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Table of contents :
1 Liberal Democracy and its Critics: Some Voices from East and West
2 Value, Enchantment and the Mentality of Democracy: Some Distant Perspectives from Gandhi
3 Politics, Experience and Cognitive Enslavement: Gandhi's Hind Swaraj
4 Moral Perfection and Political Participation: The Indian 'Millions' in Gandhi's Hind Swaraj
5 Politics and Violence: Gandhi's Ambivalence to Democracy
6 Pragmatism and Deepened Democracy: Ambedkar between Dewey and Unger
7 Constitutional Democracy and Hindu Nationalism
8 Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings?
9 Whither European Enlightenment?
10 Popular Festivals, Populist Visual Culture and Modi Masks
11 Globalization, Culture and Education
About the Editor
critical interventions in theory and praxis Series Editor: Prafulla C. Kar, Director, Centre for Contemporary Theory, Vadodara.
The volumes published in the Series will be devoted to current interventions in theory and its application. Issues addressed will engage with questions like the place of the human sciences in the age of technology; cultural studies and their implications for literature; the interface between science and philosophy; the teleology of Theory as a new topos; environmental and ethical issues in education; relations between globalized knowledge and indigenous sources of inquiry; identity debates in democracies and other forms of governance in both east and west; the role of media in relation to epistemies of violence; and reflections on the destiny of humankind. This, however, is not exhaustive, and the Series welcomes creative interventions on similar lines. Also in this series The Political Economy of Race, Gender, Class and Caste (forthcoming) Editor: Abdul JanMohamed
LONDON NEW YORK NEW DELHI
First published 2011 in India by Routledge 912 Tolstoy House, 15–17 Tolstoy Marg, Connaught Place, New Delhi 110 001
Simultaneously published in the UK by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business Transferred to Digital Printing 2011 © 2011 Akeel Bilgrami This volume is published in collaboration with the Forum on Contemporary Theory, Vadodara and the Department of English, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. Typeset by Star Compugraphics Private Limited D–156, Second Floor Sector 7, Noida 201 301
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library
ISBN: 978-0-415-58991-8 This book is printed on ECF environment-friendly paper manufactured from unconventional and other raw materials sourced from sustainable and identified sources.
C E Preface
Liberal Democracy and its Critics: Some Voices from East and West FRED DALLMAYR
Value, Enchantment and the Mentality of Democracy: Some Distant Perspectives from Gandhi AKEEL BILGRAMI
Politics, Experience and Cognitive Enslavement: Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj VIVEK DHARESHWAR
Moral Perfection and Political Participation: The Indian ‘Millions’ in Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj MOHAMED MEHDI
Politics and Violence: Gandhi’s Ambivalence to Democracy UDAY SINGH MEHTA
Pragmatism and Deepened Democracy: Ambedkar between Dewey and Unger LENART ŠKOF
Constitutional Democracy and Hindu Nationalism RAJEEV BHARGAVA
Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings? DAVID BROMWICH
Whither European Enlightenment? PANKAJ MISHRA
Popular Festivals, Populist Visual Culture and Modi Masks PARUL DAVE MUKHERJI
Globalization, Culture and Education NACHIKET PATWARDHAN
Bibliography About the Editor Contributors Index
214 224 225 228
ome two years ago, I was asked by Professor Prafulla Kar if I would suggest a theme for a conference he was planning to organize in Varanasi in the winter of 2008. I proposed a subject that should be — at the level of generality at which I am about to describe it — a quite familiar one: the ways in which the notion of democracy (that has, ever since the orthodoxies of the liberal Enlightenment set in, been cumulatively and impressively theorized in relatively formal and procedural terms) might be made more substantial. I mentioned to him some of the past theoretical efforts at such a thing, as for instance, Marx’s making central to democracy, issues of political economy, or the various dissenting and Romantic traditions that had stressed the importance of a democratic culture by paying philosophical attention to democratic dispositions of temperament and mind. Might a genuine integration of these two (and possibly other) substantial aspirations for the ideal of democracy give us a conceptual path of transition from the orthodoxies of liberal doctrine to a more radical understanding of the Enlightenment and its relevance for our own time? He assented to this proposal and invited a number of distinguished scholars to speak on the subject from a scatter of disciplines and backgrounds, from all over India and around the world; and he has now asked me to edit a volume that puts the written versions of their lectures together. I am glad to do so — it is a collection of essays with wide range and exploratory depth, and with both historical and contemporary interest. They all, in one way or other, speak to the theme of a substantial conception of democracy, to the great promise as well as to some of the pitfalls of a democratic mentality and culture. The volume begins with a very useful encyclopedic survey by Fred Dallmayr of points of view from different parts of the world (including some Western voices) which are either directly critical, or contain the philosophical source of criticism, of some of the assumptions and
commitments of the liberal political Enlightenment. It is good to have the collection open with such an international sweep of critical points of view. It is followed by my own essay, in which I elaborate what I meant in a paper written a decade ago where I had said much too cryptically that Gandhi did not believe in politics. The elaboration makes frameworking appeal to some of Gandhi’s philosophical ideas to explore some of the contrasts between liberal and radical elements of the Enlightenment and their relevance to democratic attitudes in our own time and place. Gandhi’s political philosophy is then pursued at length in three essays by Vivek Dhareshwar, Mohamed Mehdi, and Uday Singh Mehta. Dhareshwar and Mehdi comment particularly on Hind Swaraj. Dhareshwar grapples with the difficult but essential subject of Gandhi’s notion of experience as it informs his politics and his moral philosophy. Mehdi focuses on the complex question of Gandhi’s relation to mass politics, while Mehta speaks to that question briefly as well as to various other aspects of democracy. Lenart Škof turns from Gandhi to Ambedkar and offers a pragmatist analysis of his political ideas and practice, sketching affinities with the accounts of different elements of democracy found in John Dewey and Roberto Unger. Rajeev Bhargava continues in a more general analytical vein with Ambedkarite themes of constitutional democracy and investigates its capacity to address the questions of secularism and Hindu nationalism in India today. The essay by David Bromwich focuses on Edmund Burke and the trial of Warren Hastings in order to raise Burke’s own question about the extent to which democracy may, in some contexts, be at odds with other commitments of the Enlightenment. Pankaj Mishra’s essay, then, looks at the extent to which ideals of European Enlightenment are being abandoned in contemporary European society by some prominent intellectual responses to the presence of Muslim immigrant populations in their midst. The book concludes with two essays on democracy, globalization, and artistic culture. Parul Dave Mukherji studies populist elements in the visual arts and the use to which the state in Gujarat has exploited them in its efforts to integrate Gujarat into global capitalism. Nachiket Patwardhan, a distinguished architect and film-maker, writes a brief but heartfelt lament on the deterioration that globalization and misguided educational philosophies and institutions have wrought on Indian culture, particularly Indian architecture and cinema.
I owe a special thanks to Professor Prafulla Kar for his alertness to detail and, in general, for the conscientious help that he has given me throughout, in order to lighten my editorial tasks. Akeel Bilgrami
1 Liberal Democracy and its Critics Some Voices from East and West F D
eraclitus notwithstanding, history is not just random flux. Apart from its great or memorable events, every historical period also pays tribute to certain guideposts or guiding ideas — what sceptics call its idola fori or idols of the marketplace. Looking at our contemporary age, it is not difficult to pinpoint a guiding, and probably the guiding idea endorsed almost universally by people around the world: that of ‘liberal democracy’. Although originating in Western societies, the idea today is circulating as an orienting loadstar among people in Africa, the Middle East as well as South and East Asia. As can readily be seen, the guidepost is actually a composite phrase combining the two terms ‘liberal’ and ‘democracy’. Yet, despite the possibility of differentiation, the two terms in recent times have been basically conflated or amalgamated — with the result that, in the view of both ordinary people and leading intellectuals, the ‘democratic’ component has become redundant or been absorbed without a rest in the dominant ‘liberal’ idea. This conflation is particularly evident in, and traceable to, modern economics (with its own idols of the ‘market’). In large measure, the ongoing process of globalization is fuelled by the idea of ‘neoliberalism’ — a version of the liberal tradition which insists on ‘downsizing’ political (including democratic) oversight for the sake of promoting individual or corporate ‘free enterprise’. This preponderance of liberal or neoliberal agendas is by no means fortuitous. Taking a broad view, the entire trajectory of modern Western history can be seen as a movement of progressive human liberation, above all, liberation from clerical and autocratic modes of control. This trajectory was present already in the work of Thomas
Hobbes, in his rupture with classical and medieval conceptions of community. The movement was carried forward by John Locke with his accent on the persistence of ‘natural rights’ — especially the right to equal liberty — in the confines of an established commonwealth. The latter emphasis was deepened and fleshed out by later liberal thinkers like John Stuart Mill and Benjamin Constant — whose arguments in favour of minimal government (laissez-faire) were by then powerfully buttressed by the rise of capitalism and modern market economics. Small wonder that, in view of this long-standing trajectory, individual freedom became at last a catchword or shibboleth. As we know, the Western world calls itself, somewhat boastfully, the ‘Free World’, while America celebrates itself as the ‘land of the free’. As a corollary of this development, democracy as a political regime has come to be equated with an arena of free individual choice — that is, with liberal or libertarian democracy. But how plausible is this outcome? Has freedom in the modern world completely replaced such traditional categories as ‘virtue’ and the ‘good life’ — with the result that Aristotle’s distinction between just and unjust regimes would be levelled into that between free and unfree forms of life? In what follows I want to pursue this line of thought. In a first step, I shall outline the meaning of liberal democracy, as it is defined by some contemporary theorists or philosophers. Subsequently I want to examine efforts to correct this liberal conception, turning first to the South Asian and next to the East Asian context. By way of conclusion I shall review again the relation between liberalism and democracy.
Minimal Liberal Democracy As previously indicated, liberalism has a long history in the course of which it has assumed many different shapes and shadings. During the early period, the time of Hobbes and Locke, liberalism — in the sense of the defence of ‘natural’ individual rights — served precariously as an adjunct or supplement to monarchical and even absolutist regimes. In the post-revolutionary era, liberalism became affiliated with various republican or democratic regimes — but in such a manner that the latter would progressively be trumped by the former (a development in which, as stated, the rise of capitalism played a major role). In the opinion of 19th-century liberals, the role of government — including
Liberal Democracy and its Critics
democratic government — was meant to be minimal: seen chiefly as protectors of private property, political regimes were said to govern best when governing least. The dismal experiences of the 20th century with populist and totalitarian governments have reinforced the liberal preference for political or public minimalism — despite occasional concessions to ‘welfare’ programmes during times of economic hardship. As a result of these experiences and developments, the notion of individual freedom has come to be equated preponderantly with ‘negative liberty’ (to use Isaiah Berlin’s phrase) or the freedom to be left alone — with only limited allowance made for active or ‘positive freedom’ (mainly on the level of voting rights and lobbying). In his study of John Dewey (who opposed this entire trend), Raymond Boisvert has sketched the stereotype of the minimalist liberal: ‘an individual with no roots and little connectedness to community . . . a highly competitive individual fixated on narrow purposes whose practice is marked by expedience rather than conventional ethics’.1 On a sophisticated level, aspects of democratic minimalism can be found even in the writings of theorists or intellectuals otherwise strongly committed to democratic politics. An example is Robert A. Dahl’s celebrated text A Preface to Democratic Theory (first published in 1956).2 In the very Introduction to his study, Dahl delineates two basic approaches in this field: a ‘maximizing’ theory (relying either on ethical principles or formal axioms) and a purely ‘descriptive–empirical’ and to that extent minimalizing approach. Traditional political theory, he notes, has tended to be ‘maximizing’ by emphasizing ‘internal checks’ — such as conscience and ethical dispositions — to restrain possible excesses of governmental power. Pre-revolutionary writers in particular, he says, insisted upon ‘moral virtue among citizens as a necessary condition for republican government’, a condition which needed to be cultivated through ‘hortatory religion, sound education, and honest government’. This approach, however, has gone out of fashion since the revolutionary period and, in America, since the writings of James Madison. In Dahl’s presentation, Madison proceeded to sideline the earlier ‘maximizing’ approach which must have been still ‘a common assumption of his time’. From Madison’s perspective, the traditional ethical approach was simply no longer viable given the increasingly competitive and interest-based character of modern politics. Moreover, even if occasionally operative, ethical constraints were no longer reliable given the strength of individual ambitions. Hence, for both Madison and Dahl, modern governments require not
traditional but ‘external [or procedural] checks’ to restrain oppressive tendencies. As can readily be seen, however, procedural checks are themselves the result of contractual arrangements and hence dependent on changing individual preferences.3 Another example of a democratic theorist leaning in the minimalist direction is Giovanni Sartori, well known for his text The Theory of Democracy Revisited (1987) (which is a sequel to his earlier Democratic Theory of 1962).4 Like Dahl’s study, Sartori’s text distinguishes at the outset between a ‘prescriptive’ or normative conception and a ‘descriptive’ or empirical conception — with the latter version involving greatly reduced demands on democratic politics. In his view, to introduce normative expectations is likely to overburden the democratic regime such as to render it unviable: ‘To bring morality into politics is akin to playing with fire — as we have only too well rediscovered since Hegel theorized a ‘political ethos’ or Sittlichkeit’. In view of the alleged danger associated with public ethics, Sartori prefers to employ ‘minimalist’ language and to leave phrases like ‘political morality, social morality, professional ethics’ aside. What he finds particularly unhelpful or obnoxious is any association of democracy with public affection or Aristotelian-type friendship — something he derisively calls ‘demophily’. As he insists: ‘Since real-world democracy consists (this is what renders it real) of a democratic machinery, democracy can do well without demophily’. Democratic machinery coincides for him — and many other empirical theorists — with voting behaviour, pursuit of individual interests through pressure groups and political parties, and public policy-making on the basis of these interests. Comprising this battery of elements, the democratic machinery basically yields what he calls ‘demo-power’, that is, the power of the people, or predominant segments of the people, to implement and make effective prevailing interests: ‘Democracy begins with demo-power’.5 An even more resolutely minimalist approach is propagated by a perspective which, in recent times, has increasingly gained prominence in the social sciences: rational choice theory. This outlook basically transfers neo-classical economic assumptions to social and political life; under the aegis of ‘neoliberalism’, the perspective is fast emerging as something like a dominant global ideology. As can readily be seen, what is jeopardized or called into question by this model is not only public ethics, but politics, particularly democratic politics, as such. For, even when seen as a minimally shared regime, democracy is bound to be a burden or hindrance for the ambitions of an unrestrained
Liberal Democracy and its Critics
economic agenda. No one has articulated this burden more forcefully than William Riker, a founder of this model, in his book Liberalism Against Populism (of 1982).6 In this text, the term ‘populism’ stands for an interventionist or perhaps ‘Jacobin’ type of democracy — in a manner which immediately renders democracy suspect (if compared with liberalism). As Riker states at the outset: ‘The theory of social [or rational] choice is a theory about the way the tastes, preferences, or values of individual persons are amalgamated and summarized into the choice of a collective group or society’. Since these preferences are not ethically ranked, the primary focus is on something measurable or quantifiable: in economics monetary profit, in politics ‘the theory of voting’ which is the core of liberal (or libertarian) democracy barring any interference with voting preferences. Like Dahl, Riker distinguishes between a normative–ethical and an empirical or ‘analytical’ conception of politics — placing rational choice clearly in the second category: the model is ‘an analytical theory about the way the natural world can [and does] work and what kind of outputs that world can yield’.7 Again like Dahl, though with modified accents, Riker delineates two different genealogies of modern democracy: a ‘liberal or Madisonian’ type and a ‘populist or Rousseauistic’ type. In the liberal (or libertarian) version, he notes, ‘the function of voting is to control officials, and nothing else’ — meaning by ‘nothing else’ the absence of positive political programmes promoting something like the common good. As he adds, this Madisonian definition ‘is logically complete, and there is nothing to add. Madison said nothing about the quality of popular decision, whether good or bad’. By contrast, ‘populists’ — presumably following Rousseau — desire a more active, participatory role of the people and a politics that creates ‘a moral and collective body’ endowed with ‘life and will’, especially the (in)famous ‘general will’. At this point, Riker endorses wholeheartedly Isaiah Berlin’s notion of ‘negative liberty’ and his indictment that ‘positive liberty, which appears initially innocuous, is the root of tyranny’ or oppression. Tellingly, Riker also alludes to some ideological background, not unaffected by the geopolitics of the Cold War. ‘No government’, he asserts, ‘that has eliminated economic freedom has been able to attain or keep democracy’. On the other hand, ‘economic liberty is also an end in itself because capitalism is the driving force for the increased efficiency and technological innovation that has produced in two centuries both a vast increase in the wealth of capitalist nations and a doubling of the average life span of their citizens’. Although acknowledging that it
may be viewed as ‘minimalist’ by some, Riker concludes that liberal or Madisonian democracy is ‘the only kind of democracy actually attainable’ or feasible in our world.8
Beyond Minimalism: Voices from South Asia In large measure, liberal democracy — in the sense of a minimalist, libertarian regime (or non-regime) — tends to occupy center stage in recent Western social and political thought. As it is important to note, this has not always been the case. During important phases of Western political development, minimalist liberal democracy has been criticized or contested by able thinkers and public intellectuals. One such phase was the American colonial period when the Puritan John Winthrop proposed the formation of an ethical–communitarian republic in Massachusetts Bay. Another, post-revolutionary phase was the era of ‘Jacksonian democracy’ when the ideal of an egalitarian republic was pitted against the laissez-faire ambitions of the emerging manufacturing elite (epitomized by the Bank of America). On a theoretical or philosophical plane, however, the most important development was the rise of ‘pragmatism’ in the late-19th century, and especially John Dewey’s eloquent defence of ‘radical’ democracy as an antidote to laissez-faire liberalism. In Boisvert’s words, for Dewey ‘democracy as an ideal for community life is not a mere provision for a minimal state which simply leaves citizens alone. Such an individualistic ideal is inimical to the kind of associated living which is democratic’. To quote Dewey himself: ‘The clear consciousness of a communal life, in all its implications, constitutes the idea of democracy’.9 For present purposes, given the contemporary global expansion of liberal (or neoliberal) democracy, I want to turn my attention to non-Western intellectual contexts. An important context of this kind is South Asia and particularly India, the home of Mahatma Gandhi. As is well known, Gandhi was not only an astute politician or public leader but also a thinker or intellectual with deep insight into public affairs, including the requisites of democracy. On the latter issue he has pronounced himself repeatedly, but perhaps most forcefully and pithily in his early book of 1909 titled Hind Swaraj (or ‘Indian Home Rule’).10 In this text, Gandhi takes to task forms of democracy found in Western countries which are often upheld as shining models to the rest of the world. Concentrating his attention particularly on the British model,
Liberal Democracy and its Critics
he delineates a long list of shortcomings or defects, ranging from the venality of parliament, or its subservience to vested interests, to the fluctuating whims of public opinion under the impact of power-hungry politicians or businessmen. Surveying these and a host of related blemishes, Gandhi does not hesitate to trace the malaise to a central underlying cause: the unrestrained pursuit of self-interest and selfindulgence, at the cost of shared ethical commitments to the public good. To be sure, as he acknowledges, modern life — even life in corrupt democracies — has brought greater freedom for many people in different strata of society; this advance, however, is marred and nearly eclipsed by prevailing abuses. In terms of Hind Swaraj, the main problem is the sway of self-centred materialism, the fact that people in the modern West ‘make bodily welfare the [sole] object of life’. As the text starkly depicts the situation: This civilization takes note neither of morality [niti] nor of religion [dharma] . . . [It] seeks to increase bodily comforts, and it fails miserably even in doing so. This civilization is irreligion [adharma], and it has taken such a hold on the people in Europe that those who are in it appear to be half mad . . . They keep up their energy by intoxication.11
The remedy proposed in Hind Swaraj for this state of affairs is precisely self-rule or ‘swaraj’ — which does not mean selfish rule or promotion of self-centred ambitions, but rather the ability to rein in such ambitions for the benefit of the common good, that is, the good of all people. As Gandhi points out, egocentrism or individual self-seeking is contrary not only to ethical and spiritual ‘rightness’ (one sense of dharma) but also to the teachings of practically all the great religions of the world — including (next to Hinduism) Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism (he might have added Buddhism). What all these religions try to teach us, he writes, is ‘that we should remain passive [or reticent] about worldly pursuits and active about godly [or ethical] pursuits, that we should set a limit to our worldly ambitions, and that our religious [or dharmic] ambitions should be illimitable’. Despite differences of accent or detail, all religions and ethical–spiritual paths can thus be seen as ‘different roads converging to the same point’. People following these paths are liable to achieve not ‘civilization in name only’, but genuine culture or civilization befitting free and responsible human beings. In Gandhi’s terse formulation: ‘Civilization is that mode of conduct which points out to human beings the path of duty. Performance of ethical duty . . . means to attain mastery over our mind and our passions. In so doing, we come to know ourselves’.
Even more importantly in doing so, we come to rule ourselves both as individuals and as people. The clear implication of this view is a new understanding of democracy: in the sense not of the pursuit of individual or collective self-interest but of a transformative popular self-rule (that is, rule of people over themselves) or swaraj: ‘It is swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves’.12 Although composed relatively early in his life (and during an arduous sea voyage from London to South Africa), the basic tenets of Hind Swaraj remained firm guideposts during Gandhi’s mature years. Although willing to revise minor details, he never disavowed his early text; in fact, he reconfirmed its central argument on repeated occasions in subsequent years. A few examples should suffice to document this continuity. In his ‘Constructive Program’ submitted to the Indian National Congress in 1941, Gandhi strongly reaffirmed his commitment to swaraj, explaining the meaning of the term as denoting ‘complete independence through truth [satya] and non-violence [ahimsa]’ and ‘without distinction of race, color or creed’. A letter written to Jawaharlal Nehru a few years later made explicit reference to the text of 1909, stating: ‘I have said that I still stand by the system of government envisaged in Hind Swaraj’. In retrospect, what appeared to Gandhi as the central lesson of his book was the emphasis on ethical self-rule and self-restraint, on a conception of individual and public agency performed within the limits of rightness or truth (satya) and non-violent generosity toward others. The most dramatic and direct application of the idea of swaraj came in his ‘Quit India’ speech delivered in Bombay in 1942. In that speech, Gandhi — now the leader of a nation-wide satyagraha (civil resistance relying on ‘truth power’) — contrasted his vision of Indian self-rule with the kind of freedom and political rulership found in Britain and the Western world, saying: I do not regard England, or for that matter America, as free countries. They are free after their own fashion: free to hold in bondage the colored races of the earth . . . According to my own interpretation of that freedom, I am constrained to say: they are strangers to that freedom which their [own] poets and teachers have described.13
Profiled against dominant Western approaches, Gandhi’s idea of swaraj discloses a conception of democracy — an ethical conception — sharply at variance with interest-based models of liberal or libertarian democracy. Despite his fondness for Western writers like Ruskin, Thoreau
Liberal Democracy and its Critics
and Tolstoy, Gandhi was not a radical individualist (in the modern ‘liberal’ sense) ready to separate a vast arena of private freedom from a narrowly circumscribed, perhaps minimalist, public-democratic domain. Faithful to older philosophical traditions (both in India and the West), he preferred to stress a qualitative distinction between modes of human and political conduct — a distinction that cannot be readily collapsed into modern private/public or internal/external polarities. Without blandly fusing individual and society or subordinating one to the other, his thought was able to hold the two elements in fruitful, perhaps tensional balance. This aspect is clearly shown in another letter Gandhi wrote to Nehru in 1945. Picking up Nehru’s suggestion regarding the importance of human and social development’, he fully agreed that it was crucial to ‘bring about man’s highest intellectual, economic, political and moral development, that is, the ‘flourishing’ of all human abilities. The basic issue was how to accomplish this goal. For Gandhi this was impossible without thorough attention to rightness (dharma) and without social engagement and responsibility. Echoing Aristotle, and countering the modern Western focus on selfcentred individualism carried over from an atomistic ‘state of nature’ into society, he wrote: ‘Man is not born to live in isolation but is essentially a social animal independent and interdependent. No one can or should ride on another’s back’. A similar view was expressed in an interview of summer 1946 where Gandhi stated that, although the individual does count in important ways, this ‘does not exclude dependence and willing help from neighbors or from the world. It will be a free and voluntary play of mutual forces’.14 In speaking of interconnectedness and the ‘play of mutual forces’ Gandhi displays an affinity with the spirit of Jamesian and Deweyan pragmatism. But the parallel can be carried further. Like William James and John Dewey, and perhaps even more emphatically, Gandhi was an ethical and spiritual pragmatist, in the great tradition of Indian spirituality. As is well known, the most important source of inspiration for Gandhi throughout his life was the Bhagavad Gita, a text which delineates several paths (or yogas) guiding toward liberation and blessedness (in the sense of flourishing). Among these paths, Gandhi deliberately chose the path of action or praxis (karma yoga) demanding continuous ethical engagement in the affairs of the world. Again like Dewey, he did not assume that human beings are free and equal by nature (or in an original ‘state of nature’); rather freedom and equality for him were achievements requiring steady practice — a practice
involving not only change of outward conditions but primarily selftransformation. In Gandhi’s own words, freedom is not an instant boon, but is ‘attained only by constant heart-churn’ or self-giving in service to others. As Ramashray Roy explains, in his thoughtful book Self and Society, karma yoga for Gandhi was not just a form of activism or worldly ‘busy-ness’, but rather a soteriological path or a process of sanctification which sees performance of action as sacred duty: ‘This sacred duty lies in exerting oneself to the benefit of others, that is, service’.15 Viewed from this angle, achievement of self-rule or swaraj involves self-transcendence and a diligent training in the ways of freedom. In a manner akin to Deweyan political thought, pursuit of liberating paths (or yogas) demands steady practice and habituation, facilitated by sound education. In a more directly Aristotelian vein, such practice revolves around the nurturing of a set of virtues — which Gandhi reformulated under the rubric of ethical and spiritual ‘vows’ (yamas). Comparing Gandhian swaraj with dominant forms of modern Western thought, the differences are stark and obvious. What needs to be noted right away is the distance of swaraj from prevalent modern conceptions of freedom: those of ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ liberty. In this binary scheme, negative liberty basically designates the freedom to be left alone (that is, liberalism’s retreat into private self-satisfaction), whereas positive liberty denotes the unhampered pursuit of collective goals — a pursuit sometimes shading over into social engineering on behalf of ideological panaceas. As can readily be seen, neither of these options shows kinship with Gandhian swaraj. Even when highly spiritualized, negative liberty still bears traces of individual self-centredness, while the positive type — in stressing worldly activism — seems ignorant of self-restraint, releasement and nonattachment to the fruits of action. This distance is clearly pinpointed by Ramashray Roy. As he observes, negative liberty insists on social aloofness, on the retreat into a private realm often coinciding with selfishness or the wanton ‘satisfaction of desires’. On the other hand, while emphasizing social and political engagement, positive liberty sidesteps the task of self-curtailment and self-transcendence by extolling the benefits of collectively chosen goals. For Roy, it was ‘Gandhi’s genius’ to have squarely faced this dilemma and have shown an exit from this binary dilemma. The central point of Gandhian swaraj, he notes, was the emphasis on self-rule as a transformative process — whereby people are able to rule not so much over others than over themselves.16
Liberal Democracy and its Critics
The arguments regarding freedom or liberty can readily be transferred to the basic meaning of democracy. The difference between Gandhian swaraj and the liberal–minimalist conception of democracy has been ably highlighted by the Gandhi-scholar Ronald Terchek, especially in his essay titled ‘Gandhi and Democratic Theory’. Right at the outset Terchek states the crux of the matter: democracy for Gandhi was not merely ‘procedural’ or minimal but ‘substantive’ in the sense of being grounded in a non-oppressive way of life. He cites Gandhi himself to the effect that, under democracy ‘the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest. And this can never happen except through [political, social, and psychological] non-violence’.17 Basically, for the Mahatma, democracy is a regime not organized or imposed ‘from the top down’ (or from the state down) but one nurtured ‘from the bottom up’. This explains his emphasis on village life and village self-government (through councils or panchayats) as well as on economic decentralization and local industries. In Terchek’s presentation, Gandhi believed that the means of production (at least of the basic necessities of life) should remain ultimately in the hands of the people — and not be relinquished or alienated to corporate elites. In contrast to the rampant competition unleashed by the capitalist market, he stressed the need to cultivate cooperative dispositions so that the brute ‘struggle for survival’ would be transmuted into a ‘struggle for mutual service’ or ‘mutual existence’. Such dispositions, in turn, presuppose the fostering of mutual respect and the practice of such civic virtues as inter-personal and inter-group tolerance or recognition. As Terchek observes, paraphrasing Gandhi’s own arguments: ‘Tolerance implies a mutual regard for others; and if it is missing, the [bottom-up] dialogue of the democratic process is diminished, if not destroyed’. Gandhi in India — he adds perceptively — ‘like Dewey in America, saw dialogue as necessary to both individual growth and to the democratic prospect. Indeed, democracy received one of its primary justifications from Dewey because it promoted tolerance and fostered development’.18 The central point of Terchek’s essay is the differentiation of the Gandhian approach from (what he calls) ‘the dominant model of democracy today’ which relies on the unhampered pursuit of selfinterest and, politically, on competitive elections where voters choose delegates maximally committed to promoting their interest. From the latter (liberal–minimalist) perspective, interests are individually generated and by no means in a ‘pre-established harmony’. Among a larger group of people, pursuit of self-interest is liable to lead to
strife or conflict, whose settlement is secured either through shallow compromise or the intervention of sovereign power. For Gandhi, such settlement is defective under democratic auspices. As Terchek shows, democratic life for him required ‘both freedom and interdependence’ and the two could only be sustained through ethical dispositions cultivated over time. Moreover, on both the individual and group levels, it was necessary to distinguish genuine needs from private ‘interests’ which are often artificially created by the media (and privilege ‘greed’ over need). Apart from stressing some Deweyan affinities, Terchek also links Gandhi’s thought with aspects of the ‘civic republican’ tradition from Cicero to the present. In his words: Civic republicans believed ‘that freedom could be secured only if people restrained themselves . . . Accordingly, they attempted to disperse power, institutionalize cooperation, emphasize service, and promote widespread participation’ in the political process. Differently phrased, for republicans as well as Gandhi, democracy was predicated on self-rule (in the sense of swaraj) and a non-domineering type of public agency — an agency captured by the Gandhian labels of non-violence (ahimsa) and ‘truth-force’ (satyagraha).19 An argument along similar lines has been presented by the Indian political theorist Thomas Pantham, in his article ‘Beyond Liberal Democracy: Thinking with Mahatma Gandhi’. As Pantham points out, Gandhi repeatedly criticized the liberal democratic model — its ‘objectification and technocratization of the political’ (in the state) and its concomitant ‘alienation of the people’s political rights’ (by reducing such rights to private interests). The alternative he put forward was that of swaraj which, in addition to self-rule, can also be translated as ‘participatory democracy’ where the gulf between ‘subject and object’, between the ruler and ruled is erased. For Gandhi, modern liberal thought was based largely on a ‘one-dimensional conception’ of human beings as self-contained and self-seeking creatures whose pursuit of selfish ends could only be tamed by power and non-moral force. It was impossible in his view to escape ‘the inherent contradictions’ of this model ‘without abandoning the liberal–individualistic conception of humanity and the atomistic, amoral conception of its interests’. The escape route he proposed was reliance on ‘truth-doing’ (satytagraha) and non-violence (ahimsa) as ‘the most important moral norms’ — norms which are ‘not cloistered virtues’ but to be discovered and formed through ‘the ordinary activities of life’ in the social, economic and political spheres. Once these norms are widely cultivated and taken
