Ram Madhav
March 17, 2024

Integral Humanism

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(The article was originally published in OPEN Magazine on March 17, 2024. Views expressed are personal.)

Herald Macmillan, a former prime minister of the UK, was once asked by someone about his vision for the country. “If you want to know the vision for the UK, consult a saint; I am a politician,” Macmillan replied bluntly. Rare exceptions apart, politicians govern, while it is for the saints and scholars to give a vision for national societies. Two such scholars, separated by 30 years and 3,000 miles, who articulated the philosophy of integral humanism in the last century, belong to the category of visionary saints. Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s name is well-known in India. But the other, lesser-known scholar was Jacques Maritain, a French philosopher. Maritain was a Catholic priest, while Dean Dayal, although entered politics in later years, was primarily a pracharak—a saintly functionary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Integral Humanism is a profound soco-political-religious philosophy that inspired a generation of politicians and social thinkers in both Europe and India. While Deen Dayal’s integral humanist philosophy became the sheet anchor for the Hindu Nationalist Movement in India, Maritain’s vision of it three decades earlier became the driving ideology for the Christian Democratic Movement in Europe.

Maritain presented his thesis on integral humanism in 1936, which was later published in the quarterly journal of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, US in its January 1939 issue. Almost three decades later, in 1965, Dean Dayal presented his thesis of integral humanism in the form of four lectures at Mumbai. Both were renowned personalities in their respective areas during their lifetime. Maritain played an important role, albeit behind the curtains, in the framing of the Universal Human Rights in 1948. He was a renowned name in the intellectual circles of Europe by the 1950s and the Norte Dame University established a Jacques Maritain Center in 1957. Yet, there is no evidence to suggest any interaction between the two scholars during their lifetime. Deen Dayal met with an untimely death in early 1968, while Maritain passed away in 1972. Interestingly though both called their theses integral humanism, in which one finds a number of similarities.

Samuel Huntington, the celebrated political philosopher of the US, authored his most talked about and controversial book The Clash of Civilisations in the early 1990s. He insisted in that book that there exists an inherent clash among the dominant global civilisations. Looking at the commonalities in the theses of Maritain and Deen Dayal, one can conclude that contrary to Huntington’s analysis, there existed a civilisational confluence between the East and the West, at least at the thought level.

Colonial Syndrome

India was colonised by the Mughals and the British for many centuries. Colonised people develop a few distinct syndromes. The first one is called the Stockholm Syndrome. It is a form of mental slavery. Studies have established that in a hostage situation, sometimes, the captives start developing a psychological bond with their captors, thinking that the captors have actually done a lot of good to them. We are familiar with this syndrome in post-independent India. There is no dearth of scholars in India who see a great virtue in the Mughal and British rule. Renowned Indian political psychologist Ashis Nandy once observed that “colonialism is first of all a matter of consciousness and needs to be defeated ultimately in the minds of men.” 75 years after Independence, a new drive has been launched to end this mental colonisation, which is euphemistically called decolonising the Indian mind.

The other syndrome will be just the opposite. Colonisers leave such a strong antipathy in the minds of the colonised that generations of the colonised develop intense hatred for not only the colonisers but also their present-day progeny. That, too, is not unfamiliar to us in India. Hating the West, its language, culture, and customs is considered an important element of one’s nationalist credentials.

Renowned English poet and novelist, Rudyard Kipling, authored a famous poem in 1889 called ‘The Ballad of East and West’. In that, he famously mused: “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Many firmly believe in this thesis that there is no meeting ground between the East and the West. Kipling had said it in a different context. But is that sentiment really relevant today? Don’t there exist many meeting points between the two? Millions of Indians who live in the West are an important bridge that connects the two worlds. Yet, the syndrome continues.

But there is a third syndrome, representatives of which include great statesmen like Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi. Both emphatically highlighted the distinction between the Eastern and Western worldview in their writings and speeches. But they never rejected the other outrightly. On the contrary, they believed in the synthesis and syncretism of ideas.

On a chilly winter evening in Europe, Vivekananda was offered a warm suit which he happily wore. But when asked to replace his pagdi—typical Indian headgear—with a European hat, he jocularly replied that he was willing to surrender his body to the West but not his head. “Western body and Eastern mind,” Vivekananda exclaimed. Gandhi, too, was an eloquent critique of Western civilisation. Yet, he emphatically declared his openness to ideas stating “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

Both statesmen saw good and evil in both the Western as well as the Indian worldview. “There are two great obstacles on our path in India,” Vivekananda said, “the Scylla of old orthodoxy and the Charybdis of modern European civilisation.” This is an idiom from Greek mythology, which can be identified with the proverb of “the devil and the deep blue sea” or “lesser evil”. Scylla and Charybdis were the two immortal and irresistible monsters described in Homer’s Odyssey. Vivekananda’s expression of being between Scylla and Charybdis meant being caught between two equally unpleasant alternatives.

