The Golden Age Is Not Behind Us but Before Us Essay

Outline:

  • Introduction
  • The idea of the Golden Age
  • Growth and decay civilisation
  • Attributes of the Golden Age
  • The Time in which the Golden Age is placed
  • Thirst for happiness
  • Idea of Progress during different ages
  • Different views about the period of Golden Age
  • Modern civilization and human behaviour
  • The tremendous advancement of applied sciences
  • Science has Equipped Nations with power
  • Imperialism and Colonialism
  • The Golden Age is before us
  • Physical decline has been counterbalanced by mental growth
  • Growth of machinery and industrial advancement
  • Most destructive wars against humanity
  • Despotism and divine rights of Kings
  • Conclusion

Introduction

There is no nation, race, creed or religion, where the idea of the Golden Age has not existed. The most civilized and the most backward nations are of a piece in this respect; their highest progress was made in every walk of life and when the sun of their power and glory shone all over the world. The English people Elizabeth, the French to the Age of Louis XIV, Greeks to the Age King Solomon, Indians to the Age of Guptas, and the Chinese to the Age of Ming. In the religious sense also the people of all creeds, in some form or other, have shared the idea of the Golden Age. The Hindus speak of their Satyuga; the Christians of their Millennium, whereas the Zoroastrians think of their past glory, of its power, when their Persian empire was at its zenith and sigh for the days that are no more; the followers of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) of Arabia look back to their period of ascendancy, when the crescent ruled over a good portion of the world, when they had their empires far-flung in the East as well as in the West, in Europe as well as in Asia.

The Idea of the Golden Age – What it is and how it is formed?

Seeing that the idea of a better period is so widely prevalent all over the world, let us first examine and enquire into the contents of the idea itself before we proceed to discuss its common uses and abuses. Different nations, races and creeds have a different idea of it – and this is as it should be, for different nations and religions have had their different histories, different periods of their rise, growth, and decay. However, ignoring the minute particulars in which they differ, we might refer to such broad features regarding which there is no division of opinion. The perfection of interminable peace and plenty, progress and prosperity. It is a time of maximum harvest, both intellectual and material. It is an era of great awakening, of glory and sunshine, of immense fertility and originality in all spheres of human activity. It is springtime, as it were, when the creative activity of the human mind finds its expression in various forms, such as art and literature, science and philosophy, culture and civilization. It witnesses a high development of national life and is invariably associated with the development of national literature. Conquest of disease and poverty, of oppression and tyranny, of sorrow and suffering; preservation of law and order, recognition of moral and spiritual values, of mutual love and sympathy; social justice and economic liberty; and equitable distribution of the goods of life and the opportunities of personal development, are some of the other attributes of the Golden Age. As depicted by Thomas More in his “Utopia” the Golden Age is the vision of an ideal State which is founded on perfect equality and liberty, in which there is no religious interrelation, no distinction between the rich and the poor, no racial pride and arrogance, no tyranny, no oppression, no exploitation and no injustice. Similarly, Shelley in his “Prometheus Unbound” pictures the man of the Golden Age as “sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, equal, unclassed, tribeless and nationless.”

The time in which the golden age is placed

The idea of the Golden Age originates in the thirst for happiness, which is common to all humanity. Men think that they will find happiness in this thing or that; but when they have attained the thing they desired, they find that they are as unsatisfied as ever, that the happiness they sought and expected to gain is far from them as ever. The search for happiness, therefore, continues and men are never happy. They look either to the past when they think they were happy, or to the future when they hope they will be again happy. The present never satisfies them; compared with it the past looks pleasant and the future appears glorious. Well does Tennyson say:

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“The past will always win

A glory from its being far

And orb into the perfect star

We saw not, when we moved therein.”

But they forget that when the past was present they still looked to a remoter past and called that remoter past a happier period than that period which was then present and is now past, and that period was still unpleasant; they forget that the future which was so glorious to them lost its glory when it became the present, and another future took its place. Well it is said that distance lends enchantment to the view. Thus, we see that the Golden Age is never placed in the present; it is ever in the past, and it is hoped will come again at some distant future.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast
Man never is but always to be blest.”

