Sunday, 27 March 2011

Kipling, Corruption & Development


Corruption- defined as an ignoble eagerness for illegal perquisites- is associated with heteronomy, a child-like state, a deficit in maturity and civilization.  Bacon, though a genius, is undone by not any injustice done as Lord Chancellor but what appears a childish greed for bribes- he is caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The context is as follows, Bacon sought to re-open the gate of King’s Equity such that injustices could be directly addressed by the creation of new Equitable remedies, i.e. novel forms of writ to be issued in the King’s name. From a purely logical point of view, this appears a ‘progressive’ measure in keeping with Bacon’s status as a founder of the scientific method laying stress on the value of experiments and empirical testing. However, at that particular point in time in English history, Bacon’s great enemy, Lord Coke- as the champion of Common Law and, hence, bulwark against Stuart absolutism- was providing the intellectual foundation for, and giving legitimacy, to the great heroes of Liberty for the English speaking world- i.e. Pym and Hampden, and even Stafford, before he turned his coat.
The consequence is that corruption, for English speaking peoples, comes to be seen as childish heteronomy- ‘underdevelopment’, in the sense of a deficit of maturity.
In the eighteenth Century, the 12 year old Professor of Greek or Arabic, who can scarcely sign his name and owes his appointment to an Uncle at Court or a sister’s infamy, is the symbol of corruption. During the American War of Independence, we have the sage Benjamin Franklin on the one hand and a host of titled nincompoops on the other- including a King who will soon need a keeper and who will bawl like an infant if denied an apple. The Regent too is a symbol of retrogression- the associate of Fox and Sheridan in youth turns into a great booby who claims to have fought at Waterloo. Why? It is his intemperate prodigality that is at fault- his childish, grasping, greed. Again there is an equation between the old order and a sort of second childhood.
Kant formalizes the notion of heteronomy as childish dependence- underdevelopment, we might call it- as opposed to adult autonomy- Enlightenment equates with Freedom based upon the curbing of one’s hedonic appetites and submission to the categorical imperative, such that only those actions of one’s own are licit which can become the basis of a Universal law.
Hegel historicizes and mystifies this notion by introducing an Idealist teleology operating through history such that vast portions of the oikumene- India, China, Islam- are relegated to outer darkness as spaces the Welt-Geist forgot or abandoned- they become, thus, a terra nullis that can be legitimately claimed and colonized by those the Angel of History has brushed with its wing- but this means the Marxist Leninists who alone keep up its corrupt cultus.
Within the Whig tradition- for Macaulay, for example, for whom all English history was but prolegemenon and postscript to William of Orange’s inglorious doings- a similar conclusion, at least with respect to India, is arrived at by means more direct.  It is interesting that the tack taken by Burke- who saw ‘Indianism’ as a greater danger to the Polity than ‘Jacobinism’- to oppose the opprobrious conduct of John Company- was instrumentalized for a purpose precisely opposite to his own aim. It was the Company’s own corruption which was used as an excuse to impose a harsher, utterly infantilizing, regime upon the Indians- the piteous plight of the ‘Begums of Oude’, helpless to help themselves, becoming the canonical representation of Ind's vast, voiceless, masses- this is precisely that ‘subaltern’ which  can not speak and therefore makes significant the programmatic, or down right silly, ex cathedra pronunciamentos of Ivy league professors. Indeed, with reference to Hirschman’s ‘voice, exit and loyalty’ thesis- it is interesting that ‘voice’ for subjected Indians was never authentic ‘voice’- it was either immature childish babble, or it represented nobody, it had nothing behind it. The other possibility of ‘exit’- i.e. the gravitation to indigenous political movements rooted in vernacular traditions- too was dismissed as a retrograde step, a failure to mature, an argument for some racial flaw that militated against Kantian autonomy and proper ‘development’. The question of Hirschman’s ‘loyalty’ was also redefined such that subject-hood became its own existential solvent- to be conscious was not to access the Satrean pour soi but to always be plagued by the punitive awareness that such consciousness was a childish snare and atavistic delusion- and though disloyalty could be punished by incarceration, or worse than incarceration an abandonment to a lawless anarchy of Hobbesian proportions, Loyalty- conscious loyalty, loyalty as an Existential project, as the career of Niradh Chaudhri so signally demonstrates- was that veritable Black hole to which Calcutta University owes its name.

