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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 48

The Crisis of the Human Spirit

Sunday 16 November 2008, by Jawaharlal Nehru


[(November 14 this year marks Jawaharlal Nehru’s one hundred and nineteenth birth anniversary. On this occasion we are reproducing the following pieces by Nehru as well as three contributions of Prof V.K.R.V. Rao, Shyam Benegal and Sadiq Ali in ’’Nehru—the Nation Remembers’’ (Tributes from members of the National Committee for the Commemoration of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centenary); the article by B.N. Arora has been written specially for this journal’s observance of the Nehru birth anniversary.)]

We live in an age of crisis. One crises follows another, and even when there is some kind of peace, it is a troubled peace with fear of war and preparation for war. Tortured humanity hungers for real peace, but some evil fate pursues it and pushes it further and further away from what it desires most. Almost it seems that some terrible destiny drives humanity to ever-recurring disaster. We are all entangled in the mesh of past history and cannot escape the consequences of past evil.

In the multitude of crisis, political and economic, that face us, perhaps the greatest crisis of all is that of the human spirit. Till this crisis of the spirit is resolved it will be difficult to find a solution for the other crises that afflict us.

We talk of world government and one world and millions yearn for this. Earnest efforts continue to be made to realise this ideal of the human race, which has become so imperative today. And yet those efforts have thus far proved ineffective, even though it becomes ever clearer that if there is going to be no world order then there might be no order at all left in the world. Wars are fought and won or lost, and the victors suffer almost as much as the vanquished. Surely, there must be something wrong about our approach to this vital problem of the age, something essentially lacking.

In India during the last quarter of a century and more, Mahatma Gandhi made an outstanding contribution not only to the freedom of India but to that of world peace. He taught us the doctrine of non-violence, not as a passive submission to evil, but as an active and positive instrument for the peaceful solution of international differences. He showed us that the human spirit is more powerful than the mightiest of armaments. He applied moral values to political action and pointed out that ends and means can never be separated, for the means ultimately govern the end. If the means are evil, then the end itself becomes distorted and at least partially evil. And society based on injustice must necessarily have the seeds of conflict and decay within it so long as it does not get rid of that evil.

All this may seem fantastic and impractical in the modern world, used as it is to thinking in set grooves. And yet we have seen repeatedly the failure of other methods and nothing can be less practical than to pursue a method that has failed again and again. We may not perhaps ignore the present limitations of human nature or the immediate perils which face the statesman. We may not, in the world as it is constituted today, even rule out war absolutely. But I have become more and more convinced that so long as we do not recognise the supremacy of the moral law in our national and international relations, we shall have no enduring peace. So long as we do not adhere to right means, the end will not be right and fresh evil will flow from it. That was the essence of Gandhi’s message and mankind will have to appreciate it in order to see and act clearly. When eyes are bloodshot, vision is limited.

I have no doubt in my mind that world government must and will come for there is no other remedy for the world’s sickness. The machinery for it is not difficult to devise. It can be an extension of the federal principle, a growth of the idea underlying the United Nations, giving each national unit freedom to fashion its destiny according to its genius, but subject always to the basic covenant of the world government.

We talk of rights of individuals and nations but it must be remembered that every right carries an obligation with it. There has been far too much emphasis on rights and far too little no obligations; if obligations were undertaken, rights would naturally flow from them. This means an approach to life different from the competitive and acquisitive approach of today.

Today fear consumes us all, fear of the future, fear of war, fear of the people or nation whom we dislike and who dislike us. That fear may be justified to some extent. But fear is an ignoble emotion and leads to blind strife. Let us try to get rid of this fear and base our thoughts and actions on what is essentially right and moral, and then gradually the crisis of the spirit will be resolved, the dark clouds that surround us may lift and the way to the evolution of world order based on freedom will be clear.

[A Broadcast by Nehru to the USA, April 4, 1948]

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