Those who place the golden age in future

Those who look for the Golden Age in future advocate the ideal of progress. They believe that mankind has been marching on an eternal path of progress that the past was good, the present is better and the best is yet to be. This principle of progress which includes a conception of the growth of civilization in the past and a similar “upward development in the future” developed in the 19th century and was a favourite creed with many a distinguished Victorian thinker, such as Macaulay, Darwin, Hegel, Corrite, Spencer, Herschel, Tennyson, Browning and many others. Herbert Spencer declared,”progress is not an accident but a necessity. It is certain that man must become perfect”. Herschel claimed that “man’s progress towards a higher state need never fear a check, but must continues till the very last existence of history” Tennyson, the Poet. Laureate of Victorian England proclaimed,

“Yet I doubt not through the ages one

Increasing purpose runs

And the thoughts of men are widened with

The process of the suns.”

Those who place the Golden Age in the Past

But in the 20h century, we come across many learned scientists and philosophers who disapprove of the idea of progress. Dean Inge, Bradley, Proud, Bertrand Russell, Louis Fischer and many others of equal eminence conclude that neither there has been progressed in the past, nor should we hope for progress in the future. Science and morality, art and literature, history and politics all go to show that progress has been an illusory hope that has sustained mankind for generations but which ultimately proves merely a myth, a pure fiction. In the first place, they bring in their support the facts of physical science; particularly modern astronomy, which points out that every planet, including the sun, is gradually becoming colder, and a time will come in the future, when all parts of the global will be cold and dead like the moon, inhabitable for human purposes. At the same time, with the covering of the next sweeping tide of destruction which we call in our mythology (Pralay), man and all his achievements will be washed off like a child’s sand castle. In the words of Bertrand Russell, “all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the Solar System, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitable to buried beneath the debris in slums.”

Not only science but history also shows that there has been no progress, physical, intellectual or moral for many thousand years. The ancient Greeks or Aryans were handsomer and physically, much stronger than their later counterparts. The warriors of the Trojan War, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, performed prodigies of valour and feats of physical progress which have never since been equalled. There is equally the absence of mental progress. It is true that education has increased the number of people who can read and write but it would be hard to find the equal of Socrates’ critical ability, Aristotle’s intellectual versality or Sophocles’s imagination.

Our literature, in spite of its great bulk, has nothing of the grandeur of the epic poetry, of the passion of the Greek drama and of the moral fervour of the religious scriptures. The epics of Homer and Valmiki, the dramas of Kalidas and Shakespeare, the poetry of Tulsi Das and Dante, the architecture of Athens and Ajanta, the paintings of Rafael and Michael Angelo, the melodies of Beethoven and Vidayapathi – all these are the highest watermark in art and culture, the like of which cannot be produced in the world of today. Morally, we might say that some advance has been made, for we are more sensitive to cruelty than our ancestors. But it is very doubtful whether our mercy is real or baked. The great world wars have shown how advanced people of modern civilization are perpetrating cruelties, which would have sent a shudder through the story -hearted barbarians of the past. We have paid only a lip service to the higher ideals of life and followed utilitarian virtues. Truth is replaced today by tact and honesty by expediency. No wonder then, our life is characterized by frivolity and frustration, hurry and worry, discord and dissonance.

The tremendous advancement of applied science, of great modern discoveries and inventions has no doubt, added to the material comforts and amenities of life, but with its development of machinery and technical knowledge it has also brought in its wake many grave social and economic problems, such as the exploitation of the poor, the conflict of labour and capital is unhealthy sanitation, and so on. In the name of progress we have devastated the peace and loveliness of the world; and have established smoke-ridden cities and dirty hovels where we are denied God’s free gifts of pure air and water. We remain cut off from nature and lead an artificial life, supported with the help of unheard diseases and die a premature death. In these conditions, can we say we have progressed and are moving towards the Golden Age?

