All posts by Claudio Coloma

A South American perspective on the ‘rise’ of China

Is it possible to explain the phenomenon of China in South America with the North American concept of “rise”?

In the context of plural international dynamics, the idea of “rise” can be replaced by the notion of “presence”, as a point of departure to elaborate explanations about China according to the South American context. Both rise and presence would be complementary dynamics carried out into what Amitav Acharya has called “a multiplex world”

It is not surprising realists and idealists have come to see ‘the rise of China’ as the most important international phenomenon addressed by the International Relations theory (IRT). This issue has been so far addressed as a concern from the North, being the axis of two intertwined debates: the end of the American world hegemony and the power race between the United States and China.

The phenomenon of China certainly leads to uncertainty in analysing strategic contexts or project national foreign policies. Peter Katzenstein has addressed this concern: “[c]hange can lead to a degree of individual and collective insecurity and a politics of threat and fear that elicits a political and intellectual response –simplification through the creation of misleading binaries. Conditions of uncertainty and change and the search for stability are thus politically closely linked”. (Katzenstein, 2012, p. 3)

In this sense, the most important intellectual response to the phenomenon of China given by North American IRT has been the binary use of the concept of rise and whether China will be a peaceful or un-peaceful world power. However, to what extent does this search for stability satisfies South American necessities related to particular changes produced by the presence of China in the region? Does the concept of “rise” addressed by IRT’s leading paradigms explain the relation between China and South American states?

What does it mean “rise” for the IRT?

The IRT has generally assumed the idea that “rise” means a race for international power. From this point of view, China would be only the last modern case of a tragic list in which other great powers have risen and fallen during the last four centuries. The concept implies a competition between powerful states –mostly Western ones- whose rivalry has global scope because it implies the possibility of military conflicts between them.

Paul Kennedy’s book “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” (Kennedy, 1988) was an important contribution to the understanding of “rise”, not because it was an original and assertive approach, but because it was a best seller that deeply addressed the concept at the end of the eighties, having considerable influence in the West and also on southern scholars who were up to date in Western intellectual trends during the post-Cold War years (Anthony Giddens, 1989).

Kennedy’s notion of “rise” involved the realist principle of international competence in Europe during the post-Renaissance period. According to him, “the warlike rivalries among its various kingdoms and city-states stimulated a constant search for military improvements, which interacted fruitfully with the newer technological and commercial advances that were also being thrown up in this competitive, entrepreneurial environment” (Kennedy, 1988, p. xvi). In this context, a little few years after Kennedy’s book, Kenneth Waltz described the emergence of the new structure in international politics after the Cold War as follows: “The behaviour of states, the patterns of their interactions, and the outcomes their interactions produced had been repeated again and again through the centuries despite profound changes in the internal composition of states […] States have continued to compete in economic, military, and other ways” (Waltz, 1993, p. 45).

It is worthwhile noticing that the IRT did not deeply address China as emerging power at the end of the Cold War and during the nineties. Instead, at that time the first concern was whether US had to face the return of European 19th century patterns of balance of power. Nevertheless, when the issue gained importance during the next decade, the main theoretical output provided by those previous debates consisted in realising that the interaction between US and China could lead a struggle for international power. Since then, the main theoretical dilemma has been whether China will be or not a peaceful emerging power, which is expressed in two leading theoretical approaches.

The first approach argues that China cannot rise peacefully, because powerful states are rarely satisfied with the distribution of power. Following the Waltz’s neorealist theory, John Mearsheimer argues that states want power because they have to protect themselves from each other, so despite knowing that powerful states control offensive military capabilities, it is impossible to know other states’ intentions (Mearsheimer, 2003). In this sense, states use their power to survive, ignoring culture, identity or types of regimes; while the first goal of using power is to pursue regional hegemony, the second one is to ensure that no rival great power controls another region (Mearsheimer, 2003, pp. 140-145).

The second approach argues that China will rise peacefully, because it “has powerful incentives to work with and integrate into the existing order”, which is centralised in US (Ikenberry, 2011, p. 249). This thesis has been proposed by John Ikenberry, who states that China will not proceed to rupture the international order because its capitalist economy depends on the international trade ruled by liberal institutions; moreover, China has engaged with the most important international organizations created by the American liberal order, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. From this point of view, Ikenberry explains that if this argument was correct, the global system would retain political characteristics of a one-hub global system even as the distribution of material capabilities shifts in favour to China (Ikenberry, 2011).

