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The Muddle of Modernity Author(s): By Dipesh Chakrabarty Reviewed work(s): Source: The American Historical Review, Vol.

116, No. 3 (June 2011), pp. 663-675 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the American Historical Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/ahr.116.3.663 . Accessed: 28/08/2012 07:04
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AHR Roundtable The Muddle of Modernity


DIPESH CHAKRABARTY

AN IMPORTANT VOLUME OF ESSAYS was published in India in 1975 to mark the bicentenary of the father of modern India, Rammohun Roy (1774 1833), under the title Rammohun Roy and the Process of Modernization in India.1 Even at that late date, the word modernization created no consternation among academics. And nobody raised an eyebrow when the Indian historian Barun De remarked in the 1970s: It is possible that some future historians . . . might put the 19th and early 20th centuries [in India] at the end of a medieval period of uncertainty, instead of the beginning of the modern period, which still awaits us in the third world.2 How our tastes in words change!3 Modernity is a word that has undergone a change of fortune in the last three or four decades. A sense of discomfort about periodization based on a Eurocentric idea of modernity is now global. The sentiment has been given powerful scholarly impetus by Kathleen Daviss sustained and searching examination of the category feudal in her 2008 book Periodization and Sovereignty.4 My point of departure, however, is the sentiment itself that animates much of the hesitation on the part of contemporary historians over using labels like medieval, modern, and modernity. Words such as these imply value judgments from which most contemporary historians want to distance themselves.5 If someone is modern, then he or she is so with regard to somebody who is not. That somebody may come to be seen as backward or premodern or non-modern or waiting
Thanks are due to Muzaffar Alam, Kathleen Davis, Constantin Fasolt, Jane Lyle, Rochona Majumdar, Sheldon Pollock, Dwaipayan Sen, and the reviewers for the AHR . V. C. Joshi, ed., Rammohun Roy and the Process of Modernization in India (Delhi, 1975). Barun De, The Colonial Context of the Bengal Renaissance, in C. H. Philips and Mary Doreen Wainwright, eds., Indian Society and the Beginnings of Modernisation, c. 18301850 (London, 1976), 124 125. See also the discussion in my Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies (Chicago, 2002), chap. 2. 3 Of course, I am not alone in having this experience. Lynn Thomass essay in this forum reminds us of Frederick Coopers ironic reaction to the modernity fad of the 1990s and 2000sCoopers generation grew up, after all, on generous doses of modernization theory and its antinomies. 4 Kathleen Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty: How Ideas of Feudalism and Secularization Govern the Politics of Time (Philadelphia, 2008). The project has been carried forward in Kathleen Davis and Nadia Altschul, eds., Medievalisms in the Postcolonial World: The Idea of the Middle Ages outside Europe (Baltimore, 2009). I personally contribute to the debate in a modest way in my essay Historicism and Its Supplements: Notes on a Predicament Shared by Medieval and Postcolonial Studies, ibid., 109119. 5 Richard Wolins contribution to this forum makes a pertinent remark: History is a normative discipline, although historians who lack training in moral philosophy are often uncomfortable with this role.
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to be made modern, consigned, as I put it in Provincializing Europe, to the waiting room of history.6 Modernization and modernism are also tainted words today. Eugen Webers observation in 1976 that modernization in rural France in the nineteenth century involved a process akin to internal colonization was made without any sense of irony. Today, however, we can read it only ironically.7 As S. N. Eisenstadt and Wolfgang Schluchter averred in introducing an issue of Daedalus (1998) devoted to the question of early modernities, the idea of modernization as a process that resulted in the economic, political, and cultural convergence of the world on a model that was broadly Western would inspire substantially less condence today than in the 1960s.8 The term modernism has undergone a similar shift in usage. Writing before the age of postcolonial criticism, Marshall Berman dened modernism as our aesthetic response to modernization.9 Berman took the value of the aesthetic for granted, for his exemplar of modernism was Baudelaire. Modernism thus conceived involved some strong judgments on aesthetic matters. Clement Greenberg, the master thinker of modernism in painting in the 1930s and later, would insist on the distinction between art and kitsch, for instance.10 Satyajit Ray, the modernist Indian lmmaker, saw his lifework predicated on a distinction between art lm and the popular mindless kitsch of Hindi lms churned out by studios in Bombay and Madras.11 Historians of art today, as they enlarge their scholarly canvas to include the art of non-Western nations, cannot any longer think in such terms without encountering political, that is to say moral, criticism.12 The distinction between judgment (an impersonal reasoning tied to some explicit or implicit notion of public good) and preference (private and personal) has been increasingly eroded in these
6 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (2000; repr., Princeton, N.J., 2007), 8. These moves are reminiscent of how European colonizers justied their domination of others by denying the colonized coevality, as Johannes Fabian famously pointed out in his well-known book Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York, 1983). The Eurocentrism of European ideas of modernity and its connection to colonial domination is now acknowledged almost universally (see the contributions by Bhambra, Symes, Ross, Gluck, and Benite in this forum). Richard Wolins essay revisits some of the issues raised here while arguing for a complex view of the Enlightenment. 7 Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 18171914 (Stanford, Calif., 1976), 478. 8 Shmuel N. Eisenstadt and Wolfgang Schluchter, Introduction: Paths to Early ModernitiesA Comparative View, Early Modernities, Special Issue, Daedalus 127, no. 3 (1998): 2. Sanjay Subrahmanyams essay Hearing Voices: Vignettes of Early Modernity in South Asia, 14001750, ibid., 75 104, points out (99) that Eisenstadt himself propounded the convergence view in his Modernization: Protest and Change (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1966). 9 Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (1982; repr., New York, 1988). 10 Charles Harrison, Modernism, in Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff, eds., Critical Terms for Art History (Chicago, 1996), 142155. 11 Bert Cardullo, ed., Satyajit Ray: Interviews (Jackson, Miss., 2007). The fourteen interviews reproduced here cover the period 19581992. I have also beneted from reading Rochona Majumdars unpublished essay Debating Radical Cinema: A History of the Film-Society Movement in India, 1947 1980. 12 See the discussion in the rst chapter of Partha Mitters The Triumph of Modernism: Indian Artists and the Avant-garde, 19221947 (London, 2007). The problem receives a penetrating discussion in an unpublished essay by James Elkins, Writing about Modernist Painting outside Western Europe and North America. I am grateful to Professor Elkins for sharing this essay with me and for allowing me to refer to it.

