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The Man:​

Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot Glubb (1897-1986) was a British soldier turned intellectual turned Commander who was an instrumental player in the establishment of the modern Middle East. Seen in varying shades during his lifetime Glubb nonetheless left a plethora of abundant sociopolitical literature as his legacy which- while antiquated in many respects- also contains relevant and relative insights on the nature of Empires and political institutions. It must be kept in mind that literature of this nature often incorporates sweeping broad strokes and generalizations which exacerbate the nature of the author’s subject. However, this is a necessity given that such ostentatious amplifications allow the text to emphasize a cohesive and cognizant verdict which also reverberates with its audience. Glubb being mindful of this, his most remarkable work The Fate Of Empires And Search For Survival compartmentalizes the various stages of his subject matter-the fate of Empires-into seven stages to deliver a soulful conclusion in summary.

Why The Sikhs Should Give A Damn:​

Indeed, why should the Sikhs give a damn about what a colonial archetype soliloquizes on paper? Let us make a crucial distinction here. Glubb did not bring anything new to the table. But this is not to say that his conclusions were not novel. Rather, what Glubb did was he recorded his unique understanding and observance of historical events to unearth fundamental principles orbiting the ascension and descension of political sovereignty. These principles existed prior to Glubb. They existed when mankind coagulated into the first human societies expressing proto-governance and Ur-laws. They exist today as the United States grapples with its own combusting externality and internality; they will exist far into the future as Empire is succeeded by Empire. A comprehension of these principles (and not necessarily Glubb’s individual interpretations of them) is crucial for the Sikhs as well.

Hearken back to history and it is said that when the Sikh exegete Baba Budha was on his deathbed, the sixth Guru benevolently approached him and held his hand to reassure him in his last moments. With the Sikhs assembled around him, the Guru inquired what compelled Baba Budha to smile happily. The elderly Sikh replied that he was buoyant because he envisioned the rise of Sikh Empire after Sikh Empire for infinity given the immortality of Guru Nanak’s ideals. It was a beauteous vision and one on which the legendary exegete closed his eyes. His words were realized almost eight decades later when Sikh generalissimo Baba Banda Singh established the first embryonic Sikh-led political state upon Guru Gobind Singh’s instructions. This catalyzed in a sanguinary chain reaction of epic proportions in which the Sikhs established their own nascent Republic which culminated Ipso facto in the ascension of Ranjit Singh as Maharajah of Punjab in 1801.

The Sikhs, by history and by nature, are an Empire building people. Out of the several foremost aspects of any religion, it is generally accepted that its sociopolitical influence is of crucial importance when adjudging its relative influence on the world and interaction/influence on society. What is Sikhi’s sociopolitical influence? We can point to Banda Singh’s embryonic Khalsa state, Nawab Kapur Singh’s quasi-Republic and Ranjit Singh’s imperialism as evidence of the faith’s political edge. By necessity then the principles which Glubb identifies are a must-read for all those Sikhs who would see another Empire in the making.

The Six Lives Of Empire:​

Glubb was perhaps aware of the Sikh Empire of Ranjit Singh and its predecessors. But alongside multiple other similar states, he did not incorporate it into The Fate Of Empires. The reason for this was not that he was excessively biased against the Sikhs and other communities whose sovereignty did not make the cut. Presciently, it was the fact that he selected those Empires which typified his identified seven fundamentals individually and wholly. Once again we must remember here that what Glubb was attempting to present to posterity witnessed him make sweeping generalizations. Better then that he started with Empires already well ingrained in the historical psyche with abundant scholarship having already occurred on them. So what are the six fundamental principles/lives of an Empire? The list is a descent into atrophy.

1.) Age Of Pioneers/Outburst.

2.) Age Of Conquest.

3.) Age Of Commerce.

4.) Age Of Affluence.

5.) Age Of Intellect.

6.) Age Of Decadence.