Not Calcutta alone- even Aligarh was tainted. The figure of Dr. Aziz, in E.M. Foster’s passage to India, illustrates how- to a scion of the Clapham Sect, especially in its connection to Benthamite Imperialism- Indian ‘voice’ is puppyish belligerence, Indian ‘exit’ a self-inflicted emasculation in the service of some comic-opera Princeling holding court in a remote mountain fastness of forested redoubt. As for Indian 'loyalty'- that is an oxymoron. India is a muddle. That is all.

However, greater than Foster in point of literary talent, is Kipling- indeed Joyce considered him the contemporary writer with the greatest natural gifts- and it worth looking again at his canonical works to get a fuller perspective. What we find is quite surprising. On the one hand, Kipling as a journalist, was offered bribes and proudly turned them down- his was no na├»ve, romanticized, picture of India- on the other hand Kipling has uttered the most biting criticisms of English rule in India- in ‘the Bridge builders’, some crooked contractor has bribed a high official with the result that sub-standard building materials have been supplied. The Senior Engineer is powerless. The junior Engineer, on the other hand, is the heir to a Country Estate back in Blighty. Still, this does not mean he can challenge the crooked contractor or send back the defective materials. That’s not how the Gov. of India works. Instead, the junior Engineer takes unpaid leave and goes back home to England. Does he lobby his M.P or write a petition to the Secretary of State for India? No, he’d just get the sack and perhaps the senior Engineer too would end up losing his pension. So, the junior Engineer cultivates diplomacy. He puts his name down as an eligible groom for the debutante circuit and dances with all the ugliest girls so as to ingratiate himself with the grand Hostesses of the day. He smarms up to every Politically connected matron, attending her boring parties and flirting shamelessly with the most dragonly of repellent dowagers he finds under her roof-tree.  Finally, he assiduity gets its reward.  He has hinted that he will return to England and get married once that damn bridge is built. Clearly, this flower of the aristocracy must not be left to bloom unseen in the dusty wastes of moffusil India. Strings are pulled. The corrupt contractor is not punished. Nobody is punished. But, a second delivery of building materials is made (this too will be charged to the Indian tax-payer) and this time it is fit for purpose.  Still, there are obstacles. The Gods of India hold a debate. Should they permit the bridge to be built? On the one hand, there is Peroo ‘the lascar’ (presumably from the Chittagong hills) who is the real star of the story, he believes in the old ways- i.e. bully and bribe the gods- but, on the other hand, there is the Senior Engineer who, alas!, knows a thing or two about ‘Development’- still, in the end, the Gods permit the building of the bridge. They know something about ‘Development’ too. The argument that the bridge will bring them more pilgrims and more offerings is one they see through but admit so as not to be themselves seen through.
The odd thing about Kipling is that the more damaging the charges he makes against the English- viz. that the entire ‘Anglo-Indian’ (as opposed to Eurasian) community is engaged in a promiscuous interchange of partners, with older women preying vampire fashion on young officers (this is something no Indian journalist, however scurrilous his writing, would have alleged at that time)- or the notion that it is entirely a matter of course that crooked contractors have bribed senior officials (indeed, that the rot reaches as high as London!), or that a heavy dragoon (Gadsby) is actually a great poltroon who ‘waters his horse- to take the edge off’ before riding to parade- these are incredible calumnies impugning a large and powerful community, yet the more Kipling reiterates them, the more he is loved and cherished precisely by this, his own, community.
More even than what he consciously writes, it is what he unconsciously lets slip, or- for he possessed Genius, or say rather, Genius possessed him- it is his ability to ‘show more than he knows’, that throws an unexpected light on the subject of this blog post- viz. Corruption and Development.
Take Kipling’s story ‘Todd’s Amendment’. Todd is 5 years old. Hence, ‘he has no caste’. He overhears his father talking about conditions down country- is a famine situation likely to develop? The official reports are conflicting. What is actually going on? Todd steps forward. He knows what is going on, when it started and what needs to be done. The big officials are amazed. How does Todd know something that the ‘heaven born’ I.C.S officers do not? The answer is that Todd knows the rickshaw-wallahs and tonga drivers and mendicants and fruit sellers and so on. He talks to them. Strangely, they talk back- apparently, contra Gayatri Spivak, the subaltern can speak- it’s as simple as that. The Law can actually be changed- ‘Todd’s Amendment’- and things can actually be put right- except, of course, it’s all a fantasy. We know that. Todd would not have been allowed to speak. ‘Children should be seen not heard’. He’d have received a thrashing for staying up beyond his bed-time and, soon after, been packed off to boarding school in Blighty. Indeed, the ICS officer who questions a junior’s report on the basis of what some tonga wallah told him would soon be put on the sick list and sent off to Cheltenham to sober up. Kipling has told us a fairy tale. But, like all good fairy tales, this story reveals a great truth. Todd’s childish heteronomy, his lack of ‘caste’, his ignorance of ‘the Law’, shows that the Empire- supposedly  founded on the Kantian autonomy of the ICS officer tasked with the ‘white man’s burden’ of caring for the ‘Underdeveloped’ native- is actually an ornamental fan-fare heralding nothing but a naked ignorance- the Empire has no clothes and only a child can see it and not resisting shouting it out aloud.