Liberal Democracy and its Critics
to heart, a different version of democracy comes into view, one in which freedom and interdependence are closely linked. To quote a statement by Gandhi, written in 1946 and carrying distinct Deweyan (and Aristotelian) echoes: I value individual freedom, but you must not forget that man is essentially a social being. He has risen to the present status by learning to adjust his individualism to the requirements of social progress. Unrestricted individualism is the law of the beast of the jungle. We have learnt to strike the mean between individual freedom and social restraint.20
Beyond Minimalism: Voices from East Asia When turning from India to East Asia, similar reservations regarding liberal democracy can readily be found. The critique of radical individualism proceeds there mainly (though not exclusively) on Confucian premises, a philosophy well-known for its emphasis on human relationships. Given the essential relatedness of human beings, freedom for Confucians cannot mean either internal retreat or external manipulation and domination. This point is eloquently made by the Chinese-American scholar Tu Weiming. As he observes, Confucianism basically opposes the binary scheme of negative and positive liberty, that is, the construal of freedom in terms of either private self-withdrawal or domineering self-enhancement. ‘It rejects’, he writes, ‘both an introspective affirmation of the self as an isolable and complacent ego and an unrestrained attachment to the external world for the sake of a limitless expansion of one’s manipulative power’. In lieu of these alternatives, the Confucian ‘way’ or tao — akin to Gandhian swaraj — involves an ‘unceasing process of selftransformation as a communal act’, and thus a linkage of ethics and social engagement whose seasoning effect ‘can ultimately free us from the constrictions of the privatized ego’. As can readily be seen, human freedom from this angle is limited or circumscribed not by the state or external procedures but by the ability of ethical transformation, that is, the ability of people to rule themselves rather than ruling others.21 In addition to social engagement and connectedness, Confucianism also fosters the relatedness between human beings and nature as well as the ‘mutuality between man and Heaven’. Ultimately, Tu Weiming
notes, the Confucian trajectory points to the human reconciliation with ‘Heaven, Earth, and the myriad things’ with clearly spiritual or religious connotations. In an instructive manner, he also points to the Confucian stress on exemplification, that is, the need not merely to hold fine theories but to exemplify them in daily conduct. Despite his deep modesty, Confucius himself can be seen, and was seen, as an ‘exemplar’ or ‘exemplary person’ (chün-tzu) who taught the ‘way’ not through abstract doctrines but through the testimony of responsible daily living. At this point, the affinity with Deweyan philosophy comes clearly into view — a fact which is perhaps not surprising given Dewey’s extended visit to China after World War I.22 As in the case of Gandhian swaraj, leading a responsible life in society involves self-restraint and the abandonment of domineering impulses. In Confucius’s own words, humaneness or to be properly human ( jen) means ‘to conquer oneself (k’e-chi) and to return to propriety (fu-li)’. As Tu Weiming comments, however, the notion of ‘conquering oneself’ should not be misconstrued in the sense of self-erasure in favour of heteronomous forces. The Confucian idea, he writes, does not mean ‘that one should engage in a bitter struggle’ of conquest; rather the concept of k’e-chi is ‘closely linked to the concept of self-cultivation (hsiu-shen)’ or self-transformation and hence to the task of responsible and responsive social agency.23 More difficult to assess is the relation of Confucian thought to modern democracy seen as popular self-rule and self-government. In large measure, the difficulty arises from the fact that, in contrast to the Gandhian legacy, traditional Confucianism is silent on democracy and the political implications of human agency. This silence is often taken as evidence of the utter incompatibility of Confucian teachings and democratic regimes. In the words of the China-scholar Ni Peinim: ‘The dominant view today still holds that Confucianism and democracy are like water and fire, totally incompatible and antagonistic to each other’. According to this view, the former is ‘authoritarian, repressive, and typically associated with totalitarian policies, uniformity of ideology, social hierarchy, and discrimination against women’ — while democracy is ‘the very opposite’.24 In a similar vein, Wm. Theodore de Bary has pointed out that, during much of the 20th century, Confucianism ‘was made to stand for all that was backward and benighted in China: it bore all the burden of the past, charged with innumerable sins of the old order’. When in 1989 — he adds — the ‘Goddess of Democracy’ was publicly displayed in Tiananmen
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Square, the display was a revolt not only against Communist repression but also against the older Confucian tradition.25 In this context, traditional Confucian sayings like ‘The common people are the root or foundation of society’ (from the Shujing) are widely regarded as pious placebos devoid of concrete political connotations. At this point, it becomes important to ask what precisely is at issue. Does the claimed incompatibility prevail between Confucianism and democracy tout court, or between the former and a certain kind of liberalism or liberal democracy? In the latter case, the meaning of ‘liberal’ and ‘liberalism’ becomes decisive. Do these terms refer to the ethical kind of liberalism which can be traced from Montesquieu and Hegel all the way to Dewey’s definition of democracy as an ethical community? Or do we mean the self-seeking, laissez-faire liberalism which ultimately reduces social life to an atomistic state of nature? In the former case — making room for creative adjustments — it seems quite possible to envisage a harmony between Confucianism and modern democracy. In the latter case, harmony or compatibility is clearly excluded — but only because self-centred liberalism is at variance with democracy as such (or only allows for minimalist democracy). The need for a creative adjustment or rethinking of traditional teachings is today acknowledged by many Confucian scholars, especially by such ‘New Confucians’ as Tu Weiming and Liu Shu-hsien. As the latter has aptly stated: ‘We have to reject the tradition in order to reaffirm the ideal of the tradition’.26 However, such a rethinking of Confucian teachings also requires, as a complementary move, a rethinking of prevalent modern Western ideas — away from the egocentric preferences of democratic minimalism in the direction of a responsible democratic ethos. As it appears to me, such a double rethinking is admirably manifest in the writings of the China-scholar Henry Rosemont Jr. In several of his texts, Rosemont has eloquently castigated the notion of an egocentric individualism patterned on capitalist economics. As he writes at one point (in a passage with patent Deweyan echoes): ‘For most of the world’s peoples, there are no disembodied minds, nor autonomous individuals; human relationships govern and structure most of our lives, to the point that unless there are at least two human beings, there can be no human being’. As one should note, however, this critique of egocentrism does not induce Rosemont to reject democracy as such. As he states in one of his more well-known writings, A Chinese Mirror, what he is proposing or suggesting is not
a return to autocracy but rather ‘a somewhat different philosophical view of democracy’ — a view more in line with an ethical conception of both liberalism and democracy.27 The concrete contours of this alternative view are spelled out by Rosemont in another text which intriguingly joins Confucian ‘relationism’ with the pragmatic account on a shared way of life. From this alternative perspective, he states, democracy — including an ethically liberal democracy — might be described as a regime in which every member has the right and duty ‘to participate in public affairs’ and ‘to take the public welfare of all the other members of society as one’s own’. As one can see, democracy here is elevated to the height of the vision of Montesquieu, de Tocqueville, and Dewey. To conclude with another passage from A Chinese Mirror, even more distinctly Deweyan in orientation: in a properly constituted democratic community, ‘the desired would not be equated with the desirable, and democratic participation — being a citizen — would involve engaging in collective dialogue about the appropriate means for achieving agreed-upon ends’.28
Concluding Remarks In the preceding pages, I have delineated critiques of liberal–minimalist democracy, focusing on Gandhian and Confucian teachings. These critical voices could readily be expanded or multiplied. One of the noteworthy developments in Asia in recent decades has been the upsurge of a ‘new’ kind of Buddhism, an outlook which shifts the earlier accent on monastic retreat in the direction of a more worldly engagement and participation. Here again, the twin pitfalls of negative and positive liberty are bypassed (at least in intent). While transgressing the bounds of a purely internal liberation, the turn to engagement carefully steers clear of public manipulation or the pursuit of social blueprints, thus maintaining the central Buddhist focus on ‘selfemptying’ (shunyata) and self-transcendence (toward others).29 Under very different auspices and in a different idiom, tendencies pointing in a similar direction can also be found in strands of contemporary Islamic thought. In this context, the traditional biblical injunction to ‘pursue justice’ above everything else still serves as a powerful incentive to foster an ethically vibrant public life. However, contrary to ‘fundamentalist’ misconstruals, this incentive does not automatically translate into theocracy or clerical despotism. On the contrary, precisely
Liberal Democracy and its Critics
because justice needs to be done in concrete times and places, ordinary people are called upon to act as ‘vice-regents’ or (more prosaically) as co-participants in the formation of ethically just modes of politics. In recent times, the idea of a basic compatibility of Islam and democracy has been defended by a number of able intellectuals, from Muhammad Iqbal to Abdulaziz Sachedina and Abdulkarim Soroush. In Iqbal’s pithy phrase: ‘Islam demands loyalty to God, not to thrones’. Paraphrasing and amplifying this idea, philosopher Soroush has stated: ‘No blessing is more precious for mankind than the free choice of the way of the prophets . . . But in the absence of this state of grace, nothing is better for humankind than [democratic] freedom. Because all free societies, whether religious or nonreligious, are properly humane’.30 As indicated before, the critique of public minimalism is not restricted to non-Western contexts. On the contrary, some of the most eloquent critical voices have been precisely Western and, in fact, American. Just a few years ago, the American political theorist Michael Sandel issued a plea for a renewed ‘public philosophy’ which would re-connect ethics and politics. What stands in the way of such a renewal, in his account, is the predominance of (what he calls) the ‘voluntarist conception of freedom’, that is, the laissez-faire ideology of untrammelled self-seeking, which dispenses with the ‘difficult task’ of cultivating civic dispositions. As an antidote to this ideology, Sandel pleads in favour of a ‘formative politics’ concerned with the formation of ethical civic attitudes and practices, for (he says) ‘to share in self-rule requires that citizens possess, or come to acquire, certain civic virtues’.31 In issuing this plea, of course, Sandel stands on the shoulders of a series of earlier American thinkers, including the journalist and public intellectual Walter Lippmann. Some 70 years ago, Lippmann had denounced the spreading cult of egocentric will power in economics and politics. As he noted in The Good Society, Western modernity had derailed when it moved to equate freedom with individual self-seeking. In opposition to this equation — the ‘doctrine of laissezfaire, let her rip, and the devil take the hindmost’ — Lippmann invoked an older tradition of ethical liberalism congruent with public obligations. Borrowing a leaf from Aristotle as well as American pragmatism, his text observed: ‘There must be [in democracy] a habitual, confirmed, and well-nigh intuitive dislike of arbitrariness . . . There must be a strong desire to be just. [And] there must be a growing capacity to be just’.32
However, the strongest American voice against the derailment into laissez-faire minimalism was John Dewey. As I have stated repeatedly, Dewey was relentless in critiquing a reckless individualism and in upholding social ‘relationism’ and the need for civic bonds. As one should note well, his animus was directed not against liberalism as such, but against a minimalist version incompatible with democratic self-rule. Likewise, his target was not individual liberty (or individual selfhood) per se, but only its imprisonment in the Cartesian fortress of the ‘ego cogito’. In the words of Raymond Boisvert: whereas old-style individualism connotes ‘both isolation and self-interestedness’, ‘individuality’ in the revised Deweyan sense identifies ‘the distinctive manner in which someone participates in communal life’; it recognizes ‘the irreducibility of community and the multiple perspectives associated with it’.33 Such individuality and the multiple perspectives to which it gives rise are not opposed to, but actually constitutive of, democratic life. Above all, what needs to be remembered is that, for Dewey, democracy is not a finished state, but an ongoing process of democratizing pointing toward rich untapped horizons. Democracy, he states at one point, is ‘an end that has not been adequately realized in any country at any time. It is radical because it requires great change in existing social institutions, economic, legal and cultural’. To this might be added his observation that, under democratic auspices, ‘the supreme test of all political institutions and industrial arrangements shall be the contribution they make to the all-round growth [or better, flourishing] of every number of society’.34 Returning to the theme of self-rule or swaraj, it is clear that growth or flourishing cannot mean simply the enlargement of power or managerial control. Rather, to be ethically tenable, democratic selfrule has to involve a practice of self-restraint and self-transformation (even self-emptying) capable of instilling the habit of non-violence (ahimsa) and generous openness toward others. As Dewey once remarked, in a very Gandhian spirit: ‘To take as far as possible every conflict which arises . . . out of the atmosphere and medium of force, of violence as a means of settlement, into that of discussion and of intelligence is to treat those who disagree — even profoundly — with us as those from whom we may learn and, in so far, as friends’.35 This disposition toward non-violence, however, does not come easy. For Dewey, as we know, such a disposition or civic habit is not a readymade ‘natural’ endowment, but a human potentiality requiring continuous struggle and life-long educational cultivation.
Liberal Democracy and its Critics
Seen in this light, democracy clearly remains a ‘promise’ — but not an empty pipe-dream nor a mere project of civil engineering. Construed as an ongoing democratization, democracy involves a striving toward human flourishing on both an individual and social level. Transposed into the idiom of Heidegger’s philosophy, human praxis — in the basic sense of ‘letting be’ — produces no extrinsic objects but an intrinsic good: the achievement or fulfillment of our (promised) humanity.
This is a revised version of an essay that first appeared in the Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research, vol. 24, 2007 and reprinted here with permission. 1. Raymond D. Boisvert, John Dewey: Rethinking Our Time (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1998), pp. 51–52. Compare also Isaiah Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty (London: Oxford University Press, 1977); and for a critique Charles Taylor, ‘What’s Wrong with Negative Liberty?’, in Alan Ryan, ed., The Idea of Freedom: Essays in Honor of Isaiah Berlin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 175–93. 2. Robert A. Dahl, A Preface to Democratic Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956). 3. Ibid., pp. 2, 18–19. To Dahl’s credit, one has to acknowledge that he stressed not only formal procedural limits but also ‘inherent social checks and balances’. He also refers to an ‘underlying consensus on policy’ (p. 22) existing ‘prior to politics’ (pp. 82–83). But the origin of this consensus is not disclosed. 4. Giovanni Sartori, The Theory of Democracy Revisited (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1987). 5. Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 12–13, 17–18, 241–42; vol. 2, pp. 476–77. 6. William H. Riker, Liberalism against Populism: A Confrontation between the Theory of Democracy and the Theory of Social Choice (Prospective Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1982). 7. Ibid., pp. 1–3. 8. Ibid., pp. 7, 9–12, 246. 9. See Boisvert, John Dewey, p. 58. Compare also John Dewey: The Later Works: 1925–1953, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981–90), vol. 2, p. 328; and John Winthrop, ‘A Model of Christian Charity’ , in Robert Bellah et al., eds, Individualism and Commitment in American Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), pp. 21–27. 10. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, ed. Anthony J. Parel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).
11. Ibid., pp. 30–37. 12. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, pp. 42–43, 67, 73. 13. These and similar statements are collected in the ‘Supplementary Writings’ attached by Parel to his edition of Hind Swaraj, pp. 149–50, 171, 185. The sources can be found in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (New Delhi: Government of India, 1958–89), vol. 75, pp. 146–47; vol. 76, pp. 339–401; vol. 81, pp. 319–21. By ‘their (own) poets and teachers’ Gandhi seems to refer to some of his favourite Western authors like Thoreau, Ruskin and Tolstoy. 14. See ‘Supplementary Writings’ in Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, pp. 155, 189. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 85, pp. 32–33, and Jawaharlal Nehru, A Bunch of Old Letters (London: Asia Publishing House, 1958), p. 512. 15. Ramashray Roy, Self and Society: A Study in Gandhian Thought (New Delhi: Sage, 1984), p. 78. A similar point is made by Bhikhu Parekh in his stellar text Gandhi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 75–76: ‘For Gandhi swaraj referred to a state of affairs in which individuals were morally in control of themselves and ran their lives in such a way that they needed no external coercion . . . For Gandhi, swaraj thus presupposed self-discipline, self-restraint, a sense of mutual responsibility, the disposition neither to dominate nor be dominated by others, and a sense of dharma’. 16. Roy, Self and Society, pp. 63, 189–90. The possibility of a transformative freedom was actually acknowledged by Isaiah Berlin, but he confined this mode narrowly to mystical or ascetic lifestyles — a confinement aptly criticized by Roy, Self and Society, pp. 186–87. 17. Ronald J. Terchek, ‘Gandhi and Democratic Theory’, in Thomas Pantham and Kenneth L. Deutsch, eds, Political Thought in Modern India (New Delhi: Sage, 1986), p. 308. The citation is from M. K. Gandhi, ed., Non-Violence in Peace and War, vol. 1 (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1948), p. 269. 18. Terchek, ‘Gandhi and Democratic Theory’, pp. 309, 312. See also Ronald Duncan, Selected Writings of Mahatma Gandhi (Boston: Beacon, 1951), pp. 78–79. 19. Terchek, ‘Gandhi and Democratic Theory,’ pp. 317–19. 20. Thomas Pantham, ‘Beyond Liberal Democracy: Thinking with Mahatma Gandhi’, in Thomas Pantham and Kenneth L. Deutsch, eds, Political Thought in Modern India, pp. 334, 337–39. The citations are from Harijan, 31 March 1946 in Gandhi, Democracy: Real and Deceptive, comp. R. K. Prabhu (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1961), p. 32; and Harijan, 8 May 1937, p. 98. 21. Tu Weiming, Confucian Thought: Selfhood as Creative Transformation (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1985), pp. 59, 76–77. Regarding transformative freedom, he adds in a passage critical of modern Western liberalism: ‘Historically, the emergence of individualism as a motivating force in Western society may have been intertwined with highly particularized political, economic, ethical, and religious traditions. It seems reasonable that one can endorse an insight into the self as a basis for equality and liberty without accepting Locke’s idea of private property, Adam Smith’s and Hobbes’s idea of private interest,
Liberal Democracy and its Critics
25. 26. 27. 28.
John Stuart Mill’s idea of privacy, Kierkegaard’s idea of loneliness, or the early Sartre’s idea of [radical] freedom’, Weiming, Confucian Thought, p. 78. Weiming, Confucian Thought, p. 175. See Tu Weiming, ‘The Creative Tension between Jen and Li’, in his Humanity and Self-Cultivation: Essays in Confucian Thought (Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1979), p. 6; also Confucius, The Analects, 12:1. Regarding the relation between Confucianism and pragmatism compare David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking Through Confucius (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1987), p. 15: ‘If contemporary comparative philosophic activity is any indication, it might be the pragmatic philosophies associated with Pierce, James, Dewey, and Mead, and extended toward process philosophy such as that of A. N. Whitehead, that can serve as the best resource for philosophical concepts and doctrines permitting responsible access to Confucius’ thought’. Ni Peinim, ‘Confucianism and Democracy: Water and Fire? Water and Oil? Or Water and Fish? In Defense of Henry Rosemont’s View’, in Marthe Chandler and Ronnie Littlejohn, eds, Polishing the Chinese Mirror: Essays in Honor of Henry Rosemont, Jr. (New York: Global Scholarly Publications, 2008), p. 90. Wm. Theodore de Bary, The Trouble with Confucianism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 103–8. Liu Shu–hsien, ‘From the People-as-the-Root to Democracy’ (in Chinese); quoted from Ni Peinim, ‘Confucianism and Democracy’, p. 99. Henry Rosemont Jr., A Chinese Mirror: Moral Reflections on Political Economy and Society (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1991), p. 93. Rosemont, A Chinese Mirror, p. 93; also his ‘Whose Rights? Which Democracy?’ in Confucianism and Liberalism (Beijing: Sanlian Shudian, 2001), section 5 (in Chinese). I am following here Ni Peinim’s account in his ‘Confucianism and Democracy’, pp. 93–94. See Christopher S. Queen and Sallie B. King, eds, Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1996). Among the most notable ‘engaged’ Buddhists are Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhadasa Bhikhu, Sulak Sivaraksa and the Dalai Lama. Abdolkarim Soroush, Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush, trans. and ed. Mahmud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 99, 103. See also Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (Lahore: Ashraf, 1971); Abdulaziz A. Sachedina, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Khaled Abou El Fadl, Islam and the Challenge of Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004); M. A. Muqtedar Khan, ed., Islamic Democratic Discourse (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006); Lahouari Addi, Islam et démocratie (Paris: Seuil, 2003); John L. Esposito, Islam and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Timothy D. Sisk, Islam and Democracy: Religion, Politics, and Power in the Middle East (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1992);
and Richard W. Bulliet, ed., Under Siege: Islam and Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994). Michael J. Sandel, Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality and Politics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), pp. 9–11, 27, 33. Walter Lippmann, The Good Society (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1943 ), pp. 194, 237, 346–47. See also my ‘Introduction’ to In Search of the Good Life: A Pedagogy for Troubled Times (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2007), pp. 2–8. Boisvert, John Dewey, p. 68. John Dewey, ‘Democracy is Radical’ , in John Dewey: The Later Works: 1925–1953 (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University, 1987), vol. 11, p. 298; and ‘Reconstruction in Philosophy’ , in John Dewey: The Middle Works: 1899–1924, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University, 1981), vol. 12, p. 186. John Dewey, ‘Creative Democracy — The Task Before Us’ , in John Dewey: The Later Works, 1925–1953 (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University, 1987), vol. 14, p. 228.
2 Value, Enchantment and the Mentality of Democracy Some Distant Perspectives from Gandhi A B
y hope, in this essay, is to bring to bear on the curious form of religiosity of our own time and place, some of Gandhi’s deeply anti-vanguardist philosophical attitudes towards democracy as well as the instinctive genealogical method he deployed for understanding the society that was given to him in his own time and place. The essay is not intended as an exposition of Gandhi’s thought and I will only write of him in the brief initial philosophical frameworking of the first section; but it is his ideas and his method, to the extent that he had one, that drive the analysis throughout this essay.
I Modern life is beset with distinctive anxieties. That, if true, suggests that the early modern period of history and intellectual history is an appropriate focus for a genealogical diagnosis of the conditions in which and with which we now live and cope. This is a methodological instinct shared by thinkers and sensibilities as diverse as Rousseau, Marx, (T.S.) Eliot and Gandhi. I will look to Gandhi among these for my initiating framework because the seemingly miscellaneous themes that I want to integrate in this chapter are all present with something approximating the requisite integrity in Gandhi’s ideas. By comparison, Eliot’s interests are far too narrow, Rousseau has no real grasp of the colonial condition, and though all the conceptual elements are certainly there in Marx, the abiding disservice done by Althusser’s distinction between an early
and late Marx makes miscellaneous the very things I want eventually to integrate. But I am running ahead of myself; at this point I merely wanted to briefly motivate my interest in Gandhi’s ideas and the urge in him to give them some genealogical depth. In the first decade of the last century when he wrote his remarkable work Hind Swaraj1 and then later in the next few decades during which he wrote countless substantial despatches to Young India, fortifying the ideas in that early work, he was convinced of one thing: that ‘modernist’ ideological voices (like the Hindu ideologue Savarkar’s, for instance) were wrong to think that there was something inevitable about the idea that India must go down the path of nationalist modernity that had been set by the post-Westphalian ideal in politics and, equally, that all the voices of the Right and Left around him in the Congress party and beyond were wrong to think that there was something inevitable about the path in political economy that had been set in Europe in the late-17th century. There was passion in his scepticism regarding all these voices as well as a quiet desperation about not losing his people and his country to the future they envisioned. All this makes poignant Gandhi’s intellectual efforts to understand the cast of mind that made such a future seem inevitable. He wished for an exorcism of such a cast of mind, but for that to happen we would first need to come to some genealogical understanding of it because, on his view, India in his time stood at the sort of cusp that an accurate genealogy would trace back to and properly identify with our term ‘early modernity’, if it was not so laden with the air of forward historical movement towards a teleological end. Were it possible to speak of that term in an entirely innocuous and neutral tone, as a pure descriptor of a time in Europe that left it entirely up for grabs as to which way things would turn out to be, then Indian society was indeed properly describable by the term in the much later chronological time in which he lived. His own approach to such a genealogy was to ask a question of profound importance, a question whose central theme, he thought, provided the metaphysical basis upon which his more specific economic and political themes were to be integrated. That question was how and when did the concept of nature get transformed into the concept of natural resources? The precise idiom in which I have posed this question is mine, not Gandhi’s. For complicated and ambitious intellectual reasons, he would ask it differently. Like Heidegger, he preferred to talk of the ‘world’
Value, Enchantment and the Mentality of Democracy
rather than of ‘nature’. And though, like Heidegger, he must have known that the word ‘world’ was a term of art, he did not want it to be much more abstract and rarefied than is found in our most ordinary talk about the world. That is to say, in a crucial commitment, perhaps more Wittgenstein’s than Heidegger’s, he was drawn to the idea of — as Wittgenstein would put it — leaving the world alone. That last phrase (and thought) needs elaborate interpretation and in a way the rest of this essay will obliquely be devoted to it. At first sight, it might give the impression of quietism. That impression would be wrong. Quite apart from the fact that (far from quietist) Gandhi was an activist of unique genius, his view of what the phrase might mean amounted to a wholesale resistance to many of the admired orthodoxies of the Enlightenment. Let me explain. It is well known that Gandhi showed a studied indifference to the familiar principles and codes and rights that defined the Enlightenment.2 Commentators often ask why this was so and give a heart-sinkingly insufficient answer, drawn from a glancing look at some of his least interesting writings — the answer that those things are alien to Indian culture and society. The real grounds for his indifference went much deeper because in his view all these principles, codes and rights stand supported by a much deeper and more underlying commitment that is usually unspoken. Indeed I would go so far as to say that it may be the deepest commitment of the Enlightenment. This is the commitment that though we are capable of bad things, the bad in us can be constrained by good politics. Gandhi simply did not believe this.3 It was the scepticism, really the pessimism, of an essentially religious person. He thought that it must be the passing of something akin to religion, the relaxing of the rigours of devotion, that allowed us the false optimism by which we could believe that something as shallow as the political forms that were generated in Europe and America less than a couple of hundred years ago could be enough to make us better; to believe, in other words, that being good citizens would set us on a path to being good people. It is not merely that he thought this form of politics to be inadequate in this way, he thought its very aspiration to shape us, hitherto merely people, into citizens of a nation state’s polity, is a form of intrusive impertinence, inseparable from the intrusions we have made into nature when we systematically transformed it in our conception into natural resources. This penetrating conceptual linking
of the metaphysical transformation of the concept of nature and the political transformation of the concept of humanity was vital to his understanding of the distinctiveness of modernity.4 That is why the slogan ‘leaving the world alone’ better captures the refusal of these transformations and that is why he puts the genealogical question that interested him slightly differently and more ambitiously than I have when I asked the question: how did the concept of nature transform itself into the concept of natural resources? Gandhi would have liked my question and he even implicitly sought an answer to it, but he would have worried that talk of ‘nature’ would ghettoize the issues into merely ecological ones — the point being not to fasten on ‘nature’ in some isolated, self-standing, sense but rather to speak with all the force of the repository that ordinary language provides about nature in a much broader sense that includes within its meaning something like: nature in its whole range of relations with its inhabitants, and a tradition and history that grows out of these relations. To capture this much broader phenomenon of nature he, like Heidegger, spoke of the ‘world’ and he wished for us to bring to the world, so conceived, an entire moral psychology that, I believe, Wittgenstein too gestures towards in that memorable phrase — as something to be ‘left alone’. His genealogical question, therefore, was not exactly the one I have posed but rather the much larger question: when and by what conceptual transformation did the ‘world’ cease to be a place merely to live in and become instead a place to master and control? Why, then, have I insisted on formulating the question in my narrower and less ambitious way? Because I want now to present the genealogy that answers this question more gradually and patiently than Gandhi did, by situating him in a very specific tradition that illuminates his thought and helps to expound it. In that tradition, a metaphysics about nature in the narrower sense led up to — via very deliberate integrations — the larger political intrusions of making us over that made Gandhi anxious. I want, however briefly, to display the details of the causeway by which this leading up was done in a way that Gandhi’s more encapsulated treatment in his unsystematic, instinctive remarks never really did. So, finally, what was Gandhi’s answer to the question, as I have posed it? In its most immediate rhetoric the answer he gave put the blame on modern science. Some of the rhetoric by which he did so was crude and conflated, conflating in particular a very specific metaphysics that grew around modern science with science itself, which he claimed
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had desacralized the natural world and thereby made it prey to a technological control that was completely alien to his Vaishnavite, and ultimately Bhakti, ideals in which the human soul flourished only because the human body it suffused was quite continuous with the spiritually suffused natural environment it inhabited. I want to now rotate the angle of this thought to a quite distant place and intellectual history of which Gandhi had no detailed knowledge but with which he had extraordinarily detailed affinities. I make this shift because my eventual theme in this essay will be the democratic culture of the West, in particular the implications for democracy of the religiosity in the American heartland of the last several decades. To come to that subject, one needs a genealogical excavation at another site than India in the early-20th century when (and where) Gandhi wrote. We need to turn to early modernity in Europe that Gandhi thought was in fundamentals not dissimilar in its mentality and its materiality to Indian life around him, providing its people with the same crucial choices for their future as the choices that confronted his own people in his own time. For the sake of focus, I will restrict myself to mid- and late-17th century England.5 I repeat that on his lips and pen, the question and the anxiety about the transformation of the concept of nature into the concept of natural resources was an essentially religious person’s question and anxiety. But my claims in this essay will aim for something more general in aspiration since I think it is a question that any of us might ask with no particular sympathy for the notion that religious people alone can feel a sense of anxious loss in that transformation. With this aim of generality in place, let me, then, turn to saying something to situate the very issues that Gandhi was raising in a more secular idiom and philosophy than his, stressing more the notion of value in nature than the notion of the sacred or the spiritual in nature, which was the dominant theme for Gandhi as well as his antecedents in 17th-century English dissent in which I will situate him.
II To motivate the more secular version of Gandhi’s ideas about nature, I will appeal to a more abstract form of philosophical argument than anything found in Gandhi.