The first Age or principle witnesses an outburst of military/political conquest in which pioneers appear on the horizon and seed the beginnings of an Empire in the hearts and minds of their fellow men. The second principle furnishes a more explosive outward expansion as a second generation of pioneers arises and expands the physical boundaries of their sovereignty while consolidating the gains of the previous generation. The total solidification of these gains is followed by commercial/financial expansion in which the military armaments are traded for entrepreneurial conquest. This principle is succeeded by that of intelligence in which unbridled intellectualism reigns supreme owing to the fact that the Empire in question is financially secure.

Unbridled intelligence, though, leads to the transgression of humanistic and intuitive boundaries eventually fomenting a crisis of conscience within the ruling society. Neither Glubb nor this principle are stigmatizing intellectualism. What they are decrying is intellectualism sans direction or purpose. This is the hallmark of an Empire in decadence.

Signs And Symptoms:​

Age 1:

Is symbolized by total immersion in idealism, militarism and realism. Leaders possessing all three elements in equal measure orient their societies towards the path of conflict to better their lot in life.

Age 2:

The succeeding generation wars to augment the initial charisma of its predecessors while holding true to their lofty vision of conquest and unrestrained sovereignty. If they succeed they move onto the next age/principle.

Age 3:

This fundamental witnesses the now triumphant society of conquerors engage in commerce to financially augment itself and increase its diplomatic clout.

Age 4:

Self-sacrifice is slowly but surely supplanted by self-aggrandizement as the conquering society now orients itself inwards towards increasing its own affluence and wealth.

Age 5:

Affluence, if controlled, leads to a mitigation in corruption and the trickling down of wealth to all facets of society. Naturally, this allows a major section of the said society to pursue intellectual pursuits. Here, importantly, is the danger. To reiterate, intellectualism without purpose leads to the transgression of judgement and reasoning. This leads us to our last age/principle.

Age 6:

The evolving Empire/society now devolves and regresses from its original idealism. It is necessary to mention that Glubb predicates that Decadence is often typified by multiple factors among which the most conspicuous is unfettered immigration. We feel it prudent to explain here that given our current global interconnectivity, this prognosis can be modified to reflect unfettered refugee intake at the expense of even skilled immigration. Another interconnected factor here is unrestrained welfare. The regressing Empire/society increases taxation, deprives skilled citizens and migrants of occupational opportunity and overloads its welfare system to atone for some inferiority complex and/or historic guilt.

Civilizational vs. Specific:​

Before we reveal Sikhi’s interconnectivity with this issue, let us explore whether this sociopolitical atrophy is civilizational i.e. universal or specific i.e. only relevant to certain human societies at certain times. From a blanket perspective one is hard-pressed to deny that all of humanity is in a state of institutional decay. Whereas our forefathers established mighty nations, confronted tyranny, expanded their borders and warred for the expansion and defense of faith-we have grown accustomed to a lethargic pace of life. We avoid pain, even denying that it is a necessity for the progression of life. The technological emporium we have created for easing our lives has become a compulsive addiction eroding our intellectual and physical prowess. While many academics split-hairs over whether the issue is civilizational or specific, we believe that the civilizational results in the specific.

The Sikh Perspective:​

It is undeniable that Sikhi retains a political edge. It is also equally undeniable that the most conspicuous evidence of a faith’s potency is reflected in its sociopolitical influence which can only be realized through both political and societal institutionalism. This was a factor well understood by Guru Nanak who paved the way for Sikh spiritualism to tangibly materialize in the form of Sikh militarism and politicalism. On the other hand, the Guru and his successors provided their Sikhs with perennial edification in the form of the Guru Granth. The Guru Granth was not intended as a totalitarian minute-to-minute guide on how to live life. Rather, it provides core essentials against which to measure human life. Contrary to current misappropriations that the canon is apolitical, the Guru Granth facilitates a constitutional approach to adjudging social and political institutes emphasizing that they are corrupted by aggrandizers and self-aggrandizement be avoided by leaders.

The misfortune of today’s Sikhs is that they believe political prominence to be an isolated factor in the grand scheme of things. The truth is that the construction of Empire is never singularly done just for the sake of it. Its primarily done to affect consolidation of a community, preserve the pristineness of its beliefs and traditions while increasing its defensive and offensive capabilities against transgressors. It must be remembered that Sikhi is not utopian. Not by a far stretch. Gurbani articulates that mankind is a prisoner of its nature and is to surmount its bestial traits and ascend to a mental sublimity on par with that of its Maker. The necessity of human individualism dictates that this is a continuing process and will be ongoing until existence itself ends. Given human society’s multifaceted endeavors, it is only natural then that Gurbani’s truths will apply to the entire paradigm of human action and for all time- Empire building included.