Is “rise” the only way to explain China as international phenomenon?

In order to assess the theoretical meaning of rise to the case of China, what needs to be particularly emphasized is the fact that the Chinese phenomenon does not only mean a competition for global power, but also a new and unknown international actor. From this point of view, the relation between China and South America entails diverse dynamics which would reinforce a multiplex world instead of a sort of international monolith. The idea of “multiplex world” was proposed by Amitav Acharya. According to this author, it is “a world of diversity and complexity, a decentred architecture of order management, featuring old and new powers, with greater role for regional governance” (Acharya, 2014, p. 8); in the particular case of China, even if it “never becomes the leader power of the world, its rise would still fuel a desire and need for legitimizing and exporting its own values and institutions for domestic and international governance drawn from China’s own history and culture” (Acharya, 2014, p. 46).

In the context of the existence of diverse international dynamics, the idea of “rise” could be replaced by the notion of “presence” as a point of departure to elaborate explanations about China according to the South American context. From this point of view, both rise and presence would be complementary dynamics carried out in this multiplex world. There are some important reasons to argue this conceptual change.

First, rather than being a comprehensive approach to explain world powers’ behaviour, structural realist theory reflects an ethnocentric explanation about the US foreign policy towards Latin America since the Monroe Doctrine. Mearsheimer argues, for example, “[i]f China continues its striking economic growth over the next few decades; it is likely to act in accordance with the logic of offensive realism, which is to say it will attempt to imitate the United States” (Mearsheimer, 2003). The fact of assuming similar behaviours would entail serious risks for East Asian countries, particularly in terms of suffering future Chinese interventions. In this sense, some Asian states could be under Chinese threat in the future as Chile and Venezuela were threatened by Washington during the governments of Salvador Allende and Hugo Chavez, because if countries had a kind of anti-Chinese hegemony president, China’s intelligence agencies would promote a coup d’état.

Furthermore, although Mearsheimer’s theory could be correct in the future, China’s behaviour deeply differs from US today. For example, China does not have military alliances with states from South America, while the United States, in contrast, has military allies such as Japan, South Korea and Philippines. China does not carry out military exercises across the South Pacific either, while the United States recently accomplished the provocative Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP), at the South China Sea, increasing diplomatic tensions with China because of the “innocent passage” of the USS Lassen within China’s twelve nautical miles at the Subi Reef (Krejsa, 2015).

Second, the engagement between South America and China experienced since the 2000s coincided with the declining of US influence on South America under George W. Bush’s government. Such a decline was caused by several factors such as: (1) the failure of the Consensus of Washington’s policies in countries like Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, which in turn resulted in the rise of anti-neoliberal governments; (2) the general rejection against US invasion to Iraq in 2003; (3) and the rise of Brazil’s international influence under the presidency of Inacio Lula Da Silva.

The decline of US influence in South America in relation to China is because the latter neither recommends nor obligates other countries to follow universal values. So despite the existence of a China’s Policy to Latin America, there are flexible approaches to deploy Chinese foreign interests across the region. Thus, for example, China carries out strong free trade relations with Chile, while with Argentina accomplishes technological projects on atomic technologies. With Peru there are important investments on mining exploitation, and with Bolivia, China launched the first Bolivian Satellite (Chinese Government, 2008). The US policy towards the region in the past, in contrast, had been characterised by the promotion and imposition of “American” values and the establishment of regional institutional frameworks, such as the Organization of American States (OAS), the Consensus of Washington and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Third, it is necessary to explore the possibility of finding out southern inter-subjectivities and southern agencies as expressions of a multiplex world. In this sense, it is undeniable that Ikenberry’s approach seems inclusive in terms of describing the international order as a system where every country participates in it, independently of power, geography, ethnicity, or political system; however, the same approach oversimplifies the multiplex logics of international relations around the world, entailing the risk of omitting the study of non-Western processes or South-South relations. It also excludes any possibility of studying whether some non-Western institutions, norms or behaviours can nest in this order. For example, the principle of non-intervention coined by South American countries, after decades of Washington interventions across the region, did not reinforce a one-hub system when countries rejected the Bush administration’s plan to invade Iraq in 2003. The  Washington Consensus was also rejected by several South American countries after serious institutional crisis at the beginning of the last decade. Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina and Ecuador experienced deep crisis after the neo-liberalization of their economies during the eighties and nineties, which in turn explained the emergence of anti-neoliberal governments. From this point of view, and given the China’s experience dealing with Western powers since the Wars of Opium, it would be likely to find more similar understandings about the principle of non-intervention between South America and China, than between these both and US.