‘Under the City walls’ is another story of Kipling’s- it inspired portions of Borges’s ‘the search for al Muttasim’ and grounded his early belief that Kipling, like the Schopenhauerian Machado, was actually mulatto- which contains an even more hard hitting indictment of the British Empire. Post Colonial theorists, being entirely ignorant, miss its significance because the fail to see that when District Commissioner Petit, after putting down the riot, says ‘it is expedient that one man should die for the sake of the people’ he is quoting Caiaphas the Christ-killer. I recall reading somewhere a quotation from Pater’s Marius the Epicurean (which, I confess, I never managed to finish) to the effect that what undid the Rome of the Antonines was their inability to see the spectacle of their circuses, the gore of their gladiatorial combats, was what would make inevitable their eclipse and destruction. The future lay with that pallid sect, cowering in the catacombs, which could see that it was not expedient at all that one man, or body of men- however brave, whatever their beliefs or battle skills- die for the sake of the people. I paraphrase.  No doubt, Pater put the same matter in more lapidary form.
‘The return of Imray’- on the face of it an extended after-dinner anecdote on the theme of the ghastliness of native servants- I have discussed in my book ‘Tigers of Wrath’.  I looked up what I'd written just now- thank you Google books!- and find that though written over a decade ago, there is nothing I want to change, no too savage strain of saevo indignatio to provoke a cry of sufflaminandus erat, not because, with the passage of years, I have not rather sunk than risen as a stylist, but because I now more clearly see that the damage done by the equation of heteronomy with underdevelopment, the blight produced by the ‘Ayn ul Kamal’, the ‘eye of perfection’- such as that by which Imray slays the khidmatgar’s son, such as that by which the I.C.S blighted India- ‘shakkar ki churi’ says Dadhabhai Naoroji, ‘the knife of sugar’- yet is wielded and wielded to the same ghastly end. Nowadays, anyone with a PhD from America gets to fuck up India- if the village money-lender was a blood sucker, then Virkam Akula getting his Georgetown PhD, is immediately transformed into DR.AKULA,  fastening his ‘for profit’ fangs upon millions of poor women and becoming a multi millionaire in the process. But, I wonder, could Kipling himself have kept up his subtle, naturalistic, art in the face of what is currently happening? Like Dr. Swift, he might have ended up in the loony bill if he’d made the attempt?
Kipling’s ‘Brother Square-toes’ puzzled me when first I read it. Indeed, it now quite indistinct in my mind and conflated with ‘A priest in spite of himself’- in which Talleyrand offers a bribe in the hope of gaining information which will enable his return to France and power. The reason, I recall it now is because Talleyrand is an example of a diplomat who financed his Ministry by bribes from the enemies of his state and the enemies of his foreign policy. History has judged Talleyrand in the right- this was a diplomat who saw that France was best served by remaining within its natural borders rather than by Napoleonic or dynastic folie de grandeur. The point about his corruption is that it served not France merely but Civilization itself. Roberto Callasso makes Talleyrand- Kipling’s ‘Priest in spite of himself’- into a sort of pivotal figure who, as Master of Revels, introduces Europe to its own destiny as something or the other I hadn’t patience enough to inquire further about. Invoking Prof. Mushtaq Khan’s notion of ‘Transformative Potential’, we might say that Talleyrand’s corruption helped unleash the Continent’s productive resources for Pacific socio-economic development as opposed to winner-take-all militarism.
More generally, we might see in Talleyrand a transitional figure- adapting the norms of the ancien regime to a burgeoning Civil Society based on middle class morality. Corruption, as something winked at for ‘greasing the wheels’, arises out of a mis-match between customary morality and a new Universal Ethical theory which has not yet called into existence the institutions that might allow it to function as intended. Unfortunately, mischievous ‘social entrepreneurs’ of whom, to paraphrase Pascal on monks, ‘we will always have more of, than Reason’- are bound to start up a ‘moral panic’, an availability cascade, blaming all Society’s ills on this sort of transitional corruption- i.e. social ‘shadow’ norms or processes arising out of a lag, or hysteresis effect, between the reigning prescriptive code and that which obtains on the ground.
Henry Adams- whose education disabled him from becoming a sort of Paretian social-engineer (that is, if I understand him right)- marvels at Gladstone’s duplicity, as opposed to Lord Palmerstone’s candor and straight-dealing, before reaching the conclusion that the real fault was with his own generation, people of his own education, who caught up in holier-than-thou availability cascades visited a great ruin upon themselves wholly gratuitously. It is in this context that the emergence of Tammany Hall politics, the sink of corruption into which the Republic fell and- as the TV series ‘Empire Broadwalk’ eloquently demonstrates- remained enmired, was the pre-condition for American development, just as Talleyrand’s corruption became the foundation for Europe’s rise from the ashes of Waterloo.
Returning to Kipling, Kim, of course, is his magnum opus. The Irish lad, Kimbal O’Hara, appoints himself as ‘chela’ to a Tibetan monk. Why? Is it not merely to ensure his own survival as a street smart trickster? Or is all just, as Nabokov suggests, a boys-own adventure story of no interest to us 'developed'  evolues.  Certainly, Indians are content to receive it as such. Yet, the hidden text is there for all to see (at least to Hindus). The name Kim derives from Ka- Who?- this as the name of God. He is also called ‘friend-of-all-the-world’ i.e. Visvamitra. In the Rg Veda, this Rishi is shown as having power over rivers. The Theosophists- including, Kipling’s boss, much to his disgust- made great play of the similarity between Moses, who had power over the Red Sea, and Visvamitra in this respect.  The monk is searching for a sacred river. Kim becomes his means of finding it- but by a means wholly problematic.  Interestingly, the English Anglican Chaplain comes across as a flint-hearted pi-jaw merchant. The Irish Catholic priest, on the other hand, is happy to strike a deal with the Tibetan monk who rescues Kim from an Army Orphanage by paying the fees for the elite La Martiniere school. Development, it seems, is so corrupt it can corrupt even the most corrupt of gamin street urchins. An old man may find a river in a waste space- but it doesn’t exist for anybody else. The friend-of-all-the-world loses his only friend in all the world.

