The Idea of a Civilisational State

The Power of Discernment is Man’s true blessing. Claiming it and tapping into its reservoir is the Real Achievement of man. The ability to discern in our traditional knowledge is called Viveka. Viveka is the first step in our spiritual journey. 

By Dr Prashant Kumar Singh, Research Associate at Rashtram

“We have said that the world is darkening. The essential episodes of this darkening are: the flight of gods, the destruction of the earth, the standardization of the man, and the pre-eminence of the mediocre”.

Martin Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics

The essential episodes enumerated by Heidegger in the darkening of the world covers, in a way, the whole trajectory of history as it unfolded in the last two millennia. The flight of the gods in the wake of axial revolutions (approximately between the sixth to fifth century BCE) lies at the beginning, or, more accurately, is the harbinger of this darkening process. This period catapulted the world into the throes of politico-religious ideologies, characterized by the rise of monotheism. What follows is the compulsive-repetitive mode of history in which the iconoclastic urge of monotheism is repeated through various reformations and counter-reformations, and which we know by the generic names of Catholicism, Protestantism, Modernity, and Post-modernity. This brief history of the world, especially of the western world, has to be kept in mind whenever we discuss the changing nature of the state and its jurisdiction. 

From the state having trans-national sovereignty without altering or being concerned about the loyalty of the people to their land, to a state subservient to a trans-national idea and obsessed with denationalising the people with their land, the impact of axial revolutions on the idea of the state was deep and far-reaching. From world-conquering rulers satisfying their personal egos in the classical age to world-conquering ideologies with the state apparatus at their disposal, the transformation in the nature of the state was complete. V.S Naipaul (1981), while discussing the Arab conquest of Sind in his travelogue, also mentioned this shift in the nature of conquest, from personal motives to an impersonal idea and which caught other cultures unawares.  An important question that lies within this assumption about the state and the nation is the idea of nation and national loyalty. What does a nation comprise of? And what should form the basis of state? The post-Westphalian states have come to be associated with this hyphenated name of the nation-state and they were a reaction against the overarching transnational Christian state that had succeeded in erasing almost all cultural identities of the place, except language. The disintegration of the old Christian empire into small sovereign states shows the limitations and incompatibilities of states based on religions that harbour universal ambitions. But then again, making language the primary marker of a nation and basing the state on that supposed unity has its own ramifications as shown by the history of the modern world.

The problem with the theological-state was its supposed disdain for the cultural symbols and marking of the people, and it zealously flattened them out. The nation-state tried to save the peculiarity and differences of the people from this cultural massification but had nothing left to its disposal except language or some common cultural habits. It was the idea of a nation built on the barest minimum and was highly anthropocentric in nature. Elias Canetti (1978) has described the power of symbols in the imagination of people in perceiving who they are and where they belong to. The power of landscapes (snow-clad mountains for Swiss, sea for the Dutch, etc.) in the self-identity of Europeans acknowledges the importance of sacred geography in the construction of a common cultural or national identity. Canetti also points out the split and conflicting identities of the Greek and the Roman people because, on the one hand, they consider themselves to be heirs of one of the oldest civilizations, and home of gods and temples; but on the other hand, their Christian identity neither recognises nor tolerates the pagan elements of their identity. 

This is where the idea of civilisational-state becomes important because gaining from the vast historical experiences, it can avoid the errors of both the theological-state and the nation-state. A civilisational-state cannot and should not be based on the supposed brotherhood of all people or on any narrow commonality. Rather, it should move away from the age of Anthropocene to a new age where it is capable of hosting and honouring the gods in their full glory, gods whose flight initiated the period of darkening of the world in the first place. It is always naiveté to ask for or desire permanent unity at the level of the people by pointing out commonalities or by erasing the differences. Unities are always achieved at the higher level, by entities that can create gradients to pull up the individuals to act for a higher cause and find common ground with other individuals. A civilisational-state is one that can protect and sustain the civilisational matrix where gods, heroes and individuals can carry out their adventurous journeys and interactions. 

India being the last and the only civilisation that didn’t succumb to the darkening force offers a point of consolation and a living model for the world on what constitutes a civilisation. And for this reason, it has to be hyphenated with the idea of the state to give it the power and driving force to save the world from the constant slide into the darkening age. As the poet Sujata Bhat has said in one of her poems that the Great Pan is not dead, he simply emigrated to India; perhaps the time has come to end his and other gods exile and reinstate them on the altar of the world. And finally, with regard to the confusion about what constitutes India; whether it is the people or the landscapes and the territories, it should be pointed out that the speech of Sri Aurobindo at Uttarapara can bring about much clarity of thought on the scope, extent, and imperatives of the civilizational-state that India should be. 

  1. Canetti, Elias. (1978). Crowds and Power. New York: Continuum.
  2. Heidegger, Martin. (1979). An Introduction to Metaphysics. Yale university press.
  3. Naipaul, V.S. (1981). Among the Believers: An Islamic journey. London: Andre Deutsch.
  4. Nixey, Catherine. (2017). The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. London: Pan Macmillan