During the colonial era, there was doubtless a superiority complex of “white man’s burden” in the West that led to an effort to impose Western values on the rest of the world. India, too, was subjected to that imposition by force and deception. Another renowned British poet and cultural critic of the 19th century, Matthew Arnold, summed up the Indian response to it in a beautiful poem:

‘The East bowed low before the blast,
In patient deep disdain,
She let the legion’s thunder past,
And plunged into deep thought again.’

Later, many in the West, too, realised the futility of this process of universalisation of the value system on the European lines that had led to the severe destruction of countless local cultures and civilisations and an unmitigated pain and suffering to the communities and societies. Elise Boulding, a distinguished American sociologist, who is also considered as the mother of the discipline of “peace and conflict studies”, had openly warned that “the dominant Eurocentric concepts are not easily applied to two-thirds world.” Finally, in 1972, the UNESCO Bellagio Conference report on ‘Reconstructing the Human Community’ admitted that there was a need for “a transcending of ‘only a European point of view’ regarding the origins of science, democratic development, nationalism, and the United Nations, as well as transcending of the psychology of dominance, especially regarding the power of science and technology.”

While this cautious distinction is important, it is no statement to shut doors on the arena of ideas and thinking. For, ideas cannot be constrained to geography or boundaries. One drop of ink that takes the shape of a few words in one corner of the world has the potential to revolutionise millions of minds in another corner of the world. That is the power of ideas.

Ideational Churning in Europe

There was a massive ideational churning in Europe in the 17th-18th centuries. Ideas concerning religion, God, reason, freedom, and nature dominated this discourse. It was the age of Enlightenment and Reformation in the West, which threw a powerful challenge at the dominant Church-centred customs and traditions of the times.

Roman emperor Constantin’s decision in the early 4th century to convert to Christianity and his efforts at promoting Christian theology through calling for councils of clergy and building Christian churches and institutions gave great fillip to the Catholic religion, which never looked back in the next one millennium. Its control over not only the religious but temporal life of the believers became absolute by the 12th century in Europe. With the clergy becoming a handmaiden for rulers and despots, ‘Churchianity’, not Christianity, became the dominant creed.

But by the middle of the second millennium, the Church’s and Rome’s political dominance started facing a serious challenge from the movements for Reformation and Renaissance. The Reformists had vehemently argued that there was no need for the Church to reach Heaven, and thus the road to wisdom and Heaven need not pass through Rome. That was the time when the Catholic priests were selling certificates of lineage to Adam and granting remission from temporal punishments for sins committed by the high and mighty for a price. Salvation was up for sale and the riches thus collected were being used by the Catholic establishment to build lavish establishments across Europe.

Martin Luther was one of the first to raise his voice against this outrage. “Why does the Pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St Peter with the money of poor believers, rather than with his own money?” he bluntly questioned the bishop, Albert of Mainz. Enclosed with that letter was a document which came to be known as The Ninety-Five Theses. In his revolt against the Catholic Church, Luther had set in motion the movement of Reformation, which became the progenitor of Protestantism in Europe and also laid the ground for the formation of secular nation-states.

Many Western scholars consider the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which brought the Thirty-Year War to an end, as the birth date of the Reformation in Europe. Europe was largely under the symbolic control of the Roman emperors until mid-17th century. One of the first actions of the Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, after ascension to power in 1619, was to force the citizens to adhere to Roman Catholicism. Tensions were already simmering between the Catholics and the Protestant sects of Calvinism and Lutheranism. Ferdinand’s action led to an open war between the two religious sects, and the kings and royals who were the adherents of those faiths engaged in brutal wars in several places. The Treaty of Westphalia had ended that bloody Thirty-Year War between the Protestants and Catholics, fixed boundaries of the territories, and made the kings and rulers the sovereign authority over their respective territories, replacing the Catholic Church’s authority. Thus began the journey of churning of ideas in Europe.

The 17th and 18th centuries in Europe are called the Age of Enlightenment. Freedom secured from the Church’s stranglehold had led to the churning of the European mind over deeper philosophical questions concerning God, reason, nature, and humanity. A new philosophical worldview evolved from this churning, triggering major developments in areas of philosophy and politics. John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Jeremy Bentham were some of the renowned Enlightenment-era thinkers in Europe.