Fourth, the emergence of China as international phenomenon must lead to realise its own particularities that are not necessarily understood according to the binary approaches provided by neo-realism and neo-liberalism. For example, in the case of realist paradigm the concepts of competence and anarchy could not have been theoretically legitimated without the European experience of disintegration in several nation-states since the Peace of Westphalia. The European disintegration and anarchy deeply differ from China’s experience, which legitimates unity and harmony as key concepts. Martin Jacques has pointed out this difference in his thesis about civilizational state: “Instead of seeing China through the prism of a conventional nation-state, we should think of it as a continental system containing many semi-autonomous provinces with distinctive political, economic and social systems” (Jacques, 2009, p. 203).


For South American countries, the rise of a new world superpower does not mean a radical change, because they have always been under the hegemony of external superpowers, such as Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The presence of China in South America, in contrast, implies an unprecedented experience of interacting with a non-Western power whose culture, identity, values and history deeply differ from the other Western powers.

The presence of China in South America reinforces dynamics for a more diverse world, rather than a homogeneous American-led liberal hegemonic order or a system where world powers are competing for surviving. Thus, the assumption of multiple dynamics related to China is a point of departure to explain this phenomenon according to the South American context.

Both rise and presence are elements of what Amitav Acharya has defined as a multiplex world. The complementarity of these concepts can ameliorate the state of uncertainty given by the fact that this the first time in our modern era that a non-Western state—which is also a civilizational state—is becoming a global international actor. In sum, this phenomenon entails a broad range of dynamics flowing in several directions, for example: from north to south, south to south, west to non-west, or non-west to non-west.


Acharya, A., 2014. The End of American World Order. 1st ed. Cambridge: Polity.

Anthony Giddens, M. M. a. I. W., 1989. Comments on Paul Kennedy’s the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. The British Journal of Sociology, 40(2), pp. 328-340.

Chinese Government , 2008. Official Publications. [En línea]
Available at:
[Último acceso: 27 November 2015].

Ikenberry, J., 2011. Liberal Sources of American Unipolarity. En: M. M. W. W. John Ikenberry, ed. International Relations Theory and The Consequences of Unipolarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 216-251.

Jacques, M., 2009. When China Rules the World. New York: Penguin Press.

Katzenstein, P., 2012. China’s Rise: Rupture, return, or recombination?. En: P. Katzenstein, ed. Sinicization and The Rise of China. Civilizational processes beyond East and West. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 1-38.

Kennedy, P., 1988. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. 2nd ed. London: Unwin Hyman.

Krejsa, H., 2015. The National Interest. [En línea]
Available at:
[Último acceso: 29 October 2015].

Mearsheimer, J., 2003. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. Updated Edition ed. New York: Norton.

Nau, H., 2001. Why ‘The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers’ was wrong. Review of International Studies, Issue 27, pp. 579-592.

Reuters, 2015. Reuters. [En línea]
Available at:
[Último acceso: 16 November 2015].

Waltz, K. N., 1993. The Emerging Structure of International Politics. International Security, 18(2), pp. 44-79.


Claudio Coloma is with the School of International Studies, University of Santiago of Chile

The proposal to legalise drugs in South America

Security is one of the most important topics in International Studies. This concept is not always related to the North, the South has had its own threats too: throughout 19th and 20th centuries there have been Western empires, ideological battles and US interventions. But today, in South America, the main threat is drug trafficking and its roots are in economic globalization.

Free trade around the world is one of the most important long term economic trends and the exploitation of the free trade by emerging powers is an important short term trend. In this way, regions around the world have been impacted by new world economic powers like China. The Chinese demand of commodities around the world has resulted in high international prices and lucrative imports from countries like Chile, Peru and Brazil.

Together with China, Brazil has been very important in South America (in spite of its low growth throughout 2012) especially for countries like Bolivia or Paraguay, two landlocked states, where the main export to the Brazilian market is energy.