Science has equipped nations with power but instead of using it for the health and happiness of their people they are spending it on piling armaments and producing such terrific engines of destruction that spell incalculable ruin and suffering to both combatants and noncombatants. The atomic energy which if canalized for creative purposes could have transformed the world into a veritable El Dorado and ushered in the Golden Age is harnessed for hastening the Doomsday.

In the field of politics also there has been more of decline than progress. In spite of our great boast of having substituted dictatorship with democracy, we have not been able to root out imperialism and colonialism and establish lasting world-peace. We have established the U.N.O. for securing universal peace and harmony but the two clashing ideologies of the modern world are reflected in the U.N.O., which is torn asunder in two rival camps or blocs, the Communist bloc under Soviet Russia and the Capitalist bloc under the U.S.A. These two forces are contending desperately for the mastery of the world and the dream of world – peace is still no better than a fitful gleam. With the clouds of a Third World War gathering thick on our heads, can we say that there is progress, that the present is better than the past and that the best is yet to be?

The golden age is before us

Yet, in spite of all the above arguments, the idea of progress cannot be dismissed altogether. To do so would be to ignore the basic trend of man’s spiritual history and to deny hope for the future. Astronomy may paint a dismal picture of the future, but how can we, on the other hand, refute the doctrine of biological evolution. It is but cynicism and on this earth there has been no progress, no improvement in human life. Need! It be pointed out that man is no longer a cave – dweller, not an animal roaming naked in forests, and securing his food like beasts of prey. He has surely emerged out of that state of barbarism; he now lives a corporate and organized social life, has developed the art of government, harnessed the forces of nature, evolved various art of government, harnessed the forces of nature, reduced sheer physical drudgery, evolved various arts and sciences – achievements, which were beyond the pale of primitive man. And what is more, man has to proverbial moth’s desire for the star, restlessness, a curiosity, and an urge to achieve higher and yet wish to rest on his laurels, but is eager to follow, as the poet says, knowledge like a sinking star. It is the fruit of this ceaseless activity on his part that he claims to have attained a civilized state of existence.

It is true that man has declined in his physical strength and stature, but it must not be overlooked at the same time that physical decline has been counterbalanced by mental growth. Once he had to trudge long distances on foot, or travel on horseback, but today, thanks to his intellectual sharpness, he has invented the steam engine, the automobile, the steamship and the aeroplane, whereby he can travel, circum-navigate or fly over the global without exhausting himself. And look at the other great achievements of science. Quick and easy means of transport and communication have reduced time and distance and brought the peoples of the world together. Rivers have been amid with dams and bridges spanned over them. With the aid of mechanized agriculture, waste and fallow land has been converted into fertile fields. The inaccessible regions of the earth like the South and the North Pole and the desert of Sahara, have been reached and explored. Even the unconquerable Everest has now been conquered. “If this is not progress” the scientist has every reason to ask, “I have yet to know what progress is”.

It is true that people live in crowded cities and slums and die untimely of unheard diseases, but it is also equally true that modern science has placed at man’s disposal means of controlling the outbreak and spread of a large number of epidemics and diseases which formerly were incurable and would take a heavy toll of life. Smallpox, malaria, typhoid, plague, tuberculosis are no longer the terror they once were. The operation, in the past, was unbearable torture and resulted in countless casualties. But now the invention of anesthesia surgery a painless affair.

It is argued that the growth of machinery and industrial advancement has brought in its wake the problem of capital and labour, leading to social and political upheavals, which were unknown in the past. But the much criticized exploitation of the labour by capital is certainly not more serious than the tyranny of feudal lords over their serfs or the atrocities committed by land lords over their tenants. Both feudalism and landlordism have long been buried and forgotten. Even in the industrial sphere, the growth of Trade Union movement has sounded the death-knell of arbitrary action of business and factory magnates. The common man no longer feels that it is part of God’s dispensation that he should remain poor and neglected and should quietly resign himself to his wretched lot. On the contrary, he has developed self-confidence and enjoys a measure of consideration in modern society, which was unthinkable for slaves and manual workers a few hundred years ago.’