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postcolonial times. Also, contemporary artistic production would not in many cases be amenable to analyses based on the opposition between high and lowor even good and badart.13 The spirit of rebellion against modernism and modernist ideas of modernity was everywhere, in all areas of humanities in Anglo-American universities, by the 1990s.14 The philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah included a statement in his semiautobiographical book In My Fathers House that captured the spirit of this revolt: the modernist characterization of modernity must be challenged.15 Similarly, historians, when they have not abjured the word modernity, have been busy democratizing its use, distributing the epithet over a wide period of time (thus the early modern period) or between classes. Others have discovered alternative, multiple, and vernacular modernities in an attempt to rid the idea of modernity of all exclusivist and judgmental pretension.16 Does democratizing a word make it more precise, however? I want to argue that the democratizing gesture does not always leave us with conceptual clarity. Historians need to be clearer about what is at stake for them in discussions of modernity. Otherwise we argue past one another.

PATRICK WOLFE SPOKE FOR MANY HISTORIANS when, sweeping aside all discriminatory divisions between the premodern and the modern, he asserted that colonialisms centrality to the global industrial order . . . means that the expropriated Aboriginal, enslaved African American, or indentured Asian is as thoroughly modern as the factory worker, bureaucrat, or aneur of the metropolitan center.17 The sentiment is noble, but if these disparate gures are all equally modern, and thoroughly so, then clearly their modernity has little to do with differences in their levels of education, urbanity, or any other forms of cultural capital. In what sense could they then be equally modern? Is modern, then, simply a synonym for the global industrial or13 The late anthropologist Eric Michaels once observed about Australian Aboriginal art that its production and marketing was determined by so many considerations that the question of good and bad art could not be resolved. Michaels, Bad Aboriginal Art: Tradition, Media, and Technological Horizons (Minneapolis, 1994). 14 My thoughts here are mainly concerned with non-Western, and in particular Asian, histories. Zvi Ben-Dor Benites essay in this forum argues for a pluralist understanding of modernity. Mark Rosemans essay traces some of the ironic treatment the category modernity received in the hands of European commentators once the shock of Nazism and the Holocaust was processed. This academic revisionism, of course, does not mean that ideas about modernization have lost prestige in the world of high politics outside the university. As many will remember, the Chinese experiment with capitalism of the last few decades was begun under the banner of Four Modernizations. The idea is alive and well in much social science writing in Asia (and I assume elsewhere as well). See, for example, Yoshiie Yoda, The Foundations of Japans Modernization: A Comparison with Chinas Path towards Modernization, trans. Kurt W. Radtke (Leiden, 1995). 15 Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Fathers House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (New York, 1992), 144 145. 16 See, for example, Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, On Alternative Modernities, Public Culture 11, no. 1 (1999): 118; Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham, N.C., 2004); Sudipta Kaviraj. An Outline of a Revisionist Theory of Modernity, European Journal of Sociology 46, no. 3 (2005): 497526. 17 Patrick Wolfe, Structure and Event: Settler Colonialism, Time, and the Question of Genocide, in A. Dirk Moses, ed., Empire, Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History (New York, 2010), 110.

