The Bourgeois and the Samurai – Part 1

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Editor’s note: Our exploration of Courage would not have been completed without incorporating some excerpts from what we think is the finest analysis ever made about perhaps the most significant damage done to Indian collective psyche as a result of British colonial policy. Sri Aurobindo wrote the essay ‘The Bourgeois and the Samurai’ during 1906-7, most likely for The Modern Review or another monthly journal.

The British seized the notebook containing the manuscript in May 1908 at the time of Sri Aurobindo’s imprisonment. Four years after his passing, this and several other notebooks were rediscovered and restored to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The text was transcribed and published in Sri Aurobindo: Archives and Research in 1978. It is now included in CWSA, Vol. 7, pp. 1091-11108.

We present the essay in two parts. For the ease of online reading we have made some formatting changes such as shortening the paragraphs, adding headings and presenting key points in lists through infographics. We have not altered the original text in any way.



Two oriental nations have come powerfully under the influence of Western ideas and felt the impact of European civilization during the nineteenth century, India and Japan. The results have been very different. . .

It is the spirit in man which moulds his fate; it is the spirit of a nation which determines its history.

Describe the type of human character which prevails in a nation during a given period of its life under given conditions, and it is possible to predict in outline what the general history of the nation must be during that period.

In Japan the dominant Japanese type had been moulded by the shaping processes of an admirable culture and when the Western impact came, Japan remained faithful to her ancient spirit; she merely took over certain forms of European social & political organization necessary to complete her culture under modern conditions and poured into these forms the old potent dynamic spirit of Japan, the spirit of the Samurai. It is the Samurai type which has been dominant in that country during the nineteenth century.

In India the mass of the nation has remained dormant; European culture has had upon it a powerful disintegrating and destructive influence, but has been powerless to reconstruct or revivify.

But in the upper strata a new type has been evolved to serve the necessities and interests of the foreign rulers, a type which is not Indian, but foreign—and in almost all our social, political, educational, literary & religious activities the spirit of this new & foreign graft has predominated & determined the extent & quality of our progress. This type is the bourgeois.

In India, the bourgeois, in Japan, the Samurai; in this single difference is comprised the whole contrasted histories of the two nations during the nineteenth century. [. . .]

“What is the bourgeois?”

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“But this admirable creature has his defects and limitations.”

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What else does the Bourgeois Value?

“In India the bourgeois; in Japan the Samurai, that one enormous difference. . .”

(Such is the bourgeois and it was the bourgeois of the mildest & most inefficient type who reigned in India in the nineteenth century. It was the bourgeois which University education tended, perhaps sought to evolve; it was the bourgeois which the political social conditions moulded and brought to the front. In India the bourgeois; in Japan the Samurai, that one enormous difference explains the difference in the histories of the two countries during the second half of the last century.)

. . .  Of course the really great names, those that will live in history as creators & originators are men who went beyond this type; either they belonged to, but exceeded it or they departed from it. But the average, the determining type was the bourgeois.

In Senate & Syndicate, in Legislative Council & District Board or Municipal Corporation, in Congress & Conference, in the services & professions, even in literature & scholarship, even in religion he was everywhere with his well-regulated mind, his unambitious ideals, his snug little corner of culture, his “education” and “enlightenment”, his comfortable patriotism, his comfortable enlightenment, his easy solution of the old problem how to serve both God & Mammon, yet offend neither, his self-satisfaction, his decorous honesty, his smug respectability.

Society was made after his model, politics moulded in his image, education confined within his limits, literature & religion stamped with the seal of the bourgeois.

Bourgeois – Creation of British Policy, English Education, Western Civilisation

The bourgeois as a distinct & well-evolved entity is an entirely modern product in India, he is the creation of British policy, English education, Western civilization. Ancient India, mediaeval India were not a favourable soil for his growth.

The Aristocratic Spirit of Ancient India

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The High Ideals that the Moulded the Indian Mind

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The bourgeois though he existed in the rough of course, as in all civilized societies he must exist, had no real chance of evolution; on such a height with so rare an atmosphere, he could not grow; where such tempests of self-devotion blew habitually, his warm comfortable personality could not expand.

No Place for Bourgeois under the Conditions of Mediaeval India

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~ Design: Beloo Mehra

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