February 19, 2015

Western influences on Gandhi go deep

A reader with familiarity on this topic will likely have thought of the most important and prominent exception to it: namely Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi. The Western influences on Gandhi go deep as well, of course – one can certainly argue he drew more from Tolstoy and Ruskin than anything Indian – but the Indian influences are definitely there, from the Bhagavad Gītā and especially from his Jain gurus who taught him ahiṃsā. The writing on Gandhi in the Dallmayr book is pretty bad in that it tries, bizarrely, to tie Gandhi’s work back somehow to the Arthaśāstra, without providing evidence that he read it or was even aware of it. But leaving that book aside, one will still find in Gandhi’s politics of non-violence something that looks much more like a distinctly Indian political philosophy. One can find something similar in Aurobindo, and perhaps in the more militant Hindu thinkers comparable to Qutb (TilakSavarkarGolwalkar). One way or another, there is very much such a thing as modern Indian political philosophy, even when we take the “Indian” in a strong sense.

Thanks, Patrick. I woul d say nearly all anti-modern views are modern; they just aren’t modernist. One might even argue that they are modern by necessity – genuinely non-modern views don’t see modernity well enough to be against it. I developed the modern/modernist distinction on Love of All Wisdom a little while ago. I suppose one doesn’t have to put the distinction in those terms, but one needs something like this distinction (i.e. to be able to identify a view as something like “modern but not modernist”, “modern and anti-modern” – not even a “but” on the latter) or one gets in all sorts of trouble.

Thanks for the extended discussion of this topic Amod, I found it quite helpful. And I strongly second your take on Dallmayr’s analysis of Gandhi’s views. Although given his avowed “severe condemnation of modern civilization,” perhaps we should take care to qualify the extent to which it is “modern,” even if, of course, it’s in large measure in response to what he views as modern evils and injustices (e.g., colonialism and contemporary bourgeois society and industrialization). We might also note that Gandhi was hardly a typical (‘public’) intellectual, however deserving of the appellation, “moral and political thinker,” and did not pen “any systematic treatise on morals and politics” along the lines of those typically thought to possess a “political philosophy” worthy of discussion. Indeed, insofar as we discern the lineaments of a distinctively Indian political philosophy, we should bear in mind Gandhi was first and foremost a man of “action” (in his words, ‘Action is my domain’), thus any such political philosophy is second to, or merely a by-product or spillover effect of, what he came to call his karma yoga.
That said, should one want to take seriously the proposition that we find in Gandhi a “distinctly Indian political philosophy,” and apart from reading through the enormous number of volumes of Gandhi’s writings, I’ll be so bold as to suggest the following works would be essential to any attempt to characterize, let alone assess, Gandhi’s political philosophy:
• Ghosh, B.N. Gandhian Political Economy: Principles, Practices, and Policy. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007.
• Ghosh, B.N. Beyond Gandhian Economics: Towards a Creative Deconstruction. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2012.
• Iyer, Raghavan. The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi. Santa Barbara, CA: Concord Grove Press, 1983 ed. (1st ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 1973).
• Parekh, Bhikhu. Colonialism, Tradition and Reform: An Analysis of Gandhi’s Political Discourse. New Delhi: Sage, 1989.
• Parekh, Bhikhu. Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989.

Shyam Ranganathan commented on Is there Indian political philosophy? - The Yoga Sutra in its discussions of the Yama rules is especially colorful in its depiction of political issues.

I put a bug in Bindu Puri’s ear when we were at a workshop for a volume on India and Human Rights in Ottawa. I told her and the other attendees that Gandhi’s idea of Satya Graha can be found in the Yoga Sutra. She recently published: The Tagore-Gandhi Debate on Matters of Truth and Untruth:

One of the themes of the book is the extensive reference and use Gandhi made of the Yoga Sutra in his own politics — a matter overlooked until this publication

Politics and Ethics of the Indian Constitution - Page 78
Rajeev Bhargava - 2008 - ‎Snippet view - ‎More editions
For some recent discussions of these aspects of Gandhi's political thought, see Thomas Pantham, 'Gandhi, Nehru, and the Democratic-Secular State', in Bindu Puri (ed.), Gandhi and his Contemporaries (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced ...

The Tagore-Gandhi Debate on Matters of Truth and Untruth - Page xxxii
Bindu Puri - 2014 - ‎Preview - ‎More editions
Bindu Puri is an associate professor with the Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi, Delhi, India. She has been interested in ... She has published six books, including one monograph, entitled Gandhi and the Moral Life. She has edited  ...

Despite various strands of intervening intellectual revolutions, Sri Aurobindo remains eminently relevant, readable, and as fresh as ever, a century later. Many educated Indians know not much about Sri Aurobindo’s writings barring a couple of quotations from India’s Rebirth
Sri Aurobindo intended to dislodge stereotypical scholarship and inform discourse with sound Ontological moorings but has been stoutly resisted. Sri Aurobindo fights a political battle on the Knowledge front and is loath on compromises. Evolution to higher levels is his firm assurance. The very fact that Sri Aurobindo is not read or quoted widely is itself a political issue & constitutes the core of his Political Philosophy. [TNM55]

  • Tusar, a critic might take what you say here as a strike against Aurobindo. If the issue that he is not widely read or quoted constitutes the core of his political philosophy, doesn’t that philosophy then strike one as rather narcissistically devoted to self-promotion?
    • Can’t reply so precisely being a non-specialist as my job is to just like a sign-post. There are adequate works on the subject which can satisfy such queries and concerns. However, may I add what I just tweeted:
      What man must know & think and how he should act are dominant concerns for Sri Aurobindo and not merely his material needs and possessions.
      Thus, the notion of political is perhaps a little wider when we evaluate Sri Aurobindo. Thanks. [TNM55]

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