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der, and is anybody caught up in it modern by denition? J. M. Blaut seems to share Wolfes sentiment in his insistence that Africa, Asia, and Europe shared equally in the rise of capitalism prior to 1492.18 Given the enormous internal heterogeneity of the continents mentioned, it would not make sense to take the word equally literally. Rather, it stands for a sentiment of egalitarianism. Instructive in this regard is the case of the category early modern, which has become popular among historians of South Asia. My thoughts are indebted hereas I am for the title of this article as wellto Randolph Starns witty essay The Early Modern Muddle. Starn makes the perceptive suggestion that the conceptual muddle surrounding the category early modern is symptomatic of a democratic temperament that has come to pervade the discipline of history over the last several decades.19 Early modernity, he writes, has become a patent remedy for the problem of periodizing the time between medieval and modern history. The results can be summed up as an imperial extension of temporal, topical, and disciplinary range, though this is usually touted as a democratic alternative to the old high culture eras, Renaissance to Enlightenment.20 European historians did not have the need for such a category, for modern history on the continent . . . was already early, designating a period between the Middle Ages and contemporary history . . . which in turn begins with the French Revolution or the double revolutions, political and industrial, of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.21 A colonial misnomer according to Starn, the ungainly category of early modern appears to have been invented in the United States in the late 1940s, and it went on to attain popularity in the Anglo-American academy from the 1970s.22 European historians have also adopted the tag early modern in order to dilute the sense of discontinuity between the so-called medieval and the modern, so that the early modern is sometimes referred to as late medieval as well.23 If European historians rejected epochal divides on high cultural grounds, historians of precolonial India in the late 1980s and the 1990s began to reject descriptions of the eighteenth century as a period of decline or disorder in pursuit of two historiographical objectives: rescuing the precolonial centuries in the subcontinent from the stigma of being premodern, and denying the colonial period any exclusive claims on modernity.24 South Asianists came to the term late. And one interesting difference was that while Europeanists (as Constantin Fasolt argues) intended to extend the historical life of what had previously been considered medieval, his18 Cited in John F. Richards, Early Modern India and World History, Journal of World History 8, no. 2 (1997): 197 n. 2, emphasis added. 19 Randolph Starn, The Early Modern Muddle, Journal of Early Modern History 6, no. 3 (2002): 296307. See also Jack A. Goldstone, The Problem of the Early Modern World, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 41, no. 3 (1998): 249284. 20 Starn, The Early Modern Muddle, 296. 21 Ibid., 297. 22 Ibid., 296299. Referring to Erich Hassingers Das Werden des neuzeitlichen Europa ([Braunschweig], 1959), my colleague Constantin Fasolt has indicated points of possible disagreement with the genealogy that Starn offers for the category early modern. Fasolt, personal communication, March 3, 2010. 23 Constantin Fasolt, Hegels Ghost: Europe, the Reformation, and the Middle Ages, Viator 39, no. 1 (2008): 353, 357. 24 See, for example, Richard B. Barnett, Introduction, in Barnett, ed., Rethinking Early Modern India (Delhi, 2002), 1129.

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torians of South Asia wanted to move in the opposite direction: they wished to give the so-called modern period a longer and indigenous past extending into the centuries before British rule. To most South Asian historians today, Barun Des description of contemporary India as late medieval would sound scandalous. Starns remark that Early, partly, sometimes, maybe modern, early modernity is a period for our periods discomfort about periodization holds, ironically, in both cases.25 I will give two examples here of the use of the period early modern in recent revisionist writings on India to show how such use often functions by under-specifying the meaning of the word modern. Let me begin with Richard Barnett, who clearly puts himself in the camp of the revisionists advocating the use of the label early modern:
Early modern Indias revisionists are not laying out a theory of Mughal decline . . . They are responding to growing evidence of continuity . . . , of local and regional economic growth, of ecological pragmatism and political realism . . . , of entrepreneurial activity indigenous to India . . . The new impetus . . . is free from Eurocentric, . . . Mughal-centric, and essentialist viewpoints . . . We revisionists are not reckoning exclusively with [Mughal] immortality.26

Barnett does not explain why all of this would constitute a form of modernity. If there were continuities between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Indiaand there werethe earlier developments could be called early modern only if one assumed that what followed was indeed modern. But that begs, as I said, the question of modernity itself. Continuities or discontinuities in history are not inherently modern. Sanjay Subrahmanyams wide-ranging essay Hearing Voices: Vignettes of Early Modernity in South Asia, 14501700 is a well-known example of the application of early modern as a periodizing device in Indian history. He offers, among other things, a rich discussion of a play about caste that was produced in Tanjavur (Tamil Nadu) during the rule of the Martha king Shahji Bhonsle (r. 1684 1712). The material raises many interesting questions about changing caste relations, linguistic diversity, and other aspects of the history of the region. Subrahmanyams discussion succeeds in questioning the idea of an unchanging precolonial India. He shows, noncontroversially, that there were ideas about the public in precolonial India that did not conform to Habermass idea of the public sphere, and he rejectsrightlyany preordained quest in precolonial Indian material for equivalents to European developments. But his proposition that all this constituted some kind of early modernity still leaves us in the dark about the meaning of the word modernity itself:
For several years now, I have tried to argue that modernity is historically a global and conjunctural phenomenon . . . It is located in a series of historical processes that brought hitherto relatively isolated societies into contact, and we must seek its roots in a set of diverse phenomena: the Mongol dream of world conquest, European voyages of exploration, activities of Indian textile traders in the diaspora, the globalization of microbes.27

And then comes his plea: Having taken away so much from the societies of South Asia, it seems to be high time that social science at least gave them back what they
25 26 27

Starn, The Early Modern Muddle, 296. Barnett, Introduction, 2122. Subrahmanyam, Hearing Voices, 99100, emphasis in the original.

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had by the sixteenth or seventeenth centuriestheir admittedly very ambiguous early modernity. 28 Subrahmanyam does not explain the nature of this ambiguity or what causes it. But ambiguous or not, why would certain institutions and periods in precolonial India qualify for the label early modern? John F. Richards attempted a serious answer in 2003 that is worth considering in some detail. In his essay Early Modern India and World History, Richards claried what he meant by early modernity: [Between 1500 and 1800] human societies shared in and were affected by several worldwide processes of change unprecedented in their scope and intensity . . . I call these centuries the early modern period. As a label, it was better than Mughal or late medieval, for it made India seem less exceptional, unique, exotic, and less detached from world history.29 Richards explained that early modernity referred to the following global developments over the period 15001800: At least six distinct but complementary large-scale processes dene[d] the early modern world. They were (1) global sea passages that led to Europeans exploration, mapping, and reporting; (2) the rise of a truly global world economy; (3) the growth of large, stable states . . . and other large-scale complex organizations; (4) the doubling of the world population; (5) the intensied use of land involving destruction or displacement of indigenous societies; and (6) the diffusion of several new technologies . . . New World crops, gunpowder, and printingand organizational responses to them throughout the early modern world.30 Richardss list speaks for itself: expanded communication, growth of states and populations, intensication of the use of land, and diffusion of new technologies. In a word: modernization. Historians of early modern India fundamentally give modernization a long and precolonialas well as globalpast. There is much of value here. It does indeed allow us to see, to use Subrahmanyams word, how histories were connected. And it does make India a long-term partner in world history. But in what sense is modernization, that is to say the global industrial order (to revert back to Wolfes expression), the same as modernity, for the words have distinct connotations in Eurocentric usage? A thinker such as Karl Marx would have had no problem in answering this question. For him, modern would not have been merely a synonym for industrial production or modernization. He would have had a very specic reason for thinking of capitalism or modernization as marking an advance in human history over what came before it, and that reason would have been part of his philosophic vision of human emancipation. The philosophical-economic category capital, Marx would say, had inherent in it the idea of juridical equality (through the idea of the legal contract that wage labor entailed as well as through the idea of abstract labor) and thus presaged the gure of the rights-bearing citizen, a step toward his vision of freedom. And in response to todays charge of Eurocentrism, Marx would have agreed that there was indeed a certain precedence given
28 29 30

Ibid., 100. Richards, Early Modern India and World History, 197. Ibid., 198206.