The Enlightenment era helped European nations like Germany, France, and Britain come out of the imposed religious identity and start to affirm their identities in terms of language, ancestry, and culture, rather than religion. It culminated in the famous French Revolution on May 5, 1789, which became a milestone in European politics in the last two centuries. It was a popular revolution that broke out on the streets of Paris, leading to the deposition of the centuries-old Ancien Régime led by King Louis XVI. This historic event, although only for a decade, established a Constitutional government in France and laid strong foundations for the ideology of liberalism based on the famous principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

The French Revolution of 1789 was a clumsy affair. To unshackle from the clutches of the monarchy on one side and the Catholic religious orthodoxy on the other, the French deputies revolted and threw out King Louis XVI, who was eventually executed in 1793 attracting massive protests from all over the world. The Liberal French Revolution in the first decade was a massively violent and unstable affair that culminated in the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte towards the end of the 18th century. The liberals of his time had hoped that Napoleon would be the new messiah of liberalism. But soon he turned France into a war machine and actually returned to the old Conservative politics of the monarchy by befriending the Catholic Church again towards the end of his rule around 1815.

Early liberalism had done no good to Europe or mankind. It was the namesake of liberalism. The French Revolution witnessed massive violence, executions, and killings. Anarchy ruled the roost until Napoleon took over. Edmund Burke, the godfather of European conservatism, was the first to harshly criticise the French Revolution. He refused to call the French revolutionaries liberals, branding them “illiberal” instead. In his pamphlet ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’, Burke used harsh language for the leaders of the revolution, the French deputies for their “presumptuous ignorance” and “savage manner”. He bemoaned that the destiny of France had fallen in the hands of a “swinish multitude”. Whether it was proper for Burke to use such uncivil language was a hot debate of his time. Many scholars were critical of Burke for his choice of words. But the fact remains that liberalism as a political idea had not had a hoary entry on the world stage in Europe.

Liberalism’s byproduct was capitalism. Freedom from, and rejection of the state and religious control became the hallmarks of the early capitalist order. It had resulted in a situation which Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher, described a hundred years before as a “war of every man against every man”. Some capitalist thinkers had argued for laissez-faire economic system, where there wouldn’t be any interference of the government in matters of the economy in any form. Laissez-faire and free trader intellectuals were vehemently against the socialistic ideas of workers’ interests, etc. Any idea of the state’s intervention to protect the interests of the working class was an anathema to them. Giving in to workers’ demands wouldn’t be charity, but plunder, these intellectuals argued. The government’s role should be limited to providing physical protection and justice; the rest should be left to God, they insisted.

One of the foremost laissez-faire intellectuals was the French political economist Frédéric Bastiat. For Bastiat, the poverty and sufferings of the working class were their own making because they were “lazy, irresponsible, and prone to prodigality”. They were a part of “the providential plan”. “The government had nothing to do with their hardship. Nature assigned each person to his position in society, and the only way to better one’s condition was by improving one’s own character,” Bastiat argued.

Liberals entered the 20th century with such quixotic ideas bordering on craziness. They were opposed to universal adult suffrage because they didn’t agree with the maxim that men and women were born equal. The American liberals were even opposed to Abraham Lincoln on the fantastic grounds that Lincoln had used emergency measures like the arrest of suspected traitors, suspension of habeas corpus writs, overlooking several constitutional provisions, etc. The liberal campaign gradually acquired arrogance and a superiority complex. They even defended colonialism in the name of “civilising the world”. By the time of World War II, the liberals were convinced about their greater global mission. The American magazine mogul Henry Luce had declared in 1941 in an editorial of Life Magazine that “We [American liberals] are the inheritors of all the great principles of Western civilisation. It now becomes our time to be the powerhouse.”

Europe had responded to this liberal-capitalist project in the early 20th century in two ways. Mass politics of two kinds had erupted—fascism and nazism of the radical nationalist kind, and communism of the Marx-Engels kind. Fascists had adopted national socialism, while it was international socialism for the communists. Fascism was never an ideology articulated in any coherent manner, whereas communism was a well-articulated response to the liberal-capitalist order.

Communism had made a grand entry into Europe with the opening statement of the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels proclaiming, “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre.” As an ideology, communism had envisaged a world split vertically into two—the haves and the have-nots. It was a response to the liberal-capitalist dogma of free market and less government. Communism had proposed that there would be a perpetual conflict between the haves and the have-nots, and this conflict would end in the establishment of a “proletarian dictatorship”. Coined by a socialist revolutionary and military officer in Prussia, Joseph Weydemeyer, this phrase was adopted by Karl Marx to indicate the intermediate stage between capitalist control and the communist ideal of the “withering away of the state”. The proletariat was the word used by Marx to denote the working-class people who have nothing but their two hands to live. While the liberals wanted the working class to accept their plight as fate, Marx insisted that the working class should rise in revolt against the liberal-capitalist order to overthrow the exploitative regimes and establish the rule of the collective working class.