Thus, most of South American economies are growing around 4%[1] and during last decade poverty has decreased, even in Bolivia, the poorest regional country;[2] this is mainly because government efforts in this period have been focused on keeping macroeconomic responsibility plus implementation of social programs. Nonetheless, there are two main economic menaces in the region: first, most of South American countries are relying on China’s economy success, which in turn will not be forever. Second, if Brazil keeps its economy dependent on a bumpy Europe, and if the called “Brazil Cost”[3] continues without solution, most of its neighbours will suffer some consequences in the future[4].

In this context, most important security challenge in the region is drug trafficking and the first goal of defence policies is in human security. In order to overcome these issues countries are developing their own military actions: Democratic Security Policy (Colombia), “Ágata” Military Operations (between Brazil, Bolivia and Peru), “BOLBRA” war games (Bolivia and Brazil), or the New National Security Strategy and Defence of Chile whose main theatre of operations is Arica, region located in the border with Peru and Bolivia.

To understand this regional security challenge, first we have to highlight two of its main causes. First, despite the regional economic growth and social programs there are a huge social inequality and a strong social feeling of injustice (let’s remember student’s riots in Chile during 2011), many disadvantaged people choose alternative ways to realise social progress through gang activities. This happens in Rio do Janeiro (Brazil), Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), VRAEM (Peru), La Legua (Chile), and so on. It is certainly true that South American social problems could be worst if emerging powers cannot maintain its economy growth in the future.

Second, the economic growth and social programs in countries like Chile or Brazil have resulted in a huge middle class with capacity to consumption and, therefore, drugs traffickers have new markets to sell cocaine, besides its traditional big markets such as the United States and Western Europe. Clear example of this is the power gained by gang Primero Comando da Capital in Sao Paulo, which traffics from Paulist jails to the Brazilian market. In this sense, it is very important for Brazilian authorities to keep the control over international borders, because these gangs make business with cocaine dealers from Bolivia or Peru.

Without doubt, the situation is more complex when gang activities are connected to terrorist groups or irregular armies like the FARC. In this case the Colombian government has made enormous military and political efforts in order to combat this organization; actually today there is hope on Colombian peace negotiations lead by President Santos, because the end of war in Colombia could be the end of the main “narco-guerrilla”.

The Colombian case is especially worrying due to the guerrilla’s war impacts on Venezuela and Ecuador[5], two countries known by their difficult borders. According to the UNODC (2012) Venezuela has become the main port for Colombian cocaine to transatlantic routes, and Ecuador has become an important transit place too.

There is not easy solution to this kind of regional challenge, because drug trafficking and social inequalities are the first link in an intricate chain connecting Central America and Mexico, where transnational criminal gangs have got a dangerous power. On the other hand, South American countries are not the primarily responsible or, at least they are not only responsible of drug trafficking, because the primarily cocaine consumers are in the West.

In other words, this problem seems to be a transnational issue, and in this sense, one alternative would be legalizing the cocaine trafficking in order to dismiss criminal gangs, to get secure cocaine markets and better statistics of cocaine consumers. But this kind of solution would require big cultural and institutional changes.

For instance, in Uruguay President José Mujica has recently proposed to legalize marijuana consumption and to educate people about this issue, but this proposal will not be able to become law while conservative groups have influence over popular opinion, especially the Catholic Church and right wing parties. In fact, Mujica recognized later that society is not yet ready to this kind of measures.

Another important step has been Bolivian experience during Evo Morales presidency, because his administration recognizes coca leaf farmer rights and coca cultural values. Bolivian policies on coca leaf represent a deep change of mentality since DEA interventions in the country two decades ago, when coca leaf activities were synonymous of crime. But at the same time, the new Bolivian institutional model has not meant the end or decrease of illegal coca leaf planting.

Both Uruguay and Bolivia cases show that, at least, the legalization debate has started. In this sense, maybe the most important signal of a new time has been the Global Commission on Drug Policy, where much respected intellectuals and politicians were able to participate, such as Mario Vargas Llosa, Fernando Enrique Cardoso, César Gaviria, Ernesto Zedillo, Kofi Annan, Paul Volcker and George P. Schultz. In its report (2011) the Commission proposed to create new institutional models around the world in order to legalize drugs. The main argument for this proposal is the failure of drug policies during last fifty years, especially the war against drugs launched by President Nixon; together with this, the commission stated the importance to pay more attention to health programs instead of military policies[6].

Notwithstanding this, all these signals are not enough to take seriously an international legalization model and certainly they are not enough to overcome current military policies as key actions to combat drugs trafficking.

