The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Sunday, 23 March 2008

10. (ii) The tide of circumstances

Though India may be truly described as an agricultural and not a manufacturing country, yet it would be erroneous to infer that it is destitute of the arts of civilized life. It has no swarming hives of industry to compare with the factory centres of Lancashire, nor a large mining population, living under the soil rather than on it. [...] But in all manufactures requiring manual dexterity and artistic taste India may challenge comparison with England in the last century. The organization of Hindu society demands that the necessary arts, such as those of the weaver, the potter, and the smith, should be practised in every village. [...] When the first European traders reached the coast of India in the 16th century, they found a civilization among both "Moors" and "Gentoos" at least as highly advanced as their own. In architecture, in fabrics of cotton and silk, in goldsmith's work and jewellery, the people of India were then unsurpassed. But while the East has stood still or rather retrograded (for, in the face of keen competition, to stand still is to retrograde), the West has advanced with a gigantic stride which has no parallel in the history of human progress. On the one hand, the downfall of the native courts has deprived the skilled workman of his chief market, while, on the other, the English capitalist has enlisted in his service forces of nature against which the village artisans in vsin try to compete. The fortunes of India are bound up with those of a country whose manufacturing supremacy depends upon a great export trade. The tide of circumstances, more inexorable than artificial enactments, has compelled the weaver to exchange his loom for the plough, and has crushed out a multitude of minor handicrafts. Political economy, judging only by the single test of cheapness, may approve the result ; but the philosopher will regret the increasing uniformity of social conditions, and the loss to the world of artistic tendencies, which can never be restored.

(Sir W. W. Hunter, Director-General of Statistics to the Government of India, regrets the impact of what today is usually denigrated as 'globalization', in his essay on INDIA in vol. 12 of the Ninth Edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, published 1880)

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