Orientalism Inverted: The Rise of ‘Hindu Nation’

Neil Gray in Mute (via Political Theory Daily Review):

The grandiose assertions of the German romanticists struck a receptive chord in parts of the Indian intelligentsia. Herder’s romanticist nationalist philosophy of a nation beyond politics residing in the permanent ‘life force’ of the people and enunciating popular truth in the face of domination appeared ‘eminently meaningful’ to large parts of the Indian colonial middle-class. No mere ‘German Ideology’, the idea of nation as popular, cultural and latent, spread rapidly throughout India with cultural nationalism quickly developing as the inverted offspring of German orientalism. For Herder, the national soul was ‘… the mother of all cultures upon earth’, representing an inexpressible spirit in the world, which resided in its ‘purest form’ within the common national Volk. Herder’s romanticist discourse of cultural difference and authenticity provided a conceptual grammar for a domesticated cultural nationalism, and became a powerful impulse for an incipient national ideology based on received orientalist categories in India.

J.G. Fichte, further contributed to an essentialised and organicist conception of nation by arguing that cultures were constituted through the nature-given essence of nationality and could only survive and develop through deep emotional attachment to a state: ‘… that gave body to the nation.’ By virtue of this profound emotional attachment, a nation could become practically invincible according to Fichte – even in the face of inferiority in terms of material, military and productive power. Cultural nationalism would ultimately depend on ‘will’ and the ‘idea’ of nation. The will to sacrifice and loyalty could ‘elevate’ patriotic men above the petty concerns of politics and historical contingency to provide the very life-force of the nation – an idea all too amenable to Indians pinioned by the brute force of colonial domination. The cultural nationalism of Herder and Fichte, and their romanticist emphasis on discourses of ‘… fullness, spirituality, depth, sensitivity and authenticity’, helped ensure that later attempts to construct and consolidate a ‘Hindu community’ by leading Hindu nationalists would remain captive to the orientalist imagination.