Before Kipling, the big Indian best-seller was ‘Confessions of a Thug’ by Meadows Taylor. There are some curious parallels between it and, the Indian police-man, Ruswa’s ‘Umrao Jaan’- essentially in both stories, the anti-hero or heroine is upper class but kidnapped and brought up to a disreputable calling- what both highlight is the difference between ‘ada’ and ‘adaab’- i.e. both the Thug and the Tawaif have the appearance and manners, the pre-possessing address, of the erstwhile ruling class (to which, indeed, they belong by birth). Both, at least to our eye, represent a challenge to the usurping power- there is the story of Gauhar Jaan (born Angelina Yeoward) putting the Governor General’s nose out of joint by cutting off his barouche with her own more splendid equipage- and have their own secret history of suppression. In Kipling’s ‘Under the City walls’ the tawaif Lalun arranges for the escape of the old rebel, but- as Kipling well understood, it was a romantic, hopelessly retrograde, step. What actually happened at Jallianwalla bagh (which to Anglo-Indian ears suggests Chilianwala) happens through the agency of an agent provocateur- the pampered son of a local Lalun- this is a story not even Kipling would have had the stomach to write.  At about the same time as Meadows Taylor, Emily Eden was penning her influential letters and the venom she spits at the Sikhs- especially the nihang warriors- is worthy of comment. Meadows Taylor, in listing the confederates of the Thugs and naming those whom they were forbidden to slay, is highly informative with respect to who exactly the British most feared at that time. Essentially, any indigenous political or cultural formation with military potential- or possibly fanning the flames of martial ardor- was equated with either the Thuggee’s kerchief or the Tawaif’s kotha. I’m not saying, for I honestly don’t know, that any and every ‘uprising’- like that of the ‘Sanyasse’s’ or the Moplahs- was actually part of a ‘struggle for Independence’- indeed, I’m willing to give the Marxists the benefit of the doubt ever w.r.t the Gandhian movement in this respect- nevertheless, my wider point is that the norms and courteous forms of the ancien regime may be denounced as corruption not because they represent underdevelopment but because they impede a sort of Development that is kleptocratic and gives rise to Dependency theory.

