Nehru’s 95th letter to his daughter in “A Look at the History of the World”
Date: September 19, 1932
“We will return to Europe now and follow its changing history. Europe at that time was on the verge of great changes that had a profound effect on the history of the world and had many manifestations.
To understand these changes, we must look below the level of objects and events and try to find what is going on people’s minds. Because action as we see it itself is the result of a collection of thoughts and lusts, prejudices and superstitions, hopes and fears, and no action can ever be taken alone and without paying attention to the causes that led to that action. This is not easy, and even if I could write properly about the causes and motives that give rise to the apparent events of history, I would not have done so in these letters, nor would I have made them more boring and heavier than they are.
Sometimes I am afraid that in my passion for a subject or for some issues and theories, I will be deeper and more worried than I should. Because you have to accompany me. That’s why we should not go too deep into these causes. But it would be foolish to ignore them altogether, and if so, we would certainly lose the grace, the meaning, and the true meaning of history.
We considered the excitement and turmoil in Europe in the sixteenth century and in the first half of the seventeenth century. In the mid-seventeenth century, the Treaty of Westphalia (in 1648) was concluded and ended the terrible Thirty Years’ War. The following year, the British Civil War ended and Charles I lost his head. Then a period of relative peace and tranquility came. The European continent has become comfortable in this regard. Trade and commerce with the United States and elsewhere brought a lot of money to Europe, which itself provided comfort and reduced the differences and conflicts between the different classes.
In Britain, a slow revolution took place in which James II was ousted and the parliament (in 1688) won. In the Civil War between Parliament and the King during the reign of Charles I, Parliament won, and the quiet and peaceful revolution of 1688 actually confirmed the victories that had been achieved forty years ago by force and weapons.
Thus the king retreated to England and gained less important position, but on the European continent, except in a few small areas such as Switzerland and the Netherlands, the situation was different, and authoritarian and powerful kings who did not accept any responsibility were still in charge. Louis XIV (Grandemonark) of France was an example for others who tried to imitate him and make him look like him.
The seventeenth century in continental Europe is actually the fourteenth Louis century. The kings of Europe ignored the fate that awaited them and even without learning the fate of Charles I of with great splendor and glory, they played the role of an absolute authority among welfare and comfort and in a foolish way. They took all the power in their hands and claimed all the income and wealth that came from the land. To them, countries were like their private and personal property.
More than 400 years ago, a famous Dutch scholar and scientist named Erasmus wrote:
Among all the birds, the eagle is the kind of king in the eyes of the wise, who is neither beautiful, nor has a good voice, nor can it provide food. “It’s just a greedy bird that everyone hates and curses him, and with all his power that he has to hurt others, it hurts others more than any other bird.”
Today, kings are almost extinct and their era is over. What are left are the rotten remnants of past eras that have very limited power. They can now be ignored. But other people, who are much more dangerous, have taken their place, and the “eagle” is still a good sign for today’s imperialists and the kings of iron, oil, silver, and gold.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as we have seen, European kingdoms evolved into powerful central states. The old feudal thoughts about the feudal lords and the smaller nobles under them were dead or dying. The new idea of the “country” was gradually formed and strengthened as a unified and united unit. France was ruled by two highly skilled and worthy ministers, Richelieu and Mazarne, the leader of this intellectual development.
In this way, the sense of nationalism and a kind of patriotism grew. Religion, which has been the most important factor in people’s lives so far, has been pulling back, and as I hope to tell you later in this letter, new ideas have taken their place.
The seventeenth century is distinguished and important in this respect that new sciences were established in it, and in addition a global market was established in that century. This vast and new market naturally undermined the economic situation of old Europe, and many of the events that later took place in Europe, Asia, and the United States can only be understood when the existence of this global market is considered. Science later evolved to provide the tools and equipment to meet the needs of this global market.
In the eighteenth century, the struggle for colonies and empire, especially between France and England, led to wars that took place not only in Europe but also in Canada, as we have seen in India. After these wars, which took place in the middle of the century, there was another period of peace and tranquility.
