The Character of a people is their history as written in their own subconscious mind, and to understand that character we have to turn on it the limelight of their history. Then each anomaly is explained and the whole becomes a clear and consistent result of causes traced to their very root. In the same way the geographical distribution of ideas falls under the same explanation as absolutely as that of plants or animals. A map of a country is only a script produced by all the ages of its making. In the beautiful maps of the past, in which rivers are seen with their true value as the high roads of nature, the veins and arteries of civilisations, this fact was still more apparent than today, when the outstanding lines of connection between cities are railways, the channels of the drainage of wealth being of more importance than those of its production.Yet even now it is the river-made cities that the railways have to connect. Even the twentieth century cannot escape the conditions imposed by the past.
Only the history of Asia explains the geography of Asia. Empire means oranisation, organisation whose basis the consciousness of a unity that transcends the family. That is to say, empire demands as its preceding condition a strong civic concept. Two types of empire have occurred within the last two thousand years : One the creation of the fisher-peoples of th European coast-line, the other of the tribe men of Central Asia and Arabia. In th one case, the imperialism instinct is to be accounted for by the commercial thirst natural to those whose place has always been on the prehistoric trade-route. It may be true, as suggested by a distinguished scholar, that the salmonfishery of Norway, with its tightly organised crew, giving birth to the pirate-fisher, the Viking, and he to the Norman, is to be regarded as the father of the Feudal System and immediate ancestor of all modern European Empire. Such considerations can, however, by no means account for the Roman Empire. To this it might be answered that behind Rome lay Greece and Carthage; behind Greece and Carthage, Phoenicia and Crete; and that here we come once more on the element of trade-routes and fisher-peoples. A strong sense of unity precedes aggression, and the sense of unity is made effective through internal definition and self-organisation. Such organisation is obviously easy to gain by the conquest of the sea, where captain, first mate, and second mate will be a father, with his eldest son and second son, and where the slightest dereliction from military discipline on the part of one may involve instant peril of death to all. Thus the family gives place, in the imagination, to the crew, as the organised unit of the human fabric, and the love of hearthside and brood becomes exalted into that civic passion which can offer up its seven sons and yet say with firm voice, "Sweet and seemly is it to die for one's country".
The second type of imperial organisation, seen within the last two thousand years, is the pastoral empire of Central Asia and Arabia. Islam was the religious form taken by the national unification of a number of pastoral tribes in Arabia. Mohammed the Prophet of God, was in truth the greatest nation-maker who has ever appeared. The earliest associations of the Arabs are inwoven with the conception of the tribe as a civic unity, transcending the family unity; and the necessity of frontier-tribal relationships and courtesies at once suggests the idea of national inclusiveness and creates a basis for national life. On these elements were laid the foundation of the thrones of Baghdad, Constrantinople, and Cordova. The Hunnish, Scythic and Mohamdedan empires of India have, each in its turn, been offshoots from the nomadic organisations of Central Asia. The very name of the Mogul dynasty perpetuates its Tartar origin. Here again, we see examples of the educational value of tribal and pastoral life, in preparing communities for the organisation of nations and empires.
-Sister Nivedita (Footfalls of Indian History)
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