Time, History and the Nation State

G. W. Hegel suggested that the end of History is the setting up of a nation-state. He even went on to assign people who lived a life without the state to prehistory. We can hear the echoes of the views of Hegel in our days with the claims that seventy years of Congress rule amounted to nothing while everything good and honourable occurred only during the Modi regime. This claim has no qualms as it brushes aside the reign of BJP’s very own Vajpayee. Perhaps, even the rule of Parrikar in Goa is forgotten because of similar Hegelian concerns that seem to have sipped deeply into the BJP which seems to have become engrossed with the aim of painting its present as golden. But this focus on a golden present is based on the selective amnesia of the past. Here, maybe we can notice Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s idealization of the state of nature as a state of civilization. We in India seem to have taken it upon ourselves to give a Hegelian future to what has been deemed as a golden past in Rousseau’s fashion. This means the project of Hindu Rashtra is seeking to offer a golden future to what has been deemed as a golden past. What seems to be operating in our country is a Rousseau-Hegelian vision of time and history.

Although this linear, vertical and hierarchical version is in some conflict with our circular vision of time and history in our country we do not seem to question it. The sense that history begins with the new BJP under Modi seems to be offering a galvanizing thrust to the right-wing forces to work toward advancing a fore-closed future that is named a Hindu Rashtra. It is ironic and even unreasonable to think that history had to wait for Modi to begin. Some of us seem to believe that we have arrived from nature to culture only under Modi while others may disagree and say that we have reached a fallen state of being terribly uncultured that is fully un-Indian. But the triumphant march of history to its fore-closed destination has all the seeds of totalitarianism that we can find in the Hegelian version of history. We can also trace Hegelian dialectical or oppositional logic that requires an anti-thesis/ other to push history towards a synthesis/ end. This is why we have a continues politics of ‘us and them’ (Hindu/ Muslim, Mandir/ Masjid, Rahul/ Modi etc.) which seems to fire our hope in the coming of a foreclosed future that is named as a Hindu Rashtra.

India has an alternative view of time. This cyclic view of time cannot put the coming of a nation-state as the end of history. History cannot begin nor end when we have a circular paradigm of time. The Western linear flow of time has been fully absorbed by us and we may say that colonization has come full circle with the colonization of our minds. Against this Western political thinking that places the coming of a nation-state as an end of history, we have the work of French Anthropologist Pierre Clastres who studies tribal communities in Paraguay in South America. His work manifests that these communities of Guayaki did not need a perilous epitome of history trapped in progressivist modernity. These communities had chieftains but their chieftainship was not based on power but was rooted in disempowerment. Clastres tells us that the Chief stood for peace and reconciliation within the tribe. There is no idea of substantive power in the community. Power is an empty place. Perhaps, the Buddhist idea of the non-substantive self might give us an insight into the non-substantive notion of power. Clastres says that the chief owes infinite debt to his society. The chief has only one-way relation with his society. There are no reciprocal relations. Society is not constituted by the exchange. Reciprocity does not regulate the circulation of goods, wives and words (oratory skills). Thus, power remains outside society.

It is only by nullifying power that these societies become political. This is why Clastres holds that these societies are not just societies without a state but were societies against the state. It just means everyone is only concerned with giving. No one gives with the condition to take/ get. Thus, the members may have to fight to protect their wives, goods and their chieftain. The fight is regarded as their honour. Everything is one-way relationship. These one-way relations move in a circle to form their society. This one-way circle assured that everyone gets what one needs Hence, these societies are democratic without a state. These societies locate power everywhere and nowhere. Everyone is indebted to everyone. There is no notion of a value exchange that cancels indebtedness. The work of Clastres, therefore, shows how the state is not the end of history in these societies. These societies seem to have circular ways modes of understanding time. There is no cyclic return which is part of Indian thinking.

But the fact that societies in Paraguay can think of power differently without the need of a state does contests the linear appropriation of history as well as placing the Hindu Rashtra as its crowing moment in our country. This also deconstructs the view that history only began with Modi and manifests that with all its investments to look ‘deshi’ what is for now deemed as Hindu Rashtra is embedded in the colonial linear notion of time and history and therefore, is not truly Indian. The Indian cyclic return of time is not dialectical nor it is reciprocal. It is also one-way relationship depending on the karma/ deeds of the individual. The Indian ethos does not seem to have a state as the crowning point of history. The leap outside the cyclic return is an individual attainment of Mokxa. Thus, in light of the work of Clastres, we might have to re-imagine what we deem as Hindu Rastra. There is no beginning nor end in the circular vision of history. Ours is not merely circular. It is more of a cyclic return of time till one leaps out of it through Mokxa. This is why we cannot admit that history only began with Modi. Perhaps we have to look for leaps or jumps out of the cyclic return of time. Hindu Rashtra in its true sense cannot be a fore-closed endpoint of history but an open leap into a new time cycle.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao