Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A J P Taylor: someone we should know

We have come to see our times as bad. Pscyhologists blame the increase in mental illness on the "complexity" of modern life. Professors, intellectuals and social scientists as well as poets, artists and filmmakers of "high culture" portray the world as if it were going to dogs. Is this realistic?

If your answer is yes, then the chances are that you have been brainwashed by false prophets of doom. Nobody told you that some great minds have been thinking otherwise, right? Well, A. J. P. Taylor (1906-1990) was one of the finest historians of the twentieth century and he believed that pessimism was popularized in Britain by some unrealistic writers after the First World War when, despite regrettable loss of life in previous years, the country was actually witnessing the best period in its history (italics are mine in the following memorable lines):
To judge from all leading writers, the barbarians were breaking in. The decline and fall of the Roman empire were being repeated. Civilized men could only lament and withdraw, as the writers did to their considerable profit. The writers were almost alone in feeling like this, and it is not easy to understand why they thus cut themselves off. By any more prosaic standard, this was the best time mankind, or at any rate Englishmen, had known. (A. J. P. Taylor, English History 1914–1945)
False prophets of pessimism, as listed by Taylor, include: T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, T. E. Lawrence (the 'Lawrence of Arabia'), Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and others. In my opinion, Taylor himself may not have escaped the influence of another one of this club, the biographer Lytton Stratchey. However, the more important questions are:

  • Why Taylor's views have been blacked out so completely in the academic circles?
  • Why a normal student does not even get to know that alternate views exist which are not so pessimistic?
The image shows the cover of Troublemaker: the Life and History of A.J.P. Taylor by Kathleen Burk (2000)
Next: Iqbal: A Message from the East


  1. What about the Mind of Muslim Culture? I hope we the muslims not just work with our spirit :-)

    Actually, the confusion is that the MIND and the SPIRIT usually give different dimensions to any situation. One is more concerned towards RATIONAL thinking whereas the other is more towards EMOTIONAL feelings of spirit. So do we justify reasonably when we compare the MIND of Europe with the SPIRIT of Muslim Culture.

    Please share your beneficial viewpoint on why the MIND is compared with SPIRIT and not with MIND. And what we found when MIND of Europe is compared with MIND of Muslim Cultures

  2. Akbar, thanks. Let's remember WHERE the two terms came from: I didn't coin them. T.S. Eliot offered the term "the mind of Europe" while Iqbal cited "the spirit of Muslim culture." Both Eliot and Iqbal have been accepted as authorities in their own rights.

    Now if you invent a new term such as "the mind of Muslim culture" then it would be YOUR idea. You have every right to that, but are you prepared to do as much home work on your concept as Eliot and Iqbal did on theirs? :)

  3. hello sir,
    what i would like to add on this is that, its actually not a bias that we do, its the writings that prove their intentions. its true that we're associating the spirit of muslim with positive things such as hope aambitions and dreams to fulfill, but on the other hand, the mind of europe does not take these things as logical and tries to dominate us with their mind. as the categories suggest that th SPIRIT of Muslim culture and the MIND of Europe. both of them are different in perceiving things... one goes on logic whereas one tends to believe on Human Feelings and Emotions... That's all.

  4. Sir, please clarify one more thing. As you said that these terms were given by ELIOT and IQBAL, did they gave these terms for the sake of COMPARISON between them, as we are doing or gave just to explain these terms?

    Secondly, sir being our guru of literature what is your viewpoint on MIND OF MUSLIM CULTURES. Beside ELIOT and IQBAL, I m more anxious to have your viewpoint in this matter.

    We did heard many times that SPIRIT of EUROPE has no conflict with SPIRIT of MUSLIM CULTURES, so logically speaking one question arises whether there is any conflict between the MINDs of both.

    Hope this time i am able to clarify my actual question.

  5. Akbar, thanks for coming back. Your question was clear even the first time, I am just trying to clarify my perspective one step at a time. Eliot and Iqbal did not name each other for comparison, although since they both implied that their terms were globally applicable they must have anticipated comparisons at some point.

    Not only there is no conflict between the Spirt of Muslim Culture and the Spirit of Europe, but I am beginning to suspect that they are one and the same.

    It seems to me that minds can be different, because each society tends to develop a "collective consciousness." The structure of Islam is such that the collective consciousness (i.e. "the mind") of a Muslim society retains a balance with its spirit rather than dominating it. Therefore, I presume that the minds of Europe and any Muslim community would be different.

    Hence, we can think about two types of conflicts. The first is the conflict between the mind of Europe and it's own spirit (and it's own spirit is also the Spirit of Muslim Culture, as I suspect).

    The second conflict is between the mind of Europe which has overthrown the spirit and insists on devouring it, and the minds of some other societies such as Pakistan which desire to retain a healthy balance with their spirit.

  6. Sir, what I got from all this conversation is that we should divide literature into these two: Mind and Spirit. Every literature which talks rationally and for any worldly outcome should be placed under Mind. On other hand literature deals with emotions, faith and/or supernatural power should be kept under Spirit.
    As you have mentioned that Iqbal has put many western writers in Muslim culture and we have put many of our writers in Mind of Europe so here instead of dividing it geographically we should divide it as mentioned above.
    Secondly, I would like to know that do we have Muslim Culture today? And is there any spirit in it? Please comment

  7. Hussain, thanks. Please see the new post "Why the Spirit of Muslim Culture" for a detailed response to your comment :)