Marx’s ideology achieved temporary success in 1871 when Paris was captured by the socialists and was converted into a commune. The commune that controlled Paris from March 18 to May 28, 1871, was a revolutionary socialist government. During their two-month-long government, the communards implemented policies of social democracy. Feminist, socialist, and anarchist currents played important roles in the commune. The commune was eventually suppressed by the national French Army during La semaine sanglante (The Bloody Week) beginning on May 21, 1871. Around 20,000 communards were killed in battle. In Engels’ judgement, the Paris Commune was history’s first example of the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”

Marx had predicted that the Proletarian revolution would occur in industrialised countries like Britain and Germany where the working-class populations were in large numbers. But his predictions didn’t go right. While labour in the industrialised West did get organised into a political force, democratic polity continued to flourish in the industrialised world. However, the predominantly agrarian economies like Russia and China fell to communism in the 20th century. It was Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov, popularly known as Lenin, who had succeeded in establishing a communist government in Russia in 1917 through a revolution, famously known as the October Revolution. Interestingly, Lenin was not a proletariat. He was born into a middle-class well-to-do family and studied law. Influenced by Marxist ideology, he moved to Europe and became a theoretician for the revolutionaries in Russia. The Tsar regime in Russia was overthrown by revolutionary force in February 1917 and a provisional government was established. Soviet history described it as the Bourgeois Revolution. It was followed by another revolution in October in the same year, which is called the Great October Socialist Revolution. Lenin was not physically present when the revolution took place and only returned after the capture of power by the Bolsheviks was complete. The regime put in power by Lenin after the October Revolution in Russia was the first communist regime in the world.

The Leninist communism project, which ostensibly came as a response to the bourgeoise exploitation of the capitalist regime of the Tsar rulers like Nicholas II, turned out to be the bloodiest regime in the 20th-century world, bloodier than its ideological cousins like the Nazis in Germany. As soon as he captured power, Lenin began a violent purging of the “class enemies”. It began with the brutal execution of the entire family of the Tsar rulers, including Nicholas II at Yekaterinburg in July 1918 through shooting and bayoneting. In the ensuing seven years, until the death of Lenin in 1924, thousands perished in brutal executions.

Stalin, who took over the communist regime of Russia in 1924, carried this brutality to a new level. American historian Timothy Snyder gathered data from the Soviet archives that became available after the collapse of the Soviet regime in the 1990s and concluded that the number of victims of brutal Soviet communist regimes exceeded 9 million. More than 6 million were targeted by the regime for purging under various pretexts, while another 3 million perished due to manmade famines, harsh imprisonments at Gulags, etc. It became so brutal that historians started parodying the dictum “war is a continuation of politics” by stating that in communist Russia, it was “politics which is the continuation of the war by other means”.

Integral Humanism as the Third Alternative

Both Jacques Maritain and Deen Dayal studied these developments intensely. Maritain was worried about the absence of God and Christendom in the evolving new world under these ideologies. Deen Dayal, too, viewed the growing influence of European ideas on Indian political and social life and a wilful rejection of the Sanatana wisdom as retrograde, with concern. In different geographies and timelines, this common concern encouraged these two scholars to build a third alternative. Thus, the philosophy of integral humanism.

Maritain had traversed in his lifetime through Protestantism and atheism before finally settling down with Catholicism. Although he authored dozens of books, two books stand out—Integral Humanism, written in 1936, and Man and State, written in 1951. Integral Humanism was an effort to build the intellectual basis for a personalist theory of democracy. Maritain’s focus in developing the integral humanist philosophy was in the historical context of the rise of totalitarian ideologies like fascism, Nazism, and communism. Deen Dayal would add capitalism to this list of evil challenges. Like Deen Dayal, Maritain also believed that these challenges were “destructive of human rights and of the family, as well as of a democracy of freedom and responsibility towards the common good.”

In his thesis, Maritain rejected both fascism and communism as against “natural law”, and as too individual-centric. He argued that man’s connection with God is a part of natural law. Family, society, and nature are intermediate agencies of that natural law, he contended. Maritain’s view was: “Once the spiritual dimension of human nature is rejected, we no longer have an integral, but merely partial humanism, one which rejects a fundamental aspect of the human person.” Accordingly, in Integral Humanism, he explored the prospects for a new Christendom, rooted in philosophical pluralism, to find ways through which Christianity could inform political discourse and policy in a pluralistic age.

