vedic astrology? Can they hold on their relativist view of all sciences as social constructs and yet challenge the scientisation of the Vedas that is going on in the theories of Vedic physics or Vedic creationism?
Any erosion of the dividing line between science and myth, between reasoned, evidence-based public knowledge and the spiritual knowledge accessible to yogic adepts, is bound to lead to a growth of obscurantism dressed up as science. It is time secular and self-proclaimed leftist intellectuals called off their romance with irrationalism and romanticism. It is time to draw clear boundaries between science and myth, and between the Left and the Right.
Meera Nanda is the author of Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism (Rutgers University Press, 2003). An Indian edition of the book will be published by Permanent Black in early 2004. She is also the author of Breaking the Spell of Dharma and Other Essays (Three Essays Collective; 2002).
A two part article on Vivekananda whom Meera Nanda discusses is available from another source here.
In part two, the essay describes how Vivekananda made a false distinction between guru (one who was a realizer of the absolute) versus the 'pandit'--the mere, Sanskrit trained scholar who utilized texts and philosophical argument. Kelamuni, author of this blog, stated that in genuine Hinduism the preceptors understood the need for both meditation (experience) AND studying texts and that one could be both an experiencer and be a pandit. But Vivekananda had a political agenda of dethroning the Brahmins, so, fatefully, Vivekananda emphasized experience-through-meditation at the expense of scholarship.
Other aspects of the Vivekananda's distinction between the "Guru" and the "Pundit" recall the discourse of Rammohan in other ways. In a manner reminiscent of Rammohan, Vivekananda relates the "book learning" of the panditas to their purported conceit and pride:
The various methods of explaining the dicta of the scriptures are only for the enjoyment of the learned. They do not attain perfection; they are simply desirous to show their learning. From "The Teacher of Spirituality." Selections, p. 54-55.
Here, Vivekananda appears to dismiss the tradition of expounding upon the purport of the Upanishads and the consideration of that purport. But it is actually only the exposition of a particular class of teachers that Vivekananda dismisses here -- that of the "Pundits."The exposition of the "Gurus," and apparently Vivekananda's own interpretation of Vedanta, remain intact
The contrast between the "Guru" and the "Pundit" in Vivekananda's writings is closely related to another theme, the contrast between "book learning" and "experience." This distinction sheds light on how Vivekananda understands the distinction between the "Guru" and the "Pundit." In the following passage Vivekananda combines the two dichotomies and forms a contrast between knowledge derived from books, which "serves the intellect," and esoteric initiation from the Guru, which "serves the spirit."
Kelamuni shows us another trick used by Vivekananda and others:
Note that the above passage begins by recommending the practices of listening (shravana) and deliberation/discussion (manana), but then concludes with their dismissal. This kind of inconsistency is typical among modernist reinterpretations of Vedanta that attempt to draw upon the authority of traditional Vedanta while simultaneously attempting to dismiss it. Perhaps, it might be argued, the point is that listening and deliberation/discussion are not, on their own, sufficient for realization. This makes for an facile compromise, but it does not adequately take into account Vivekananda's repeated denunciations of "talking."
I would suggest that the dichotomy here between "talking" and "practising" is largely a polemical construct, and that Vivekananda has someone in mind when he refers to "talking" -- be it the Christian minister, European professor of philosophy, or Indian pandita. In other words, it is only the talk of certain teachers that need be dismissed; the rants of the Neo-Vedantin may still be taken to heart
Kelamuni then delivers the punchline:
We are now in a position to put Vivekananda's views on experience and authority into context. While Vivekananda's relationship towards the Vedas remains ambiguous, it is at least clear that, for Vivekananda, the authority of the Vedas does not have to do with their being anonymous revealed scripture (shruti) per se, but with their being the "record" of the religious experience of certain individuals. In other words, it is not scripture here that grounds and authenticates personal religious experience, but religious experience that grounds and authenticates scripture.
What this does, in effect, is wrest control away from the perceived traditional mediators of authority, represented here by the "Pundits," and sets up in their stead a new priest-craft, the "Gurus," whose claim to authority is based not on the Veda but on their own personal experience. The oligarchy of the "Pundits" and their self-validating scripture has effectively been replaced by the tyranny of the Guru and his whimsical "experience."
This has not supported true science, but has been exploited to support the claims of gurus who dabble in pseudo science and invoke thier own 'experience' as supreme.
Vivekananda merely replaced one authoritarian set up with another, or as The Who put it, Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss.
Vivekananda tried to merge Hinduism with the western concept of inherant dignity of the ordinary human person. He also wanted to find a way for Hinduism to support social activism and also wanted to break the power of Brahmin Sanskrit scholars.