There is an acute philosophical insight — to be found more or less explicitly in Spinoza — that one cannot both intend to do something and predict that one will do it at the same time.6 This insight generates, in turn, a very basic philosophical distinction between two points of view. When one predicts that one will do something, one steps outside of oneself and looks at oneself in a detached way as the object of causal and motivational histories, just as someone else might look at one, and so this might be called a ‘third’ person point of view. But when one intends to do something, one is not a detached observer of oneself, one is asking and responding to the question ‘what should I do?’, one is an agent, in the ‘first’ person point of view. If this is so, then it is an implication of Spinoza’s point that one cannot both intend and predict at the same time, that one cannot both take the first person point of view and the third person point of view on oneself at the same time. We can occupy both points of view but we cannot occupy both points of view at once. Spinoza’s interest in this distinction is in how it holds as two contrasting perspectives on ourselves. But I want to argue, by extension, that there is an exactly similar distinction that can be made, not on our perspective on ourselves, but on our perspective on the world. We can have a detached perspective on it, a perspective of study as is found in natural science, and we can have a perspective of agency on the world, one of responding to it with practical engagement rather than with detached observation and explanatory purpose. (The point is not that we are not agents when we are studying the world in a detached way, but that we are taking a perspective of detachment on it rather than one of practical engagement.) An absolutely crucial question arises, then: What would the world have to be like for it to not merely be the object of detached study but something that prompts our practical engagement? What must the world contain such that it moves us to such engagement? One obvious answer is that it contains values and when we perceive them, we respond with our practical agency. Why should values prompt such a response rather than a response of detachment? Because values, by the sorts of things they are, make normative demands on our agency, demanding not explanation from us but action. So, this perceiving of evaluative properties in the world, given the sort of things they are, is always and necessarily perception from the first person perspective, not just as in Spinoza, where that is a perspective on ourselves, but a first person perspective on the world.
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Thus, if we extend the implications of Spinoza’s insight as I have, we get a picture of values in which values are not merely something we create and ‘project’ onto the world (a favourite metaphor of David Hume’s, implied also by the views of Adam Smith on the subject of values) but they are (or at any rate often are) things that are found in the world — as I said earlier, a world of nature, of others who inhabit nature with us, and of a history and tradition that accumulates in the relations among these, and within which value is understood as being ‘in the world’. Such an extension of Spinoza’s view gives an argument for a somewhat sanitized Aristotelian ethical picture as it is read by interesting recent scholars such as John McDowell.7 It also allows one to finesse the interminable dispute of the last few centuries between the followers of Kantian conceptions of morality on the one hand and those of Adam Smith and Hume on the other, taking a stand against the former by placing values and agency squarely in the ordinary perceptible world of ‘phenomena’ (rather than ‘noumena’) which we inhabit and perceive, and against the latter by insisting that values are not merely a matter of our desires and moral sentiments but are part of the world around us to which our desires and moral sentiments are formed as responses. If values are part of the world, including nature, it follows that the world, including nature, contains things that are not countenanced and explained by natural science — a secular re-articulation of the sacralization of nature that Gandhi thought essential to resisting the universal reach and sway of the outlook of science upon nature and the world.8 We can now raise our version of the genealogical question that so interested Gandhi: why has this very natural way of thinking about values as being in the world, including nature, found so little place in the history of thought about value in the last few centuries of philosophy? The answer to this question, at its deepest, lies outside of philosophy itself, at least as it is understood narrowly and as I have done it in the last few paragraphs. It is found in one central intellectual strand in our cultural history, in a phenomenon that can be traced using a term that Weber put into currency to describe: ‘disenchantment’. For many centuries this natural way of thinking about values as being in the world that I have presented within the secular terms of my own atheistic intellectual orientation, had its source in the presence of a divinity which was, in many a view, itself immanent in the world. It is this source which was undermined in the modern period that Weber
described (somewhat crudely and ‘omnibusly’) with that term and, as a result of its undermining, the very idea that value could be in the world was replaced by the idea either that values were grounded in and therefore, in the end, reducible to our desires and moral sentiments and could only by our projection be thought as being in the world (Hume and Adam Smith), or that they were not in the world at all but in a noumenal realm of pure will and practical reason (Kant). There is a widespread tendency, which is understandable ever since Nietzsche’s celebrated slogan, to put this point about disenchantment in terms that summon the image of the ‘dead Father’. But there are pitfalls, if one does so without care. This carelessness is rampant in the current revival of tired Victorian debates about the irrationality of belief in a God and in his creation of the universe in six days a few thousand years ago. It is a common thread in the recent 400-page treekillers9 which pour scorn on such irrational beliefs that they view them in terms of one’s continuing immaturity, one’s persistence in an infantile reliance on a father, whose demise was registered by philosophers (Nietzsche, but Hegel before him) much more than a century ago, one’s abdication of responsibility and free agency in the humbling of oneself to an authority that is not intelligible to human concepts and scientific explanations. What goes entirely missing in this simplistic picture is the intellectual as well as cultural and political pre-history of the demise of such an authority figure. Well before his demise, brought about I suppose by the scientific outlook that we all now admire and which is rightly recommended by the authors of these tedious tomes, it was science itself and nothing less than science, which far from registering his demise, proposed instead in the late-17th century, a quite different kind of fate for the father, a form of migration, an exile into inaccessibility from the visions of ordinary people to a place outside the universe, from where, in the now more familiar image of the clockwinder, he first set and then kept an inert universe in motion. It is the theology and politics and political economy surrounding this deracination of God from the world of matter and nature and human community and perception that is worth expounding in some detail so as to understand its large and abiding effects. There is no Latin expression such as ‘Deus Deracinus’ to express the thought I want to expound. The closest we have is ‘Deus Absconditus’ which though meant to convey the inaccessibility of God, conveys
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to the English speaker a fugitive fleeing rather than what I want to stress — the idea that it is from the roots of nature and ordinary perceptible life that God was quite assiduously removed. ‘Racine’ or roots is the right description of his immanence in a conception of a sacralized universe, from which he was torn away by the exile to which the metaphysical outlook of early modern science (aligned with thoroughly mundane interests) ushered him. There is no understanding the infantilism of our current religious yearnings that does not acknowledge the significance of these intellectual developments of that earlier period. The world from which he was exiled, no longer, as result of that exile, an anima mundi, was then assiduously argued to also be no longer something to which we were answerable in our moral agency. All value came instead from us, it owed to nothing but our utilities and gain, and even when there was an acknowledgement of our capacity for sympathy and moral sentiments this was not seen as our responsiveness to the normative demands of a world suffused with value, but something that we (in Hume’s and Adam Smith’s metaphor) projected onto the world and which, as that idea was developed in the tradition that followed, we kept under the control of the demands of efficiency and consequence and utility. Why one might ask, should the fact of the Father’s exile to an external place as a clockwinder have led to an understanding of the universe as wholly brute and altogether devoid of value? Why was it not possible to retain a world laden with values that were intelligible to all who inhabited it, despite the unintelligibility and inaccessibility of the figure of the Father? Why must value require a sacralized site for its station, without which it must be relegated to proxy, but hardly proximate, notions of desire and utility and gain? It might seem that these questions are anachronistic, suited only to our own time when we might conceivably (though perhaps not with much optimism) seek secular forms of re-enchanting the world. One cannot put them, at least not without strain and artificiality, to a period in which value was so pervasively considered to have a sacred source. The removal of such a source in that period, to inaccessibility, was bound to leave the world configured in one’s conception as merely brute, subject to nothing but causal laws, bereft of value, reducing value itself to either utility or to subjective psychological dispositions summarized with such terms as ‘desire’ or ‘utility’, or, when aspiring to the moral, as ‘sympathy’, and ‘sentiment’. But even if we cannot
put these questions to a world-view which was, by our thoroughly modern lights, restricted to fewer conceptual options, we can ask a diagnostic question about what forces prevented the development of, the coming to be of, the idea I have in my own brief sketch derived from Spinoza and extended onto the world. This is the idea that the world is enchanted with evaluative properties whose normative demands on us, even if now thought of in purely secular terms, move our first person point of view to a responsiveness into moral agency? The diagnosis has many elements and needs more patient elaboration than I can give in a short essay, but here are some of its elements. I have said that my (somewhat grotesque) neologism ‘Deus Deracinus’ would have served the thought I want to express best, but the word we have ‘Deus Absconditus’ in another respect suggests something of what I want to capture. The phrase, quite apart from standing for the inaccessibility of God that was insisted upon by the late-17th century ideologues of the Royal Society, conveys a certain anxiety that lay behind their insistence. ‘Conditus’ means, ‘put away for safeguarding’, with the ‘abs-’ reinforcing the ‘awayness’ and separateness or inaccessibility of where God is safely placed. So, we must ask why should the authority figure need safeguarding in an inaccessibility, what dangers lay in his immanence, in his availability to the visionary temperaments and capacities of all those who inhabit his world? Further, why should the scientific establishment of early modernity seek this safekeeping in exile for a father, whom its successor in late, more mature, modernity would properly describe as ‘dead’? There are three things to observe at the very outset about this exile of the father for some 200 years until Nietzsche announced his demise. First, intellectual history of the early modern period records that there was a remarkable amount of dissent and very explicit dissent against the notions that produced the exile, dissent by a remarkable group of intellectuals, who were most vocal first in England which is my focus, and the Netherlands, and then elsewhere in Europe.10 Second, there was absolutely nothing unscientific about these freethinkers or their dissent. They were themselves scientists, then, of course, called natural philosophers, fully on board with the new science and the Newtonian laws, and all its basic notions, such as gravity, for instance. They (who did not make the conflation that Gandhi did) were only objecting to the metaphysical outlook generated by official ideologues around the new science, who began to dominate the Royal Society, in which the Neoplatonist Newton — of his private study — was
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given a quite different official face by people such as Robert Boyle and Samuel Clarke, a public move in which Newton himself acquiesced. Third, the metaphysical outlook of the dissenters was suppressed and the Royal Society ideologues won out and their metaphysics became the orthodoxy, not because of any superiority, either metaphysical or scientific, but because of carefully cultivated social factors, that is to say, because of the alliances they formed with different groups such as the Anglicans on the one hand and the commercial and mercantile interests of the time, on the other.11 It is this exile of God, which had the effect of rendering the universe brute and inert, that implied the transformation of an ancient and spiritually informed conception of nature into the sort of thing that was available now for predatory extraction by commerce and the elites that grew around it. It is not that extraction (on a much smaller and less systematic scale and with a far lower profile) did not take place until then, but in a wide range of social worlds, such extracting as occurred was accompanied by rituals of reciprocation intended to restore the balance as well as show respect towards nature, rituals undertaken after cycles of planting and even hunting. From Weber, we are familiar with the idea that capitalism was an outgrowth from certain attitudes towards work and economy, but of far greater transformational significance was the way in which a desacralized conception of the world made it prey to a scale of unthinkingly ruthless extraction in the form of mining, deforestation, and the kind of plantation agriculture which we today call agribusiness. I have written of this elsewhere.12 What I want to stress now is not merely the predatory commercial attitudes towards nature that surfaced with these metaphysical changes, but other sorts of consequences that the exile of the Father had on the scope for a democratic culture that developed in that period. In the great revolutionary decade of the 1640s in England, almost half a century prior to our scientific dissenters, Gerard Winstanley, the most well known among the radicals had declared that ‘God is in all motion’ and ‘the truth is in every body’.13 This way of thinking about the corporeal realm had for Winstanley, as he puts it, ‘a great leveling purpose’. It allowed one to lay the ground, first of all, for a democratization of religion. If God was everywhere, then anyone may perceive the divine or find the divine within him or her, and therefore may be just as able to preach as a university-trained divine. The significance of this is not to be run together with the cliché about the Protestant reformation’s sustained opposition to the priestcraft
enshrined in ‘popery’. That opposition was chiefly generative of a pious and possessive individualism via its demand for an individualistic relation to God, finessing institutional demands of Catholic forms of piety, whereas the resistance of the radical sectaries was a resistance precisely to the orthodox Protestantism that had emerged out of that opposition to ‘popery’. This radical resistance came from a desire not to join these orthodoxies in their individualism but rather out of a desire to allow for the democratic availability of the knowledge of value by which governance could be as collective as possible so as to match their ideal of possessing and cultivating the common collectively. Winstanley’s opposition to the monopoly of so-called experts was, therefore, by no means restricted to the religious sphere. Through their myriad polemical and instructional pamphlets, he and a host of other radicals had reached out and created a radical rank and file population which began to demand a variety of other things, including an elimination of tithes, a levelling of the legal sphere by a decentralizing of the courts and the elimination of feed lawyers, as well as the democratization of medicine by drastically reducing, if not eliminating, the costs of medicine, and disallowing canonical and monopoly status to the College of Physicians. The later scientific dissenters were very clear too that these were the very monopolies and undemocratic practices and institutions which would get entrenched if science, conceived in terms of the metaphysics of the Newtonianism of the Royal Society, had its ideological victory. Equally, that is to say, conversely, the Newtonian ideologues of the Royal Society around the Boyle lectures administered by Samuel Clarke saw themselves — without remorse — in just these conservative terms that the dissenters portrayed them in. They explicitly called John Toland (to name just one) and a range of other scientific dissenters, ‘enthusiasts’, a term of opprobrium at the time, and feared that their alternative picture of nature and matter was an intellectual ground for the social unrest of the pre-Restoration period when the radical sectaries had such great, if brief and aborted, popular reach. They were effective in creating with the Anglican establishment a general conviction that the entire polity would require orderly rule by a state apparatus around a monarch serving the propertied classes and that this was just a mundane reflection, indeed a mundane version, of an externally imposed divine authority which kept a universe of brute matter in orderly motion, rather than an immanently present God in all
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matter and in all persons, inspiring them with the ‘enthusiasms’ to turn the ‘world upside down’, in Christopher Hill’s memorable, eponymous phrase. To see God in every body and piece of matter, they anxiously argued, was to lay oneself open to a polity and a set of civic and religious institutions that were beholden to popular, rather than learned and scriptural, judgement. So the frontal attack in the late-17th century on the scientific dissenters’ metaphysics of a sacralized world was motivated not just out of the consideration I have already discussed in my work elsewhere on Gandhi — freeing nature for the extraction by newly emerging capital — it was motivated by an anxiety to prevent at all costs this epistemic or cognitive democratization that had made the revolution of some decades earlier such a threat to this newly emerging alliance of interests between the scientific establishment, the Anglican church, the commercial interests and the oligarchies developing the statecraft needed to pursue these interests together. It is these alliances brought together by these anxieties which ensured that the exile of the Father from his immanent presence strictly entailed that a desacralized world would contain no residual evaluative properties that might provide alternative, more secular sources of enchantment. To repeat, it did so first with the argument that ideas of enchantment would prove an obstacle to taking what one could with impunity from nature’s bounty. Not merely the seemingly ineradicable inequalities but the cultural detritus and psychological desolation of the economic culture that emerged from this over the centuries are with us everywhere. I bring no news in saying so — except in having insisted that it had its metaphysical origins in an early modern exile of the Father, long prior to his death, a point which makes a great difference to how we should understand the charges of infantilism that are made against our current religiosity that still seeks reliance on the authority of the Father. Second, it melded this economic culture inseparably with a political outcome supported by the quite different argument that I am stressing in this essay, the argument that the priestcraft emerging from scripturally trained and learned divines from the universities that were needed to comprehend an exiled deity, unavailable to the perception and comprehension of ordinary people, was to be integrated — by the very same alliances — with the elite possession of the cognitive and informational sources of power quite generally, whether in matters of law or medicine or the offices of government and administration. The idea that values to live by are
available in the ordinary perceptions of a desacralized world we inhabit would demote these forms of knowledge to something more arcane, by making the sources of political morality much more democratic, an anti-vanguardist conception of value that in a global tradition of radical dissent goes from Winstanley to Gandhi. It was precisely the threat of the democratization of value that was arrested in the Early Modern developments I have been stressing, and it was replaced instead by the ideals of civility generated by the courts of a monarch and the propertied classes, a phenomenon well studied by Norbert Elias, though I would add one crucial functional gloss — part Freudian and part Nietzschean — to his illuminating survey of their historical importance.14 These courtly civilities did not merely contrast with the rude social turmoil of a brute populace; they formed themselves into a screen that had the function of hiding from the early modern European courts themselves, the cruelties of their own perpetration, recognizing cruelty as the sort of thing that can only really occur in the lifestyles and the behaviour of the rude populace. As I have argued elsewhere, this screening function morphed from its site in the ideals of civility in the early modern period into the site of the codifications of rights and constitutions in the orthodox liberal frameworks of late Western modernity, which, despite all the great good they have done and are deservedly admired for, similarly hide from the West the cruelties of its own perpetration on distant lands, allowing the West to recognize cruelties only in those distant societies (Saddam’s Iraq, the Ayatollahs’ Iran, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe…) where they are unaccompanied by the concealing formalities of such liberal codifications. This was partly at least the source of Gandhi’s indifference to what is widely cherished in liberal doctrine.
III Once the full detail and scope of this combination of elements of a disenchanted world brought about by the exile of the Father are fully understood, it is worth looking at some of the reactions in our own times to its cumulative effects, which in some parts of the world might rightly be described as having the proportions of a backlash and in which, as the point is often made at length by our contemporary atheists, there is an infantile regression to and submission to a dead Father. An appreciation of the analysis of the detailed effects of his exile
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in an earlier period should, I am claiming, make no small difference to how we are to understand this ‘irrational’ failure in our own times to acknowledge his subsequent death. So, I want to now to address not something that everyone seems to be obsessed by — the Islamist rage against what is perceived by it to be a pernicious modernism of Western society — but to the pervasively conservative religious ethos in the heartland of America about which, given this long historical analysis, it ought, at least as a first thought, be utterly natural to say that it is (at least partly) a reaction to this slowly accumulated disenchantment, a way of seeking solidarities and community in a disenchanted world. Two protests will be made to this natural thought, no doubt by a shrill liberal orthodoxy which seems these days perpetually poised to defend its own self-congratulatory ideals. First, it will be said, that it is nothing of the sort because the phenomenon has to a considerable extent been carefully engineered by the Republican Party ever since the Goldwater defeat, as a way of building a constituency for its own success. But the rightness of this protest doesn’t refute the claim that there was something for such an engineered phenomenon to tap, something in the yearnings of people. It is those yearnings, I am claiming, that are natural to see as a reaction to the cumulative effects of disenchantment. Second, it will be protested, again with some justification, that Western Europe is part of that disenchanted world, as you have described it, and it has nothing like the same kind of pervasive religiosity. To this a plausible rejoinder might be to observe that in Europe, the natural human yearnings for solidarities and community had long found measurable fulfillment in an entrenched social democratic tradition of labour politics and the active presence of unions in the everyday lives of ordinary people, something only fitfully present and present only in some parts of America and at present faded almost to non-existence, even where they once had life. I don’t intend this rejoinder to the second protest to be offering the sort of explanation offered in President Obama’s remark during his campaign that got him into all that trouble — that working people in America have turned to religion out of poverty and deprivation. That remark, put simply as that, seemed to deny genuine agency to working people and their religious commitments. What I am saying instead is this: human beings have a natural tendency to seek substantial bonds that make for an unalienated life. Family life is not always sufficient to satisfy this tendency, nor are bowling alleys, as some American
social scientists have claimed, since the needs, as Thoreau pointed out long ago, are for something which is socially substantial as well as politically central and significant, rather than merely recreational.15 What the church and its pulpit offered in early modern Europe transformed itself there into social democratic labour politics in late modernity, a form of politics that itself grew out of non-conformist religious traditions. For reasons that may have something to do with the fact that predominantly immigrant populations seek not social activism but assimilation in the political economy and the political establishment, such a tradition of politics never developed to the same extent and with the same depth in America. As a result the church continued to provide the chief source of satisfaction for such a substantial human need. But I want to worry a little more about my rejoinder, which sees this conservative religiosity as really a yearning for something that could just as easily have secular outlets too, as in Europe (but given what is available in middle America, is provided not at sites such as labour unions, but rather the church). Though I do think the rejoinder, properly placed in agency-unthreatening context, is plausible, it has to be carefully formulated because one doesn’t want to withhold transparency or self-knowledge from the actors one is discussing. Further, saying that their religiously formulated convictions are really a front for something else, yearnings and values of a much more general kind that could have just as easily been fulfilled in entirely secular forms, as in Europe, comes close to just such a denial of self-knowledge (and therefore full agency) to them. This point is of some importance to what I want to say later. What I mean by lack of self-knowledge and transparency is this. If, as I am suggesting, the European case is different from America because of the availability — to ordinary people — of a tradition of different sources and sites than religion to fulfill the yearnings for solidarity and community, then one is in danger of saying that ordinary people in America, even though they do not know this about themselves, have the same yearnings as those of ordinary people in Europe, yearnings that are not transparent to themselves, because the only sites available to them to fulfill these yearnings are religious sites, and so all they acknowledge are the more religiously formulated yearnings they explicitly avow. This will seem to many to be analogous to saying what has also often been said, viz., that even the most bourgeois of working class populations really have revolutionary yearnings, even though they have no explicit
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consciousness (that is to say, no self-knowledge) of these yearnings of theirs, since what they explicitly avow is only their ‘economistic’ or bourgeois aspirations. I give this example deliberately to bring into focus the crudest and perhaps the most implausible version of the idea of false consciousness. The issues here are complicated and my task for most of what follows in this section will be to find a way of making the points I want to make about the democratic mentality so that no such transparency-threatening or self-knowledge-denying and therefore, in the end, agency-threatening version of false consciousness is being assumed — but even so something is being acknowledged about these deeper longings of ordinary people. To explore how this balance might be achieved, let’s focus on the hardest case, a particularly egregious manifestation of the reactionary aspects of the religiosity we are discussing. It is well known that in polls until fairly recently, a large majority of Americans were in favour of waging wars against both Afghanistan and Iraq, and a lot of these war-mongering attitudes were voiced within an overall conservative religiosity in so-called ‘red states’ America. How shall we think of this? Well, I have to say, I was struck by how a lot people on the liberal Left were thinking about it, which can be summed up by a closing remark of an op-ed I recall reading in some magazine of progressive politics after the presidential election of 2004, which described the electorate of the red states as ‘vile and stupid’. I cannot now lay my hands on this piece but I am sure I have conveyed its meaning correctly and sure even that I have each of the three words I cite from my recollection perfectly correct. The casualness of my reference hardly matters since anyone who was alert to what was being written and said in the aftermath of those elections would know that similar remarks were an absolutely pervasive response to their outcome, not only among the liberal pundits but quite generally among the chattering metropolitan liberal and ‘progressive’ elites. I say I was struck by this response because, on the face of it, such an attitude is simply incompatible with a belief in democracy. You cannot believe in democracy and dismiss the electorate of more than half of the country as a moral abomination. Winston Churchill, whose thinking on civil, rather than military, matters was feeble, is said to have pronounced that democracy was a terrible form for a polity to adopt and the only reason to adopt it was that all other forms were more terrible. But I don’t get it. Why would one choose democracy over, say, enlightened monarchy, if one thought ordinary people of the electorate to be vile and stupid, and thought
a single man or woman to be of great moral judgement and worth? Perhaps Churchill and others who say things like that, have in mind that at least democracy allows people the autonomy to choose their government, even if they consistently choose with their vileness and stupidity, governments which wage wars, cut taxes for the rich, create a large handful of billionaires at the expense of millions of ordinary, working people . . . But why should we fetishize such a species of autonomy that reduces to a mere formal property if it should turn out that it will always, given the moral weaknesses of the electorate which exercises it, result in, what by our own lights, are morally deplorable verdicts? We are faced, then, with a central paradox in the very idea of democracy, at least as central as the more familiar paradox of majoritarian tyranny: the paradox of how one can both believe in democracy and the indescribable moral badness of the electorate. How might we address such a paradox? When ‘progressive’ responses find it natural to blame people before they examine and criticize the institutions that affect them, there has been a measurable departure from the great traditions of democratic dissent that gave rise to some of the more radical ideals of the Enlightenment. Those traditions allowed no such chasm between ‘progressive’ ideals and the mentality of democracy, that is to say a mentality of trust in the judgement of ordinary people — and by ‘ordinary people’ I mean people away from the centres of power and privilege (I have no desire to underestimate the vileness of those who are close to centres of power). How can that trust be genuinely felt by progressive opinion towards an electorate whose decisions they deplore and whose conservative religiosity we often find at odds with our most basic political commitments? Much can turn on the answer to this question. The issues here are in a sense very obvious and I have already hinted at what they are in describing the details of the alliances that first formed the process of disenchantment, but we can approach the obvious by looking at a case far away. Take Saudi Arabia, in which even just five or six years ago, there was hardly any explicit conflict within a docile population. Many factors no doubt were responsible for recent changes, but one most salient and dramatic factor was without doubt the extraordinary impact of one television station on ordinary citizens, injecting conflict into Saudi Arabian society by the most basic service of providing information of just how much the
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country was run by a corrupt and self-serving state and its power elites. Clearly, this impact is by no means restricted to Saudi Arabia. The implications of this for how to diagnose the situation in the US should now be obvious. By contrast with Al-Jazeera, the mainstream media in America (that is, the media which is read and viewed by ordinary people, who are too busy making a basic living to seek information out at non-standard sites), is cravenly unwilling to provide the most basic information about their government’s actions, and the consequences of those actions, not to mention the actions and consequences of the governments elsewhere that it supports. The point is not just about media and information but much more broadly and pervasively about subtle forms of internalization of pervasively orthodox and uncritical thinking on public matters from very early on in the mainstream educational institutions. I am focusing on the institutions of media and education in my diagnosis, but the point goes really much deeper and further, indeed all the way back to such elements as the codifications of civilities into liberal form which conceal from ourselves the effects of our policies on distant lands, the deliberate failure to remove epistemic deficits by allowing for a more democratized cognitive public sphere, etc., that the radical sectaries and the scientific dissenters had foreseen when they predicted the disastrous effects of the scientific, religious, and mercantile alliances that were forming all around them to corner all the cognitive and commercial bases of power for the propertied elites. All this suggests the obvious point that ordinary Americans have all the moral strengths that ordinary people in Europe or any other place have; its weakness in comparison to other people, is rather epistemic, not moral. In fact, I think one can state it as something like the First Law of Political Psychology that ‘One cannot exercise such moral strengths that one has, if one is pervasively epistemically weak’, weak on information, and information, not just in the narrow sense, though that is bad enough, but also in the broader sense of having easily available in one’s education and cognitive lives generally, alternative frameworks for thinking about politics, political economy and public life.16 But it is precisely here that a question will be raised about whether I am not, in attributing moral strengths to the very electorate whose moral and political verdicts I find wholly wrong, assuming a discredited notion of false consciousness. This would be somewhat akin to historical materialism’s dismissal of the proletariat’s bourgeois
aspirations as a spurious state of mind on the grounds that such a class by its objective historical status in a particular economic formation in a particular period of history had revolutionary consciousness — its true consciousness — which was screened off from it by thick layers of falsifying ideology. The conceptual and methodological issues here are delicate and have to be handled with some care. First of all, I want to insist that I am making a conditional claim: if you believe in democracy, you must have confidence in the underlying strengths of ordinary people, over and above respecting their autonomy of choice. But quite apart from the conditional modesty of the claim, what is required to make the claim grounded in a plausible argument is not merely to say that I am possessed of some objective theory of the moral judgement and capacities of ordinary people, no matter what they say or do. I don’t believe in that form of objectivity, and it is not even so obvious that Marx consistently believed that he possessed an objective theory of history and class (‘historical materialism’) such that the proletariat must be said to have an underlying true revolutionary consciousness no matter what bourgeois aspirations were reflected in their sayings and doings. I think that a proper understanding of Marx’s ideas about false consciousness can only be had by a proper placing of them in a Hegelian dialectic which, of course, he explicitly endorsed and made his own, and which makes central appeal to the notion of internal conflict — a point that I have been stressing for many years now in my writing on secularism. Some of the misleading commentary on Marx, which has made it more and more difficult to situate him in this methodology, is due to a spurious distinction often made between early and late Marx. I don’t want to get into the detail of such Marxian exegesis, more than just registering the disservice done to Marxian interpretation by Althusser’s move in making that distinction so central to such interpretation. Rather than focusing on the details of such disputation in the reading of Marx, let me present the analysis I want to make by exploiting the more Hegelian method I want to stress in Marx’s elaboration of the notion of false consciousness. Having mentioned Hegel, I will say immediately that his method will be most clearly and briefly displayed if I invoke ideas of internal conflict not via an exposition of Hegel himself, in whose work the ideas are buried in a gratuitous ontology, but quite another kind of thinker, Freud. In doing so, the goal will be to make explicit how I think we can, within Marx’s
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general ideas about their false consciousness, preserve transparency, self-knowledge and agency in the attitudes of ordinary people. This may seem perverse. How, it might be asked, can I appeal to Freud to preserve the idea that there is nothing unconscious and opaque or non-transparent about the attitudes that amount to the moral strengths I am attributing to ordinary people? In response, what I would like to bring to centre stage is a distinction within the Freudian framework between two quite different aspects of its overall understanding of the mind and its pathologies.17 The first is a structural hypothesis that is presupposed in the very idea of the explanation of ‘irrational’ behaviour, in one sense of that term. The second is a series of empirical hypotheses about these hypothesized structures. This broad methodological distinction between the structural and empirical side of the framework is so elementary and basic that it tends to get lost in the much more interesting and exciting detail of Freud’s more substantive psychological claims. If one begins with the basic datum of our psychological lives that is central to Freud — the fact of irrational behaviour — a question arises as to what form it must be taken to have. The word ‘irrational’ is widely and loosely used but what is clear is that Freud is not primarily interested in its usage to mark behaviour that is anomalous. That is, it is not behaviour that runs afoul of social norms. Such anomalousness of behaviour does not amount to irrationality in any sense that is of interest to psychoanalysis, unless it is also a source of anxiety or neurosis in the agent himself. Hence to the extent that we have a relevant form of irrational behaviour for psychoanalysis, it must in some sense seem to be irrational by the lights of, or the point of view of, the agent himself. He or she must in some sense feel the anxiety or the neurosis and therefore there must be some sense in which by his or her own lights (lights, that is, which are to be found in his or her own attitudes and aspirations and commitments), the behaviour is irrational and needs psychoanalytic attention. As Freud says in Part III of his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, when the irrationality is a repeated and sustained one, lasting in time (which it must be if the anxiety and neurosis generated is one which a subject wishes to bring to treatment in psychoanalysis) these mental states do not come just by themselves as isolated elements in the mind. He argues explicitly that the mental states that are (a) causing the irrational behaviour and
(b) the mental states by the lights of which one considers the behaviour irrational amount to two separate psychological profiles which are ‘at war’ within a single subject. For the purposes that I want to deploy these very basic ideas in Freud, they seem to provide just the right sort of ‘frameworking’ and as will emerge, I mean that word frameworking to do some serious work. What needs stressing, then, is that in Freud’s overall conception of the mind in his study of its pathologies, there is first a conceptual claim made on what he himself conceives as a priori grounds. This is the claim that given (a) irrationality of a kind that is not mere anomalousness from social norms, and given (b) that it is sustained enough to warrant seeking psychoanalytic treatment, the mind must — as if by logic — be seen as divided into two structures or segments or frames (Freud’s metaphor is two ‘chambers’), which are in conflict with one another. Then, second, once these structures or frames are well in place as a conceptual and structural prior, we can further go on to add a quite distinct claim that is not structural and conceptual and not made on a priori grounds, but rather as a subsequent empirical hypothesis, viz., that one of these segments of the mind is unconscious. Then, followed by even more specific empirical hypotheses about the sorts of states that populate this unconscious segment of the mind, empirical hypotheses about the sexual aetiologies of our neuroses which we summarize with such omnibus terms as ‘Oedipus’, ‘Narcissus’ and so on. Now, if the position conceptually prior to these specifically empirical claims is that the relevant behaviour can only make sense if we think of the mind as often being framed in two segments, then we are allowed scope sometimes to construct quite other empirical hypotheses as to what accounts for these different frames that characterize the mind and explain our seemingly irrational behaviour, without even requiring that one of the segments be unconscious, even if the conflict between the two segments is unconscious. (As I said, Freud described the structural idea of their being two frames or segments with the metaphor of ‘chambers’ and he presented the further empirical hypotheses of one of them being unconscious with the further metaphor that the door between the chambers functioned as a ‘censor’.) This distinctness of the structural and the empirical hypotheses in the understanding of irrationality is highly relevant to the particular question about false consciousness we are concerned with in the populations we are discussing. One can assert the structural idea of two different frames and then look for empirical evidence, indeed the most
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routine forms of evidence that one seeks in social understanding, to understand the conflicted behaviour of the population in the heartland of America as issuing from these two different frames. There are widely detectable grounds in the behaviour of ordinary people in the electorate of the red states to attribute moral strengths to them and therefore to see them as being in a state of at least latent internal conflict with some of their attitudes and responses we find morally deplorable. There are many such grounds, not least some of the inconsistencies that show up in polls. Thus, for instance, it is quite commonly the case that when questions in polls are put in terms of values that individuals hold, the answers go overwhelmingly in a humane and compassionate direction, but if formulated in terms of economic or foreign policy jargon, on the very same issues, it goes in the opposite direction. Of course, it could be said that the answer to the second sort of question is a sign that the answer to the first sort of question was insincere and, therefore, there is no internal conflict in these agents. But that sort of cynical interpretation (to which many on the liberal Left are prone) is quite premature. It takes no account of what I have just posited as a conceptual prior of two frames or segments that account for social behaviour, which is of obvious relevance here, because how one might think in different ways in different frames can help to explain the seeming inconsistency in these responses. Then looking to the second aspect of the distinction in Freud that I mentioned, the empirical hypotheses rather than the a priori detection of frames and structures, it seems perfectly apt to invoke the notion of epistemic weakness rather than of moral depravity to empirically explain why people are often landed with different frames and also of what populates one of those frames. Their answers in these polls suggest that when these people think (and indeed act) as individuals responding to normative promptings made on their individual moral agency, they are not, at least not typically, inhumane and destructive, and this is the side that is being addressed when the first sort of question in the polls is presented. Furthermore, a point of crucial importance for the challenge I had set myself, much of this tendency to give humane answers may well be prompted in many or most of them by a basically religious cast of thought and value. So, it is not as if one is deracinating them from their religiosity and claiming that their values are at their deepest to be thought of as no different from the humanity of those who are not religious at all and who give the same answers. Call this the first frame. But the second sort of question presents itself
to them in a quite different frame, one that addresses their minds and even their religions (thus making clear that their religiosity surfaces quite differently in each frame), not as individuals responding to the perceived demands of individual values and ideals, but as their minds have been subordinated to institutional structures of state, corporations and to the media and educational system that presents these structures to them. In this frame (shaped by these epistemic deficits) the answers are quite different, indeed quite inconsistent with the other answers given in the other frame. (Examples of such inconsistency are pervasive in polls.)18 But being in different frames the inconsistency or conflict is not apparent to them, a quite clear and unmistakable attribution, then, of an unconscious conflict, even though each frame is entirely within consciousness. It is this last point, that both frames are entirely within consciousness, which staves off the agency-threatening and self-knowledgethreatening version of false consciousness that I am trying to disavow on behalf of Marx. There is nothing — no value, no belief, no attitude, no commitment — in either frame that is not self-known to the agents. There is, of course, inconsistency between the thoughts and commitments of the two frames and that inconsistency is, of course, not self-known to the agent, precisely because the inconsistent thoughts and commitments are in two different frames. It is only when the border between the two frames (in Freud’s metaphor the ‘door’ between the two chambers) is removed (and there is only one frame or chamber) that the agent will be able to see the inconsistency between his thoughts and commitments, and do something (deliberative and reflective) to get out of the inconsistency. So, finding such internal conflict or inconsistency in subjects, as I have, is crucial to distinguishing the moral psychology involved in my analysis from notions of false consciousness attributed to the so-called late Marx, which in its implausible scientistic versions, appeals to no evidence of conflict within the minds of agents as the more Hegelian Marx does and which my appeal to Freud was intended to make vivid. It appeals instead to an objective and ultra-scientific theory of history and mind, independent of what the subject thinks and knows about his or her own states of mind (self-knowledge) as well as independent of a subject’s agency and his or her motivations and conceptions of things. An essential element in my analysis was to appeal to a quite different empirical hypothesis from Freud’s regarding what makes for the
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two frames in the populations I am discussing. Rather than to appeal to the unconscious generated by self-censor mechanisms, my appeal was to evidence of ‘epistemic weakness’ that were responsible for the responses to questions in polls issuing from one of the frames. These are weaknesses in the cognitive realm generated by a political and economic culture and institutions deriving from the metaphysical shifts that I had genealogically traced to the late-17th century, which in their entrenchment over the centuries ensures that ordinary people have the epistemic deficits I am stressing. It is the long-standing institutional causes of these deficits that should be the real target of our criticism and contempt, not the ordinary people who are its victims. The theoretical analysis provided here implies that the boundary or border between these two frames that govern the mentality of ordinary people needs erasing, so that there is no segmented division in their mentality and they can explicitly recognize the conflict that is only latently present to them when the border between the segments is in place. If they are able to grasp the conflict within themselves and if the epistemic deficits that afflict them are removed so that the attitudes and outlook of one of the erstwhile segments shaped by those deficits is subject to critical scrutiny by the humane instincts of the other erstwhile segment, then there is scope to expect that such internal deliberation will enable the full flowering of the mentality of the electorate that we count on when we believe in democracy. In such an outcome, there can be hopes for a genuine and substantive democratic culture. So, if there is an urgent task for radical politics today it might well be described as one of helping to erase that cognitive border in the minds of the electorate. In my view, given how deeply entrenched and, as I tried to convey in the last section, genealogically fortified, this long-standing political and economic culture which erects the border in their mentality, is in all the sites they are exposed to (their homes and upbringing, the media and educational institutions, etc.), public education of the sort that would remove the border and remove their epistemic deficits cannot any longer be realistically expected to occur on those sites. It can only really happen on the sites of popular movements, as it did in the labour movements in the 1930s and the civil rights movement in the 1960s. That, however, must remain the theme for another occasion. (I should pre-empt a certain kind of careless response — of which there have been many among the liberal orthodoxies that emerged out of the spook generated by the Jacobin
aftermath of the French Revolution — who will point to the tyrannical character of some mass movements. My point here obviously has only been to say that popular movements are a necessary site and condition for such public education that will remove cognitive deficits and remove the mental and frames-configuring boundary I have identified. They are not — obviously not — a sufficient condition. So, no one needs to deny the fact that there have been dangerous outcomes of some mass movements, and I certainly myself do not deny it.)19 The analytic points I have struggled to articulate in this section were intended to defend the idea, often dismissed by the high-minded liberal mentality, that the deeply conservative religiosity in the heartland of America may be, in its way, an honourable expression of something very deep which is reacting to something very deep and long-standing described — too summarily and crudely — with terms such as ‘disenchantment’ and ‘instrumental rationality’. Though my remarks have merely scratched the surface of the issues of alienation in contemporary democratic politics, I hope I have conveyed something of the historical depth that is needed to understand the theoretical issues at stake and the analytical clarity we need to protect ourselves from the growing and undemocratic contempt we have ourselves come to feel towards the ordinary people who react to a phenomenon of such historical depth with the only resources that are available to them.