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to bourgeois European categories in his philosophy.31 But Marxs option is not available to a historian who has denounced and abandoned Eurocentrism tout court. Modernity in the West thus alludes to two separate projects that are symbiotically connected. One refers to processes of building the institutions (from parliamentary and legal institution to roads, capitalist businesses, and factories) that are invoked when we speak of modernization. The other refers to the development of a degree of reective, judgmental thinking about these processes. The latter is what is often invoked by the term modernity. The distinction is, of course, only analytical, for the development of ideas and the development of institutions are in reality intertwined processes. But Immanuel Wallerstein has explained well this analytical distinction between modernization and modernity: The rst one is the supposed triumph of humankind over nature, through the promotion of technological innovations. The second one is the triumph of humankind over itself, or at least over oppressive forms of human privilege and authority, through successful resistance to political tyranny, clerical bigotry, and economic servitude.32 One could say that the libertarian or emancipatory project constituted a certain kind of European selfreexivity with regard to the rst project, the technological project of modernization.33 European early modernity matters in part because seventeenth- and eighteenth-century debates in political philosophy are relevant to all discussions of modernity or postmodernity today.34 Hobbes and Spinoza still remain pertinent to arguments on democracy in a way that may not nd parallels in other instances of early modernity.35 For India in the period 15001700, this self-reexivity with regard to the process of modernization has to be demonstrated rather than assumed.36 On-Cho Ng reports how investigations attempting to transpose to China the epochal concept of early modernity run into aporia (in the Aristotelian sense of lack of adequate resources
31 See the discussion in my Rethinking Working-Class History: Bengal, 18901940 (1989; repr., Princeton, N.J., 2000), chap. 1 and Conclusion. Also Subaltern Studies, Postcolonial Marxism and Finding Your Place to Begin From: Interview with Dipesh Chakrabarty, in Maria Dimova-Cookson, Gary Browning, and Raia Prokhovnik, eds., Contemporary Political Theory: Dialogues with Political Theorists (forthcoming). 32 Immanuel Wallerstein cited in Alexander Woodside, Lost Modernities: China, Vietnam, Korea, and the Hazards of World History (Cambridge, Mass., 2006), 18. 33 Films and lm studies have for a long time looked on the question of modern life as precisely a question of the historical actors time-space experience. See Ben Singer, Making Sense of the Modernity Thesis, in Singer, Melodrama and Modernity: Early Sensational Cinema and Its Context (New York, 2001), 101130. 34 Daniel Carey and Lynn Festa, eds., Postcolonial Enlightenment: Eighteenth-Century Colonialism and Postcolonial Theory (New York, 2009). 35 The literature on this point is vast. But readers will know the degree to which Michael Hardt and Antonio Negris concept of the multitude in their celebrated book Empire (Cambridge, Mass., 2000) draws on Spinozist philosophy. See also Etienne Balibar, Spinoza and Politics, trans. Peter Snowdon (London, 1998); and Warren Montag, Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza and His Contemporaries (London, 1999). Besides, there is nothing in South Asian history as yet that traces the beginnings of modern disciplinary practices and political thought back to the early modern period, nothing that is comparable to, say, Gerhard Oestreichs Neostoicism and the Early Modern State (1982; repr., Cambridge, 2008), Philip S. Gorskis The Disciplinary Revolution: Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe (Chicago, 2003), or John Witte, Jr.s The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism (Cambridge, 2007). 36 In putting the question thus, I am assumingin agreement with Carol Gluck in this forumthat for modernity to remain a useful concept, the diverse historical phenomena we bring under the label modernity cannot be endlessly multiple and must have some shared characteristics.

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and the difculty of passage).37 He further comments: Qing China did not quite wrestle with the question of the past in the same way that early modern Europe came to grips with history. In China, the time-negating Way and the universality of Antiquity were not de-authorized, as it were . . . unlike early modern Europe, where the present came to be separated from the past.38 His conclusion: To the extent that our comparison of the European and Chinese intellectual experiences reveals two historical trajectories quite different from each other, it seems very difcult to dislodge the notion of early modernity from its European moorings and show, in global terms, its Chinese variety.39 Sheldon Pollock arrived at a similar position at the end of his remarkable Gonda Lecture delivered in Amsterdam in December 2004. Pollock used the labels early modern and late premodern interchangeably, the terms themselves pointing to the difculty of periodizing the time before British rule in India. He acknowledged some long-lasting parallels evinced by intellectual traditions of premodern India and Europe.
Kamala kara Bhat ta and Nicholas Boileau shared a wide range of expectations about the organization of rhetoric, the standards of representation and their relationship to the moral order, and the sources of literary creativity . . . Yet a systematic account would also point up how dramatically the two intellectual traditions began to diverge in the late seventeenth century . . . Indian political theory produced N lakant h a Bhat ta and Mitra Mis ra but no Francisco Suarez or Thomas Hobbes . . . Indian moral theory produced Dinakara Bhat ta and Khan d adeva but no Francisco de Vitorio or Hugo Grotius.40

