Rabindranath Tagore’s critique of nationalism

Rabindranath Tagore’s critique of nationalism

Tagore’s perception of the dual role, one positive, “the spirit of the West” and the other negative, “the nation of the West” was the starting point of his analysis of nationalism as it developed in the West (Tagore, 1976: 11). He paid glowing tributes to the achievements of the West in the field of literature and art which he described as “titanic in its uniting power…, sweeping the height and the depth of the universe” and also mentioned the presence of outstanding individuals fighting for the cause of humanity. However, behind this beneficence also lay the malefic aspect, “using all her power of greatness for ends, which are against the infinite and eternal in Man” (Tagore ibid: 39-40). He attributed this contradiction to the malady of the nation-state. The nation, which represented the organised self-interest of a whole people, was also the “least human and least spiritual” and the biggest evil in the contemporary world. It built a “civilisation of power” (Tagore ibid: 8) which made it exclusive, vain and proud. One form of its manifestation was the colonisation of people and subjecting them to exploitation and suffering. In this context Tagore cited the example of Japan – which had secured the benefits of Western civilisation to the maximum possible extent without getting dominated by the West. He considered the nation to be nothing else than an “organisation of politics and commerce” (Tagore ibid: 7).

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