Volume 7, Issue 18, Fall 2012
Letters against Cultures
Neo-conservatism, Thomas Babington Macaulay and Three Centuries of the War between the Ancients and Moderns
This essay draws a parallel between Macaulay’s stint as the “lawgiver” of India under the East India Company and the Anglicists-Orientalists debate that he brought to a decisive end on the one hand and on the other the culture/canon wars of the 1980s, and the neoconservative ascendancy that followed it and remained influential during the second Iraq War. Although neo-conservativism’s fierce resistance to a more inclusive liberal arts curriculum in the 1980s and its towering role during the militarization of the US foreign policy in the last decade has established it as the most Eurocentric and logocentric intellectual movement at present, post-colonial studies is yet to take a serious reckoning of this ideological movement. This essay tries to fill this lacuna with an attempt to first establish Macaulayite Whiggism as a precursor of the American neo-conservatism and then to focus on Macaulay’s oedipal hostility with Sir William Temple, who was not just the most accomplished statesman of English Restoration Era (that Macaulay himself considered the golden period of English history and became its historian laureate), but also stood on the exact opposite pole of Macaulay’s Whiggish Eurocentrism. Finally, the essay will briefly consider Temple’s little-known essay “On the Ancient and Modern Learning” and its genuine and uniquely anti-logocentric outlook on non-European cultures and their histories.