When England Ruled the Mind

Several years ago, a young US diplomat told me, “Wherever in the world I’ve been posted, I always found that the British had been there before me.” Luigi Barzini and Ian Buruma both wrote excellent books describing how the British came to define continental culture in 19th century Europe. Liberals admired British constitutional democracy, Conservatives their naval strength and sporting culture. Baron de Coubertin, founder of the Olympics, saw the English public school’s inculcation in young boys of playing rugby and cricket as something France should emulate. Rugby stayed, but cricket died on the vine.

After World War II, America replaced Britain as the Model Nation.

What, one wonders, will a future China and India offer to the world to inspire similar emulation?

For China, it will likely be the example of going from mass poverty to mass manufacturing at an incredible pace, creating an enormous infrastructure and financial stock along the way. India will be about developing democratic structures and a robust civil society amid poverty and illiteracy. The real test is the next stage of both countries’ development.

India must build the sort of industrial base that China has. China must build the sort of political flexibility that India has. Whoever succeeds in this crossover game, I suspect, will be this century’s Model Nation. I give India the edge if only because political systems are a lot harder to change than physical landscapes. But, only time will tell.



Copyright © 2010 the Hindustan Times

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