Numerous palaces in Europe were full of ladies and gentlemen that were very polite, cultured, elegant and well-dressed. But this calm was only symbolic, and below that level there was excitement and movement. The minds and thoughts of the people were disturbed by the new ideas and opinions, and the bodies of the people, regardless of a small group of courtiers and upper classes, were subjected to increasing suffering as a result of increasing public poverty.
The calm of the second half of the eighteenth century in Europe was very deceptive and questionable, and in fact the prelude to a great storm. On July 14, 1789, the storm began in the capital of Europe’s largest kingdom, Paris, and destroyed thousands of rotten customs and privileges.
This storm and subsequent changes have long been accompanied by the spread of new ideas in France and to some extent in other countries. In the middle Ages, religion was the most important factor in the social life of Europe. Even after that, during the religious reformation, the influence of religion continued, and every issue, both political and economic, was considered and measured in terms of religion. Religion was also organized by pop theories and high-ranking church officials, and basically meant by their opinion.
In the middle Ages, the social organization was more like the caste and classes of Hindu society. Basically, the root of the caste thinking has been the division of people and society according to their jobs and occupations. In medieval European society, the same idea of dividing social classes according to their occupations was the basis of social thought. There was equality within a class like in a caste in India, but there was no equality among different classes. This inequality was considered the basis of the whole social organization, and no one could change or threaten it.
Those who suffered from such a situation were told to them that “they will be rewarded in Paradise.” In this way, religion sought to preserve the oppressive and unjust social order and to try to divert people’s attention from that situation by talking about the “other world.”
Religion also preached the theory of so-called guardianship and trustworthiness. That is to say, the rich are in fact the guardians and trustees of the poor, and the owner of the land keeps the land as a “trust” for his peasants. This was the way the church used to justify that ugly and disgusting situation. Obviously, these sermons did not make a difference for the rich and did not provide comfort and prosperity for the peasants. No matter how clear and clever the explanations and justifications, they cannot fill the place of food in a hungry belly.
The fierce battles between Catholics and Protestants and the prejudices and violence of Catholics and Calvinists (Protestants) and the dreaded operation of the Inquisition (inspection of ideas) were all the result of these dry and intense religious theories.
Well imagine! Hundreds of thousands of women set to fire in Europe as “witches” and most of “puritans” (Puritans) done that. New ideas about science were banned and suppressed because they were opposed to the Church and religion’s view about the universe and objects. There was a constant and unchanging theory of life, and there was no progress.
As we have seen, these thoughts have changed gradually since the sixteenth century. New sciences begin, and church dominance over everything gradually weakens and politics and economics become separated from religion. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were the period of the growth of “rationalism.” That is, reason is blindly opposed to belief. The eighteenth century is considered to be the period of establishment and victory of freedom of religious beliefs and tolerance towards different beliefs, and this statement is somewhat correct.
But the truth of the matter was that people no longer cared about their own religion as much as they used to. Religious tolerance was closer to religious infidelity, when people greatly attention to something and do not tolerate any slight opposition or inconsistency about it. Only when they do not pay much attention to something, they declare with special grace that they tolerate everything and are patient with everything.
With the advent of new industries and the discovery of large machines, disbelief in religion became even more prevalent. New science has destroyed the foundations of Europe’s old beliefs. New industries and economics raised new issues that filled people’s minds and kept them busy. In this way, the people of Europe stopped beating each other over religious issues or orders (though not completely) and instead succumbed to economic and social problems.
It is very interesting and instructive to compare Europe at that time with today India. India is often referred to as a religious and spiritual country, both in praise and criticism. And they know it as the opposite of Europe, which is now irreligious and very much immersed in the material pleasures of life.
But the truth is that this “religious India” is extraordinary similar to 16th-century Europe with its religious beliefs and theories. Obviously, this comparison cannot be generalized. But it is very clear that we, too, with the many and unnecessary emphases we use on religious beliefs and precepts, and by mixing political and economic issues with the interests of religious groups, with sectarian and religious differences and things like that, as in there were similarities between medieval Europe.
In fact, it is not right to talk about a materialist West and a spiritual East or anything else. The real difference between them is that the industrialized and mechanized West, with all its pros and cons, is extraordinary different from the East, which still agricultural and undergoing pre-industrialization is.