Claudio Coloma is an academic at the University of Santiago of Chile


[1] IMF-Western Hemisphere Department. Regional Economic Outlook. Washington, D.C. October 2012.

[2] Weisbrot, Mark, Rebecca Ray and Jake Johnston. Bolivia: The Economy During the Morales Administration. Center for Economic and Policy Research. Washington, D.C. December 2009.

[3] Combination of bureaucratic hurdles, complex taxes and insufficient infrastructure. Glickhouse, Rachel. Rousseff Takes on the Infamous “Brazil Cost”. AS/COA. May 22, 2012.

[4] According to IMF “low growth and uncertainty in advanced economies are affecting emerging market and developing economies”. Emerging powers such as China and Brazil are reliant on developed countries, especially USA and UE. IMF. World Economic Outlook. Washington, D.C. October 2012.

[5] IISS. The FARC Files: Venezuela, Ecuador and the Secret Archive of ´Raúl Reyes`. London. 2011.

[6] Informe de la Comisión Global de Políticas de Drogas, junio de 2011,

Tagore and the West

Chilean academic Claudio Coloma applies Peripheral Thought Theory to the response to Rabindranath Tagore to the Japanese defeat of the Russian forces in 1905.

Frequently, Rabindranath Tagore is known by his artistic work, especially in Latin America. This is demonstrated most obviously in his Nobel Prize in literature. But throughout his life, Tagore also had an important role in the area of non-fiction. Many works were composed to interpret the Indian and Asian political reality during the first half of the twentieth century. It is thanks to these works that it is possible to see the Western influence on Tagorian thought.

It is possible that the Western influence on Tagore’s thought came from two ways. First, Tagore, the Indian man, had to suffer with the European imperialism in Asia, and specifically in India. To have born and lived in a downtrodden people had to be a hard experience when a man, as Tagore, had knowledge about the historic greatness of India as well as of Asia.

Second, in spite of European imperialism, Tagore was able to discriminate between the European domination in Asia (specifically in India) and the virtues of the Western modern thought. In this sense, Tagore admired some Western ideas related to freedom and, in consequence, he was motivated to achieve a better Indian society.

To understand both the impact of European imperialism as the influence of the Western thought ways, it is necessary before to consider briefly the Peripheral Thought Theory[1]. This theory is used systematically to study the non-Western thought formulated especially in the last two hundred years. According to this theory, Europe is called the ‘centre’.

Thus, during this time we have been able to see Western influences and motivations, in cases where peripheral leaders, intellectuals and politicians have gone beyond their own cultural borders in order to think about the future, welfare or development of their own societies. Specifically this kind of thought has been yielded when non-Western thinkers have followed a special feeling of fascination, perplexity or rejection about the centre.

The peripheral intellectual thought has swung between two mainstreams like a pendulum: in one side, there have been intellectuals who have rejected the intellectual and cultural influence from West and at the same time have valued their own social and cultural roots. In the other side, there have been intellectuals who have yielded ideas with the purpose to imitate aspects from West into fields such as policy, economy, or culture.

The first way of the Peripheral Thought is called “Identitario” which means “be like us”, whereas the second way is called “Centralitario” which means “be like the Centre”. According to this theory, this dilemma is the main feature of the non-Western thought and it would be most important than another academic dilemmas such as Negro/White, Rich/Poor or Women/Men, because this kind of oppositions can be analyzed thanks to this two notions of Peripheral Thought Theory.

Another important feature of this theory is that, in spite of that the intellectual peripheral production around the world has rejected or approved the Western culture, at the same time among peripheral intellectuals there have been a common perception that the West is the most powerful social formation.[2]

Some of main works in which we can see the Western influence on Tagore´s non-fiction ideas are “Nationalism”, “Greater India”, “The problem with Non-Cooperation”, “Crisis in Civilization” and “The Spirit of Japan”.

The Impact of the European Imperialism

According to Tagore, Europe had increased its power over Asia. This reality meant humiliation. But paradoxically, this humiliation was not produced by Europe´s dominion over Asia; the root of the humiliation was could be found into Asia.