But V's strategy had unintended consequences. In mitigation, it must be said that he was a teacher and reformer. Unlike many of todays gurus, V was not a greedy businessman pretending to be a Godman.
However, to this day many gurus covertly utilize Vivekananda's intellectual catagories and rhetoric. He is highly user friendly for gurus doing outreach to those with Western eductions, whether Western educated Indians (both Indian born and Desi) and also Western educated Europeans and Americans.
This slush of science and religion has proved peculiarly appealing. Saddest of all many youngsters are living such hectic schedules in high school and at university they lack the time to settle deeply enough to learn the essential differences between the principles of science and scientific research design, vs those of religion.
It is quite possible to get straight As in the premedical, prelaw and pre-engineering academic tracks, yet not actually understand what makes science and research design different from religion.
A student trying to survive these courses just doenst have the time, and unless he or she is fortunate to have some first rate teachers to spell this out, they may never learn, despite emerging from such institutions with advanced degrees.
A final bit of material from Kelamuni's essay on Vivekananda-Part two
The idea of religions "quarrelling with each other" because they are based on different doctrines is similar to an argument used by Shankara, namely, that the different heterodox darshanas, such a Buddhism, Samkhya, etc., are all mutually contradictory (paraspara-viruddha) because they are based upon heterogenous teachings. Shankara's solution to this problem of the "multivalency of truth" is to insist upon the authority of the authorless Veda. Vivekananda's solution is to replace scripture with "experience." The implication appears to be that if people recognized that all religion is based upon experience, quarrelling among the various religions would disappear. Here, Vivekananda hastily infers the uniformity of religious experience from the premise of its universality.
He does not stop to consider the possibility that personal experience too is multiform.
To state that experience is universal and not 'multiform' may seem a recipe for sweet
But..all too easily it can be a recipe for authoritarianism.
To conclude, as someone has referred to Hindu Fascism, Umberto Eco offered, from a European's perspective, a list of features that can be risk factors for fascism:
Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt
By Umberto Eco
Writing in New York Review of Books, 22 June 1995, pp.12-15. Excerpted in Utne Reader, November-December 1995, pp. 57-59.
The following version follows the text and formatting of the Utne Reader article, and in addition, makes the first sentence of each numbered point a statement in bold type. Italics are in the original.
For the full article, consult the New York Review of Books, purchase the full article online; or purchase Eco's new collection of essays: Five Moral Pieces.
In spite of some fuzziness regarding the difference between various historical forms of fascism, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.
* * *
1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.
Traditionalism is of course much older than fascism. Not only was it typical of counterrevolutionary Catholic thought after the French revolution, but is was born in the late Hellenistic era, as a reaction to classical Greek rationalism. In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of the faiths indulgently accepted by the Roman pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages -- in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little-known religions of Asia.
This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, "the combination of different forms of belief or practice;" such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a sliver of wisdom, and although they seem to say different or incompatible things, they all are nevertheless alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.
As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.
If you browse in the shelves that, in American bookstores, are labeled New Age, you can find there even Saint Augustine, who, as far as I know, was not a fascist. But combining Saint Augustine and Stonehenge -- that is a symptom of Ur-Fascism.
2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism.
Both Fascists and Nazis worshipped technology, while traditionalist thinkers usually reject it as a negation of traditional spiritual values. However, even though Nazism was proud of its industrial achievements, its praise of modernism was only the surface of an ideology based upon blood and earth (Blut und Boden). The rejection of the modern world was disguised as a rebuttal of the capitalistic way of life. The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.
3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake.
Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering's fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play ("When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun") to the frequent use of such expressions as "degenerate intellectuals," "eggheads," "effete snobs," and "universities are nests of reds." The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.
4. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism.
In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.
5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity.
Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.
6. Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration.
That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old "proletarians" are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.
7. To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country.
This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the United States, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson's The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.
8. The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.
When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers of Ur-Fascism must also be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.
9. For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.
Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such "final solutions" implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.
10. Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak.
Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people in the world, the members or the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler.
11. In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero.
In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Spanish Falangists was Viva la Muerte ("Long Live Death!"). In nonfascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.
12. Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters.
This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons -- doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.
13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say.
In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view -- one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.
Because of its qualitative populism, Ur-Fascism must be against "rotten" parliamentary governments. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.
14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.
Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, as the official language of what he called Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.
* * *
Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, "I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares." Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances — every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt's words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: "If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land." Freedom and liberation are an unending task.
Umberto Eco (c) 1995