English rule permitted a sort of privatization of corruption by means of its adversarial justice system. The advocates who prospered by it retained a bad conscience arising out of the cognitive dissonance of  been paid to 'make the worse appear the better cause'. Consequently, in a manner entirely mischievous, they made themselves available for every available, suitably high toned, availability cascade- especially after the killing of Barrister Pringle Kennedy's women-folk.
After 1919, the industrialists too had been bought off. A system was in place such that those already with an 'in' could be sure of monopolising the local market and, after Independence, cornering resources and (effectively) subsidies to shore up their position. Yes, parevenus might need to pay bribes. So, yes, certain industrialists will denounce corruption. It's simply a sign of better breeding, dontchaknow!

Kipling disengaged with Politics, after his disastrous infatuation with Rhodes, and it is to the increasingly paranoid pages of Chesterton and Belloc that we must turn to trace the further trajectory of this theme in English letters.
But, let us not stray no further on this noisome path.
Kipling, on final assay, was an innocent. At least, it is to our own age of innocence that his works are most gloriously grafted and gratefully remembered. So, tho' others abide our question, Kipling thou art free!

Now if only someone would offer me a bottle of blue label to write their High School essay on 'Development as Freedom'- I too would be content to let this topic well enough alone.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

'Kipling disengaged with Politics, after his disastrous infatuation with Rhodes'
What makes you say that? Kipling remained interested in Politics. True his cousin, Baldwin, wasn't exactly chatty when he came to stay, but Kipling kept up an interest in politics- correctly identifying Mosley as a cad and an arriviste and lamenting the ruin wrought by Irwin- his bete noire.
I think Kipling's relationship with Rhodes was more nuanced- he didn't get on with Rhodes's trustees- but, in the main, Kipling really hadn't much of a bully pulpit or room to maneuver because he was seen as a Jingo by a deeply Pacifist generation. However his constant warnings of the German 'wehr-wolves' were chillingly prescient as far back as Von Papen's Chancellorship.

windwheel said...

@Anon- Kipling had the stuff in him of hero-worship. Granted, Rhodes wasn't particularly happy with him for the excellent reason that Kipling had a cynical journalist's eye.
My feeling is that Rhodes let Kipling down by dying and that his suspicion of Rhodes's legacy had to do with a lesser breed- viz. the Boers- abetted by those 'without the law'- the Hun and the Celto-Americans and so on- would simply squeeze out the Anglos under the aegis of liberal pi-jaw. Kipling's uncle was close to Morris, and his aunt a bit of a Socialist- and his bete noire was the sort of liberal pi jaw spouted by ladies from the suburbs who 'might be worth 50 bob a week on the hoof' back home but who swarmed out to Egypt and India and so on earning much more for the supposed upliftment of the niggers.
I can't actually recall anything particularly political apart from a poem against the 50 hour working week or something like that (on the grounds that it was a Hunnish atrocity).
Wehr-wolves, however, is good. Edward Lear, too, hated Germen and Gerwomen and Gerchildren. Why? What's the connection? Thoughts like these, alas, keep me from blossoming forth as the new Britney Spears- but for how much longer? What, in essence, is David Cameron's conception of the Big Issue, or Society or whatever, if not my apotheosis as Pop Diva- tell me that?

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