I need to emphasize that Pollocks point is not an indictment of precolonial India. It is indeed possible that Indian thinkers, prolic in the elds of logic, rhetoric, religion, and statecraft, did not develop any self-reexive (as opposed to practical) body of thought on the institutions that Richards listed in his inventory of early modern developments in the subcontinent. That, if true, would simply be a fact; it would not point to some inherent shortcoming in Indian history. But the fact might stop us from equating the long history of modernization or material transformation in India with (early) modernity itself. Pollock made this point in an appreciative but critical review of an important book about eighteenth-century historywriting in India, Textures of Time: Writing History in South India, 16001800, which argued for the arrival of a certain kind of [early] modernity in the far south represented by a consciousness that would be historical in contemporary terms.41 Pollock wrote:
There is no doubt that the non-West participated in major ways in the material transformation that marked modernity as a global phenomenon. More uncertain is what, if anything, in the sphere of thought may have marked it as such . . . [I]t seems that modernity across Asia may
37 On-Cho Ng, The Epochal Concept of Early Modernity and the Intellectual History of Late Imperial China, Journal of World History 14, no. 1 (2003): 37. 38 Ibid., 57. 39 Ibid., 61. 40 Sheldon Pollock, The Ends of Man at the End of Premodernity (Amsterdam, 2005), 83, 84, 86. 41 Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Textures of Time: Writing History in South India, 16001800 (Delhi, 2001), 264, cited in Sheldon Pollock, Pretextures of Time, History and Theory 46, no. 3 (October 2007): 382. Rao, Shulman, and Subrahmanyam responded to Pollocks review in their article A Pragmatic Response, ibid., 409 427.

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have shown simultaneity without symmetry. But should this symmetry turn out to reveal continuity and not rupture, no need to lament the fact. There is no shame in premodernity.42

C. A. BAYLYS MAGISTERIAL OPUS The Birth of the Modern World, 17801914 charts an original path in this debate, but his strategy, in my judgment, is not without problems.43 The problems turn around what I have called here the modernization/modernity distinction. Baylys book concerns a period in which many people in the world came to see themselves consciously as modern. Bayly begins by acknowledging this fact of self-recognition by historical actors themselves. In the rst place, he writes, this book accepts the idea that an essential part of being modern is thinking you are modern.44 But Bayly is too good a historian to think that this particular defense of his own use of the adjective modern would be sufcient justication for his method. For historians, he remarks, it is surely not quite enough to say that something was the case only because people in the past thought it was. How far do recoverable political, social, and economic trends out there . . . bear out the impression that something that could be designated the modern was coming into being over this time period? He argues that the rise of the nation-state, massive expansion of global links, industrialization and urbanization, and the like signaled changes so rapid that they constituted a step-change in human social organization and could thus be seen as constituting the birth of the modern world.45 But there remains a disjuncture between the two moves Bayly has made. When Baylys actors described themselves as modern, they would have done so as a way of expressing their sense of themselves and their times. They would have spoken within normative horizons, that is, polemically and controversially, within a debate that was really about their cultural-philosophical investments in the word modern and about their experience of space and time. And they would have done so without any reference to the full list of social changes that the historian, coming along later, may document. (No living person can have such a list!) The later history of modernization of institutions can be only a very rough and often misleading guide to historical actors experiences of becoming modern. Ones sense of being modern did not always follow the chronology of modernization. Most anticolonial nationalist modernizers experienced European colonial rule as actually skimping and not delivering on the promise of modernization.46 Their desire for modernity thus often preceded the modernization programs that some of them later launched after decolonization.
42 Pollock, Pretextures of Time, 383. Pollock has more recently revised his position into one that emphasizes the need for further empirical research before such questions can be settled. Sheldon Pollock, Introduction, in Pollock, ed., Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern Asia: Explorations in the Intellectual History of India and Tibet, 15001800 (Durham, N.C., 2011), 116. 43 C. A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 17801914 (Oxford, 2004). 44 Ibid., 10. 45 Ibid., 11. 46 For a classic statement of this position, see Aime Ce saire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans. Joan Pinkham (New York, 1972), 25: at present it is the indigenous peoples of Africa and Asia who are demanding schools, and colonialist Europe which refuses them; . . . it is the African who is asking for ports and roads, and colonialist Europe which is niggardly on this score; . . . it is the colonized man who wants to move forward, and the colonizer who holds things back.

