As an Indian, you feel easily connected with certain histories in places like Indonesia, where one sees, because of the presence of the Hindu-Buddhist past, Hindus still living there or Muslims performing rituals that are instantly familiar.
The French Revolution actualised the Enlightenment's greatest intellectual breakthrough: detaching the political from the theocratic.
No Muslim country has ever done as much as Turkey to make itself over in the image of a European nation-state; the country's westernised elite brutally imposed secularism, among other things, on its devout population of peasants.
The British Empire passed quickly and with less humiliation than its French and Dutch counterparts, but decades later, the vicious politics of partition still seems to define India and Pakistan.
It turns out that globalisation, while promising sameness through brand-name consumption, was fostering, through uneven economic growth, an intense feeling of difference.
Indonesia's diversity is formidable: some thirteen and a half thousand islands, two hundred and fifty million people, around three hundred and sixty ethnic groups, and more than seven hundred languages.
After the oil crisis of 1973, many European countries tightened restrictions on immigrants. By then, millions of Muslims had decided to settle in Europe, preferring the social segregation and racial discrimination they found in the West to political and economic turmoil at home.
Though blessed with many able administrators, the British found India just too large and diverse to handle. Many of their decisions stoked Hindu-Muslim tensions, imposing sharp new religious-political identities on Indians.
Tiananmen Square in early 1989 attracted many dreamers like Ma Jian, who returned from Hong Kong to a one-room shack in Beijing in order to join the student protests.
The Indonesian nationalists, mainly Javanese, who threw the Dutch out - in 1949, after a four-year struggle - were keen to preserve their inheritance and emulated the coercion, deceit, and bribery of the colonial rulers.
In a typically contradictory move, globalisation, while promoting economic integration among elites, has exacerbated sectarianism everywhere else.
I think the presence of caste in India, how the villages are geographically structured on caste lines, is very different from China. The presence of an egalitarian culture is striking in a Chinese village.
Economic disasters or foolish wars are hardly guaranteed to bring about large-scale individual self-examination or renew the appeal of truly participatory democracy.
German writers in the late 18th century were the first to uphold a prickly, literary nationalism, in reaction to the then dominance and prestige of French literature.
The idea that modernisation makes for enhanced national power and rapid progress and helps everyone achieve greater happiness has its origins in the astonishing political, economic and military successes of western Europe in the 19th century.
Tanpinar presciently feared that to embrace the western conception of progress was to be mentally enslaved by a whole new epistemology, one that compartmentalised knowledge and concealed an instrumental view of human beings as no more than things to be manipulated.
Life in a Chinese village is much more organised because the Chinese Communist Party has a presence even in the remotest Chinese village - a presence of the kind that no governmental or non-governmental organisation has in Indian villages.
As a young man in South Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century, Gandhi developed satyagraha, a mode of political activism based upon moral persuasion, while mobilizing South Africa's small Indian minority against racial discrimination.
For boys like me, in north Indian railway towns in the '70s and '80s, where nothing much happened apart from the arrival and departure of trains from big cities, the Soviet Union alone appeared to promise an escape from our limited, dusty world.
Governments everywhere that are unable to guarantee equitable growth and social welfare have suffered a fatal decay of legitimacy.
The onslaught of new and complex information, the academic and thinktank cults of expertise, not to mention the impossibility of bohemia in the age of high rents, have conspired to assassinate the public intellectual.
For almost a century since 1918, the centralised nation-state has been the world's default political form. Its various experiments in industrialisation, urbanisation, mass literacy and consumerism have brought more people into public life.
Enlightenment values of individual freedom are manifested best in individual acts of criticism and defiance.
The Turkish, Arab and Chinese nationalists who built new nation-states out of the ruins of old empires scorned their old, decrepit rulers as much as they did the foreign imperialists who imposed free trade through gunboats.