IV If, as I have argued, the process of disenchantment that led to familiar forms of alienation began with the deracination of value from nature and the world, leaving the world brute and bereft of anything that would present us with normative constraints or that would make any normative calling upon us, then something, however brief and general, needs to be said, as I conclude this essay, about what it is that makes the idea of values in the world a fundamental source of an unalienated life. I have been at pains to say that there existed highly active dissenting voices that spoke with prescient alarm and protest in early modern Europe against the consequences they foresaw in the opportunistic tendencies developing around the metaphysics being forged around the new science. The orthodox liberal frameworks that theoretically consolidated these tendencies is what we have inherited from the
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defeat and silencing of the radical freethinking dissent of the late-17th century. These cramped frameworks have left little room for us to develop the potential in some of the most genuinely radical elements of the Enlightenment — often dismissed by the orthodoxy as ‘irrationalist’ criticisms emanating from a ‘counter’-Enlightenment.20 (The sleight of hand that exploits ambiguities in the terms ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ in this context needs patient unravelling, which I have presented in the prequel to this essay, and will not rehearse here.)21 The defeat of the dissenters in that earlier period pre-empted any meaningful construction of the Enlightenment’s own most idealistic commitments and slogans over the next century or more. The familiar slogan of the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, in particular, was disallowed any significant integrated role in the polities that emerged in European nations. Quite apart from the failure to apply those ideals in practice in some genuinely integrated way, we do not even have any serious theoretical understanding of their deep interrelations. The promise that was held out in Marx’s work for such an understanding lies fractured partly as a result of the influential distinction between the early and late Marx, and what we have left of that trio of ideals in the orthodox liberal framework, as a result, is an interminable and seemingly irresolvable zero-sum tension between the values of liberty and equality, with an endless bickering about how much to stress the value of one over the other.22 The notions of alienation and disenchantment are — surprisingly, perhaps — key notions to invoke here because this tension can have no resolution and the bickering can have no end, without the realization that there is no justification for either equality or liberty that does not see them both as required for an unalienated life, for a life, that is, in which the value of fraternity informs the value of both equality and liberty, such that there is no equality nor liberty (autonomy) that is genuine which does not also show that the lack of liberty or equality is intolerable by the lights of fraternity itself. Fraternity is, in this sense, the cement for liberty and equality, and without some such cementing there is no scope for an unalienated life, no resolution of the zero-sum tension I mentioned that has dominated the political assumptions of the last two centuries. The slogan’s trio of ideals has never been genuinely triangulated in this way in the liberal theorizing that congealed around them in the high European Enlightenment. Admittedly, the idea of such a theorized triangulation is not an argument, only a sketch or schema of how an argument should proceed. But should one be able
to construct such an argument, there would be very large theoretical possibilities to be plumbed. There is no space to do that here (though I say a word more about it in the closing remarks in note 19). However, even without such an argument fully in place, we can at least lay the ground with the conceptual ingredients I have presented briefly in this chapter, for the claim that no such ideal of an unalienated life, in which notions of liberty and equality are not at odds, canfind its soil without some form of secular re-enchantment of a world lost to the social and cultural forces that exiled the Father, as I said, well before his death. This is because the ideal of a world enchanted with value is the basic condition for the very possibility of human agency, which, in turn, is the most elementary and fundamental element in the promise of an unalienated and fraternal social life. In situating my claims in the Spinozist point I began with, I had already suggested that the idea of values being in the world is in some important sense of a piece with the fact that we possess freedom or agency. To put it flamboyantly, for subjects who do not possess agency (or abdicate it), there is darkness in the world, at just the points where agents can perceive values in it, and it is the darkness of something alien that makes one want to ‘master’ it and ‘conquer’ it, a rhetoric to which Freud too was often prone in describing our early psychic development. With this rhetoric, we lose sight of the more relaxed ideal of merely ‘living’ in the world (and we should note with some despondency how revealing it is that we are driven to use the qualifier ‘merely’ to describe something so basic as living), an ideal that reaches towards the kind of agency and engagement that make possible an unalienated life. I want to claim that if you take the position that Hume and Adam Smith and their widespread intellectual legacies do, i.e., that values lie not in the world but in our desires and moral sentiments, you make it quite difficult to see how we can so much as possess the full-fledged form of agency they uncritically assume that we do possess. This may seem like a tall claim, since surely they can insist that acting on our desires and moral sentiments is an expression of our agency. But that is a superficial understanding of what it takes to be an agent. Let me show why this is so by giving a crucial and concluding argument that links the very possibility of our agency with the notion of enchantment that I have been trying to explore. The argument will build on the insight in Spinoza with which I began.
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Before I do, some confusing ground needs to be cleared. I have said that to see the world as enchanted is a precondition for possessing agency and therefore for living an unalienated life. Moreover, to see the world as enchanted, in a sense that we can accept in our own secular frameworks, is to see it as suffused with values. Though such a notion of enchantment sits more comfortably with our more self-conscious secular commitments than previous, more sacralized, notions such as Gandhi’s (or the 17th-century dissidents), it is still highly discomfiting to a familiar conviction of our time. It brazenly contradicts the widely held view that there is nothing in nature (and the world) that is not countenanced by natural science. So, it is a notion that is bound to be dismissed as unscientific. I won’t pause too long to confront this confused prejudice in detail except to say this. All that asserting the presence of value in nature (and the world) does is to imply that science does not have full coverage of nature (and the world). How on earth can this be unscientific? Something is only unscientific if it contradicts a proposition in some science. But no science contains the proposition that science has comprehensive coverage of nature. Only a philosopher (or scientists and journalists, like Dawkins and Hitchens, playing at being philosophers) would assert such a proposition.23 One can find the assertion to be bad philosophy, without being told, in turn, that one is doing bad science since it is not doing science at all. The point — surely a simple one — is that it is only unscientific to give unscientific responses to science’s themes (as ‘creationism’ or ‘intelligent design’ do to the scientific theme of the origins of the universe), it is not unscientific to assert that not all themes regarding nature are scientific themes (and that is all that is asserted by asserting the presence of values in nature and the world). Unlike this confused objection to enchantment, the picture of value found in Hume and Adam Smith, which also opposes the idea that values are perceptible properties of the world, is not so easily dismissible.24 There is no simple confusion in their picture, and if it is wrong it is wrong for very deep and significant reasons. On their picture of values, values are constructed out of our psychological states such as our desires and sympathies and so are ontologically reducible to them. By contrast, the picture of values that is being presented in this essay claims that our desires are responses to desirabilities (or values) in the world (where ‘world’ is to be understood in the broad sense that I attributed to Gandhi at the very outset), a quite different ontology
of value. This ontology may be resisted because of a fear that it aspires to some sort of implausible objectification of value. That is a fear that quite misses the point of this ontology. This essay’s interest in such an ontology and in finding the Humean picture wrong, its interest, that is, in seeking a secular enchantment of the world, is only to secure one of the most basic metaphysical sources of an unalienated life. Its interest is not to mount an objectivist resistance to ethical relativism by making values part of the external world and therefore the same for all human beings capable of a clear and unmyopic perception of the world. To say that something is part of the perceptible world cannot, in any case, be sufficient to repudiate relativism. Even natural science recognizes that many of the objects and properties of the perceptible world that it studies are observed through the lens of theories. So, if observation of even physical properties is theory-laden, differing from theory to theory, it is hardly likely that the value properties in the world will not be differentially perceived by different cultures and even, often, by different individual subjects. Though, I have general opinions on the subject of relativism, and am not a relativist in politics or morals,25 those opinions are of no relevance in the pursuit of my present preoccupations in this essay. In opposing the Humean picture, I am far from denying that the human subject and human agency are an essential part of the idea that values are in the world. Indeed I insist on their essential part and am about to give an argument for it. What I deny is that to say that values and human agency are of a piece with our agency in this way amounts to saying that values are in some sense created by us and projected onto the world rather than perceived by us as being in the world. That would be a confusion and philosophy is sometimes prone to it. To sum it up again in a sentence or two, the confusion is this. No one is tempted to say, on the basis of variable perception of physical properties in the world owing to the theoryladenness of observation, that we create physical properties and project them on the world. Yet, we are constantly being told by the picture of value that I am opposing, that we must say this of value properties on the basis of variable perception of these value properties. What, finally then, is my argument for the idea that we cannot understand the very idea of our agency without also seeing values as properties in the perceptible world around us? To answer this, we need to look a little harder at the relationship between desires and agency that I first presented in my earlier discussion of a distinction derived from Spinoza.
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The philosopher Gareth Evans had once said illuminatingly that questions put to one about whether one believes something, say whether it is raining outside, do not prompt us to scan our mental interiority, they prompt us to look outside and see whether it is raining.26 That is to say, one not only looks outside when one is asked, ‘Is it raining?’ but also when one is asked, ‘Do you believe it is raining?’ Now, let’s ask: is this true of questions put to one about whether one desires something? When someone asks: ‘do you desire x?’, are we prompted to ponder our own minds or are we prompted to consider whether x is desirable? There may be special sorts of substitutions for x where we might ponder our own minds, but for most substitutions, I think, we would consider x’s desirability. This suggests that our desires are presented to us as having desirabilities in the world as their objects. Am I right to have extended the point that Evans makes about beliefs to desires as well, and to have argued on that basis that the world contains desirabilities or values? Suppose for a moment that I am wrong to have done so. What would that imply? That is, what would be implied if one thought that when asked ‘do you desire x?’, one didn’t look to the desirability of x itself, but instead scanned our own interiors to see if one possessed that desire of x. It would imply that our desires were presented to us in a way such that what they were desires for was available to us only as something that we could have access to when we stepped back and pondered our own minds in a detached way — in the third person. But now, if the presupposition of Spinoza’s point is right and if agency is present in the possession and exercise of the first person rather than the third person point of view, that makes it a question as to how this conception of our desires could possibly square with the fact of our agency. By contrast, a conception of desires as reaching down all the way to desirabilities in the world requires us to be agents because what we desire is presented to us in the experiencing of the desiring itself, rather than presented to us when we stepped back to observe our desires — thereby abdicating our agency. Compare two utterances I might make ‘this is desirable’ and ‘this is desired’. In the latter, I am reporting something about myself, reporting what I desire, having stepped outside of myself and perceived myself and my mind from the outside, as a third person, scanning it for what I desire. It is precisely, in the Spinozist distinction I began with, a detached conception of oneself as an object rather than an agent. By contrast, in the former, I express, not report, what I desire; I make an
utterance conceiving myself fully as an agent or subject rather than object — but notice that, in doing so, I necessarily see what I desire to be in the world, a desirability, a value property of something in the world. Thus, it makes all the difference to being an agent that we, in being so, possess states of mind such as desires that are responding to value properties in the world. To experience ourselves as agents we must in the very experience itself, also perceive the world as value-laden. The agent within cannot be what it is; it cannot have the experience of its agency and its states of mind such as its desires upon which it acts, without that experience itself also being the perceptible experience of values making demands on it from without. That experiential identification of agency within, with value without, is what — at the most general level — makes us (our inner world) unalienated in the (outer) world we inhabit. This equation or identification (to experience yourself as an agent is nothing other than to be engaged with value in the world) is due to a conception of desires that disallows us from being subjects who are merely the passive or detached receptacle of our desires and their fulfillments. To disallow that, to see our desires and moral sentiments as active engagements with a world enchanted with values that normatively demand our desires and moral sentiments as responses, is the first and most abstract precondition for living an unalienated life. One no doubt needs other things too in order to be unalienated, things about which Marx wrote with depth and insight and which bear more directly on resolving the tension between liberty and equality in orthodox liberalism. But without this more fundamental and underlying condition that makes agency possible, one does not have, as it were, the first thing. In this sense, for all their differences, Gandhi’s ideas were quite continuous with Marx, not something we should be surprised by, if we even so much as glance at his remarks on capitalism in Hind Swaraj or his account of the effects of the Lancashire cotton industry on India. ‘Continuous’ may be the wrong word, however. The idea of value and alienation he probed within a conception of ‘the world’ as I have been expounding it, did not develop as much as it underlay and provided the more basic backdrop for Marx’s more detailed social and economic analysis of those ideas. Without such a conception of the world in which value without us is just the other side of agency within us, one would live in a quite real sense as aliens in the world; the world around us, in such a case, would be alien to our own sensibility and we could have no angle on it but one of either detached study on the one
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hand or conquest and control of something alien on the other — an impoverishing disjunction that pretty much describes the dominant tendencies of the modern period and the distinctive anxieties they have generated. Gandhi, like Wittgenstein, saw that it is this alienation from the world, so conceived, that thwarts the ‘natural’ and the ‘ordinary’, both prompting us to construct a whole metaphysics around the detached outlook of science (a quite different thing than merely doing science), and prompting our practical agency to intrude into nature and into our own ordinariness, transforming each. No doubt, given their differences, each is transformed by different methods. The first is made over by systematically extractive forms of political economy; the latter by the politics of codes and principles that emerged in tandem with those economies. But the point is that both methods are a fall-out of the same systematic attitude of alienated detachment generated by the early modern exile of the Father, which produces the wrong understanding of practical agency, one that undermines the practical temperament that ‘leaves the world alone’ and that allows ‘us’ (by which, as I said, he meant mere people, not citizens) to be at home in the ‘world’.27 The phrase ‘at home in the world’ is a cliché that marks the most fundamental form of an unalienated life, which was, in Gandhi’s understanding the most cherished ideal that politics, in the end, must strive for. The effort of much of this essay has been to integrate — through a somewhat non-standard genealogical reading of Gandhi linking him to an early dissenting tradition of the Radical Enlightenment — a whole range of seemingly miscellaneous themes, from metaphysics, science, politics and morals, so as to give some substance and point to that cliché.
D Notes 1. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings, ed. Anthony Parel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). 2. I have used the phrase ‘studied indifference’ frequently to describe Gandhi’s attitudes towards the political Enlightenment and since they have fetched some misleading responses, I should perhaps be clearer about what I mean. By ‘studied’ I have had in mind to talk of a very deliberate position he took based on a quite careful and diagnostic understanding of the modernity that Enlightenment ideals
ushered in. Not being a philosopher, he did not trace these ideas, as Nietzsche and Heidegger did, to their roots as early as the turn that is said to have taken place in the period after the pre-Socratics; nor did he explicitly situate them, as Foucault did, in the specific institutions and discursive formations that were said to have formed after the collapse of Old Regime France. Still, his diagnosis understood very well the ideas and the institutions and the discourse around them that came with the modernity that the British introduced into Indian society; and, though it takes a lot of abstraction away from detail to see similarities between his critique of colonial modernity and the philosophical attack on the ‘logocentrism’ that was introduced by the Platonic Socrates or the Foucauldian critical scrutiny of the institutions and discourse of the French (and generally European) Enlightenment, the similarities are there and are not hard for the alert reader to unearth. ‘Studied’ is therefore a perfectly good word with which to describe the deliberately worked out nature of this critique. The term ‘indifference’ is also apt because it should be emphasized that Gandhi was not hostile to the principles and codes and rights that define the political Enlightenment. He was too undogmatic and politically intelligent to fail to see their instrumental value in winning advantages for the disadvantaged in specific contexts of modern society. But, as I shall argue, he doubted that they had the power to make us better with respect to our humanity, and he refused to join the cheerleading he heard and read in the self-congratulatory rhetoric with which the Enlightenment was described because he saw in that the source of a distinctive form of complacence, a complacence which, as I say later in the text, issued from an earlier development in the notion of ‘civility’ in early modern Europe. ‘Indifference’ seems to me a good term to describe this general scepticism on his part. 3. At the very end of my essay, ‘Gandhi, The Philosopher’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 38, no. 39, 27 September 2003, pp. 4159–65, I had made the claim that Gandhi did not believe in politics. This claim was very cryptically made and much of the present essay tries to spell out what I intended by it, something I am particularly keen to do since others who have since then been writing on Gandhi are now interpreting that cryptically-made claim in ways that I think are quite misleading as an understanding of Gandhi. 4. It is worth noting a very interesting and, at least at first sight, a mildly paradoxical point here. I will be arguing that Gandhi made appeal, in his own way and in his own words, to the idea of ‘leaving the world alone’ rather than transforming it via capital (in its aspect of nature) and via the orthodoxies in political principles and codes that capital generated (in its aspect of humanity). But, for him, these rude transformations came as a result of an increasingly detached attitude towards the world, in its aspect of nature and of humanity. His view, as I will expound further in subsequent discussion, was that transformation (rather than leaving alone) of the wrong kind came from increasing intellectualization and detachment. So the quick thought that ‘surely leaving something alone
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requires detachment from it’ is shown to be too quick. It is engagement with the world that allows one to leave it alone. That is the mild paradox, at first sight. But, as I argue (most explicitly in the last section, but really through this section and the next as well), there is no paradox here at all. For the explicit semantic disentangling with the term ‘detachment’ needed to remove this air of paradox, see n. 27 of this essay. 5. The present article is a sequel to my essay, ‘Occidentalism, the Very Idea: An Essay on the Enlightenment and Enchantment’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 41, no. 33, 19 August 2006, pp. 4591–604, where I had pledged to elaborate themes that I had only very briefly hinted at in its closing pages. In that prequel, I had tried to demonstrate the detailed affinities between elements in Gandhi’s thought and the thought of the radical sectaries in mid-17th century England as well as the somewhat later scientific dissenters such as John Toland and Anthony Collins in late-17th and early-18th century England. See also my ‘Gandhi, Newton, and the Enlightenment’, The Social Scientist, vol. 34, no. 5–6, 2006, pp. 17–35, reprinted in Ibrahim Karawan, Wayne McCormack, Stephen Eugene Reynolds , eds, Values and Violence: Intangible Aspects of Terrorism (Dordrecht, the Netherlands; Norwell, MA: Springer, 2008) and in Aakash Singh and Silika Mohapatra, eds, Indian Political Thought (London: Routledge, 2010) for an elaboration of these affinities. I will repeat those points briefly here but with a slightly different emphasis. In those essays, I had stressed the dissent against the links being forged between the metaphysics around the new science and the newly emerging commercial interests. In the present essay, given its eventual theme of what constitutes a democratic mentality, I want to stress the links between that metaphysics and the emergence of an ideal of political governance. There is more of substance on these themes in my ‘Reply to Bruce Robbins’s “Not without Reason”’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 33, no. 3, 2007, pp. 641–49, and in a web symposium on my essay ‘Occidentalism, The Very Idea: An Essay on the Enlightenment and Enchantment’, http:// 3quarksdaily.blogs.com/3quarksdaily/2008/09/introduction-to.html (accessed 23 December 2009). 6. Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics: The Collected Writings, vol. 1, ed. Edwin Curley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985). For a good exposition of this distinction, see Stuart Hampshire’s Freedom of the Individual (New York: Harper and Row, 1965). Hampshire’s eventual understanding of Spinoza’s insight is somewhat different from the use to which I will put it. He had in mind to ask the question: to what extent can one predict things about oneself without, in fact, implicitly at least, intending them? This Sartrian question may be a good one to eventually ask, but I will not ask it here. My interest is in the distinction between prediction and intention and the initial insightful instinct that to the extent that one can predict things about oneself, one cannot do so at the same time as intending to do them.
