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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home  > Tamilnation Library  > Nations & Nationalism > Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World : A Derivative Discourse - Partha Chatterjee

TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Nations & Nationalism

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from the back cover and preface:

Partha Chatterjee,a leading Indian political philosopher criticises Western theories of Third World nationalism - both liberal and Marxist. He demonstrates how Western theorists, with their emphasis on the power of reason, the primacy of the hard sciences and the dominance of the empirical method, have assumed that their presuppositions are universally valid, and, through the impact of Western education, have imposed concepts of nationalism on non-Western peoples to the detriment, if not destruction, of their own world-views.

The author explores the central contradiction that nationalism in Africa and Asia has consequently experienced: setting out to assert its freedom from European domination, it yet remained a prisoner of European post-Enlightenment rationalist discourse.

Using the case of India, Professor Chatterjee goes on to show how Indian nationalism did effect significant displacements in the framework of modernist thinking imbibed from the West. Yet, despite constituting itself as a different discourse, it remained dominated by the very structure of power it sought to repudiate.

And so the historical outcome generally has been the transformation of Third World nationalism by ruling classes into a state ideology legitimising their own rule, appropriating the life of the nation, and propelling it along the path of 'universal modernisation'. But the spurious ideological unity proclaimed by these classes, and their failure to subsume completely the life of the nation in the life of their new states, raises the historical prospect that a critique of state nationalism will emerge.

This profound exercise in political philosophy questions the legitimacy of the currently predominant formulations of nationalist ideology in the Third World. It anticipates a new generation of popular struggles that will redefine the content of Afro-Asian nationalism and the kinds of society people wish to build.

For scholars, it will make uncomfortable reading because of its radical attack on the fundamentals of Western bourgeois thought, an attack always couched, however, in the rational tones of Western scholarship.

The author remarks in his preface: "In the last scene of Bertolt Brecht's Life of Galileo, the scientist is quoted as having said, 'If there are obstacles the shortest line between two points may well be a crooked line'....

I wanted to call this book, Crooked Line. But friends more knowledgeable than I in the publishing world have persuaded me that that would not be the best way to reach my potential readers. I have deferred to their judgment".

Professor Partha Chatterjee trained in the United States, and has taught at many institutions including the Universities of Rochester and Amritsar. He has held visiting appointments at St Antony's College, Oxford, and the Australian National University, Among his many published works are Arms, Alliances and Stability (1975), The State of Political Theory (1987)(co-author), and Bengal 1920-1947: the Land question (1984). He is a member of the editorial group of Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society. He is currently (in 1986) Professor of Political Science at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences in Calcutta.



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