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As historians, we can think only out of the experiences and discussions of our own times, about which we can never be as fully informed as future historians might be. While the facts of the past areto the degree that we can be objective about them independent of our subjective preferences, the names and labels under which we organize these facts and plot our narratives cannot claim such objectivity. They are indicative of the judgments we make. When we nd evidence of comparable or similar material transformations in different parts of the world that may have been connected through trade, migration, or rule, and we proceed to create the name early modernity for organizing this body of evidence, we express certain values or preferences. The gesture is expressive of our collective preference for treating different histories equally, for not allowing the West to be the center of the world, and so on. We treat these histories as though they were individuals who should have equal claims to representation. We thus apply some kind of an equal opportunity principle to historiography in order to create a level playing eld between histories of different regions and peoples. The sentiment is entirely laudable, but it speaks mainly of the moral preferences that most historians share today. But they are, after all, preferencesaxioms of our age. Our position here is comparable to that of the modern person who was modern because he or she thought himself or herself to be modern. We have equal histories of the past because we would like histories to be equal! Historiesactual events on the grounddo not necessarily become equal even if historiography makes them look so. This is not, however, an argument against making judgments or displaying preferences. Such judgments are inescapable in writing history. Mine is in fact an argument for consciously recognizing our judgments as such and for not confusing them with that which in our work represents properly reasoned forms of knowledge. Scholars who today look for early modern pasts in Asia often end up accusing Asian nationalists and modernizers (many of whom made models out of Europe) of historical amnesia and portray them as suffering from a colonized consciousness.47 It is they who look to us like mimic men. The proverbial condescension of posterity now falls on non-Western modernizers. This is judgment. But the scholars and reformers of the past whom we judge in this way may have had, just like us, some serious but different issues at stake in their debates on modernity, and a clash of preferences today does not offer us any ground for thinking that they were somehow more misguided in their views of their own pasts than we historians are today in our views of the same pasts. Their amnesia may have been as much an expression of their prejudices (implicit and unconscious everyday judgments) as historians remembering may be of theirs. The task is to be reexive about these preferences as far as possible and to locate our respective preferences historically. This is not an argument against the possibility of historical knowledge. I am not saying that history is merely a reection of the biases of the historians present. This is not a repetition of R. G. Collingwoods point that St. Augustine looked at Roman history from the point of view of an early Christian; Tillemont, from that of a sev47 For example, see Woodside, Lost Modernities, 1112, 7981, where he discusses Asian modernizers language of self-loathing and their historical amnesia about their own pasts. It is not my point that Asian modernizers did not neglect certain aspects of their heritage. But they had their reasons for doing so, and surely their reasoning is as deserving of the historians attention and understanding as that of their predecessors in early modern times.

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enteenth-century Frenchman; Gibbon, from that of an eighteenth-century Englishman; Mommsen, from that of a nineteenth-century German. There is no point in asking which was the right point of view. Each was the only one possible for the man who adopted it.48 What I have said does not deny situations where historical knowledge may have improved over time through the availability of additional research data, strategies, and technologies. My point is different, and let me explain it with a quick and concluding example. For John F. Richards, the fact that the Mughals never adopted the printing press in spite of having had it demonstrated by missionaries and the European companies was simply an instance of cultural resistance, not a critical factor in his discussion of early modernity in India.49 Yet for a nationalist Indian historian of an earlier generation, Sir Jadunath Sarkar (1870 1958), who pioneered detailed research in the late Mughal period and who regarded the acquisition of European knowledge as fundamental to his vision of a modern India, this particular fact was symptomatic of what was rotten at the core of the Mughal regime. Sarkars voice was harsh, judgmental, and sometimes even partisan. He lamented the fact that in the Mughal court no attempt was made by any Indian noble or scholar to learn European languages.50 He wrote:
Ever since the middle of the 17th century, there had been close commercial exchange between India and England, but our royalty and ruling classes imported only European articles of luxury; none cared for European knowledge; no printing press, not even the cheapest and smallest lithographic stone was installed by the Mughal Emperors or the Peshwas. They imported only what catered to their luxury and vice.51