7. See John McDowell’s pioneering essay, ‘Values and Secondary Qualities’, in Morality and Objectivity, ed. Ted Honderich (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985). 8. I should say immediately that to claim values are properties in the world (including nature) is not to populate the world and nature with extravagant forms of teleology (which is why I referred to the claim earlier as a sanitized Aristotelian view). No vitalism, for instance, is implied by the claim. And though I use the metaphor of values in the world making normative demands on us and our agency, this is mere metaphor, and there is no implication that the value properties in the world external to human beings are intentional properties. The reason for this is simple. Where there are intentional properties it makes sense to criticize them and those who possess them. Thus human beings criticize each other’s intentional states, i.e., each other’s intentions, beliefs, desires, hopes . . . But it makes no sense to say that we criticize nature and the world, except in the quite irrelevant sense in which one might say, ‘That was a lousy sunset this evening’. So, though it is controversial to claim that values are in the world, including nature (controversial because it denies that natural science has full coverage of nature), it is not controversial in the way that vitalism and other such extravagant ontological doctrines are. 9. To name just two, Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006) and Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Warner Twelve, 2007). 10. The most vocal was perhaps John Toland, a mercurial and brilliant figure of his time. These issues of the metaphysics of nature and the new science can be found in a series of works, starting with Christianity Not Mysterious (New York: Garland Publishing, 1978 ), more explicitly pantheistic in statement in the discussion of Spinoza in Letters to Serena (New York: Garland Publishing, 1976 ), and then in the late work Pantheisticon (New York: Garland Publishing, 1976 ). It is widely thought that he coined the term ‘pantheism’. 11. The best book on these themes remains Margaret Jacob’s The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons, and Republicans (London: Allen & Unwin, 1981). 12. See all the references cited in n. 5. 13. Quoted in Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (London: Temple Smith, 1972), p. 293, which remains the locus classicus as an account of the radical sectaries of England in this period. 14. Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, 2 vols, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978, 1982); and The Court Society, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983). 15. The well-known example of bowling alleys is given by Robert D. Putnam in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000). Its shallowness is evident when you place it aside
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the following remark by Thoreau in the section entitled ‘Economy’ in Walden (Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1960), p. 8: ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation . . . A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.’ In fact, my sense is that we live in a time when the very subject of ethics should now undergo a reorientation so that the question ‘What ought we to know?’ becomes just as primary as the traditional ethical question ‘What ought we to do?’ The braiding of the cognitive with the political (and therefore the ethical) is so detailed in our times that the latter question is idle without prior attention to the former. So, just to give an example of the relevance of the cognitive to our ethical assessments of people that is pertinent to what I have been saying earlier, if someone in Kansas, working long hours all day of the week to earn 50, 000 dollars a year, with a wife and three children to support, fails to spend his time on non-standard media sites to find out what forms of wrong his government has been up to on the international stage for the last 40 years and more, his failure to know is far less culpable than such a failure to know on the part of someone with a great deal of time and privileges available to him or her to find these things out — say, a colleague of mine at Columbia University, or a comfortably-off, willfully unemployed, househusband or housewife on the Upper West or Upper East side. The failure of knowledge in the latter instance — it would be right to say — unlike the former, is a far greater form of dishonesty of the moral intellect. I rely here primarily on his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (New York: Norton, ) but the assumption of this distinction is peppered all over many other writings. Here is just one very common and uncomplicated sort of example of inconsistency of response in polls; there are literally scores of others. ‘Yes, the conditions of the poor in Harlem are wretched and must be improved’ (this is a response to a question put in the first frame, i.e., a question about what would be their individual response to what are perceptible conditions of great poverty around them making immediate normative demands on their moral agency). But then in the same poll, ‘No, we must not raise taxes and government spending’ (this is a response to a question put in the second frame, i.e., a question put in economic jargon and thus addressing their minds as they have been cognitively shaped by what I was calling ‘epistemic deficits’ determined in upbringing in homes, then fortified in educational institutions, in the media) and so on. In the last four decades of his life, Gandhi himself worked strenuously to reorient the very ideal of mass politics away from the Jacobin stigma, towards a quite different ideal of mass solidarity — through strategies of non-violence, through the ideal of the ‘exemplary’ in satyagrahi public action, and most deeply of all through a phenomenology of mutual understanding among people derived from the idea of value being external to us in the world — the world
of nature and of others. (I say a bit more about this last at the end of this note). There was great generosity in these efforts on his part and at the same time a great watchful insistence on it against constant resistance from a lineup of middle class Indian elites who were threatened by mass politics and who continue to this day to resist it, often affecting faux-aristocratic Burkean ideals. The genuine aristocrat of his time, Nehru, had no doubt whatever that Gandhi was a mass politician of unparalleled commitment and ability, and embraced that politics with matching commitment. There are those who have denied Gandhi’s commitment to the masses on the grounds that he called off movements when the masses turned violent. This interpretation is shallow and it relies on a too-quick Burkean reading of Gandhi. Burke, as we well know, was reacting with instinct as well as reason against a range of familiar developments in the France of his time. His reactions on matters of detail have always been rejected by the liberal Left who have, in a by now familiar form of debate, counted him, in many ways rightly, as a conservative (though the sense in which he was also a radical is well worth studying). But detail apart, at a level of generality, on the broad subject of mass politics, many on the liberal Left, certainly everyone on the liberal and orthodox side of the Enlightenment, have exploited Burke’s anxiety about the Jacobin aftermath of the French revolution to stigmatize the very idea of mass politics. That move has no point or place in a reading Gandhi. One can, of course, call off a movement if one is indifferent to mass politics, just as one can say ‘the masses deserve the government (or the art, or the media) they get’ out of a contempt for the masses. Gandhi did and said such things but with the very opposite attitude. He called off movements when the masses turned violent because he had the highest belief and hope in what the masses of India were capable of and this belief and hope was abundantly displayed by him when he repeatedly turned to them in order to expose the high-sounding but low-meaning rhetoric of a manipulative mainstream political class and their intellectual mandarins. So also he often said ‘the masses deserve the government they get’ not with any contempt for the masses but with a conviction of their capacity to insist on governments that would aspire to public and private virtue. If you take away the fact that Gandhi was a mass politician, you take away the most elementary commitment of his politics and his philosophy. David Bromwich, who has a shrewd understanding of Burke, pointed out to me that though Burke is often celebrated by some for his antidemocratic stances, he was so consistently anti-tyrannical that his stance could not possibly have been perfectly anti-democratic. I like this way of putting things and it leads me to suggest that when someone says of Gandhi that he did not believe in mass democracy because he called off mass movements when they turned violent, they can at best be suggesting that Gandhi was not perfectly democratic. And since the idea of being ‘perfectly’ democratic is high nonsense anyway, the pointlessness of this interpretation of Gandhi
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becomes obvious. What is (on the whole) true is that Gandhi did not understand class struggle and so he certainly did not equate mass politics with class struggle (This, broadly Marxist, criticism of him does not by any means present him as a Burkean though. I believe the criticism is correct and it is a failing of Gandhi that he did not, in the end, quite understand the role of class in mass politics. That role is, of course, itself shifting with the shifting nature of capital in the last few decades, something to be expected given the mutually defining relationship between notions of ‘class’ and ‘capital’. What relevance Gandhian ideas of an anti-imperialist mass politics bear to current relations between an imperialist form of global finance capital and the notion of class that it will and has generated, is a large and fascinating question that we don’t have any clear grip on at all.) What is also true, as I have argued in earlier papers on Gandhi (see the reference in n. 3), is that he emphatically did not conceive of mass politics in terms of an equation of the masses with a vanguard party. (But this, broadly Leninist Left, criticism of him, does not present him as a Burkean either. Even if we don’t accept this Leninist criticism of him, it is a correct understanding of Gandhi and it is an understanding that is essential to my own efforts to steer his thought toward broadly Left Anarchist ideals that emerged first in what may rightly be called ‘The Radical Enlightenment’.) So, the Burkean Gandhi only really emerges by lining him up squarely with the fears generated by Jacobinism, but which I am arguing are the very fears that Gandhi tried to soothe by developing an alternative ideal of mass solidarity (and nothing less). In other recent writing on Gandhi (mentioned in n. 5), I have tried to develop an understanding of the phenomenology of mass solidarity that Gandhi aspired to via an analogy with the mutual understanding that two people might come to have in a conversation, carrying the thought that they have come to understand mutually, together. Such a notion of solidarity that is based on the phenomenology of mutual understanding (where I stress the experience both of the ‘mutual’ and of ‘understanding’) prevents mass politics from degenerating into the very thing that allows us to say of the Jacobin ideal of the collective that it is describable by the substitution of ‘mob’ for ‘mass’, that is to say, where individual mentality and creativity is lost as a cog in a (mass) wheel. To conceive mass solidarity on the model of the phenomenology of the more primal two-person form of mutuality is what Gandhi thought allowed for the retention of individuality in larger solidarities. Indeed, it allows for much more, if properly theorized. I had said earlier that there is no way out of the zero-sum tension and bickering between liberty and equality that was generated by the orthodoxies of the Enlightenment, unless we see both liberty and equality as conditions for fraternity and therefore for a richly unalienated life. In my reading of him, Gandhi’s entire philosophy was a striving for such a triangulation of those three ideals into an integrated political vision. I have not had the space to develop that theoretical argument in this essay, an
argument essential to theorizing away from the orthodox to the ‘radical’ Enlightenment. All I am trying to do in this final section of the article is to present a more underlying condition for an unalienated life in which the ideas of the earlier sections that appeal to a world enchanted by value play a central role. This yields a more minimal removal of alienation than fraternity would, but a more basic one upon which the notion of fraternity must build. How exactly it must build on it, what exactly are the relations that this more basic condition of enchantment has to the notion of fraternity, cannot be developed without a detailed focus on the sort of solidarity that turns on the model of the primal scene of two-person mutuality of understanding that I have mentioned earlier. That model itself is the first step towards a social extension of the idea of our responsiveness to value in the world. These are all themes for another occasion, developing ideas only briefly presented here and in some of the other essays mentioned in n. 5. As for instance in the writing of Isaiah Berlin, who first introduced to Englishspeaking philosophers and political theorists, a range of Romantic thinkers whose ideas were quite continuous with some of the ideas of the early radical dissent I have focused on. Berlin, though he was clearly fascinated by these Romanticist ideas, was also made very nervous by them and, assuming an orthodox understanding of the Enlightenment, dubbed them the ‘Counter’Enlightenment. (The term may not have been his invention, but he made much of it.) See particularly his essay ‘The Counter-Enlightenment’ in The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2000). For the reference, see n. 5 of this essay. As is well known, this famous (infamous) and influential distinction between the early and late Marx became central to Althusser’s reading of Marx (see some of the essays in Louis Althusser, For Marx (London: Verso, 1996 ). For Marx’s most explicit and well-known discussion of issues of alienation, see his Economics and Political Manuscripts of 1844 (New York: International Publishers, 1964). Something of a proof that Marx’s ideas on these subjects were not restricted to the early works is that Lukács seems to have reconstructed them at a time when those works were not yet available, that is to say he reconstructed them from a reading of his late works. Dawkins, The God Delusion and Hitchens, God is Not Great. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978) and Adam Smith, A Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. Knud Hakonssen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). See my essay ‘Secularism and Relativism’ in boundary 2, vol. 31, no. 2, 2006, pp. 173–96, reprinted in Virendra Raj Mehta and Thomas Pantham, eds, Political Ideas in Modern India: Thematic Explorations (New Delhi; Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2004).
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26. Gareth Evans, Varieties of Reference (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 225. 27. The word ‘detachment’ has been variously used by philosophers to mean different things. Gandhi too talked with admiration of detachment but what he meant by that is quite significantly at odds with the detachment generated by a disenchanted conception of nature and the world. Indeed leaving the world (of nature and of its inhabitants) alone rather than making it over requires a detachment from the drives to master and control it. Such detachment Gandhi urged on us and himself. But to achieve it meant eschewing the other kind of alienated detachment that follows upon disenchantment. So, there is much semantic disentangling that is necessary with that word.
3 Politics, Experience and Cognitive Enslavement Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj V D
E ‘Who can argue us out of our experience?’ – Mohandas. K. Gandhi1
here are two parts or aspects to Gandhi’s understanding and rejection of colonialism and of the civilization that produced it. Both have to do with the inherent destructiveness of colonialism (and, of course, of the civilization it represents). But there seem to be two aspects because there are two different sets of questions involved. We get hold of the first with: what does colonialism destroy? Further, what is involved in the resistance to this destruction which requires that decolonization or attaining swaraj is something more or, at any rate, something other than throwing the colonizers out of the country? The other aspect has to do with Gandhi’s view of why Western civilization is inherently destructive or immoral or violent, even though the men who represent it are not inherently all that? What makes it inherently destructive? There is a depth and simplicity to Gandhi’s answer to the first set of questions — I will come to it in a moment — which is missing or which I cannot find in his answer to the second set. At this point, it is perhaps too easily said, and that is why I don’t want to say it, that, indeed, there are no two aspects to Gandhi’s understanding and that it is my inability to appreciate the true depth of his answer to the first set of questions that makes me look in two different directions. That may well be the case. That perhaps is the case. We can, however, settle that issue later, if the question this
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essay is straining to get hold of emerges with any degree of clarity in my exploration of the two aspects of Gandhi’s understanding. That question has to do with the deeper integrity of Gandhi’s thought which, as Akeel Bilgrami has argued, may not be apparent on the surface or in the disparate remarks Gandhi makes on colonialism, experience and culture.2 Now to the answer which I say is deep and simple: Gandhi was convinced that colonialism is destructive of the very integrity of experience. It is deep because it immediately brings up the question of what constitutes a form of life and what conditions are needed for its continued existence and flourishing. It is simple because anyone faced with the onslaught of colonialism would understand what that means and would have had to find a way of preserving the integrity of his/her way of life in the face of that onslaught. Gandhi himself found that answering the question of how to live necessarily involved driving out Western civilization. Therefore, though he was not interested in politics, he found that he had to practice satyagraha in the domain of politics too. The question of how to live and how to go about in the world in such a way that the integrity of experience is preserved is, Gandhi discovered, the central preoccupation that shaped the form of life — Indian civilization, to use his terms — that was being undermined by colonialism and its civilization. So, the defence of that form of life meant the defence of the integrity of experience itself, for Gandhi clearly saw colonialism as an attempt to ‘argue us out of our experience’. But to the extent that colonialism was a cultural phenomenon rooted in the West as a civilization, he was convinced that swaraj was not only a goal for India but for the West too. What makes Western civilization destructive of experience? It is certainly not the men who represent that civilization; that is why Gandhi wants to say that the British need not leave India as long as they are willing to Indianize themselves (in the civilizational, rather than the nationalist, sense). What then enslaves them — the British and the Westerners — to a civilization that is so destructive? Or, to pick up the same question from the other side, in what way does the form of life that is India get undermined by the presence of Western civilization? Here, unlike in the West, it is Indian men — some of them, not the villagers — who succumb to colonialism; it’s no fault of their civilization. Gandhi insists on this non-symmetry; again, if this non-symmetry has any deep and integrated explanation, it has to be located in some features of the respective civilizations. Gandhi, it seems
to me, does have such an explanation but we have to ‘mine’ his work for it (to use his own phrase for how one should read the Gita). To start with, let me give a very broad outline of it (leaving the elaboration to the rest of the essay). Ethical learning in the West does not provide the kind of self-knowledge needed to conceptualize and counter the violence the West generates, and hence the Westerners cannot be blamed for the evils of the civilization they represent. However, Indian traditions have structured reflection on experience in such a way that self-knowledge is the ultimate ethical goal and therefore Indian men are to be blamed for betraying their own civilization. Still, the prior question remains: what makes Western civilization violent or, what comes to the same thing, destructive of experience?
II Let us begin with some of Gandhi’s explicit remarks about these matters. For example, we know what he says about lawyers, doctors and railways and how they could be disruptive of the ideal of swaraj. The intuition behind this denunciation of things modern is clarified at a more abstract level when he considers modern civilization undesirable because of the ‘ceaseless activity’ it represents and ‘the annihilation of space and time’ it aims at.3 What has brought about this state of affairs is the West’s ‘relentless pursuit of a false ideal conceived as truth’.4 Gandhi says that ‘evil has wings’, meaning thereby, I take it, that the things or objects such as railways that embody speed or the destruction of time and space undermine or destroy the necessarily slow work of establishing the good or dharma which ‘takes time’: ‘To build a house takes time. Its destruction takes none’.5 Why is this house so fragile? Or, to put it less poetically, why is the bullock-cart a better vehicle — metaphorically or otherwise — for the work of establishing the good, for the building and preserving of the house of dharma than, say, the motor car? In what way is Gandhi’s beloved postcard better or good in itself than the electronic mail, whose instantaneity would make it evil itself?6 Does it perhaps have something to do with the nature of techné itself? Is it the case that the bullock-cart is built with skilled hands and I can understand and even learn how to make it, but railways or the Internet make me dependant, vicarious or ignorant? What is the material out of which the house of dharma is built such that it is more responsive to some objects and concepts
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and not others? If that material is experience itself, how can it be that experience is more responsive to some objects/concepts/practices and not to others? There is something elusive here. Let us try to get hold of it by asking, why are there only lawyers, doctors and railways on Gandhi’s list? Why not other objects, professions, concepts or practices, and, more importantly, how do we decide? Sympathetic treatment of these remarks, aimed at clarifying and deepening Gandhi’s intuitions about violence, could perhaps take us some distance, but I think would still fall short of what we are seeking, namely, the source of the kind of violence unleashed by colonialism and the West. The larger problem here lies not with Gandhi’s remarks, but with the frame that has always been used to understand Gandhi. We have for so long persisted in interpreting Gandhi as anti-modern, taking it for granted that we understand what modernity is and what it is to be against it, that we have never bothered to even ask what the frame of modernity is all about. There are strands in Gandhi’s thinking that might seem to suggest that he seeks decolonization by identifying or equating objects or practices that are disruptive of, or inhospitable to, the house of dharma with what is ‘modern’. Some of his remarks certainly mislead us in this direction. That, however, cannot be what Gandhi had in mind. Our life with concepts and objects was always complete.7 It was so before railways, relativity or the Internet; but it was so before the postcard and the bullock-cart too. New objects or concepts do not themselves disturb or undermine the integrity of experience. So, what does? When does a sense of incompleteness enter our life with concepts and objects? I want to explore the idea that what underlies Gandhi’s rejection of colonialism is the thought that the norms that come through law, medicine, politics or history begin to occlude experience. That is to say, these norms begin to dictate how experience must or ought to stand in relation to ‘facts’, ‘concepts’ and ‘practices’. Because the frame of modernity is so deeply entrenched in our minds, we persist in seeing Gandhi as opposed to industrialization, to modern medicine or to science in general, without pausing to reflect on Gandhi’s conception of the integrity of experience that grounds his attitude both to the objectual domain and the domain of action as such in the most abstract or philosophical sense, and not merely to this or that object, whether modern or traditional. The task is to explicate that grounding or, what amounts to the same thing, that theory of ethical learning with its distinctive conception of truth and knowledge. To bring out the philosophical underpinning of that
attitude into sharper relief, I will focus on how we might extend Gandhian insight into the integrity of experience to elaborate a critique of modern politics.
III Experience is all there is. This is not an innocuous notion because the next question is: how do structures arise that occlude it? For that is Gandhi’s concern and his critique is directed not against ‘modernity’ but against structures that occlude experience. Now here is a test case for deciding or, at any rate, exploring whether the latter helps us understand Gandhi’s philosophical concerns in a deeper and more coherent way than the modernity argument has allowed us to. The way I read Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, the philosophical arguments Gandhi presupposes or the perspective he brings to bear on the following issues are all of a piece or, in Bilgrami’s terminology, integrated: medicine, technology, on the one hand, and religion, law, history and nationalism, on the other.8 Let me just set aside the elaborate stagesetting and go directly to the two very obscure but in my view very deep remarks Gandhi makes: one has to do with his claim (or, more accurately, his implied claim) that Hinduism is not a religion like others, that it is a religion that underlies all religion; the other about how no two Indians are one as no two Englishmen are.9 Both are highly misleading if one does not read Gandhi de re.10 Very quickly, the way my perspective hopes to deliver the integrity involved here is by locating the experience occluding structures involved in all these areas: nationalism, law, history, medicine, and, what we now want to consider, politics. Where does the remark about Hinduism as the religion underlying all religion fit in? He does not quite say that here, but I want to take that to be the implication of his claim that India has increasingly become irreligious.11 He is explicitly contrasting religion as inquiry — ‘religion which underlies all religions’ — with religion as identity.12 In my reading, he is really saying that what we take to be Hinduism points to traditions of reflecting on experience and it is these traditions that allow Gandhi to diagnose and resist experience occluding structures in different domains. Scientism may not be a bad name for these structures as long as we are clear that it is not only the scientism of the familiar kind that is involved here but also the scientism of the human sciences.13 Pursuing Gandhi’s
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intuitions about violence and Western civilization has led me into an examination of how Gandhi wants us to think about our life with concepts and objects. Before we go any further, let us ask if this perspective also extends to the domain that we familiarly, if rather vaguely call politics. Although Gandhi never explicitly addresses ‘modern politics’ in Hind Swaraj, I think it is a legitimate question to ask how he would have viewed it, given what he says about medicine, law, history, nationalism, and so forth. Let us therefore explore whether the Gandhian consideration that I have just briefly sketched allows us to regard modern politics, the Left/liberal conception of politics, itself in a deeper sense as experience-occluding and to argue that the only viable conception of politics is the one that conceives of it, as Gandhi did, as an activity that concerns itself with removing or resisting experience-occluding structures and with creating structures hospitable to preserving the integrity of experience. Gandhi’s satyagraha was an attempt to set up sites of ethical learning that would again make possible reflection on experience. Although we familiarly talk about the Left and the Right, a moment’s reflection will make clear that whatever differences those terms are meant to capture they do not bear upon the conception of politics itself. The historical component of this proposition would involve showing how reform and representation, the two pedagogic projects of colonialism, structured Indian politics (but not only politics) in such a way that it continues to reproduce the colonial framework long after the colonizers have departed. While it is out of the question to even briefly reconstruct the late-19th and early-20th century processes that set up these structures, I will be touching upon the slightly more abstract or philosophical question of what these structures do to the transmission of what I have been calling ethical learning. There are several reasons why it would be important to have a characterization of Left/liberal politics. Although my focus for the moment will be on the conception of politics as the Left conceives of it or practices it, I will also have something to say about the larger question of genealogically tracing the emergence of the domain called politics, with its characteristic concern with using the state to address social problems. This conception, which has become a given, especially in the 20th century, rests on assumptions and practices that are both deeply problematic and conceptually elusive. Gandhi had a very subtle sense of the violence underlying politics. But the considerations that led Gandhi to be sceptical about politics need careful explication
since his scepticism does not lead to anti-politics of a kind that is itself dialectically conditioned by modern politics. The major difficulty here is that in order to articulate the ground for Gandhi’s scepticism one tends to fall back on Western political theories which do not have the resource to even recognize the Gandhian insight into the relationship between non-violence and experience. Gandhian considerations about experience becoming occluded or inaccessible and the way to remove it or resist it or reflect on the reasons for that inaccessibility calls for nothing less than a large conceptual story about the very different ways in which experiences are occluded or concealed in the West and in India. This is especially so because the argument that experience is becoming inaccessible clearly wants to hold on to the idea that experience and reflection on it are still possible.
IV To begin with the present, then, I would like to argue that politics (for the Left/liberal) has consisted in placing items from the social in a normative zone. An example will make clear what I have in mind. As we know, for a long time in the 20th century-Left politics, such as it was, was organized around an entity called the proletariat. The task of the Marxian social and political theory then became one of deciphering how this entity could be related to the collection in the empirical world called the workers (and to various other strata who could be placed in some sort of scale of ‘radicalness’, ascribed first to the workers and then to the proletariat). One way of quickly getting a grip on the nature of Left politics (in India, but elsewhere too) is to plot the story of how the proletariat came to occupy the normative zone and how many other entities have, either simultaneously or successively, occupied that zone, especially after the proletariat seems to have soundlessly vacated that place. These entities have been various kinds: in fact not only agencies like proletariat, women, dalit, and their corresponding properties (class, gender and caste, respectively), but also attitudes, policies and objects, for example, secularism, toleration, reservation, human rights, and now perhaps, the constitution. I am merely registering a superficial description of the process, but what needs to be probed is not so much these items themselves as the zone. What is it about this zone that creates this magical, or opaque, relationship between the entities in it and, as it were, their empirical or factual counterpart? Some characteristics are readily noticeable:14
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politics of fear or prohibition against any kind of inquiry about the items or the logic behind placing them in the zone, the kind of history that the items require or call for, the insulation from experience, the peculiar and spectacular weddedness to concepts in the human sciences, whose task it is to ensure the passage of entities into the normative zone.15 Thus, theories die, but concepts produced by them live on! But quite clearly if we have to speak of, let us say, democracy differently, we need to begin by removing it from that zone, where Leftist/liberals/ subalterns have tended to place it of late. The question of the zone, however, is really about why in particular politics as we now know it cannot really be understood without a conceptual history of secularization as a specifically Western cultural experience. Secularization involves the normativization of domains of practical life (ethics, erotics, politics), which gives rise to what I have been calling experience-occluding structures. Gandhi, in my view, was trying to get hold of these structures when he comments on Western civilization’s violent and enslaving effect on its own people and on Indian culture. It is worth noting here that the reluctance or even the fear to talk about cultural difference has a lot to do with the normative zone and the prohibition it places. Gandhi was unafraid to talk about cultural difference. For example, Gandhi says that the civilization of the West is based on ‘self-indulgence’, whereas the Indian one is based on ‘self-control’ or ‘self-restraint’.16 We have so far tried to reflect on and characterize what the Left took to be politics in India. Although we have taken the example of Marxism since it is more familiar to us, the underlying abstract point is true of classical liberalism as well — the individual with his or her autonomous self. More generally, we can characterize the Left/liberal conception of politics as an activity that uses the state to advance its objectives, be it solving social problems or legislating new laws or redesigning institutions. Implicit in that characterization is an attempt to evolve a critique of the Left/liberal conception of politics. In a way, that task will involve specifying the senses in which the framework of Indian politics — shared by both the Left and the Right — is still colonial. Is it possible that politics itself — the conception, the domain of institutions and activities that we call politics — has contributed to the perpetuation of the colonial framework? If the answer were to be in the affirmative, as I am inclined to think it is, what are the implications for conceptualizing the link between secularization and politics in the West? How do we interrogate the philosophical concepts that are central to modern politics and that we in India take to be central to the way we organize our institutions?
V There is both an echo of Gandhi’s thought and the kind of conceptual story of Western experience we are looking for in Foucault’s last lectures on the different models of the cultures of the self in the West.17 Noting how certain expressions that permeate the contemporary discourse — getting back to oneself, freeing oneself, being authentic, and so on — how these expressions have become hollow and the attempts made to reconstitute an ethics of the self have remained blocked, ossified or without any content, Foucault explicitly entertains the possibility that the contemporary West may simply find it impossible to ‘constitute an ethic of the self’.18 This despair is, if you like, historically grounded, for this reflection occurs in the course of an investigation that uncovers and reconstructs a model of the culture of the self, care of the self or self-knowledge, that had stretched from 4th century BCE to 4th century CE, which Foucault calls the Hellenistic-Roman (HR) model, to contrast it with the more familiar Platonic and the Christian model. As Foucault notes, this model had nearly disappeared from European scholarship and memory.19 The care of the self that this HR model articulated through its ‘long summer’ (as Foucault puts it) had an ethics of the self, a conception of truth, practices, and a way of organizing domains of experience such as dietetics, erotics, economy, which were all radically different from what we find in the Christian or Platonic models (this last largely absorbed by the former). In giving us a genealogical reconstruction this model of the care of the self and its salient diversities, Foucault also attempts something novel and audacious: to show how the culture of the self permeates and even begins to elaborate the social. Normally we attach very little epistemic significance to ‘social structures’ (think of its use in Marxism and in social theory generally). The social, however, is not dumb, though it may be mute because of the kind of knowledge it embodies. Now Foucault shows how the knowledge transmitted by the HR culture of the self, what he explicitly terms ‘spiritual knowledge’ (and what I prefer to call ‘experiential knowledge’), begins to be attacked, undermined by the Christian model.20 The opposition is between religion and spiritual knowledge and not between science and spiritual knowledge. The disappearance of HR model, and with it spiritual knowledge, coincides with the emergence of intellectual knowledge (connaissance), knowledge of objects and elaboration of a different configuration of
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truth and subjectivity. (Descartes being an illustrious instance of this transformation which continues in the rationalist tradition. Foucault, I think, wants to argue that the other model, distorted and rendered oblique, continues in Hegel and Marx in one way and in the 19th century-revolutionary tradition in another way.) For Foucault it is clear that spiritual knowledge or, in my terms, experiential knowledge disappears in the West, and I think there is a way in which one can productively reconstruct Foucault’s own research to pose clear questions about how that came about in Europe and what light it throws on politics and what he calls the juridification of European culture. This is conjectural but receives some support from, and converges on, Foucault’s exploration of the emergence of what he calls ‘political rationality’ precisely during the period in question (by rationality Foucault understands the norm-generated/normgenerating practices).21 His concern is to show how Machiavelli’s advice to the Prince, and the conception of the state and politics that figures there, is radically different from what begins to emerge in the ‘police’ literature. A new relation begins to develop between ‘politics as a practice and as knowledge’.22 He explicitly marks out the difference between how, say, St. Thomas Aquinas would conceptualize the state or king’s duty and how the ‘police’ literature talks about the state. The state that begins to be conceptualized is an entirely new entity and the rationality that develops around that time is what grounds modern political concepts and theories. Now, it seems to me that the changes in history too are grounded in this rationality: politics and history once grounded in this rationality are no longer what they were in the medieval period, and certainly even more different than what they were in antiquity. The link between happiness, virtue and politics in Aristotle, for example (still present in Christianized form in medieval discourse) would be no longer even comprehensible from the ‘police’ discourse on state’s concern with ‘society’s’ happiness.23 But as Foucault keeps insisting in his reconstruction of the emergence of what we recognize as politics, the changes cannot be registered or located at the level of political theories or concepts: First, it is possible to analyze political rationality, as it is possible to analyze any scientific rationality. Of course, this political rationality is linked with other forms of rationality . . . Since political rationality is the root of a great number of postulates, evidences of all sorts, institutions and ideas we take for granted it is both theoretically and practically important to go on with this historical criticism, the historical analysis of our
political rationality, which is something different from the discussion about political theories and which is different also from divergences between different political choices. The failure of the major political theories nowadays must lead not to a nonpolitical way of thinking but to an investigation of what has been our political way of thinking during this century . . . the failure of political theories is probably due neither to politics nor to theories but to the type of rationality in which they are rooted.24
Something similar or related needs to be said about history, its dynamic emergence and laying claim to the past. Its rootedness in this rationality is what makes a theoretical discussion of history’s relationship with politics so unsatisfactory; at the level where Foucault locates the question, modern history and politics can only be seen as twins produced by a particular rationality. It is not a question of the political uses of history; history and politics are the normed and norming products of each other. Thus, the most significant development for understanding the entanglement of politics and history is the emergence, between the late-16th and early-17th century, of the ‘historico-political’ discourse as a model distinct from the juridico-philosophical model of politics.25 The two consequences of this development that Foucault notes are important: ‘So we have on the one hand a knowledge that has effectively been disciplinarized to form a historical discipline, and on the other hand, a historical consciousness that is polymorphous, divided and combative. It is simply the other side, the other face of a political consciousness’.26 Foucault’s genealogy of the domain of history and politics is trying to say something radically different from the point most intellectual historians would readily concede, namely, the philosophical underpinnings of the two concepts. He is arguing that the emergence of both political and historical consciousnesses was the result, if you like, of ‘a self-dialecticization of historical discourse, and it occurred independently of any explicit transposition — or any explicit utilization of a dialectical philosophy into a historical discourse’.27 So, when in the name of empirical history one criticizes or rejects teleological or dialectical history, the effect is indeed paradoxical; the standpoint of empirical history cannot quite realize that its own intelligibility is being rejected. If the modern citizen cannot anymore understand his or her own historical consciousness or see how the latter grounded his or her ‘abstract’ identity, how can empirical history ground or give a new identity? What opens up here is what I have been calling the
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normative zone. In order to understand how this ‘normative zone’ comes about and how the human sciences contribute to installing new entities in that zone, we urgently need a theory of secularization of Europe. In fact, Foucault’s attempt to genealogically unravel what he calls ‘the permanent anthropologism’ of the West already contains rich material for such a theory: I think that one of the great problems of western culture has been to find the possibility of founding the hermeneutics of the self not, as was in early Christianity, on the sacrifice of the self but, on the contrary, on a positive, on the theoretical and practical emergence of the self. That was the aim of judicial institutions, that was the aim also of medical and psychiatric practices, that was the aim of political and philosophical theory — to constitute the ground of the subjectivity as the root of a positive self, what we could call the permanent anthropologism of Western thought.28
What I have been trying to suggest is that the process of secularization that lays the foundation for the positive self to emerge does so by destroying the practices that had sustained what Foucault calls spiritual knowledge. In this process, what we call ‘theories’ of politics or history emerge as normed reflections, only opaquely related to what they claim to understand. It is possible to enumerate the identical features of ‘theories’ in such normed domains as ‘sexuality’ and ‘caste system’, to which we can now add ‘politics’. I suppose we can now appreciate the full force of the colonial charge that Indian culture lacks history: it lacks politics too; they cannot govern themselves. Politics then needs history in this precise sense, and vice versa. How was the charge met and what did it mean to give oneself politics or history?
VI What I have done so far is to sketch the merest outline of the conceptual story we need to understand the sense in which one can talk about different cultures accessing experience differently and to grasp the different ways in which experience is destroyed, driven underground or rendered inaccessible. But even this outline, potted as it is, is enough to appreciate the significance of the Gandhian question about the experience-occluding structures that begin to disrupt the transmission of ethical leaning in a culture whose ‘bedrock’ is constituted
by experiential knowledge. The questions in this genealogical territory are likely to be formidable conceptually even as they promise new intellectual horizons. For example, because in this culture experiential knowledge quite clearly occupied a far more significant position in social life than in Greco-Roman culture, we need to ask how other modes of knowledge were related to or formed by experiential knowledge. With appropriate philosophical and conceptual equipment such questions can be pursued, but the more urgent question is what has happened to experiential knowledge in this culture — quite clearly it has not disappeared but it is equally clear that it is not accessible. Our self-understanding (and not only as academics, needless to say) too crucially depends on completing the conceptual story about the transformation or destruction of experiential knowledge in the West and its underground existence in India. Gandhi clearly saw that without rearticulating the objective of swaraj, which is impossible to achieve without experiential knowledge, Indians are condemned to cognitive enslavement.