As one adherent of Pan-Asianism´ ideas, Tagore thought that Asia has been a more successful society than Europe, but this situation changed because Asia stayed in the past without progress; to Tagore Asia “is like a rich mausoleum which displays all its magnificence in trying to immortalize the dead (…) For centuries we did hold torches of civilization in the East when the West slumbered in darkness (…) then fell the darkness of night upon all the lands of the East”.[3]

It was not new say that the West was not guilty, or at least, that West was not the prime culprit for Asian humiliation. Throughout the history of India, several Indian intellectuals, from Rammohan Roy until Hamid Dalway, including Syed Ahmad Khan, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, B.R. Ambedkar, Rammanohar Lohia have written about the roots of problems of India, which in turn were firstly the caste system, religion struggles and gender injustices, and then were problems related with the independence from United Kingdom.[4].

But, the worth of Tagore´s ideas, compared with his countrymen, was his interest on Asia and not only on India, for this reason is important his intention to establish the Pan-Asian movement. In this sense, Tagore´s connection with many intellectuals from the rest of Asia was important, especially with Japan, because this country was an exceptional case after Meiji´s Reforms. Basically, the Japan of Meiji had been the period in which this country was able to successfully achieve "Modernization".[5]

Thanks to its success, Japan became a new magnet to many peripheral intellectuals. There were two Japanese organizations that had a key role in this achievement: Kokuryukay and Genyosha. According to Cemil Aydin, both organizations fostered ties with many nationalists and intellectuals from Asia; one of them was Rabindranath Tagore[6].

The summit of Japanese modernization process was the triumph over Russia at war of 1904-1905. Many intellectuals thought after triumph that it was possible to be free from the Colonization and retake the self-government. The impact of the Russo-Japanese War crossed the East Asia borders and was able to achieve inspiration from leaders of West-Africa, black leaders in the USA, Muslims, Indian, and other peoples.[7]

Thanks to his special relationship with Japanese intellectuals (one of them was the father of Pan-Asianism, Okakura Tenshin) Tagore was not indifferent to the Japanese triumph. In respect of this, Tagore wrote “One morning the whole world looked up in surprise, when Japan broke through her walls of old habits in a night and came out triumphant”.[8]

But he was not totally at ease with the celebrations of Japanese triumph. In fact, Tagore became worried about the Japanese nationalism that strongly emerged after 1905, because nationalism was enemy of heterogeneity of Asia, especially in India. According to Tagore, nationalism was the root of violence. Furthermore, after victory, Japan colonized Manchuria and Korea (1910). According to Tagore, if in India people acquired these kinds of fanaticisms, the consequences could be devastating[9].

Thus, Tagore rejected the Japanese attitude, and by contrast to his first impressions, he stated: “I have given up Japan. I feel more and more sure it is not the country for me”.[10]

What was the reason to declare this? The reason would have been: Japan adopted the modernization with “all its tendencies, methods and structures, and dream that they are inevitable”. That is, thanks to the Meiji Reformsm Japan had to be a new creation and not a mere repetition. To be a copy was like wearing the skeleton with another skin.[11] Their modernization meant a deception because the main difference between Asia and West was the use of wisdom, work and love versus the use of violence.

Despite the deception, the Japanese experience and the contact with West were not always unfortunate facts, because it was possible to understand that the world needed the values of India and of the rest Asian peoples. Thanks to this understanding, it would have been possible re-light the torch of civilization in the East and put an end to humiliation.

Six years before that Tagore wrote “The Spirit of Japan”, where he warned on Japanese menace. He wrote a series of essays (1909-10) about the meeting between India and the Englishman. In these essays Tagore wrote about expectations that India could achieve thanks to its encounter with the West: “On us to-day is thrown the responsibility of building up this greater India, and for that purpose our immediate duty is to justify our meeting with the Englishman. I shall not be permitted to us to say that we would rather remain aloof, inactive, irresponsive, unwilling to give and to take, and thus to make poorer the India that is to be”.[12]

The Tagore´s Respect for Western Thought

Tagore thought that “in the heart of Europe runs the purest stream of human love, of love of justice, of spirit of self-sacrifice for higher ideals (…) in Europe we have seen noble minds who have ever stood up for the rights of man irrespective of colour and creed”. These Europe´ good features were countered with a contrary tendency—“supremely evil in her maleficent aspect where her face is turned only upon her own interest, using all her power”.[13]

Certainly, the concept of freedom was the best aspect of Europe and this notion complemented Indian concerns with injustices related to caste system, the Untouchables´ situation, Muslim-Hindu disputes, and gender differences. In this sense, India had to learn from West.