The growth of religious tolerance and rationalism (The prevalence of wisdom and logic) in Europe was slow. Books could not help this first, because people were afraid to criticize church and Christian publications for a while. Particularly, this meant virtually imprisonment or other severe punishments. A German philosopher was exiled from Prussia because he praised the ideas of the Chinese Confucius, and this was seen as a critique and insult to Christianity. Nevertheless, in the eighteenth century, as new ideas became clearer and more general, more books on these subjects were prepared and published.
The most famous writer of this time, who dealt with rationalist and other issues, was a Frenchman named Voltaire, who was imprisoned and exiled for this reason for a while, and finally settled in “Ferny” near Geneva. While Voltaire was in prison, they don’t give him paper and ink, and he wrote his poems in a type of lead similar to the current pencils in the lines of books. Voltaire was still very young when he became very famous; In fact, he was ten years old that he showed his inherent merit and genius. He hated injustice and bigotry and fought with them. His famous quote was “Destroy ugliness and depravity.”
Voltaire lived a long time (from 1694 to 1778) and wrote many books, and because he criticized Christianity, he was hated by devout Christians. In one of his books, he says, “A person who accepts a religion without measurement and experimentation is like a cow that puts itself under a load.” Voltaire’s writings were influential in drawing people’s attention to logic and rationalism and new ideas. His old home in Ferny, near Geneva, still remains, and many people go to see it.
Another great contemporary writer in Voltaire period was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was younger than Voltaire. He was born in Geneva and the city of Geneva is proud of him. Do you remember the statue we saw in that city?
Rousseau’s writings about religion and politics caused a great deal of controversy. His stories, and moreover his rude social and political theories, sparked the thoughts of many people and created new solutions.
Many of Rousseau’s political views are now obsolete. But at that time, those ideas and theories were very important and played an important role in preparing the French people for the revolution. Rousseau did not recommend the revolution and probably did not even expect it. But his books and his thoughts caused the revolution by people. His most famous book is The Social Contract, and it begins with a famous phrase that I quote from my memory, which should be: “A man is born free, but he is chained everywhere.”
Rousseau was also a great and distinguished figure in terms of education, and many of the ideas he proposed about education are now practiced in schools and colleges.
Apart from Voltaire and Rousseau, there were many other writers and thinkers in France in the eighteenth century, but I will mention only one other name, Montesquieu, who wrote the Spirit of Laws in addition to numerous other books. Around the same time, an encyclopedia was published in Paris, with numerous articles by Didro and other well-deserved writers on political and social issues.
France seemed to be full of philosophers and thinkers, and more importantly, many people read their books, so the masses of ordinary people thought like them and discussed about their theories. That’s why a very strong group was found in France that was opposed to religious prejudices and social privileges. There is a vague desire for freedom in the people, and yet it is strange that neither philosophers nor the people wanted to destroy the king and the monarchy. The idea of a republic was not yet widespread at the time, and people still hoped to have an ideal king of philosopher-like kings, as Plato said in his Republic book, to reduce their burden and establish justice and freedom. Anyway, philosophers wrote this, but one cannot imagine how the suffering masses of the people could love the King of France.
In Britain, public opinion was not as developed as in France. It is said that “basically, an Englishman is not a political animal, but if Frenchman is.” But despite this difference, the quiet British Revolution of 1688 had made me so upset. However, some levels still benefited from many privileges they had. A new development in economics that I will tell you about in another letter soon, and that trade and commerce, and various troubles in the United States and India, have occupied the minds of the British. In addition, when social tensions escalated in the United Kingdom, a temporary compromise and renunciation of certain privileges would avoid the risk of disruption and severe explosion; while there was no place in France for such compromises and agreements and for this reason great revolutions took place.
I should also write that the story of modern writing developed and evolved in England in the mid-eighteenth century. As I told you before, Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe were published in the early eighteenth century and followed by that, real and complete stories and novels appeared, and in England at that time a significant group of readers were found.
It was also in the eighteenth century that an Englishman named Gibbon wrote the famous book The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire. I have already mentioned this book in my letters to you about the Roman Empire. “
Source: A Look at the History of the World by Jawaharlal Nehru, translated by Mahmoud Tafazoli, Amirkabir Publications, Volume One.