VII Gandhi achieved this insight by accessing what the Indian traditions transmitted as ethical learning or experiential knowledge. It may appear that certain facts and objects — bullock-carts, villages, etc. — were fused into the language-games of these traditions, but only contingently. Gandhi was profoundly right to see colonialism as an onslaught on the integrity of experience itself since the integrity of this language-game was sought to be destroyed. But it seems to me that it is a profound mistake to read him as claiming that those contingent facts or objects are necessary for sustaining ethical learning. To think that is to think that there are objects and practices that are, as it were, peculiarly suited to our interests; that is, to believe that knowledge about the world or propositional knowledge about objects gives us self-knowledge. It is to be ignorant of the nature of intentionality itself. This is not to deny that there is a difficult question here about hospitable structures needed to conceive of living itself as a form of inquiry (as, in fact, the prototype of all inquiry). But that question is not a normative question; it would indeed be reassuring if there were norms or truths that made that inquiry unnecessary. What religion and its secularized counterparts attempt to do is to instil the belief that there are such norms and truths.29 The original sin of ‘original sin’ is to see experience as defective.
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In fashioning his resistance to colonialism, Gandhi realized that the traditions of experiential knowledge itself have been damaged or hollowed out. That is to say, he clearly realized that the transmission of ethical learning has been obstructed, driven underground, and distorted. He was expressing this realization when he argued in Hind Swaraj that India has become irreligious. In recovering its original problematic and in restoring its integrity, he used terminologies and strategies that can often be an obstacle to understanding his insight — I have in mind his use of terms such as ‘religion’, ‘Hinduism’, ‘morality’, or his particular practices. Studies of Gandhi often get caught in shuffling around these terminologies or in speculating on his particular strategies, as though what is important is what Gandhi thought about the world. I have not attempted any terminological reform; it can be undertaken after we get hold of his problematic. In suggesting that what is important is how Gandhi went about reflecting on his experience in a way that enabled him to perform action without conception, I am of course implying that his particular conceptions — about villages or spinning or even the caste system — do not matter all that much. For after all what does the Gita — or the tradition of experiential knowledge from which Gandhi drew his strength — teach: how to think about experience and action and not what to think about.30 The Gita is not a description of the world; it does not contain propositional knowledge about the world or beliefs about the world. No knowledge of the world or the truths about the world helps in the performance of right action. Dharma can only be set by examples; but exemplary action is precisely the one that does not exemplify anything. Exemplary action is action without conception. The sthithaprajna or satyagrahi is the one who knows how to perform action without conception. He or she needs self-knowledge, which is not knowledge about the world and cannot be construed on the model of propositional or factual knowledge. Self-knowledge, however, cannot be taught by examples, although instructions, propositions and actions play a role in the process of realizing truth in experience. Experience or Truth (Sat) is not an object. Objectual thinking brings in predication to bear on experience too, thus making the problem of truth in relation to experience impossible to handle. Truth in experience is attainable precisely because experience is not an object. It is the association of truth with objectual thinking that has made truth an intractable concept. Truth, in the Gandhian sense, is neither a property of sentences nor of propositions; truth-bearers are
neither sentence, nor propositions. Literally, truth-bearers are persons; more accurately, experience is the only truth-bearer. If there is experiential knowledge as a distinct species of knowledge and it involves overcoming of ignorance (avidya), how to think of ignorance? In objectual thinking, ignorance is absence of information. If experience is not an object, what possible sense can there be to the idea that experiential knowledge overcomes ignorance? The answer, I think, is simple: the ignorance here is ignorance about the non-objectual nature of experience. Self-knowledge then has priority, as it were, over propositional knowledge about the world; but self-knowledge is not knowledge about a domain, the psychologized interiority, for example, that the human sciences have brought forth. Again, Gandhi’s concept of swaraj — how one learns to rule oneself — draws from or rearticulates what he regards as the ethical ideas and practices that structure the tradition of learning. For, as he says, learning is first of all learning what is worth knowing: A student means one who is hungry for learning. Learning is knowledge of what is worth knowing about. The only thing worth knowing about is the atman. True knowledge is thus knowledge of the self. But in order to attain this knowledge, one has to know literature, history, geography, mathematics etc. All these are by way of means . . . It is not as if men of knowledge without this equipment do not exist within our experience. One who knows this would not go mad after knowledge of letters or of literature and other subjects; he would become mad only after knowledge of the self. He will give up anything which proves an obstacle in the pursuit of this knowledge and dedicate himself only to that which helps him in that pursuit. The student life of one who realizes this never ends and, whether eating, drinking, sleeping, playing, digging, weaving, spinning or doing any other work, he is all the time growing in this knowledge. For this purpose, one has to develop one’s faculty of observation. One would not then always need a multitude of teachers or, rather, would look upon the whole world as one’s teacher and accept everything in it which is good.31
From his reading of the Gita, Gandhi formulates an extremely subtle conception of the relationship between, to use contemporary terminology, commitment, action and knowledge.32 Inquiry is central to each of them, though the modality of engaging in inquiry is different in each. Each one is a moment in the other: thus commitment is the reiteration of the realization that self-knowledge has no objectual
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or informational dimension which allows one to use objects, in the most general sense, as sites for executing actions (action without conception). Both that realization and the performance of the action constitute an inquiry into how sites can be set up as, or transformed into, sites of learning (the whole world as teacher).33 The integratedness that Gandhi brings to a whole range of domains — family, economy, politics, the natural world — flows from such a conception of reflection and experience. The social for Gandhi is imbued with knowledge in this sense. He could therefore declare: ‘What we have tested and found true on the anvil of experience, we dare not change’.34 His thinking then has to confront (a) whether the social structures that enabled such an ethical stance of learning is still intact and (b) if it is not, how to refashion it, especially in the face of the colonial onslaught, such that the ethical stance and learning can flourish again. It is important to recognize that there is a genuine area of inquiry here that Gandhi was pursuing. Therefore, even if we, as I said before, find Gandhi’s particular conceptions unsatisfactory, it would be both a cognitive and ethical mistake not to pursue that inquiry further. What prevents us from seeing that there is a genuine area of inquiry here is our cognitive enslavement; it even blocks out not only areas to be cognized but, tragically, areas that are embodied knowledge or participate in the knowledge element. Philosophers often speak of the scientific picture of the world — there is no such thing. Therefore, the question — entirely rhetorical — how can one live with false theories, has no bite in the practice of natural sciences.35 But it has a bite, surprising though it may seem, in the human sciences. More carefully put, at some point in the history of the West — perhaps this is the beginning of secularization — what matters is not the truth or falsity of theories, but the ability of theories to authorize statements as true and false (this is the importance of Foucault’s insistence on tracking not true utterances — as he puts it — but the authorization of statements as true and false). This is what he means by the emergence of rationalities: norm-generated/ norm-generating practices (more accurately, structures or activities) and the drive, namely, the theoretical drive to interpret practices as embodying or violating norms. And this moment (to speak in fictitious terms) undoubtedly coincides in the West with the disappearance or destruction of spiritual/experiential knowledge. For scientism, as I have tried to suggest, is the result of the process of secularization
which involves transforming the practical domain by finding truths and truth makers (domains such as sexuality) to interchange with norms. In this sense, at the deepest level, we should be able to see truth and norm as one. It is not the case that the more explicit moral norms transmitted by religion simply disappear; they too exist but their function and scope change. The human sciences emerge as instruments of, and oblique reflections, on the process of secularization. History and politics, to take the two domains that I briefly discussed, present examples of both truth substituting for norms and truth entwining with norms. In fact, the changing relationship between history and politics is itself instructive in this regard. If during and after the Enlightenment, history began to substitute for politics, for much of the last century politics has tried to institute the past through history.36 The question of what space Western concepts of politics and history occupy in India become inescapable once we realize that in India it is the scientism of the human sciences that we suffer from. Since they cannot quite have the normativity they do in the West, in what way do they reproduce cognitive enslavement? Or is it just the case that the domain of politics, like that of education, some how ends up distorting or disrupting the reproduction of the sites of ethical transmission? Cognitive enslavement manifests first of all in the way Indians begin to regard concepts as objects, actions and practices as embodiment of beliefs, norms as a necessary horizon of self-understanding. What in it reinforces avidya/ignorance? What in it insulates reflection from experience? Perhaps one area where we might find some kind of answer is in the domain of representation, understood both politically and theoretically. Representation was indeed a novelty for Indians; and it perhaps still is. Indian intellectuals have thought that completing the representations they inherit is the way to understand the West, hence themselves, without realizing that that process has covered over or rendered mute their own self-understanding. This is a fraught task: completing that representation without the support or rationality that had driven the Western attempt at representation — the result is that they have neither understood the West nor have they have realized what they have lost; the insulation of reflection from experience is near complete. As a consequence, the endless repetition of Western ‘theories’ without any development — no development because the norm-driven character of Western reflection is absent here — or
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an eclectic borrowing of ‘models’ or ‘values’ from Western history/ intellectual tradition. What do you do with the representation when you don’t understand it? When you can’t understand what drives it; what understanding informs it? Our response seems to have been to imitate the action of the colonizers and/or recycle the representations. That there is no understanding of the West is evident from their refusal to see that concepts are not objects; and that their access to tradition is blocked because they refuse to see that what they take to be tradition is their attempt to complete the Western representation of Indian tradition. They want to set up the ‘caste system’ so that they can abolish it; they want to continue to ‘re-form’ Indian traditions so that a fully modern state and institutions can be realized or, if you belong to the alternative modernities camp, democracy can be fully realized. It is through this cognitive attitude, or so it seems to me, that colonialism as action endures and reproduces itself. The interesting question is why didn’t Indian intellectuals take the route of showing what was West’s understanding, such as it was, in its representations. What, if any, was the epistemic and pragmatic value of representation (in history, politics, etc.)? I can now return to the question I posed at the beginning. There is indeed a deep integrity to Gandhi’s thought which derives from his attempt to preserve the integrity of experience. His answer to why colonialism is unethical and his diagnosis of why the West is violent or unethical too flows from the same source, except that in the case of his remarks about why Western civilization is violent and how its presence in India is destructive of the transmission of ethical learning, we need to flesh out his intuitions with an account of the process of secularization in the West. I have merely offered a crude sketch of what we will need to develop. Such concerns are doubtless alien to Indian social and political theories, given their entrapment in normed domains. Hind Swaraj teaches us why these theories have been inhospitable to inquiry. The hope is that by having access to a thinking that recognized, and then found ways to remove, the insulation between reflection and experience, we can begin fresh inquiries into what we have made of our life with concepts. Such inquiries would delve into the kind of learning processes that reproduce themselves in the social and cognitive surrounds obtaining today and investigate whether or not these learning processes have the
potential to create the conditions for the pursuit of ethical learning and self-knowledge — swaraj — to flourish unhindered.
I am grateful to Akeel Bilgrami, Indira Chowdhury, Ashok Dhareshwar and S. N. Balagangadhara for their encouragement and comments. I am aware that I have not been able to do justice to the written comments of both Bilgrami and Balagangadhara on an earlier draft. Since this essay is very much an initial and entirely exploratory statement of how I understand certain Gandhian themes or concerns, I hope to be able to more fully engage with their comments as well as their insights that inform my thinking here in a separate piece. 1. ‘Letter to Esther Menon’, 13 April 1932, The Complete Works of Mahatma Gandhi CD-Rom (New Delhi: Publications Division, Government of India, 2001), vol. 55, p. 233. Henceforth, all references to this work will be cited as CW followed by date, volume and page numbers. For references to Hind Swaraj, I have used the now standard edition, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, ed. Anthony J. Parel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). 2. Akeel Bilgrami, ‘Gandhi, the Philosopher’, Economic and Political Weekly, 27 September 2003, pp. 4159–65. The phrases in my title, though I develop them in my own way, are either taken from Bilgrami’s inspiring essay or are meant to resonate with the concepts discussed in it. 3. Report of ‘Speech at Socialist Hall’, 26 June 1910, CW 11, p. 74. 4. ‘Letter to Mrs. Maddock’, 14 March 1924, CW 27, pp. 53–56. This letter explicitly contrasts the ancient culture of India based on non-violence, which Gandhi says he is trying to save from its ‘impending destruction by modern, that is, Western culture’, which he says is based upon ‘violence’. 5. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, p. 48. 6. Or, maybe not; the very instantaneity might re-establish the space–time configuration. The following discussion should, I hope, make clear these are not facetious questions. 7. Jonathan Lear explores this issue in a subtle way. However, Lear thinks that Aristotle’s conception of happiness is an ‘enigmatic signifier’, the introduction of which brings ‘incompleteness’ and ‘anxiety’ into people’s lives, Jonathan Lear, Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), see especially pp. 8–23. As we shall see later, if this were true, it would mean that intellectual traditions of India and of ancient Greece and Rome were pursuing something chimerical. 8. His remark on history is especially illuminating in this regard: ‘History is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul’, Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, p. 56. In a way, this can be taken as a gloss on what a genealogical inquiry can do to history.
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9. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, pp. 43, 49. 10. Again we should not be misled by Gandhi’s use of the word ‘religion’. I am greatly indebted to the work of S. N. Balagangadhara, ‘The Heathen in Blindness…’ Asia, the West and the Dynamic of Religion (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994); ‘How to Speak for the Indian Traditions: An Agenda for the Future’, Journal of American Academy of Religion, vol. 73, no. 4, December 2005, pp. 987–1013; and ‘On Ignorance or Avidya’, 2005, http://groups.yahoo.com/ group/TheHeathenInHisBlindness/files/(accessed 29 September 2009) for my understanding of religion and tradition, which I have elaborated elsewhere (see Vivek Dhareshwar, ‘Valorizing the Present: Orientalism, Postcoloniality and the Human Sciences’, Cultural Dynamics, vol. 10, no. 2, July 1998, pp. 211–31). Balagangadhara introduced the term ‘experience-occlusion’ in a slightly different, but related, context, to theorize the notion of avidya/ignorance (see Balagangadhara, ‘How to Speak for the Indian Traditions’). I have deliberately refrained from defining ‘experience’, letting the concept acquire its range as the argument unfolds. It would not in any case help matter if I were to say that I am using it to explicate Gandhi’s remarks, almost always left unelaborated, on atman, Sat and satyagraha. The really challenging task, for which this essay can be seen as a prelude, is to develop the form of knowledge that can provide the critical conceptual and practitional content for these terms. Let me, however, note here that I use the word as a translation of anubhava — which literally means in accord with or after (anu-) happening (bhava). In many of the intellectual traditions in India, self-knowledge is passage from anu-bhava to anu-bhaava, achieved through reflection/action/ commitment. 11. For an emphatic statement, see his important article, ‘Neither a Saint nor a Politician,’ in Young India, 12 May 1920, CW 20, p. 304. 12. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, p. 42. Hence his remark: ‘Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads, so long as we reach the same goal? Wherein is the cause for quarelling?’, ibid., p. 53. 13. We are familiar with one kind of scientism, the one which draws on the natural sciences to offer a picture, a description or even a theory of problems and phenomena that the natural sciences themselves would not think of as falling within their ambit (e.g., the problem of consciousness and of intentionality). There is another kind of scientism which has not been recognized, namely, scientism of the human sciences. Why has this gone unrecognized? Among the many reasons that we will explore in some detail elsewhere, one has to do with the peculiarity or more precisely the asymmetry between the two scientisms. Unlike in the case of the familiar kind of scientism, this scientism is not an illegitimate extension from a legitimate field of inquiry; the so-called human sciences are themselves creators and carriers of scientism. It is the scientism of the human sciences that, in my reading, Foucault was struggling to bring to light (see section V of this essay). Once we begin to see the conceptual
19. 20. 21.
22. 23. 24. 25. 26.
and historical connection between scientism and secularization process, the vacuity of the modernity frame will become evident. Bilgrami’s distinction between first-person and third-person perspective offers a philosophically novel way of understanding the first kind of scientism, Akeel Bilgrami, Self-knowledge and Resentment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006). In his forthcoming book on Gandhi, Bilgrami employs this distinction to philosophically explicate Gandhian understanding of nature and democracy. It is an intriguing question how my discussion of experience and experienceexcluding structures matches up with Bilgrami’s perspectival dualism. I discuss many of these issues in greater detail in my ‘Two Scientisms’ (forthcoming). Some of these characteristics are noticeable on what Richard Rorty called, not without irony, the ‘cultural left’, and they perhaps also explain why people located in it often tend to behave like militants in an imaginary party (to borrow Sartre’s vivid description of Camus). One of the reasons it is appropriate to talk of the scientism of the human sciences. ‘Letter to Maganlal Gandhi’, 25 July 1918, CW 17, p. 150. We could multiply references to such remarks. In reading such remarks it is too easy to dismiss them as part of what Bilgrami rightly terms ‘the porridge of saintly rhetoric’ in Gandhi’s writing, Akeel Bilgrami, ‘Gandhi, the Philosopher’, p. 4161. But that would be a great error, since invariably there is a startling perception clothed in terms and metaphors that often mislead. Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the College de France, 1981–1982, trans. Graham Burchell (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject, p. 251. Foucault very perspicuously notes that in European history, the opposition is not between and science and spirituality but between religion and spirituality. As we will see later, it is not surprising then that the secularization of religious structures become hostile to spiritual knowledge. For an insightful theorization of why religion and tradition are distinct kinds, see Balagangadhara, ‘How to Speak for the Indian Traditions’. Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject, p. 12. Ibid., pp. 308–9. Michel Foucault, ‘The Political Technology of Individuals’, in Power: The Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, vol. 3, ed. James D. Faubion (London: Penguin, 2000), p. 416. Ibid., p. 407. Ibid., pp. 413–14. Ibid., p. 416; emphases added. Michel Foucault, ‘Society Must be Defended’: Lectures at the College de France, 1975–1976, trans. David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003). Foucault, ‘Society Must be Defended’, p. 186. Although I cannot discuss it here, the most startling claim Foucault makes is that the concept of the nation,
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created by the nobility deploying the ‘historico-political discourse’ against the monarchy, gives rise to both the notion of race and class, ibid., p. 134. Foucault, ‘Society Must be Defended’, p. 237. Michel Foucault, ‘About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self ’, in Religion and Culture, ed. Jeremy R. Carrette (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), p. 180. Foucault himself never uses the term ‘secularization’, but it has been my contention for a while that we see Foucault’s later work as tracking the effects of secularization in very different domains of European culture. Although Foucault’s work gets hold of the strange creature ‘normativity’, he is unable to see its relationship to religion, essentially because he has no theory of religion. Charles Taylor’s mammoth work on secularization becomes a tedious retelling of familiar intellectual history of Europe, because of his minimalist attempt to understand religion in terms of the transcendent/immanent distinction. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007). This minimalist attempt, which he calls ‘prudent (cowardly)’ (ibid., p. 15) — strange choice of adverbs for a cognitive enterprise! — is deeply problematic because the distinction is internal to specifically Catholic theology. However, Taylor shows no awareness of the theoretical difficulty in employing theology to study religion! We are, in short, asked to accept the self-description of religion! On this, in some ways the most difficult question of how to study religion, see Balagangadhara, The Heathen in Blindness, pp. 242–62. Indeed the bullshitter, who has figured prominently in Bilgrami’s essay cited in n. 2, is precisely the one who believes in and seeks such ‘norms’ and ‘truths’. The politically correct person is a bullshitter in this sense. He is a collection of truths/norms; what he avoids is inquiry. One can see why Gandhi emphasized the vrat of aparigrha or non-possession: collection of ‘truths’ as much as collection of things is a form of avidya or ignorance. See his discussion of Ashram observances, especially aparigraha or non-possession, CW 56, p. 142. ‘At the present moment, though I am reading many things, Bhagavad Gita is becoming more and more the only infallible guide, the only dictionary of reference, in which I find all the sorrows, all the troubles, all the trials arranged in the alphabetical order with exquisite solutions . . . That book is not a historical record, but it is the record of the concrete experience of its author, whether it was really Vyas or not I am not concerned. And if it is a record of anybody’s experience, it must not be beyond us to be able to test the truth of it by repeating the experience. I am testing the truth almost everyday in my life and find it never failing. This of course does not mean that I have reached the state described, for instance, at the end of the Second Chapter. But I know that the more we carry out the prescription given to it, the nearer do we answer the description given of the perfect state’, CW 39, p. 450. ‘Letter to Students’, CW 19, pp. 199–200. Also see CW 55, pp. 310–11, pp. 333–34 for illuminating remarks about non-objectual nature of self-knowledge.
32. The meaning of the root bhaj is appropriately captured as ‘to commit’. 33. ‘The true meaning of bhakti is search for the atman. When the atman realizes itself, bhakti is transformed into jnana’, ‘Letter to Jamnadas Gandhi’, 2 February 1913, CW 13, p. 191. 34. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, p. 66. 35. For a useful discussion of this point, see Bas C. Van Fraassen, The Empirical Stance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), p. 63. In the human sciences, concepts refuse to go away even when the theories that developed them die out, testifying thereby to the scientistic character of the humans sciences. 36. Hannah Arendt, The Promise of Politics (New York: Schocken Books, 2005); Reinhart Koselleck, Critique and Crisis: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988); Foucault, Society Must be Defended.
4 Moral Perfection and Political Participation The Indian ‘Millions’ in Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj M M
andhi’s advocacy of non-violence is the part of his legacy that is most cherished by the modern liberal imagination. There are various ideological and practical reasons why this is so, but perhaps the most important philosophical commitment that Gandhi’s non-violent resistance stands for in this regard is the possibility that a claim to political and democratic rights ultimately rests not on the assertion of power based on force, but rather on the recognition of moral truth accessible to all. This view of the significance of Gandhi’s defence of non-violence suggests that the cultivation of ahimsa is directed primarily at bringing about a moral change in one’s opponents. In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi’s most fully formed argument for a non-violent approach to the struggle for national freedom, a different dimension is emphasized. Here, the use of non-violence is promoted as the only way of developing the moral fitness that is required to properly take up one’s rights. This notion, of the moral fitness or perfection of the people engaged in political struggle, raises interesting difficulties for a democratic political outlook. The ideas that a people can be found to be morally wanting, and that this inadequacy can disqualify them from genuine self-rule, are troubling from a perspective that treats democratic governance as a right. The corresponding call for moral improvement, in turn, begs the questions of who can identify and then bring about the necessary reforms in the moral condition of the people. In this essay, I hope to show in some detail how this tension,
between moral perfection and participatory politics, arises for Gandhi in Hind Swaraj. In doing so, I wish to raise broader questions about the kind of attitude towards the demos that is sometimes presumed by a democratic outlook: does a commitment to democratic norms imply an attitude of moral approval towards the people? Can one engage in a thoroughgoing moral critique of a culture and its members, and yet remain genuinely committed to participatory politics? These questions are not merely theoretical puzzles. Rather, they are implicitly or explicitly raised whenever we question the moral effects of modernity, particular traditions or economic systems on the people. While we often encounter armchair as well as academic judgements that question the compatibility of an historically existing culture with democratic government, the questions just enumerated are of a different order. They seek to explore the relationship between the project of a moral critique or evaluation of a people, which stems from the notion that we can understand political phenomena only by looking at the moral condition of the people,1 and a commitment to egalitarian popular participation in government.
II Moral Critique, Democracy and Political Change In 1910, Gandhi published Hind Swaraj as a rejoinder against activists in the Indian independence movement who promoted armed resistance as a necessary and viable route to national freedom.2 The dialogue seeks to provide a philosophical justification for the adoption of non-violence and non-cooperation as the only effective methods for achieving the goals of the nationalist struggle. In order to show why this is the case, Gandhi attempts to lay the groundwork by providing answers to two important questions: what is the true swaraj, or freedom, that is worth attaining? Also, what is the reason that this freedom is presently lacking in India? Gandhi agrees with Tolstoy’s views, expressed in his ‘Letter to a Hindu’, which Gandhi translated into Gujarati, in placing the reponsibility for India’s loss of freedom on Indians themselves.3 The British could not possibly have obtained political and economic control of India without the willing participation and even agreement of Indians. Why would Indians have agreed to cede control over their homeland to a foreign power? It must be because they have been
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infected by a modern way of life, an ethical outlook that privileges material accumulation as the highest good. The true obstacle to Indian freedom, it follows, is not British military force, but rather a condition of the mind that has collectively affected Indians. True freedom, then, most fundamentally means regaining an ethical outlook based in duty and service to humanity that will better orient Indians towards their own wellbeing and free them from the destructive effects of the obsession with material gain that marks modern industrial society. Thus, Hind Swaraj turns out to be, in addition to a rejection of violence in politics, also a critique of what Gandhi terms ‘modern civilization’. One aspect of this critique concerns modern technology, developments in areas of printing, transport, communication and medicine, among others. A second aspect concerns the modern conduct of politics. Within Gandhi’s discussion of modern politics, there is, first, a critique of the centrality of violence to the nation state. Pursuing independence through methods of violence will lead to the creation of a state that relies on the monopoly of the use of violence within its borders and against its neighbours in order to maintain its authority. Such a state, according to Gandhi, cannot ultimately be considered to be free. Second, and less noted, in Chapter Five of Hind Swaraj Gandhi also rejects British parliamentary democracy. Gandhi’s arguments against parliamentary democracy point to its ineffectiveness: ‘That parliament has not, of its own accord, done a single good thing’.4 The reason for this is not the nature of the institution, but the character of its members: ‘Each thinks of his own little interest. It is fear that is the guiding motive’.5 Members of parliament are motivated by the interests of the party they belong to, and the discipline that it exercises to this effect. As a result, representatives will take whatever position they think will ensure electoral success for the party, and so the parliament’s decisions will be often reversed, swinging between opposing extremes. This inconstancy is, importantly, a reflection of the British people: ‘as are the people, so is their parliament’.6 The inability of the British people to develop a coherent and principled view of what is good, their tendency to be swayed by whoever is more powerful, whoever can offer more material benefits, is to be found at every level: in the individual, in the popular media, and in political organizations. Gandhi’s conclusion is somewhat troubling from a democratic perspective: ‘If the money and time wasted by Parliament were entrusted to a few good men, the English nation would be today occupying a much higher platform’.7
Gandhi’s critique of parliamentary democracy, then, is inseparable from his moral critique of modern civilization as it has developed in British society. Indeed, Gandhi is applying a general principle of political philosophy that is of central importance to his thought, though not often noted as such: ‘I believe that after all a people has the government it deserves’.8 This claim is disconcerting for those of us raised in the age of liberal interventionism that extends sympathy (sometimes in the form of money and arms) to people longing for freedom from tyrannical governments. It implies that there is no sense in speaking of a right to democratic government. The lack of political representation for a people is not a case of political entitlements being denied by corrupt powers, but rather a case of those entitlements not having been earned, or deserved, through the development of the requisite moral capacities. The point is not simply that the workings of government broadly reflect the opinions of the people. Rather, even the type of government that is established reflects not so much the people’s opinions but rather their moral character: ‘The political form is but a concrete expression of that [average individual’s] soul-force’.9 It is worth noting here that this principle, which posits, first, a moral correspondence between individual and type of government while, second, giving explanatory priority to the former, is not unique to Gandhi. In fact, it is commonly invoked whenever we seek to find the basis for a particular institutional arrangement by looking at the moral and cultural characteristics exhibited by the people.10 But we find it rather clearly expressed in the political writings of an early critic of democracy, Plato.11 In the context of popular rule, Plato argues that the politician can gain power only through becoming a master of flattery, that is, learning to reinforce rather than challenge the demos’ conception of the good. In order to befriend the demos in this way, the politician who seeks to rule cannot merely appear to be like the people; he must truly become like them, that is, adopt their conception of the good.12 Plato’s point here is similar to Gandhi’s with regard to parliamentary democracy: politicians in such a system strive to please the people by telling them what they want to hear. Thus, if what the people say they want reflects a false or incoherent view of their own good, then this will be adopted by the government, which will, as a result, not bring about anything of lasting value. Both Plato and Gandhi, however, raise a further question, asking how it is that a people come to be governed by a given political system, democracy for example. Thus, it is not only the case, on their view, that
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a democratic system reflects the moral character of the people through its decisions, but the very existence of a particular kind of democracy is itself an indication of a prevailing feature of the people’s moral identity. In Book Eight of The Republic, Plato says it is with the birth of a democratic man from oligarchic parentage, a man bent on escaping any kind of rule over himself, that the democratic regime is born. It is not only democracy, Plato suggests, but all forms of government that are in correspondence with the moral condition of the people, or some class of the people, who constitute the polis.13 For Plato, as for Gandhi, the critique of a given government is inseparable from a moral critique of the people. On Gandhi’s view, just as the failure of parliamentary democracy points to the moral failure of the English people, the colonial government of the British in India points to the moral failings of the Indians. Plato and Gandhi are both concerned with establishing the moral identity that prevails under given conditions among a people. That is, they seek to define a political community by identifying it with a particular moral outlook. It is this prevailing moral character that explains the ills that occur at a concrete level: political, military and economic failures or successes. It is important to understand the way in which this type of analysis of the relationship between the people and their polity is distinct from the liberal view. The latter takes a procedural approach in relating an elected government of representatives with the will of the people. On Plato and Gandhi’s view, however, the relation is not the outcome of a procedure, but rather expresses a moral correspondence that is not voluntary. The government will reflect the character of the people, even if the people do not want it to, even if the people are not clearly aware of the nature of their own character. The critique of democracy, both ancient and modern, that is hinted at in this more general claim about politics is that the workings of the democracy will reflect the pathologies and moral shortcomings of the people rather than provide a forum in which to resolve them. On this view, a political philosophy that ignores the way in which systems of government reflect the moral ills that plague individuals in communities cannot provide us with an adequate way of addressing these deep-rooted problems. For both Gandhi and Plato, then, theorizing political change involves imagining a community with a perfected moral identity which stakes its togetherness on the basis of this shared moral identity. In Plato’s case, this imagining takes place in words: the project of
The Republic and its elaboration of an ideal system of education and rearing. It is at the very core an elitist conception of politics, calling for the exercise of moral and political leadership by enlightened, philosophical, rulers.14 Plato is keenly aware that moral leadership and reform cannot be reconciled with mass politics. The pursuit of moral perfection must be undertaken at a careful remove from the pressures of popular politics. Gandhi, however, undertakes to forge a moral identity for an existing, or rather emerging, nation, India, in the context of the popular struggle for independence. In the rest of this essay, I want to look into the ways in which this project, whose manifesto is Hind Swaraj, comes into tension with participatory politics, for though Gandhi attempts to avoid the elitist implications of Plato’s understanding of political transformation, he is not ultimately successful in doing so.