Glubb’s Conclusion:​

Why then are Empires beset by decadence? Why do they undergo an oxy{censored}ic evolutionary regression? Glubb concludes this is the nature of Empires due to Greed. Greed is the main factor behind the collapse of Pax Impera. The desire for service fuels the birth of Empires but when this spirit of service devolves into selfishness then the rot sits in. Let us view the matter from a Sikh perspective:

Greed drove the progenitor Guru’s sons to rebel against him. In one way or another this continued among all successive Gurus as either children or other family members turned against them for not conceding on Sikhi. The turncoats attempted to corrupt all institutes founded by the Gurus.

Greed drove irreproachable wedges among the Sikh command under Banda Singh leading to their betrayal by the avaricious Binod Singh during the first Age Of Pioneers. As a result, for the next thirty years Khalsa warriors took to the wilderness of Punjab while Binod Singh and his ilk willfully corrupted Sikh institutions at political behest.

Banda Singh’s demise and the subsequent persecution of the Sikhs culminated in the second Age Of Pioneers under the aegis of Nawab Kapur Singh and subsequently the Khalsa Misls. Peculiarly, the deterioration of the Misls catalyzed in a third Age Of Pioneers headed by Ranjit Singh and Sada Kaur.

Ranjit Singh’s consolidation of the Punjab heralded the Age Of Conquest and then the subsequent Age Of Commerce up to the Age Of Intellect. His last days precipitated decadence among his Empire’s aristocracy. His demise ensured the fall of Empire as his own avaricious advisers and courtiers tore it to shreds and touched off two sanguinary wars with the neighboring British.

Through all this greed emerged as the paramount factor behind the Sikhs’ fall. Greed and a lack of both foresight and vision. It seems that even in their moments of triumph, the Sikhs forget Gurbani’s guidance:

ਸਬਰ ਮੰਝ ਕਮਾਣ ਏ ਸਬਰੁ ਕਾ ਨੀਹਣੋ ॥

ਸਬਰ ਸੰਦਾ ਬਾਣੁ ਖਾਲਕੁ ਖਤਾ ਨ ਕਰੀ ॥੧੧੫॥

“Within your own self fashion a bow, bowstring and an arrow out of patience. Sight your target your Maker will not let you miss.”

-Guru Granth, 1384.

They allow their patience to lapse and nullify the majority’s hard earned gains for their own ephemeral obtains. Gurbani forewarns,

ਤਿਸਨਾ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਅਗਨਿ ਹੈ ਨਹ ਤਿਪਤੈ ਭੁਖਾ ਤਿਹਾਇਆ ॥

ਸਹਸਾ ਇਹੁ ਸੰਸਾਰੁ ਹੈ ਮਰਿ ਜੰਮੈ ਆਇਆ ਜਾਇਆ ॥

“Greed burns deep within them, the avaricious remain unquenched. (For them) the world is an illusion, it constantly dies to be reborn.”

-Guru Granth, 138.

An aggrandizer’s world is ephemeral. It is reborn on each and every occasion in the miser’s mind disallowing them to enjoy or even witness reality as they attempt to bend actuality to their will to acquire their own selfish wants. All this proves fruitless ultimately. However, as Leonardo Da Vinci forewarns in his parable of the nut and the tree it is better that such individuals are recognized and avoided.

In Conclusion:​

The most base of human faults, the most deadly in history. So what are the Sikhs to make out of this? For them, the question is not one of when the next Sikh Empire arises but rather: can they avoid the decadence and devolution of past Empires? Can they identify the signs of decay within their own sociopolitical institutions and work to rectify the rot? History’s real world lessons and Gurbani’s adaptive yardsticks are available to them but only if they adhere to them. Can the Sikhs furnish a long-lasting Empire? Only time will tell whether they have learned anything from history or not.


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