In addition, Tagore admired the European literature and art for its beauty, because both mean “fertilizing all countries and all time”.[14] According to Tagore, both freedom and culture beauty were seen as an opportunity to get a balance between spirit and material things. But, unfortunately to get this purpose would be difficult thanks to temptations of power. In this sense, reviewing the Japanese experience, this country was a failed instance: “unfortunately, all his armour is not living, some of it is made of steel, inert and mechanical. Therefore, while making use of it, man has to be careful to protect himself from its tyranny”.[15]

One successful instance of benefits of European culture, which in turn was learnt by India, was the reign of law. The law meant the balance between power and freedom, because the British government established order (or at least more stability) and respect among castes, colours and religions. Nonetheless, according to Tagore, this instance would be mirror of the spirit of the West and not of the nation of the West.[16]

To be fair, his estimation of European civilisation did not imply that there was only one alternative. Tagore was concern to be clear on this point. In this sense, his speech entitled “Crisis in civilization” is emphasises the existence many civilizations with noble purposes, such as Japan (despite its failures) Russia, Iran, Afghanistan or China[17].

Finally, reviewing Peripheral Thought Theory and this small sample of Tagore´s ideas, it is possible to state that this Indian intellectual was a man who strove to achieve a balance between ideas from the Centre and the Periphery.

This point is important if it is considered that Tagore is mainly known as a poet and mystic man, at least in Latin America, instead of as a non-fiction author who was able to state original points of view about the encounter between different civilizations.

Thus, the Tagorian thought was able to be “Centralitario” or “Identirario”. His main concern was the thread to the freedom of downtrodden peoples across Asia. Hence Tagore was able to “be like the Centre” or “to be like us”, demonstrating that he had an open mind to understand and to explain the complicated reality of Asia at the first half of past century.

[1] The Peripheral Thought Theory have been proposed in Chile by Eduardo Devés, from the beginning, as an academic parameter to study the Latin American thought throughout the 20th Century, but actually this theory is being used also to research about contemporary Asian and African thoughts, in order to achieve a global perspective and a best understanding about the non-Western thought. Eduardo Devés Valdés, “El Pensamiento Latinoamericano en el siglo XX”, 3 volúmenes, Editorial Biblos, Buenos Aires, 2000-2004.

[2] Devés Valdés, Eduardo, “Las disyuntivas del pensamiento latinoamericano y periférico”, Seminario de Investigación Interdisciplinaria. Facultad de Estudios Generales, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto Río Piedras. Ciclo de conferencias Octubre-Diciembre 2006. p.1.

[3] Tagore, Rabindranath, “Nationalism”, Norwood Press, USA, 1917, p.65-66.

[4] These priorities can be demonstrated in Ramachandra Guha´s book entitled “Makers of Modern India”, Penguin Books, India, 2010.

[5] Understanding “Modernization” as a concept from the West.

[6] Cemil Aydin, “The politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia”, Columbia University Press, USA, 2007, p.57.

[7] Coloma, Claudio, “Disyuntiva y reivindicaciones periféricas ante el impacto de la Guerra Ruso-Japonesa”, Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Santiago de Chile, 2010.

[8] Tagore, Rabindranath, “The Spirit of Japan”. Sisir Kumar Das editor, “The English writings of Rabindranath Tagore, volume three, a Miscellany”, Sahitya Akademy Edition, New Delhi, 1996.

[9] Sen, Amartya, “Tagore y la India”, Fractal nº10, julio-septiembre, 1998, año 3, volumen III, pp. 121-168.

[10] Rabindranath Tagore´s letter addressed to C.F. Andrews, 11th June, 1915, cited by Patrick Colm Hogan & Lalita Pandit, editors, “Rabindranath Tagore: universality and tradition”, Associated University Press, USA, 2003, p.47.

[11] Op.cit.

[12] Rabindranath Tagore, essay includes in Ramachandra Guha´s book entitled “Makers of Modern India”, Penguin Books, India, 2010, p. 189.

[13] Op.cit, p.195.

[14] Op.cit, p.194.

[15] Rabindranath Tagore, “The Spirit of Japan”,, 1916, p.5.

[16] Rabindranath Tagore, essay includes in Ramachandra Guha´s book entitled “Makers of Modern India”, Penguin Books, India, 2010, p. 198-199.

[17] Rabindranath Tagore, speech includes in the Rakesh Batabyal´s book entitled “The Penguin Book of Modern Indian Speeches: 1877 to the Present”, Penguin Books, India, 2007, p.453-459.