THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND FREEDOM
June 7, 2010
Great Britain and the United States do not do enough to promote the spread of English, which thereby decelerates or even reverses the spread of democratic freedom. There's little doubt, for instance, that the hostility of the Muslim world toward the West is promoted by the failure of Muslim countries to develop democratic institutions, which, in turn, has been brought about by a resistance to the spread of English. Even among educated Muslims few have read the writings of British philosophers John Locke and Edmund Burke, not to mention those of America's Founding Fathers, which has lead directly to a lack of understanding of what the West is about, says Paul Johnson, eminent British historian and author.
Fortunately, it's a different story in India, says Johnson:
- In 1834, Thomas Babington Macaulay was sent to India as an administrator, and the next year he found himself president of the Committee of Public Instruction for Bengal.
- Macaulay made up his mind that Indians -- there were then fewer than 250 million -- must be taught English and be exposed to Western culture.
- Macaulay's policy was adopted and as a result large numbers of Indians, especially those in the ruling, intellectual and clerical classes began to learn English.
- In the process, they began to absorb cultural and political ideas from the West, especially the need to uphold and establish the rule of law and to set up representative institutions.
- Since India gained its independence in 1947 English has continued to spread, and India -- now with a population exceeding 1 billion -- has maintained democratic structures and methods and free courts of law, despite what was once a situation of overwhelming poverty and many difficulties.
The contrast with China is fundamental, says Johnson:
- Very few mainland Chinese speak English, nor do they have any conception of the liberal tradition that the language enshrines.
- India is about to overtake China in terms of population and will also outdistance it economically and financially well before the end of the 21st century.
Source: Paul Johnson, "The English Language and Freedom," Jewish World Review, June 1, 2010.
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