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.

lecture summary part 2

1. Before the Industrial Revolution (IR), the feudal system ranked people hierarchically in the following order: monarch, aristocracy, clergy and lastly, peasants.
2. With the advent of the IR, this system evolved into a capitalist economy, introducing the burgeoning middle class.
3. The middle class demanded political power and asked for rights as a citizen subject i.e. the right to vote, free speech etc.
4. The ‘Social Contract’ was signed, allowing basic freedoms to the people while giving the middle/upper class most of the vote.
5. This resulted in a new emphasis on free trade and capitalist commerce as well as created a new consciousness of self over the collective i.e. individualism.
6. French Revolution: consisted of 3 estates namely the clergy, the nobility and the third estate that was predominantly middle class white men.
7. This third estate did not encompass women, people of other ethnicities and people of minority religions.
8. This resulted in much debate and contestation over who qualified as a citizen and whether those excluded from the definition of “men” were even considered humans with rights. The idea of a conditional equality.
9. Rousseau suggested that women and men exist in different spheres. Women should keep to the domestic, private sphere and fulfill their role as wife and mother. They were denied their place in the public sphere, being seen only as an extension of their husbands. As such, they had no right to vote, write political pamphlets or stand for office.
10. The Code Noir 1685 also deemed Negro slaves as a piece of furniture; property owned by landowners. The question thus arises about whether these ‘properties’ have rights.
11. The Haitian revolution showed slaves slaying their masters and claiming their rights as citizens.
12. The rise of the Black Consciousness also challenged the biological claim that Blacks displayed a lack of reason and thus did not qualify for the status of man and citizen. Negritude developed in the 1930s to foster a common black identity to counter French colonial racism.