Political Liberalism in A Passage to India

At the end of last week’s seminar, one of the questions posed was about the ways in which the discourse of political liberalism is played out in A Passage to India.

Amongst other events, the arrest and eventual trial of Aziz is one instance where we encounter the discourse of political liberalism. After the arrest of Aziz, we notice Mr. Turton, the Collector, bemoaning the fact that ‘there seemed nothing for it but the old weary business of compromise and moderation’ and longing for ‘the good old days when an Englishman could satisfy his own honour and no questions asked afterwards’ (172). Contextually, this points to the increase in demand for rights of the citizen-subject and suggests that political liberalism serves as a fundamental challenge to political power being concentrated in the hands of the nobility. This also explains why Mr. Turton felt that Ronny’s decision to refuse Aziz bail was ‘[un]wise of poor young Heaslop’ for ‘the Government of India itself [was watching] – and behind it [was] that caucus of cranks and cravens, the British Parliament’ (172).

Ultimately however, the discourse of political liberalism remains a muted one. The repeated naming of Mr. Turton as ‘The Collector’ reinforces his role as a servant of the British Parliament, pinning his identity in relation to his national duty, and acknowledging his powerful status. In contrast, Aziz, as a citizen-subject, is acutely aware of his disempowered status, knowing from the moment of his arrest ‘that an English-woman’s word would always outweigh his own’ (221). This indeed proves to be the case – it is only when Adela admits that Aziz did not follow her into the cave is Aziz declared to be innocent and set free.

One thought on “Political Liberalism in A Passage to India

  1. Good attempt to apply last week’s lecture to this week’s reading. But you also need to take into account the problem of race. The social contract within Europe only accepted WHITE men as citizen-subjects. Europeans here are not nobility, they are colonizers who themselves have rejected the feudal system. But nonetheless they recreate a sort of feudal order with colonialism, hence it becomes a little confusing. But this is why Fanon says that Marxist analysis always has to be adjusted when applied to the colonial context.