The Commercial and Utilitarian Spirit of the Modern Age

Ancient societies tended to adopt what may be called their “time-spirit” from the lead role of the educated and religious, or in other cases the military and political classes.  In the Hindu tradition, this would be the leadership of the Brahmin and the Kshatriya classes.  The commercial man of business, and the laborer played an important role, of course, in the constitution and functioning of the society, but did not thereby play the predominant role in determining the “spirit of the age”.  For the last couple of hundred years, however, we have seen an ever-increasing focus on and predominance of the commercial, industrial and business classes and with this, the entire spirit of the age has taken on a commercialist air.  Education, art, cultural development, religious spirit have all become secondary, so that they are judged to a great degree by their utility and ability to provide business and commercial advantage.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The phenomenon of modern social development is the decline of the Brahmin and Kshatriya, of the Church, the military aristocracy and the aristocracy of letters and culture, and the rise to power or predominance of the commercial and industrial classes, Vaishya and Shudra, Capital and Labour.  Together they have swallowed up or cast out their rivals and are now engaged in a fratricidal conflict for sole possession in which the completion of the downward force of social gravitation, the ultimate triumph of Labour and the remodelling of all social conceptions and institutions with Labour as the first, the most dignified term which will give its value to all others seem to be the visible writing of Fate.  At present, however, it is still the Vaishya who still predominates and his stamp on the world is commercialism, the predominance of the economic man, the universality of the commercial value for everything in human life.  Even in the outlook on knowledge, thought, science, art, poetry and religion the economic conception of life overrides all others.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 25, War and the Need of Economic Unity, pg. 216

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