A new ‘Everyman’ post went up yesterday, talking about Rudyard Kipling’s Gunga Din and what it reveals about both his perspective and ours:
Now, you cannot think sense about morality unless you get this idea of principles clear, and you cannot get it clear until you can identify what is and is not an equivalent case.
The respective views of Mr. Kipling and a modern college student on the subject of the Indian peoples, for instance, is not an equivalent case, for they were raised in completely different intellectual climates. Kipling’s point of view was never seriously presented to the college student as something he ought to believe; if it was presented at all, it was as a historical relic that has been supplanted. The reason the modern college student doesn’t think as Kipling did is not because he is that much more enlightened than Kipling, but because it was never a serious option for him to do so. He may as well be proud of the fact that he never owned a slave or mistreated a horse. Likewise, Kipling never seriously encountered a perspective that we would recognize as Progressive, and certainly wasn’t raised to one (though he was likely to be much the more independent thinker of the two, but we’ll discount that for now).
I am not here saying that Kipling’s Imperialism and the modern’s Progressivism are morally equivalent; that’s as may be. I am saying that they are socially equivalent. What we would call racist sentiments was as common in Kipling’s day as progressive sentiment is in ours. In both cases they are more or less the accepted, cultured view among the educated classes. And both have their ‘Other:’ the people who, in the common view, are ‘lesser than us.’ For the Imperialist it was the native population; for the Progressive, it is (among others) the Imperialist.
And herein lies the equivalent case; not how each regards Indian people, but how each regards their particular ‘Other.’ Stripped of their respective idioms, this is what is being said on each side:
The modern says, “This man is of this type and therefore he is of no account.”
Kipling says, “This man is of this type, but nevertheless is of more account than I.”
Read the rest here.