The critics of modern civilization contend that the present age has brought about the worst and most destructive wars humanity has ever witnessed. But this is no argument to prove that man has grown today more cruel than his predecessors and that there is no hope of better times for him in the future. Time was when fighting was held to be the most laudable profession and everybody carried arms. Duneland skirmishes were the order of the day. Big wars were equally common; the Thirty Years War, the Wars of Roses, the Hundred Years War, and Napoleonic Wars, and the series of wars in Asia for conquest, are a sad commentary on the arguments of those who hold that man was formerly more peace-loving. Today, fighting as such, is openly regarded as barbarous and duels have been banned. In much other respect, people of today are more humane than their predecessors. Gone are the days of the barbaric customs of Sati, of female infanticide, of animal sacrifices, of slavery and serfdom, of brutal sports, and of public execution. The notion ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ is an exploded theory of educational institutions. The criminal of today is treated not as an incorrigible enemy of society but as a psychological patient and the modern prison is not a torture – house but a reformatory.

It is true that imperialism and colonialism have not disappeared from the face of the earth and they cast a slur on the fair name of our civilization, but at the same time, they are openly denounced as out of date doctrines. The modern age cannot be a paradise for world conquerors like Alexander, Hitler or Napoleon. On the other hand, the imperial powers are finding it hard to defend much less justify, their empires and colonies. The colonial empires of the White nations are fast melting. The British have quitted India, Ceylon and Burma; the French have made an exit from Indo-China. The same is the case with the Dutch who had to grant independence to Indonesia. The principle of self-determination and self-government has been accepted and the remaining colonies and empires are bound to be liquidated soon.

In politics, gone are the days of despotism and the ‘Divine Right of kings. Democracy, the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, in some form or other, is accepted political doctrine. The age of kings and queens whose words were law, whose whims decided life or death for poor innocent people, is gone for good. Man’s dignity has been restored to him and he can no longer be treated as mere dumb and driven cattle. Of course, nobody would claim that democracy is perfect. Like other human institutions, it is bound to be imperfect and like them too it is in the stage of growth and evolution. Nevertheless, with all its faults, nobody would like to throw democracy overboard and go back to the age of a Napoleon, Elizabeth I, Louis the XIV, or Akbar the Great.

In the field of literature and fine arts, we admit that great progress was made in ancient times, but let us not forget that the art and literature of olden days was more or less a monopoly of the upper and ruling classes, the common people remained not only ignorant of them but completely illiterate and uneducated. Today, it is all every citizen and art is no longer the monopoly of courts, kings and queens. Education is widespread and so art and literature have necessarily become broad based and democratic.

Conclusion

That mankind has progressed in several ways and the present is an advance on the past is undoubtedly true, though it may not be true that the course of progress has been steady and unbroken. There have been spells of progress and enlightenment alternating with periods of downfall and darkness. The path of progress has been rather zigzag and even freakish to some extent. But the history of mankind is, at the bottom, the life of the unconquerable spirit of man, with its endless variety of forms and expressions, of the different ways in which human nature seeks to express itself, its aspirations and adventures, its ambitions and achievements, its struggles and failures, through all of which the creative spirit of man is hoping, striving, failing, but on the whole gaining ground, advancing, never giving way, pressing onwards. We do not deny that the present has many defects and our civilization suffers from many ills, but we hope that “somehow or other, good will be the final goal of ill”, that with the true federation of mankind established in the future and a sufficient measure of justice, social and economic, and equality of opportunity obtained for all, there would be such a release of human energy for constructive purposes that the Golden Age will become a reality in the world.

In such a branching climate of world federation, scientific values will be coupled with moral values resulting in higher physical and moral standards of life. People will realize the error of putting their faith in the glory of material perfection, which leads us, but to the grave, and follow the path that Buddha showed the people to achieve Nirvana and Christ to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In the dark clouds enveloping the world we already see a silver lining. Men’s gaze is turned towards the horizon of peace, harmony and brotherhood; Humanity is fed up with wars and slowly but steadily marching towards the Golden Age and realizing its dream of perfection. Let us be, therefore, optimistic like Shelley and sing:

The world’s great age begins anew,

The golden years return,

The earth doth like a snake renew,

Her winter weeds outworn.

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