Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Rise of India is a self-affirming fiction

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | The western view of the rise of India and China is a self-affirming fiction: "Both made their most impressive gains when they rejected the free market. They need a new way of becoming modern

In the mid-19th century Karl Marx claimed that European colonisers, though corrupt and violent, were the "unconscious tool of history" that would propel India and China into modernity. He described the backward "Asiatic mode of production", defined by the absence of private ownership and the presence of a rigid, centralised form of government that prevents change and modernisation.

Such views prompted Edward Said to denounce Marx as an orientalist who had subsumed India and China into a narrative of human progress designed by and for Europeans. But nothing Marx said about Asia would ever be as influential or widely disseminated as the recent idea in the west that free-market capitalism has finally awakened India and China from their long Asiatic slumber.

As India and China rise with their consumerist middle classes in a world of finite energy resources, it is easy to imagine that this century will be ravaged by the kind of economic rivalries and military conflicts that made the last century so violent. In any case, the hope that fuels the pursuit of endless economic growth - that billions of customers in India and China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans - is an absurd and dangerous fantasy. It condemns the global environment to early destruction, and looks set to create reservoirs of nihilistic rage and disappointment among hundreds of millions of have-nots."

Pankaj Mishra's new book is Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond

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