Today we are rightly critical of the limitations of Sarkars sources, and even of his biases. But the debate here is not about historical objectivity per sewe can always acknowledge the many improvements in historical knowledge that his research effected and where his research may today seem wanting. Sarkars knowledge was intricately woven through with his judgment or preference, which would have been rooted in his present. But the gesture that simply democratizes and empties the word modernity of all normative connotations in order to arrive at some equal opportunity view of modernization processes in different, albeit connected, regions of the world also reects a presentist sentiment, that is to say, a judgment. The point is to think about and clarify what is at stake in the judgments we actually make as historians of modernity (since judge we must), for these stakes help explain how we picture the normative modernity from which our judgments issue. Jadunath Sarkars indictment of the Mughals followed from his particular brand of modern nationalism. Much of his lifelong absorption in Indian history was devoted to his
48 T. M. Knox, Editors Preface, in R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (1956; repr., Oxford, 1976), xii. William H. Drays History as Re-enactment: R. G. Collingwoods Idea of History (Oxford, 1999), 273, points out that this passage was taken from a letter written by Collingwood to Knox and that the question of Collingwoods skepticism about historical knowledge was more complicated than this and other similar passages in his writings may suggest. 49 Richards, Early Modern India and World History, 208. 50 Jadunath Sarkar, History of Aurangzib, 5 vols. in 4, vol. 5: The Closing Years, 16891707 (1924; repr., New Delhi, 1974), 355. Sarkar adds in a footnote that at the Mughal court interpretation was done for European visitors by Armenians or by Europeans who knew Persian. Only one Muhammadan (Mutamad Khan, c. 1703) is spoken of in Aurangzibs letters as knowing the English language. 51 Jadunath Sarkar, Fall of the Mughal Empire, 4 vols., vol. 4: 17891803 (1950; repr., New Delhi, 1972), 345.

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quest for a measure of the potential India had for creating from within herself a united nationhood. The fall of the Mughal Empire was a tragedy for Sarkar because in his viewand here he sounds like someone who looked for the roots of modernity in precolonial Indiathe Mughals laid the initial groundwork needed to make India into a modern nation-state. The 1932 foreword to the rst edition of the rst volume of the Fall of the Mughal Empire described that empire as having broke[n] the isolation of the provinces and the barrier between India and the outer world, and [having] thus [taken] . . . the rst step necessary for the modernization of India and the growth of an Indian nationality in some distant future.52 Yet the Mughals blew their chance through Aurangzebs orthodoxy followed by a series of inept rulers in the eighteenth century. Our immediate historic past, wrote Sarkar, resembles a tragedy in its course and was no less potent than a true tragedy to purge the soul by exciting pity and horror.53 India had to wait for British pax to start again the unnished business of becoming a nation. For all its faults, Sarkars position has the merit of reminding us that claims to modernity, in any age, are artifacts of both ideology and imagination. To be modern is to judge ones experience of time and space and thus create new possibilities for oneself. But it is also to take intellectual and political risks, for the very act of judging opens us up to the criticism of others, including the criticism of those to come. If it is true that thinkers in India in the early modern period engaged in self-reexive debates about institutions that eventually constituted our modernization, then historians ought to be able to bring to life such ancestors from precolonial India whose reections on their own times are worthy of our contemporary passions and disagreements. To achieve this, however, new empirical research, while valuable in itself, is not enough. Historians have to take responsibility for the normative freight that the word modernity, with all its diverse and somewhat slippery meanings, has carried globally since the time of European colonial expansion.54 True, the past must be understood on its own terms, but we should also be able to say as we encounter it what it is from the past that we do not want to keep any longer in our own lives and what actually may enrich our thinking today. (Nationalist modernizers in Asia and Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often did exactly that.) And the words we and our here do not refer to any particular ethnic group in any narrow sense. If modernization has had a global history, there is no reason why reections on that history should have to depend only on the intellectual resources provided by traditions of thought generally regarded as European or Western. Turning specically to the question of whether or not early modern was an apt way of periodizing history in the Indian subcontinent, my question would be: Which Indian or South Asian thinkers from the precolonial period, then, must we still wrestle with in fabricating or thinking about democratic forms of public life? But historians can ask such questions only if they clarify to themselves and their readers what is at stake for them in debates about modernity. The word is not very useful if it is
52 Jadunath Sarkar, Foreword, in Sarkar, Fall of the Mughal Empire, vol. 1: 17391754 (1932; repr., Delhi, 1971), iii. 53 Ibid. 54 Many of the contributors to this forum agree on this point.

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treated merely as a synonym for institutional or infrastructural change over time that is to say, for modernization.

Dipesh Chakrabarty is the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History and South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He also holds a visiting position at the Australian National University. He is a founding member of the editorial collective of Subaltern Studies and a co-editor of Critical Inquiry. He is currently engaged in completing two projects: (1) tracing how ideas about research and historical truth were debated by historians in early-twentieth-century India, and (2) how competing imaginations of human history inspireand are in turn challenged bythe science and politics of climate change.

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