III Moral Perfection and Indian Tradition in Hind Swaraj In the Preface to the English translation of Hind Swaraj, Gandhi says: ‘The British Government in India constitutes a struggle between the Modern Civilization, which is the Kingdom of Satan, and the Ancient Civilization, which is the Kingdom of God’.15 The encounter between India and British colonialism, involving two historically situated and internally heterogeneous societies, is rendered as a conflict between the abstract principles of War and Love. The obstacle to freedom is an ideology, a modern, materialist ethical outlook that privileges the accumulation of wealth over the performance of moral duty. But neither this ‘false’ civilization, which is adhered to by many British as well as Indians, nor its ‘true’ counterpart is an intrinsic feature of national character. Individuals as well as nations have the ability, should they choose to exercise it, to resist the temptations of modern civilization and cultivate the moral duty that lies at the basis of traditional life. It is in the exercise of this duty, Gandhi holds, that one becomes properly self-determining and free, taking the pursuit of truth rather than material wealth as one’s guide. The struggle for independence therefore requires, at root, the personal cultivation of moral duty by Indians, and the careful avoidance and cleansing of a modern, materialist ethos from the Indian psyche. Attaining freedom does not mean ridding India of the British by any means necessary,
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as the dialogue’s interlocutor contends, but rather getting rid of an ethical orientation that has become dominant. This is related to Gandhi’s diagnosis of India’s loss of freedom. Gandhi, as we have seen, follows Tolstoy’s ‘Letter to a Hindu’ in holding that India was not taken by the British by force, but rather given up by Indians who acceded to the temptations of modern civilization. Gandhi, like Tolstoy, compares Indians to drunkards who blame the barkeeper. But it is the drunkard who has sought out the barkeeper’s services. Similarly, it is the Indians, according to Gandhi, who have welcomed the British for their commerce, along with British methods of adjudicating internal disputes.16 This is a key premise in arguing for non-cooperation and against armed struggle as a suitable means for attaining independence. Indians lost their freedom because they caved in to the temptations of modern civilization and thus to the demands of the British. They came to see physical force and material wealth as the true signs of power and so relinquished their own moral strength. The key task in the independence struggle requires the recuperation of this moral strength. Whatever one chooses to make of this understanding of India’s colonization, it is important to note a tension that underlies it. If India has lost its way, just as Europe did in the past, then it is difficult to see what the independence struggle has to do with something currently existing in India. Gandhi is asking Indians to fight for an ethical ideal that is, apparently, no longer any more Indian than it is British. Why should Indians take up the struggle for a discarded ‘ancient’ and ‘true’ civilization as their own? It seems paradoxical to call on Indians to undertake a defence of a way of life, which, even if Gandhi regards it as morally superior to any other, Indians have already rejected according to Gandhi’s own analysis. The nationalist movement is grounded in the concept of India as a nation and Indians as an historical people who have a right to self-rule. Its goal is the achievement of a modern nation state — a goal which Hind Swaraj attempts to discourage. On the other hand, the defence of ancient civilization points to a cosmopolitan outlook, for it is defined by a personal moral ideal that should be extended to all humanity, just as the British empire has tried to spread modern civilization across all parts of the globe. While the first kind of goal is conceived within the strict temporal settings of international political exchanges, the latter must be thought of as an on-going development, a lengthy process that one cannot, for example, promise will be achieved within the decade, or even the
year, as Gandhi had once promised regarding India’s freedom, or by a particular group or nation. One way in which this tension becomes apparent is that the aim of spiritual perfection according to a universal ideal of moral truth can succeed even if the nationalist struggle should fail. The achievement of spiritual perfection is seen as a necessary condition for true freedom in India, but the converse is not the case. The achievement of homerule in India is not a necessary condition for bringing moral truth to light in the world. In fact, if home-rule is achieved by adopting the violence characteristic of modern nation states, it is incompatible with promoting a universal ideal of non-violence that is the basis for the pursuit of moral truth. In an extreme case, it would be preferable to court physical destruction of the nation while openly adhering to an ethic of love and non-violence. For, even if the nation should perish, its principles would remain as an example for the rest of humanity to emulate.17 Gandhi is, first and foremost, committed to the achievement of the moral good on a transnational scale. From this standpoint, though, it is not immediately clear why the moral struggle to attain spiritual perfection is particularly connected with Indian independence. Neither the relevance of the struggle nor its success seems to be determined by national belonging.18 Further, if the ‘ancient’ civilization is no longer the organizing principle of Indian life, as the loss of freedom seems to confirm, then there is little ground for identifying the nationalist movement with the defence of a traditional ethic that is, under existing conditions, no more Indian than modern civilization is. Gandhi is able to avoid these difficulties by attributing the loss of Indian independence to a minority of Indians who have adopted a materialist ethos and have thus become beholden to the British. The British government of India, then, is not an expression of the ‘soulforce’ of all, or even most, Indians, but that of a small, elite minority. It is the members of this elite who must struggle to overcome their moral failure. The Indian ‘millions’, on the other hand, untouched and unmoved by modern civilization, continue to adhere to a traditional ethic of duty. They represent the tradition that the political elite in the nationalist movement must take as their example. But this approach leads Gandhi to adopt a deeply problematic conception of the Indian people. First, they are the embodiment of moral perfection and the freedom from modern civilization which is the goal of the nationalist struggle. In this way, they serve as an ideal that is external to the struggle itself. At the same time, second, the village traditions that
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are to serve as an example and ideal are not easily reconciled with the pursuit of moral truth which is normally seen as the domain of a spiritual elite. The Indian people are thus both idealized and yet unrecognizable in this ideal. When Gandhi opposes a ‘satanic’ modern Western way of life against a godly ancient Indian civilization, he does not mean to suggest that material wealth was not pursued by Indians before they encountered Europeans. But he does hold that this pursuit was, if not at the level of the individual then at the level of socially sanctioned and elevated ideology, always held in check by the ideal of performing moral duty.19 It is not the wealthy merchant or ruler who is celebrated in the ancient imagination, but rather the ascetic who pursues truth at the expense of his physical wellbeing. This ideal, normally reserved for the rare sage, Gandhi goes on to suggest, should be transferred from the context of asceticism and its virtues of truthfulness and detachment applied to the life of public service. By positing Indian tradition, in the form of a conflation between a renunciant ideal and village life, as the source of an ethical approach that gives a central place to the performance of moral duty, Gandhi attempts to connect a universal moral struggle with a nationalist discourse rooted in a populist appeal. One aspect of Gandhi’s depiction of the true political actor draws on the mystical power of the Indian sage, or sanyasi, emphasizing the active and powerful nature of the satyagrahi. He is described as the ‘king of the forest’ who withers the enemy with his mere glance.20 While this analogy (which appears strange for the practitioner of non-violence) might bring to mind the law of the jungle, Gandhi is attempting to co-opt for the satyagrahi the appearance of virility in armed action. Gandhi identifies the satyagrahi with the true ruler. His moral firmness causes despair in his would-be oppressor. He suggests in various places that if a single man truly attained swaraj, then all of India would be free, or that if a few men approximated swaraj in themselves, it would descend upon India as if from heaven. He describes the all-powerful quality of active thought issuing forth from pure truth as enabling the sage to think his will into existence. But the figure of the sage, associated in Indian tradition with the ascetic pursuit of a few otherworldly individuals is presented by Gandhi as a basis for conceiving of the engaged political activity of the many. Gandhi further complicates this depiction of a contemplative life by relating it to traditional village life. The Indian ‘millions’, Gandhi says, are untouched by civilization. Their ‘slavery’ is the result of the
actions of the few leaders who have given India away for their own purported benefit. At the same time, Gandhi argues that the many (villagers and peasants) who are exploited have nonetheless maintained the traditional ethical outlook of the ancient civilization which teaches good conduct above all else. They are already passive resisters: ‘They do not know the use of the sword, and they are not frightened by the use of it by others’.21 ‘The fact is’, he writes, ‘in India, the nation at large has generally used passive resistance in all departments of life’.22 This would seem to imply that the un-westernized villagers already in fact enjoy swaraj in the personal sense. Their economic self-reliance is being challenged, but they have not lost the traditional sense of duty as a guide to action. In positing the inhabitants of a pre-existing pristine India as true passive resisters, it seems that Gandhi is suggesting that the many, like the sage, are already free. But while the masses may already be well-oriented towards dharma, or duty, it would not seem fitting to describe them as seekers after truth.23 The tension between passive resistance as an ideal that is difficult for any to attain, a route to true self-control and individual freedom, and passive resistance as an already existing way of life among the majority of Indians is evident in the list of virtues that Gandhi says are required for true passive resistance. These include perfect chastity, adopting poverty, following truth and cultivating fearlessness.24 In treating these personal virtues, which echo some of the vows traditionally taken by yogis upon taking up an ascetic calling, as conditions for political action, Gandhi clearly draws a relation between the true politician or passive resister and, not the average villager, but rather the specialist renunciant sanyasi or sage. Gandhi could not have held that these are virtues that are naturally practised by most Indians, however little they may have been influenced by modern civilization. This is, perhaps, most telling in the case of chastity, or brahmacharya, for regarding sex Gandhi says: ‘Such an indulgence, except for perpetuating the race, is strictly prohibited. But a passive resister has to avoid even that very limited indulgence because he can have no desire for progeny’.25 While the conditions of passive resistance are opposed to the privileging of material comfort, and thus Gandhi’s view of modern civilization, they are not thereby easily accommodated by traditional Indian life, though they may appear less alien from this standpoint.26 However, it is one thing to say that Indian traditional life provides a framework, both ethical and institutional, for the practice of ascetic virtues by a few dedicated individuals,27 and quite another to suggest
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that these virtues both have been and should be practised on a large scale, particularly in the context of a political movement.28 Thus, rather than merely state that the roots of passive resistance can be found, for example, in scripture or in heroic historical cases, Gandhi attributes the ideal qualities of the true passive resister to the majority of Indian people. This conflation results from three related commitments that are key to Gandhi’s analysis in Hind Swaraj. First, as we have seen, he holds that the struggle for Indian independence concerns a moral struggle against an ethical orientation towards material acquisition. This thesis is expressed in terms that are ahistorical, and concerns not only what an independent India should be, but how all humanity should live. It is only incidentally concerned with the problem of British rule, since the grip of a materialist ethos does not depend on a particular government being in power. Second, Gandhi makes the quasi-historical claim that modern civilization has been introduced by the British with the compliance of their elite collaborators. Thus, Gandhi casts the struggle for independence in terms of regaining control of a national heritage, a way of life, understood in purely moral terms. Third, this idealized moral heritage is cast in terms that reflect Gandhi’s populism, that is, his determination to identify India with its suffering millions.29 Gandhi’s view of the struggle for independence concerns the rights of the most exploited rather than those of the elite who are denied positions of power. In identifying the aim of independence, and thus India, on the one hand with a timeless ethos and on the other with the Indian masses who have been betrayed by their leaders and exploited by foreign rulers, Gandhi in turn identifies the Indian masses with the ethical orientation that he presents as the ‘true’ ancient civilization, an ethic of duty rather than acquisition. Gandhi’s attempt to combine both the ideals of traditional village society and of the specialist spiritual practitioner is representative of a deeper duality in his political thought.30 While the struggle for independence concerns the Indian masses, in a fundamental way it does not involve them. They represent the moral ideal to which the fallen should aspire. At the same time, they provide the canvas on which the rehabilitation of the elite through constructive work can be practised. For Gandhi, it seems that the quest for truth has a redemptive function particularly relevant to those who have adopted a false view of the moral good in the form of modern civilization. But while the practices of the villagers point towards the moral truth, the many are not themselves in reality fit to actively lead in the pursuit of a moral ideal.
For, as we have seen, the ideal of the sage, the seeker after truth, cannot be easily reconciled with the lives of ordinary villagers.
IV Conclusion: Moral Critique, Expertise and Democracy Hind Swaraj is, despite views to the contrary, not a call to the masses but rather to the Indian political elite. Referring to this westernized elite, Gandhi says: ‘Through our slavery the nation has been enslaved, and it will be free with our freedom’. Further: ‘Only the fringe of the ocean has been polluted, and it is those who are within the fringe who alone need cleansing’.31 The transformation that is a condition of freedom thus does not primarily involve the Indian ‘millions’. They are conceived to have done their part merely by being who they are. Political action, for Gandhi in Hind Swaraj, remains the domain of the elite who have traditionally had access to power. Hind Swaraj does not fundamentally challenge the identity of India’s political leaders in favour of mass involvement, rather it provides an alternate conception of what their activity should consist in and aim at. From his idealization of the masses, Gandhi does not draw the conclusion that they should actively lead the nationalist movement. There are several possible explanations for this,32 but I would like to suggest one line of thought that follows from the considerations I have just discussed. In presenting the struggle for national independence as the defence of a moral ideal, Gandhi, as we have seen, attempts to locate this ideal as actually present in the lives and traditions of ordinary villagers. But this leads Gandhi to adopt a view of the masses that denies them political agency. For if he were to attribute to them a leading role in defining India’s politics under colonization, as engaged with the British, this would require that he apply to them as well the principle that a people has the government that it deserves. This in turn would imply that the masses too bear responsibility for the state of India’s politics. From this it would follow that modern civilization has taken root at all levels in Indian society, and thus the ancient civilization is no longer present as an active force in India. It would, further, present the impractical task of undertaking a far-reaching moral reform of an entire society. In order to shield, as it were, the masses from the principle of moral correspondence between the people and the polity, Gandhi places them outside the realm of political action, of direct
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engagement with British rule, and posits them instead as a pristine entity representing the moral ideal that is to be attained by all. The dilemma faced by Gandhi raises important considerations about the place of a moral critique of society within a democratic conception of politics. On the one hand, he seeks to challenge the modern liberal notion that treats self-rule as an abstract right, viewing it instead as a right that must be earned through the performance of the corresponding duty. On the other, he holds that entire groups of people have failed in the performance of this duty, that is, they have lost the ability to rule themselves. Gandhi reconciles the principle that a people’s moral outlook is reflected in their government, and the moral critique it engenders, with the possibility of Indian self-rule by calling for the moral reform of India’s elite and positing the moral strength of the masses. As we have seen, however, the latter position does not provide the conceptual basis for egalitarian participatory politics. It is tempting to assume that an analysis of political and social ills that points to the moral inadequacy of the people is abidingly elitist, suggesting the need for a class of moral superiors to correct those who have gone astray, thus challenging one of the bases of a democratic approach to politics. But the preceding reading of Hind Swaraj shows that even a resolutely positive judgement regarding the people’s moral understanding can lead to an ambivalence towards participatory democratic ideals. This suggests that the source of the tension between these ideals and a moral critique of the demos is not simply the result of a negative appraisal of the people’s moral condition. Indeed, it is not so much the content of the appraisal that supports or challenges the possibility of democratic politics, but rather the manner in which it is made. Like Plato, Gandhi cannot resist the role of doctor or diagnostician, along with the political use of the metaphors of body, health and medical treatment. These run throughout Hind Swaraj, which aims to reveal for the impatient Reader, the interlocutor of the dialogue, the true unperceived source of his discontent with British rule. The ‘doctor’, however, is not afflicted by the condition that his patient suffers from; rather he points to a cause of the ailment that the patient cannot directly perceive. Even when the diagnosis is encouraging, a bill of good health, the patient’s own more nuanced and particular account of his sense of his own wellbeing or lack of it is not developed. Moral critique is conducted, like medical discourse, from the starting point of expertise. The moral appraisal of the demos conducted in this
diagnostic manner is what seems to treat the moral character of the people as a given in politics rather than as a dynamic and active force that must be internally understood, acted upon and transformed. Indeed, a people genuinely engaged in moral self-evaluation, including the development of institutions and practices that allow for such an evaluation, are unlikely to adopt either the pessimism apparent in some of Plato’s works, or Gandhi’s idealization. The principle of moral correspondence and the critique of popular morality provide a promising basis for an authentic conception of democracy, which sees political rule as intrinsically and not just procedurally tied to the deepest moral commitments of a people. It thus also gives rise to political reasons for engaging in a continuing re-appraisal of these commitments that is not based merely on the need for reconciling competing interests. While this re-appraisal must draw on existing traditions, the latter cannot be treated as a model of moral perfection and the basis of moral expertise — nor as a symbol of moral or intellectual failure — if those who in some way adhere to the tradition are to engage in the real democratic work of moral self-critique.
D Notes 1. This assumption, on which there is more in the following discussion, is important to moralists as different as Plato, Thoreau and Gandhi but is also raised by less committed moralists in popular political discourse. 2. Gandhi describes this as the aim of the booklet in the English preface of March 1910. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi [CWMG], vol. 10, p. 458, available at www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/cwmg.html (accessed 22 June 2009). The question of violence had been made particularly relevant by the assassination of Curzon Wylie, the political aide to the secretary of state for India, by Madan Lal Dhingra in July 1909. Gandhi cites this event as an example of the use of violence for political ends ‘in its worst and most detestable form’ in his ‘Preface to Leo Tolstoy’s “Letter to a Hindoo”’, 19 November 1909, CWMG, vol. 10, p. 243. Dhingra is also referred to in Chapter 15 of Hind Swaraj as a patriot blinded by love. It is from this chapter that I have drawn the use of the term ‘millions’ for the title of this essay: ‘Whom do you suppose to free by assassination? The millions of India do not desire it. Those who are intoxicated by the wretched modern civilization think these things’, CWMG, vol. 10, p. 285. 3. See Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy Letters, ed. B. Srinivasa Murthy (Long Beach, CA: Long Beach Publications, 1987).
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4. CWMG, vol. 10, p. 256. Gandhi here uses the infamous analogies of a sterile woman and a prostitute to describe the parliament. 5. Some of Gandhi’s remarks on parliamentary democracy appear similar to Schmitt’s in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. Ellen Kennedy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988). Gandhi’s focus on the lack of a coherent and consistent vision of the moral good among the people and their leaders as the cause of difficulties, however, is rather different from Schmitt’s diagnosis. 6. CWMG, vol. 10, p. 257. 7. CWMG, vol. 10, pp. 256–57. 8. Gandhi quoted in Stephen Hay, ed., Sources of Indian Tradition, vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), p. 257. 9. Ibid. 10. One example is Amartya Sen’s ‘The Argumentative Indian’ in The Argumentative Indian (London: Penguin, 2005), where he posits a culture of argumentation as an explanation of the resiliency of Indian democracy. 11. Gandhi read some Plato, and translated the Apology into Gujarati around the same time that he published Hind Swaraj. On the point we are concerned with, it is not my claim that Gandhi directly encountered it in Plato’s writings. 12. Plato Gorgias 513b. For a helpful discussion of this passage and some of the larger issues raised by it, see Rachana Kamtekar, ‘The Profession of Friendship: Callicles, Democratic Politics, and Rhetorical Education in Plato’s Gorgias’, Ancient Philosophy, vol. 25, no. 2, Fall 2005, pp. 319–39. 13. Democracy for Plato is reactionary at root, established through fear and violence and its core ideology informed by a response to economic exploitation and control. It valorizes freedom in the sense of licence in contrast to the methodical accumulation of wealth practised by oligarchs. The democratic mentality reacts against oligarchic ‘thriftiness’, that is, it rejects any form of moderation or control with a vengeance, and adopts in its place extravagance of appetites and pleasures without any standards for distinguishing between which pleasures are better or worse. 14. In the Seventh Letter 326a-b Plato says: ‘I was forced to say, in praise of true philosophy, that from her height alone was it possible to discern what the nature of justice is, either in the state or in the individual, and that the ills of the human race would never end until either those who are sincerely and truly lovers of wisdom come into political power, or the rulers of our cities, by the grace of God, learn true philosophy’, Plato: Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1997). 15. CWMG, vol. 10, p. 458. 16. This does not involve denying that the British are also morally responsible for the outcomes of their actions, and for presenting the Indians with the objects of their temptations. Gandhi’s point is that they could not have accomplished their imperialist goals without the cooperation of Indians. 17. Gandhi raised just this possibility in considering resistance to fascism during the Second World War.
18. This point is emphasized by Gandhi, who is concerned to separate the evils of British rule from the British people. He holds that true, or ancient, civilization was present in Europe as well, but has been overshadowed in the course of the centuries since the advent of industrialism and capitalism. 19. Gandhi was an outspoken critic of princely rule in India. In Chapter 15, he says ‘Their tyranny is greater than that of the English’, CWMG, vol. 10, p. 284. In Chapter 17, he adds that ‘[k]ings will always use their kingly weapons’, that is, violence is inherent in their rule: ‘To use force is bred in them’, ibid., p. 295. While he does not say that they are adherents of ‘civilization’, he does see their rule as exploitative, an obstacle to freedom. But, he holds, with historical naivety, that their power has been traditionally kept in check by an Indian populace, peasants in particular, who will not accede to unjust demands. They face moral resistance to their rule. This does not mean, however, that the peasants do not, as a result, suffer materially. But Gandhi provides no explicit explanation for why it is that if ‘in India, the nation at large has generally used passive resistance in all departments of life’, they have failed to secure freedom not only from the British but from Indian princes, ibid., p. 296. Further, it seems to imply that the masses, at least, have never lost their moral freedom, which Gandhi explicitly equates with political independence. Thus, it raises the question of precisely whose freedom the struggle for independence concerns. These points are discussed further later. 20. Ibid., p. 295. 21. Ibid. 22. Ibid., p. 296. 23. As Chatterjee points out, the notion that the many are morally adept is not reflected in Gandhi’s later practice of satyagraha. According to Chatterjee, it is this tension that makes it possible to construct a bourgeois political movement that appropriates the peasant classes while also disabling them politically. See Partha Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1986) and ‘Gandhi and the Critique of Civil Society’, in Ranajit Guha, ed., Subaltern Studies III (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984). It is a key to his strategy in the salt satyagraha, for example, to include only a small band of true satyagrahis, drawn not from the ‘masses’, but from his own ashram. See Anil Dharker, The Romance of Salt (New Delhi: Roli, 2005) for an interesting account. 24. Hind Swaraj, Chapter 17, CWMG, vol. 10, pp. 296–97. 25. Ibid. 26. The continuing ethical status of the sage is confirmed by Manmohan Singh’s rather perverse description of one of his predecessors as Prime Minister of India, P. V. Narasimha Rao as ‘truly a sanyasi in politics’. See ‘Narasimha Rao a Sanyasi in Politics: PM’, Times of India, 31 March 2007. 27. Gandhi does, in response to queries from his readers, address such questions of applied moral philosophy as whether, where and when Digambar (orthodox)
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Jains should be allowed to practice complete nudity. His advice is that, when in the city, they should abide by the sensibilities of the majority. It may be suggested here that Gandhi does not ascribe moral perfection to the villagers, but rather a good moral orientation that can be the basis of moral progress. But this is not, in my view, supported by the text, and, more importantly, it remains the case that even if the many are morally well oriented, it seems out of place to attribute this to, or to treat it as the basis for, a commitment to the pursuit of moral truth as a goal in itself. ‘Evidently, in your opinion, India means its few princes. To me it means its teeming millions on whom depends the existence of its princes and our own’, CWMG, vol. 10, p. 295. This duality is apparent in Gandhi’s public persona, which on the one hand takes on traditional dress and activities, such as manual labour, and on the other the character of the Mahatma, a moral leader of the people. His ashrams, spiritual centres, were at the same time modelled on traditional village communities. It can also be thought of in terms of his treatment of both moksha and dharma as ends of human activity. Gandhi denies the opposition between these goals that is assumed by most. Cf. Anthony Parel, Gandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). He means those ‘on’ the fringe, rather than those bounded by the fringe, CWMG, p. 302. See also p. 282: ‘Moreover the whole of India has not been touched. Those alone who have been affected by western civilization have become enslaved . . . But if we bear in mind the above fact, we can see that if we become free, India is free.’ It may be most accurate to say that Gandhi idealizes Indian tradition rather than the people; he also holds that this tradition is embodied by the people, though only imperfectly in practice. Nonetheless, in developing his view of political action in Hind Swaraj, Gandhi conflates different strands of Indian tradition on the one hand, and the people and their tradition on the other.
5 Politics and Violence Gandhi’s Ambivalence to Democracy U S M
andhi had an ambivalent view of democracy. If we take democracy to be as it is in some minimal sense commonly understood, as an interlinked set of institutional practices that feature regular elections, broad representation and a spectrum of individual rights, all of which are meant to give expression to the idea that individuals are free and equal and that the ultimate source of legitimate political power is the corporate body of the people, because it is deemed to be sovereign then one must conclude that Gandhi was substantially unimpressed by democracy, though not always opposed to it. His writings are replete with comments critical of the idea of elections, representation and individual rights. In Hind Swaraj, he famously characterized the British parliament as a ‘sterile woman and a prostitute’, and identified it as the cause of a long litany of British and modern woes. In that context, he was explicit: ‘I pray that India may never be in that plight’.1 Gandhi, similarly, was not overly taken with the idea that individuals were naturally free or that they were naturally equals. In their common rendering, these ideas were not of particular importance to him. They embodied an abstractness that is antithetical to the basic tenor of his way of thinking and placed emphasis where he would not have put it. He certainly did not think that the special value of freedom lay in giving individuals a sense of their political power as citizens. If he did occasionally speak of individual rights, it was nevertheless obligations that he emphasized. Again, he did not entirely oppose these claims, but nor were they the cherished focus of his considered deliberations on social, political and ethical matters. Finally, the idea of sovereignty, either of the people or of an established polity, had little hold on him.
Politics and Violence
He seldom wrote about it and when he did, it was with studied scepticism or explicit disparagement. Similarly, he was not drawn to cognate ideas such as the territorial integrity of states or the defining core of nations. On these issues his vision was more capacious, less particularistic, and most importantly, critical of the precise shape in which political power, democratic or otherwise, was organized. If Gandhi was an advocate of democracy, it was an advocacy expressed very much in a lower key. Yet, of course, ideas of self-rule, transparency and accountability, which are also associated with democracy, are fundamental to Gandhi’s thought and practice. He did more than any single individual in the 20th century to bring the common man and woman into the fold of public life, on terms that were marked by a singular absence of hierarchy, prescriptive authority and the condescension of political parties and elites. It seems fair to say, that but for his influence, the struggle for India’s independence would have been a much more elite — if not Brahmanical — process. Moreover, the subsequent post-independence political and social norms of the country would have been more exclusionary, less mindful of the needs of the most disadvantaged, and hence, at odds with the broad orientation that has characterized, from the outset, the democratic and legislative thrust of Indian politics. His deep commitment to openness and truth, his view that individual self-rule was a function of character and self-discipline and not predicated on traditional markers of education, gender or property ownership, his view that power — including that of the state — had no presumptive normative priority, are all consonant with a deeper spirit of democratic governance. His visage, background (middle class, middle caste), and his life — lived among common people with complete disregard for sectarian or communal preferences — are all exemplary of a deeply democratic person. His legacy confirms this. Maoists, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the secular advocates of a strong state have all equally reviled him, either explicitly or by a telling indifference. What explains this complex and ambivalent relationship with democracy — at once deeply sceptical, and yet also profoundly exemplary? I think the answer to this question centres around two ideas: violence and politics. Gandhi’s ambivalence towards democracy, as a political institution, though not as a way of individual being, is part of a broader worry about the deep connection between violence and politics. For him both violence and politics distract attention
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from a concern with everyday life. Democracy in its modern form exemplifies that connection. It is not unique in that; other forms of organized politics do so as well. Indeed as I argue in this essay, precisely because Gandhi saw an essential link between violence and politics, non-violence could not be stably affirmed within any political orientation. It is an attention to everyday life that is crucial to understanding Gandhi’s view of non-violence. In fact one might say that non-violence is what becomes manifest when there is a scrupulous attention to everyday life. For Gandhi violence and politics are otherworldly. They are deferrals to another time and another space. Like Max Weber, who believed that modernity had disenchanted the world, and thus had also made it more ghostly. (One less attentive to the Calvinist gravity of everyday life), Gandhi’s focus is worldly. He identifies that concern with religion generally, and with the central message of Gita in particular. As he says of the author of the Gita ‘he has shown that religion must rule our worldly pursuits. I have felt that the Gita teaches us that what cannot be followed out in day-to-day practice cannot be called religious’.2 In summarizing the doctrine of the Gita as action with a renunciation of the fruits of actions, Gandhi is attempting to sever action or the everyday from teleology. In doing so he undermines the grounds for violence and much of the ground of modern politics because that too is invested in a ‘beyond’ or a teleology. As he says: ‘When there is no desire for the fruit, there is no temptation for untruth and himsa (violence). Take any instance of untruth or violence, and it will be found that at its back was the desire to attain the cherished end’.3 It is the eschewal of such a cherished end which makes Gandhi, in a conceptual sense, a deeply anti-political thinker, because there is no making sense, at least of modern politics — democratic or otherwise — without some notion of cherished ends and of a future in which those ends will be realized. When Gandhi demurred from giving his blessings to the Constituent Assembly which produced the Indian Constitution, he said: ‘India’s greatness is in the present, but this assembly is only concerned with the future’. Perhaps he had in mind the concluding passage of Nehru’s ‘tryst with destiny’ speech in which Nehru announced, ‘we are beckoned to the future’. Nowhere is the connection between violence and modern politics more concisely evident than in the conceptualization of war. War has a peculiar status in both popular and philosophic opinion. It is almost
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universally condemned as something to be avoided and as something tinged with profound human tragedy. Yet in the qualifications that are typically attached to such professions of condemnation, the rationale for war is — equally typically — given a latitude that has allowed it to become among the most pervasive features of contemporary political life. War prospers under the constant injunction to be avoided. The logic of its exigent necessity seems always to trump the tragedy of its effects. So, and especially in modern times (that is to say long after war was associated with intrinsic human virtues), even its most strident pursuit is invariably carried out under the banner of regret, contextual necessity, and ultimately, a higher purpose. In a similar way, violence and especially the violence of war is defended by those who profess to avidly oppose it; never as an end in itself, but only as a means; never in the first instance, but only as a last resort. War and violence are thus supported by the persisting residue of considerations left by the arguments that are proffered in opposition to them. There is a characteristic, one might even say essential, structure to these permissive forms of opposition to war and violence. The kernel of the normative logic of that structure is one in which the defence of the political community trumps the value of any particular, or group of lives within it, even to the point of risking the life of the community itself. War, as such, always has a communal rationale. It embodies an idealism that refers to something that exceeds life and which points to a beyond, to a future; at any rate, to a something that cannot be spoken of through merely extant considerations. This is why the language, and so often the practice, of war (even under firmly secular dispensations), cannot wholly sequester itself from talk of sacrifice, messianic purposefulness, the sacred, and hence the language of religion. This is true even in theories where there is an ostensible priority given to individual life. Even in such theories the rationale for war exceeds a concern with the individual; indeed it exceeds a concern with life itself, and instead draws on a communal and more abstract idealism. Gandhi had a deep abhorrence for war and violence, but his understanding of these phenomena also make it clear that his commitment to non-violence cannot in any simple way be meshed with a tradition of thought, which along with its concern with war, violence and peace, is also deeply committed to notions such as public interest, abstract principles of justice, improving the world, and giving priority to the ontological conditions through which we give expression
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to our nature as political animals, namely, the idealism of politics. Gandhi could, and did, imagine a world in which politics was not the ground of individual or collective wellbeing. In fact it is the priority of politics which Gandhi’s understanding of non-violence denies. The thought contributes to the view that he was a crank, a reactionary and perhaps at best a religious thinker, deeply at odds with modern forms of self-understanding. It is certainly part of the reason for his ambivalence regarding democracy. Gandhi was also ambivalent about peace, which he understood to be another form of political entrenchment. After all, even as a nationalist (a designation so often applied to him), Gandhi was, if at all, a reluctant and inconsistent votary. He even demurred at the idea of India having a Constitution. As he so often reiterated: ‘My religion has no geographical limits. If I have a living faith in it, it will transcend my love for India herself’.4 Even his conception of independence did not for the most part tally with a national or political vision: ‘Swaraj (self-rule) has to be experienced by each one for himself’.5 Or, as he says elsewhere: ‘[Man] can be independent as soon as he wills it’, thus simultaneously refusing the complex temporalities on which both imperial and national visions relied.6 His opposition to violence did not draw on nationalist or communal justifications. He thought of peace in its familiar rendering as no more than a punctuation between the patterned and instrumental use of violence and force.