“For, a society of free men implies basic tenets which are at the core of its very existence. A genuine democracy implies a fundamental agreement between minds and wills based on life in common; it is aware of itself and its principles, and it must be capable of defending and promoting its conception of social and political life; it must bear within itself a common human creed, the creed of freedom,” he opined.

Maritain’s critics observe: “When he published Integral Humanism, those ideologies were already at work politically, and about to unleash the Second World War with the fanaticism of racial and nationalistic imperialism. The ‘integral humanism’ proposed by Maritain in 1936 aspired to lead the human person towards a full development under the ‘primacy of the spiritual’ that would eventually be fulfilled in Christ.”

Maritain’s philosophy had acquired a prominent place in Catholic theology in the latter half of the 20th century. In a speech at Rio de Janeiro on July 1, 1980, Pope John Paul II invoked Maritain’s integral humanism to explain that: “Culture must cultivate each man along the extension of an integral and full-fledged humanism, through which the whole man and all men are promoted in the fullness of every human dimension. Freedom must be understood in a more substantive sense than mere freedom of choice. The freedom which Christian democracy seeks to promote above all is what St Augustine called libertas major, namely freedom in its full development, freedom in a morally adult state, capable of autonomous choices regarding the temptations coming from every form of disorderly love of self. The integral culture includes the moral formation, the education in values of individual, social and religious life.”

Although Deen Dayal based his initial thoughts on the contemporary historical context like Maritain, he gradually widened his canvas to draw ideas from the age-old civilisational richness of India. While Maritain’s integral humanism revolved around man as the axis, Deen Dayal made man, society, nature, and the divine as the axis of his thesis. In Maritain’s view, democracy and Christ were the guarantee for man’s progress; Deen Dayal’s integral humanism proposes that it is the all-encompassing idea of dharma that should be the basis for universal good.

Coming three decades after Maritain’s, Deen Dayal’s integral humanism, too, challenges and discords the Euro-centric socio-political doctrines on the same lines, and proposes a civilisational counter-narrative in the form of a socio-political philosophy. In that, Deen Dayal heavily draws from the wisdom of ancient Indian scriptures and traditions.

Delivering his lecture series in Mumbai on integral humanism in early 1965, Deen Dayal took a conciliatory approach towards the European ideas, while simultaneously insisting that India should find answers to its challenges in its own culture. “Independence can be meaningful only if it becomes an instrument for the expression of our culture. Such expression will not only contribute to our progress, but the effort required will also give us the experience of joy. Therefore, both from the national as well as human standpoint it has become essential that we think of the principles of the Bharatiya culture. If with its help we can reconcile the various ideals of Western political thought, then it will be an added advantage for us.”

The premise on which Deen Dayal and Maritain based their ideas for professing a third way was largely identical. However, Deen Dayal turned to Indian wisdom to build his distinct philosophy from that of Maritain. He argued that in the Indian view, “society is self-born.” “Like an individual, society organically comes into existence. People do not produce society. It is not a sort of a club, or some joint stock company, or a registered co-operative society. Society is an entity with its own ‘self’, its own life; it is a sovereign being like an individual; it is an organic entity,” Deen Dayal explained.

Developing the concept further, Deen Dayal argued that like individuals, nations, too, have a soul. It is acknowledged that nations develop cultures, traditions, and even a personality. But Deen Dayal made the distinction that those are only the outward manifestations of the core idea that guides the nation. He called that core idea of the nation chiti—national soul.

Chiti is the soul of the nation. On the strength of this Chiti, a nation arises, strong and virile,” Deen Dayal exhorted, making his original contribution to the idea of the nation.

The other unique dimension of Deen Dayal’s integral humanist philosophy is the concept of dharma. Although not new in the Indian context, Deen Dayal brought it forward as an alternative to the capitalist or communist or fascist or Christian idea of capital, state or religion as the dominant force of a nation, proposing that dharma should be the supreme controlling feature of a national society.

“The laws that help manifest and maintain Chiti of a nation are termed Dharma of that nation. Hence it is this Dharma that is supreme. Dharma is the repository of the nation’s soul. If Dharma is destroyed, the nation perishes. Anyone who abandons Dharma, betrays the nation,” Deen Dayal said. In other words, according to Deen Dayal, dharma is the legal and constitutional framework around which the chiti of the nation manifests and is protected.

Maritain and Deen Dayal represented the nativist response to the overpowering European ideologies of the last few centuries. Both emphasised the supremacy of spiritualism and natural law in their different contexts. It will be instructive to undertake a comparative study of the two to understand the common human reflexes, whether in the East or the West, to onslaughts that occur in the name of modernity and liberalism.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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