I The terms ‘peace’ and ‘war’ have a shared conceptual provenance in modern understandings of politics. In this part of the essay I argue that the relationship of these three terms, i.e., peace, war and politics is indifferent to the issue of violence. By that I mean that the three terms are neither fundamentally disposed to violence, nor are they, more importantly, fundamentally opposed to violence. The relationship between peace, war and violence is strictly conditional. The normative status of each of these terms depends on a political calculation in which the ‘security’ of the political community plays a decisive role. It is an implication of this claim that there is no principled, and hence strong, commitment to non-violence or an opposition to war; nor is there a fundamental orientation to abjuring from the use of physical force in the modern conception of peace. Regarding this claim George
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W. Bush was concise and to the point: ‘I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace’. As a matter of fact this not simply a theoretical or conceptual claim, but rather one that is sadly vindicated in everyday life in which peace does not signify an absence of violence and the aspiration for peace does not foreclose the possibility of war. This illustrates, by way of contrast, a claim I develop in which Gandhi’s views on non-violence stem from an attitude towards everyday life, which was in important senses neither part of the language of peace nor that of politics. Let me fill out the claim that our common conceptions of peace and politics are indifferent to the issue of violence and non-violence. I do this by briefly considering the operative logic in the narratives of the origins of political society that one finds in Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. I go back to these thinkers not because of any preference for origins, but because I take their views to be, in the relevant sense, still substantially accurate with respect to how we conceptualize war, peace and politics in the modern era. Notwithstanding their considerable normative difference on a vast range of issues with regard to the relationship of war and politics, Hobbes and Locke remain within a broad consensus that includes thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel and J. S. Mill. In the narratives that Hobbes and Locke offer for explaining and justifying the origins of politics, human beings are placed in a state of nature. This is an unregulated state with no supervening power or authority. Given human nature and the absence of a supervening power, so the argument goes, this natural state is liable to rapidly descend into a condition of war in which human life and interests are inescapably threatened by the imminence of disorder (i.e., the absence of peace), and ultimately, violent death. It is the prospect of this dire predicament, which leads individuals, with a primary interest in avoiding their own death and securing their interests, to contract out of the natural state, to surrender all or some of their natural powers, thus forming a political society which can deploy the power of the state to regulate the interactions of individuals and between different states. When such regulation is successful, i.e., when the state does the job for which it was authorized, individuals can pursue their interests, and via various forms of coordination, the interests of the society as a whole. This is what is designated as peace, i.e., where the conditions for the pursuit of individual and collective interests are stable, and hence unlike the original state of nature.
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What is important to note is that in this classic and protean narrative that encourages and justifies the formation of political society and authorizes the power of the state there is no argument against killing, violence or war per se. The rationale for political society does not stem from a moral disapproval of the fact that human beings in the pursuit of their interests are, or as Rousseau would qualify it, have become, trigger-happy and murderous. Instead violence and killing carry no clear moral opprobrium. There is nothing like the Biblical injunction, however attenuated by other claims, against killing or the sanctity of life on account of which it is to be preserved. Killing and violence are merely indicators of a condition of disorder, or to use Locke’s term ‘inconvenience’, which vitiates the pursuit of individual interests, including crucially an interest in one’s security. Locke does have an argument, drawn from natural law, that enjoins humans to ‘preserve the rest of mankind’.7 But that argument is qualified by the priority given to ‘preserve [one]self’, and as is evident from his chapter on war the force of that argument does not in any case carry over to proscribe the use of deadly force.8 The several arguments that both Hobbes and Locke offer regarding how each of us wishes to avoid painful and violent death have a crucial force in motivating the rationale for political society. But they are prudential arguments, addressed to individuals with a rational interest in preserving their own lives and interests. Indeed they make politics the ground of prudence. War in the state of nature and the absence of peace are simply conditions in which prudence would be denied and for which political society offers a purported redress. But the rationality of that redress need not, and typically among modern political thinkers, is not, part of a general argument against either violence, killing or war per se. The state, once it is formed, simply regulates violence in light of the contract that authorizes its power. In an unregulated condition characterized by human equality and other aspects of the state of nature, killing and violence are merely imprudent. The idea being that under conditions where others have much the same resources and the same intensity for a desire to live, the strategy of deploying violence to secure one’s interests, sooner or later, is likely to prove to be self-defeating. This is clearly a conditional argument and not a moral one in the sense that it is not backed by any moral imperative and certainly not an imperative against violence, killing or the use of force. It is easy to imagine a risk-taker not being moved by it, or conditions under which the rational expectations from violence are better than
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those from abjuring from violence. Clearly, war and violence remain conditionally rational within this tradition of thought. The condition under which individual and collective interests in security are satisfied, is what Hobbes and Locke (among others) designate as a condition of peace. To secure this condition the use of violence is not in itself abridged, but rather transferred to the state. The absence of a moral argument against the use of violence in the state of nature carries over to political society, which also makes no moral or categorical claim against violence per se. It simply limits the unregulated use of violence by individuals and constrains the state’s use of violence by the injunction that it must be authorized, be in the public interest, and typically be sanctioned by law or a constitutional exception to law. From the standpoint of the state, violence is hence again conditionally rational so long as it is in the service of the public interest and the security of the political community. For Hobbes quite obviously, but also for Locke, the original contract does not in any way constrain war, violence and killing in the face of a threat to the political community. The conditional rationality of violence that marked the individual in the state of nature, or the Hobbesian axiom homo homini lupus (man is a wolf to man) now merely conditions the behaviour and rationality of the state. The state once it is formed into a cooperative singular entity must — for the sake of its own preservation — in principle, retain a strictly conditional and hence permissive attitude towards war and violence. It must, that is, understand the sentences with which Michael Ignatieff begins his book The Lesser Evil as being prudential, idealistic, perhaps tragically ironic, but not self-contradictory: ‘When democracies fight terrorism, they are defending the proposition that their political life should be free of violence. But defeating terror requires violence. It may also require coercion, deception, secrecy and violation of rights’.9 The deference for present violence, coercion, deception, and the like, comes from deferring to a political ideal in which ultimately violence might be absent, but only at the very end of such temporal reckoning.
II Before moving to a consideration of Gandhi, I want to offer a very schematic and grossly simplified overview of the tradition of modern politics. There are four aspects of this very general narrative that I want
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to single out because they relate to relevant features of Gandhi’s thought that I will deal with in the final section of this chapter. The first is simply that in this tradition, politics pertains to the interactions among individuals and states, and not to individuals in solo. The fact that politics relates only to the interactions between individuals and states also means that it is largely indifferent to that which is solely in the individual interest, or what one might think of as his or her being, i.e., the quality of one’s integrity. The second feature of this narrative is that politics necessarily involves instrumental forms of reasoning and acting. It is only by being in principle instrumental, that politics can concern itself with the various contingencies that pertain to public life, and only thus can it attend to advancing the interests of the whole or public interest which undergirds the normative basis of political society and the state. Moreover, this instrumentalism fundamentally marks the status of the citizen. He or she must accept being part of a universe in which the contingencies that effect the advancement of the whole will necessarily refract his or her standing as a citizen. The citizen must, therefore, have a sacrificial self-understanding. At the limit, citizenship is just a form of soldiering in which, as they say, one must be prepared to die, so that others may live. Modern politics, as Max Weber famously conjectured, may have triumphed only by disenchanting the world and ridding it of magic. But in another sense it imbues every moment and every act in the world with a mysterious quality because it can only be assessed by reference to some interminable calculus of collective benefit and collective security. The third aspect of this narrative, which relates to the point about instrumentalism and to the point that is to follow, pertains directly to violence. Modern politics cannot foreclose on the use of violence without also giving up on its constitutive commitment to advance public interest. The absolutism of politics, namely a commitment to securing individual and public interest, requires a commensurate absolutism of the means, and those in principle, if not always in fact, must include the warrant to deploy violent means. Weber’s definition of the state as having a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is largely just a more blunt restatement of the more general claim that if public interest must be an overriding priority, then the state must have the means to assert that priority. Violence simply cannot, given this priority, be proscribed in principle.
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The final feature of the narrative of modern politics is what might be called its inherent idealism. In being concerned with public interest and with progress more generally, modern politics expresses an imperative energy to improve the world. Modern politics in its various ideological variants has always associated political power with that capacious imperative for the betterment of life. This is no less true in Locke as it in Marx and Mill. As with the other points I have made, a lot more needs to be said about this issue, including of course pointing to the various instruments through which liberals in particular have tried to limit the use of power. In the present context, I will abstain from saying more about such qualifications. Instead I want to point to two ideas, which are implicit in the idealism of modern politics. First is the view that everything is in principle connected or interrelated. Modern politics borrows or roughly shares the world-view of Newtonian mechanics in which every force has enduring and universal ripple effects because the world is fully integrated. The second idea, implicit in the idealism of politics, is that it is committed to being consequentialist in some deep sense. That is to say that the imperative to improve the world can only be carried out through consequentialist judgements and actions. My purpose in very briefly delineating these four aspects of the tradition of modern politics is to set up a contrast with Gandhi and to suggest that within this tradition of political thinking, peace can only be understood as a form of order, and that order itself has no clear relation with violence or its opposite. That is, violence can be an instrument for peace and order, and hence of bettering the world and being true to the idealism that I have said is inherent in modern politics. Alternatively, violence may be something that undermines order. Precisely because it can as it were go both ways, politics can take no principled view on the matter of violence. The simplest way to make this point is to state the obvious, namely that most modern wars have been authorized in the name of peace and order.
III The contrast with Gandhi is stark. In my view, it is so stark that one must consider Gandhi as not just having a very different view on the matter, or a different politics; but rather, in some crucial sense as being a deeply anti-political thinker. Perhaps one should be open
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to the thought that despite the fact that his actions transformed the political landscape, he may have been a deeply anti-political activist. At any rate Gandhi rejects all four of the points I have identified with the tradition of modern political thought. Perhaps most relevantly he firmly abjures from the idea of a secular teleology of progress and the accompanying valorization of politics and the state. His commitment to non-violence can only be understood by acknowledging that he did not view the world solely, or even primarily, in political terms. This thought extended to his view of peace and democracy. Non-violence for Gandhi is not a cognate of peace. It does not refer, as it does in the tradition of political thinking to a condition of public order secured through the surrounding proximity of fear, punishment and power. As he said in Hind Swaraj: ‘When peace was secured and people became simple-minded, its full effect was toned down. If I ceased stealing for fear of punishment, I would recommence the operation as soon as the fear is withdrawn from me. This is almost a universal experience. We have assumed that we can get men to do things by force and, therefore, we use force’.10 Non-violence is something all together different because it does not stem from the world-view in which the avoiding of death, furthering of public interests or the bettering of world are primary concerns. I turn now to the main argument about an inherent instrumentalism and interconnectedness in the modern conception of politics. Non-violence, Gandhi goes on to clarify in his discourse on the Gita, is something negative; indeed it has he says, no existence of its own. Unlike violence, it does not intervene in the world, it is not backed by a plan, it does not have a product; indeed, viewed in terms of the collectivity, it achieves nothing external. This is what makes it conceptually at odds with politics. Violence, which is ratified by a plan, seeks to intervene and affect the world in instrumental ways. It intervenes in the chain of cause and effect. It is predicated of what I have loosely called a Newtonian conception of the world. In contrast, non-violence withdraws. The changes it brings about are through this withdrawal, a withdrawal into the ashram, no less. Gandhi’s point is that non-violence, like spinning, celibacy and silence, represents a mode of human existence in which there is self-conscious withdrawal from the instrumental world of action and politics. It is a site of action, for practices are acts; but not of political action, in part because they refer only to self.
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For Gandhi these practices (it is important to see them as practices) are valorized precisely because the effect they produce is on the self and not the world. In fact one might say they sever the connection, that is, the interrelatedness between the self and the world. They abort the logic of purpose and production, cause and effect. In this they abjure the purposefulness and idealization, which I have claimed mark politics and inform its relationship with violence. In fact one of the striking (and strange) arguments that Gandhi gives for celibacy is precisely that it interrupts procreation.11 Similarly, in a short essay devoted mainly to the inherent importance of eating leafy vegetables and unpolished rice and on ‘how best to clean latrines’ Gandhi says, ‘One must forget the political goal in order to realize it [the natural life]. To think in terms of the political goal in every matter and at every step is to raise unnecessary dust’.12 Celibacy, fasting, spinning and silence give back to everyday activities a materiality and gravity that is lost to them through their incorporation in the instrumentality of a politics that always has a ‘larger purpose’. They are paradigmatically tactile in the sense that the act subsumes its effects. They are also instances in which the temporal and effectual distinction between means and ends is collapsed: ‘They say “means are after all means”, I would say “means are after all everything”’.13 For an act to have materiality for the self, it must be withdrawn from the sphere in which its meaning is always and constitutionally dependent on an incorporation into the whole and the attendant chain of uncertain implications that might stem from it. That is precisely the domain of politics and especially of a politics wedded to progressive teleology. Non-violence, like the practices Gandhi associates with it, is championed precisely because nothing external follows from it. The practices are not tied to a future or dependent on a past. As practices they lack the requisite abstractness to have implications. They are in a manner contained by the act itself. There is here a resonance with Kant’s ethics because only if an act can be separated from its purposeful effects can it be, for both Gandhi and Kant, autonomous. The resonance also points to the vexing relationship in both Kant and Gandhi between their ethical and political writings. Indeed Gandhi eschews instrumentality to the degree that he denies even the role of abstract principles as means of coordinating actions. The thought can be introduced by reference to the distinction Lionel Trilling makes in his book Sincerity and Authenticity.14 The ‘sincere’
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person, according to Trilling, must constantly try and effect a unity at the level of appearance. He or she must strenuously make beliefs comport with actions. He or she must attempt to act on ‘principles’ where principles refer to the connecting tissue that links two or more domains, actions or beliefs in an appropriate way. Principles must therefore be abstract. They must be disembodied. They cannot be tactile. They, and not the person, must be the source of the implications that follow. In the familiar liberal rendering, principles or laws, and not men, must rule. Sincerity, that is to say, belongs to a world-view in which the plurality of domains supplants the quality of being authentic or integrated. In such a world, one must necessarily refer to principles. In contrast, Gandhi’s life is full of the incommunicable, of the singular act, where the self cannot even be represented in words or taken as exemplifying an abstract purpose. Moreover, it is where principles do not stand in for a quality of being and where they do not even guide the self. Near the beginning of his autobiography Gandhi says: ‘There are some things which are known only to oneself and one’s Maker. These are clearly incommunicable’.15 Time and time again he is insistent that his life is best understood through his actions, eschewing the demands to see it in terms of some principle. Then there are of course his fasts and days of silence, which as he so often said were strictly ‘his own business’ implying that they were not meant to have external implications, and this, during the very midst of the most febrile nationalist and political struggle. Gandhi was emphatic that one could not, on his understanding of a fast, fast ‘against anyone’, or in exchange for anything. Equally, fasts could not be spoken of as representing the concrete instantiation of an abstract moral principle. Fasts were strictly non-instrumental. They affected the world only by the effect they had on the self. Fasts were acts of self-intensification. At the limit they were forms of self-rule, swaraj. Indeed for Gandhi this was more generally true of all forms of satyagraha. Akeel Bilgrami has pointed out in an important essay on Gandhi that exemplary action takes the place of both moral and political principles. Only by this substitution can the violence that is implicit even in moral principles themselves be neutralized. As Bilgrami puts it, ‘if someone fails to follow your example, you may be disappointed but you would no longer have the conceptual basis to see them as transgressive and wrong and subject to criticism’.16 In fact even when
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Gandhi refers to violence he typically presents his opposition to it in terms that resist the abstractness of moral principles. In a letter to Esther Faering in 1917 he wrote: ‘what is our duty as individuals. I have come to this workable decision by myself, I will not kill for any cause whatsoever, but be killed by him if resistance of his will renders my being killed necessary’.17 His language, even about an issue that matters so deeply to him, suggests an almost private sort of conviction utterly devoid of larger purposefulness. The self becomes the governing armature of everything. It leans on neither history nor the future. And in doing so it repudiates the first point I made with reference to the narrative of modern politics in which individuals are relevant only to the extent that they interact with others and not in their description in solo. One can make the same point by considering Gandhi’s relation to the masses. Along with Lenin and the Russian Revolution, the National Socialists in Germany and the Chinese Revolution, Gandhi is rightly taken as having articulated the masses to play a decisive role in public life. But there is a profound and important difference in these examples that goes beyond the distinct content of the various particular political visions. With Lenin, Mao and the National Socialists, the relationship between the political ideal and mass politics is an essential or constitutive one. Its instrument is the political party. Lenin and Mao were explicit about this. It is through the party that the masses became agents of history, just as for the Nazis the Germano-Aryan masses were to become agents of an ethnic national purification. There is nothing in Gandhi’s ethical commitments that makes the masses essential to those commitments. They, as a collective entity, are never conceived of as agents of some historical eschatology. What he says to them in the course of the decolonization struggle is what he would say to any individual. This is illustrated by the fact that Gandhi showed no hesitation in ‘betraying’ the masses, as he did conspicuously by suddenly calling off the non-cooperation movement, or in ‘disappearing’ to Noakhali and Calcutta on the eve of independence, or on the numerous occasions when he left them in the lurch by simply becoming silent or withdrawing to his ashram. One reason Gandhi was suspicious of political idealism was because he saw in it an extravagance and excess that both undermined the conditions of an integrated life and concealed a secret longing for power and domination. This is a persistent theme in his critique of
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the Empire. It recalls a similar objection made with equal tenacity by Edmund Burke in the late-18th century. Consider Burke’s words from the famous Guildhall speech: This victory [in the American war], which seemed to put an immediate end to all difficulties, perfected us in that spirit of domination, which unparalleled prosperity had too long nurtured. We had been so very powerful, and so very prosperous, that even the humblest of us were degraded into vices and follies of kings. We lost all measure between means and ends; and our headlong desires became our politics and our morals.18
‘Our headlong desires became our politics and our morals’ — this is a form of politics and morality of extravagance unhinged from society and social mores in the process of producing its own new society. It is one in which military victory and prosperity disseminate the vices and follies of kings to the humblest members of the realm. Vice, and not virtue, becomes exemplary and even the poor become its exemplars. Military conquest and the code of reciprocity that might have constrained it with moderation is now transformed into the ‘spirit of domination’ with no specific object other than as Burke says a ‘zeal for that fatal cause’.19 Even power transfigured into an excessive version of itself so that now it cannot supply the ‘measure between means and ends’. This is the kind of politics and morality evacuated of real content, relying instead on domination, excessive power and prosperity as dangerous surrogates. It is in the process of losing the resources to answer questions such as what does it mean to be poor, to be a king, military personnel, to exercise power rather than domination; in brief, to answer the question: what does it mean to be British? This mode of identification is no longer self-referential and Burke worries that it is in the process of making such reference impossible. Like Burke, Gandhi saw in most extant forms of political idealism a vicariousness that operated to the detriment of self-knowledge. Here in a nutshell one sees how thorough, and philosophically coherent, Gandhi’s critique of the modern tradition of political thought is. For the moral exemplar is always insistently singular, perhaps a radiant singular, but singular nonetheless. In this sense he or she does not express an abstract ideal. But here the tangent of Gandhi’s ideas goes against the modern tradition of thinking because he also challenges and denies room for a form of knowledge and action that is tethered
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to ideas such as democracy, public interest and justice, which must after all be abstract. This is what led Martin Luther King Jr. following his visit to India in 1959 to qualify the enormous admiration he had for Gandhi and his ideas on non-violence. King knew that his was a struggle for the civil rights of African-Americans and as such it could not stand apart from the American democratic political creed. However much that struggle, under King’s guidance, attempted to stay a course in which violence was eschewed, it was nevertheless a struggle in which the central demand was for the fulfillment of a political and democratic ideal. Non-violence was thus an instrument to realize a political goal and that too for a group that had been denied that goal. King understood this, and he understood that it limited the extent to which the civil rights movement could share the deeper purposes of Gandhi’s view of non-violence. Ultimately Gandhi’s non-violent practices were not meant to be redemptive instruments for groups or for the realization of political ideals. In contrast, for Gandhi non-violence is a form of individual being that is scrupulously attentive to the materiality of everyday life, and in which actions acquire their ethical substance by resisting an incorporation in a broader collective calculus of harms and benefits. Practices such as spinning, fasting and silence are ways of being in the world, which, in some crucial sense, are indifferent to the imperative to transform the world. They are ultimately indifferent to politics and the normative logic that braids it with war and violence, and in doing so constitutes the kernel of the communal rationale for war. Hannah Arendt in her work On Violence famously protested in defence of power that ‘[p]ower and violence are opposites’ and that violence was a spectre that arose only when power was in jeopardy.20 Conceptually, the distinction between power and violence can of course be managed or sustained, by associating power with the action of self-governing multitudes and violence with an incorrigible instrumentalism, devoid of political purpose. But even Arendt had to concede: ‘Power and violence, though they are distinct phenomena, usually appear together’.21 Ultimately Arendt’s conceptual distinction could not lay claim to the history or to the facts with which she wished to associate republican power. The braid of power and violence was not just occasional, but rather the usual way of the world, including in a world in which power was duly authorized and in that sense fully legitimate. When Arendt contended: ‘If Gandhi’s enormously
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powerful and successful strategy of non-violent resistance had met with a different enemy — Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany even pre-war Japan, instead of England — the outcome would not have been decolonization, but massacre and submission’, she may have been right.22 Gandhi might even have conceded the claim. But he would have certainly demurred at the idea that non-violence was a strategy, that its singular purpose was decolonization and that its votaries were fearful of massacre or submission. Instead for him it was a way of individual being, conceptually much closer to the Socratic injunction nosce te ipsum (Know thyself), than to the Aristotelian emphasis on man being by nature a political animal, which Arendt, the political theorist, so deeply cherished. Gandhi’s ambivalence to democracy was part of a broader and deeper ambivalence to politics, its essential complicity with violence and its distraction from an attentiveness to the conditions of individual integrity and self-knowledge. The fact that he exemplified in his person and the life he lived, especially in public, a profoundly democratic character is entirely consistent with that ambivalence. It also suggests, what is so amply evident in numerous contexts, that the relationship between a democratic way of being in the world and democratic modes of political governance need hardly be smooth and that it can in fact exemplify the contrast between non-violence and violence.
D Notes 1. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, ed. Anthony J. Parel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 30. 2. Mahadev Desai, The Gospel of Selfless Action or The Gita According to Gandhi (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1956), p. 132. 3. Ibid. 4. V. V. Ramana Murti, ed., Gandhi: Essential Writings (New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1970), p. 147. 5. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, p. 73. 6. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Harijan, 11 January 1936; emphasis added. 7. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, II, # 6 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).
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8. Ibid., ‘Everyone as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station willfully; so by the like reason when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice to an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.’ Also see II, #16, ibid. 9. Michael Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), p. xiii. 10. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, p. 80. 11. ‘If destruction is violence, creation, too, is violence. Procreation, therefore, involves violence. The creation of what is bound to perish certainly involves violence’, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Bhagavadgita (Delhi: Orient Paperbacks, 1998), p. 292. 12. Gandhi, Harijan, 11 January 1936. 13. Gandhi, Harijan, 16 February 1937. 14. Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972). 15. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (New York: Dover, 1983), p. viii. 16. Akeel Bilgrami, ‘Gandhi: The Philosopher’, Economic and Political Weekly, 27 September 2003, p. 14. 17. Mohandas K. Gandhi, Soul Force: Gandhi’s Writings on Peace, ed. V. Geetha (Chennai: Tara Books, 2004), p. 99. 18. Edmund Burke, On Empire, Liberty and Reform: Speeches and Letters, ed. David Bromwich (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 219. 19. Ibid. 20. Hannah Arendt, On Violence (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1970), p. 56. 21. Ibid. 22. Ibid., p. 53.
6 Pragmatism and Deepened Democracy Ambedkar between Dewey and Unger L Š
oberto Mangabeira Unger’s idiosyncratic vision of democratic experimentalism with a progressive alternative, as presented in his Democracy Realized, is perhaps the most original pragmatist contribution to contemporary social and political philosophy and ethics to date.1 Alongside his more ‘philosophical’ elaborations from his recent work, The Self Awakened: Pragmatism Unbound, Unger’s ‘deepened’ programmatic conception of democratic experimentalism envisions new possibilities for the democratic change needed in our times, addressing issues such as alternatives to the neoliberal agenda in both rich and developing countries, the important pragmatist vision of emancipatory school, and so on.2 In my essay, I would like to draw on this thought-provoking vision and at the same time, both retrospectively and prospectively, extend it vis-à-vis two other significant pragmatist visions of democracy: the first being John Dewey’s contribution to social and political philosophy and second, the idea of democracy as expounded by B. R. Ambedkar in his important writings. To this end, I will label Ambedkar’s political philosophy as ‘pragmatist’ and try to establish a working hypothesis for an interculturally sensitive concept of democracy in India and in the West. In this effort I will try to imagine an experimental and cooperative vision of democratic life grounded in pragmatism’s own potential for intercultural applications, as evinced from its tradition extending from Dewey to Unger. Finally, I will also look into another important attempt to reimagine a democratic plane between the West and India, that of the ‘ethical pragmatist’ Luce Irigaray, and try to connect it to the imagined ideal: the post-liberal (and post-Marxist) culture of democracy.3
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Pragmatist Influences What are the intercultural uses of pragmatism that could be derived from pragmatism’s inherent ‘anti-foundationalist’ and democratic character? Pragmatism’s impact on two of the so-called ‘large marginalized countries of today’s world’ — China and India — is astounding.4 Dewey’s well-known visit to China (1919–1921) resulted in his being granted a doctorate honoris causa from the National Peking University. He was also called a ‘Second Confucius’. The rich potential of Dewey’s philosophy in intercultural contexts, especially with respect to Confucianism, is documented in D. L. Hall and R. T. Ames’s book The Democracy of the Dead.5 Dewey’s visit to China was mutually transformative — alongside his impact on Chinese contemporaries, Dewey himself was able to rethink and critically reshape his ideas about democracy and community. His visit therefore contributed importantly to the development of his social and political philosophy.6 But even before his trip to China, Dewey’s ideas had already percolated into a strain of political and social thinking in India: it is to Ambedkar’s study years at Columbia (at the Faculty of Political Science, 1913–1916) that we can trace a significant channel for pragmatic thought in India. After completing a B.A. from Elphinstone College in 1912, Ambedkar headed for the US, where he studied under Dewey at Columbia and completed both his M.A. (1915) and his Ph.D. thesis (1916) there.7 Ambedkar described himself as a ‘progressive radical’, which is in line with how Dewey (and Unger) thought of social action and politics.8 In 1916 Dewey’s Democracy and Education was published, which its author retrospectively considered to be his most elaborate philosophical exposition, or a summary of his entire philosophical outlook.9 In the ‘Preface’, written in 1915, the relation of democracy and education is explained as follows: The following pages embody an endeavour to detect and state the ideas implied in a democratic society and to apply these ideas to the problems of the enterprise of education.10
There is no doubt that Dewey’s thoughts on democracy and education importantly shaped Ambedkar’s study years at Columbia. As we will see later, when Ambedkar cites Dewey, he always refers to this important book. Another fact deserves mentioning: Ambedkar was a liberal, with a clear socialist (leftist) orientation. It is also in this respect,
that Dewey’s and Ambedkar’s latter-day social and political careers coincide (i.e., from 1930s onwards). In Liberalism and Social Action, Dewey states the following: The only form of enduring social organization that is now possible is one in which the new forces of production are cooperatively controlled and used in the interest of the effective liberty and the cultural development of the individuals that constitute society.11
This is not to say that Dewey would sign a socialist manifesto. Nonetheless, he could still be labelled a democratic socialist. But Cornel West has persuasively shown that some suspicion is needed: Dewey as a pragmatist simply adopted some views that he found useful for his ideas of new liberalism. Basically, he was ‘in search of a culture of democracy’,12 but favouring a gradual and progressive approach over revolutionary aspirations. Certainly Dewey’s philosophy of the 1930s accords vital importance to the idea of a renascent liberalism. ‘Should a classless society ever come into being’, Dewey contends, then ‘the formal concept of liberty would lose its significance’.13 The question of liberty and democracy is thus more connected to the question of our readiness to imagine the unimaginable, entertain openness with regard to the future, to liberate ourselves from the various coercions of progress — as Unger would say — towards the plane of cooperative experience qua ‘cooperative experimentalism’, guided by our natural impulses of fellow feeling and mutual trust.14 Dewey has already suggested the word ‘experimentalism’ for this endeavour. It is against these elements of a new or renascent liberalism, and the role of education, that I will first look into the possible links between Dewey and Ambedkar, or between pragmatist and some Indian forms of democratic imagination and education.
The Political and Social Pragmatism in Dewey’s and Ambedkar’s Thought Let me first consider some of the key ideas from Dewey’s Democracy and Education. For Dewey, democracy is a mode of associated living and conjoint communicated experience.15 Perhaps the most important feature of this thought is his insistence on the process of selecting the best examples of communication in order to enable the individual to escape ‘from the limitations of the social group in which he was born’.16
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His ‘romantic’ and transformative concept of democracy is not based on the classical conceptions of liberty, as expounded by Isaiah Berlin. By liberty or freedom, Dewey does not refer to the mere absence of external obstacles or any related coercion imposed upon our lives.17 Political liberty, of J. S. Mill or Jeremy Bentham, as a ‘sacred’ and negative concept thus finds its most natural rival in the efforts of social and political philosophers — the proponents of positive freedom who claim that liberties primarily refer to freedom as experienced in our inner lives and related contexts within the community. Berlin defines positive freedom as follows: the notion of freedom as not merely removal or absence of interference with the activity of individuals or groups or nations by persons outside the designated unit, but the notion of freedom as an attribute or constitutive principle of the imposition of will upon some malleable medium.18
Now, although both strands (the advocates of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ freedom) are infused with the same aim, namely that an ideal society would not be conscious of the need for freedom any more,19 the two conceptions could not differ more in their understanding of the role of the individual (and government) in this process. Interestingly enough, Berlin ascribes positive freedom to both ‘Western’ (Stoic and Christian) and ‘Eastern’ understanding of the political. More precisely, for him, Eastern mystical traditions and the Buddhist doctrine are clear-cut examples of positive freedom at work. Needless to say, his understanding of Eastern traditions in this regard is prejudicial and poor. By attributing to them an ideal of total extinction as the only conception of complete freedom (and indeed suggesting that it is a fallacious use of words ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’ that underpins the whole conception), he is committing the classical Western fallacy. Berlin did not understand (with other classical liberals and proponents of a rights-based liberalism such as John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Robert Nozick, etc.) the fact that his conception of the political rests on an assumption of individual freedom and neglects ‘the joint realization of a common good in free discussions’.20 Of course Berlin does not refer to Dewey or American pragmatism in this regard and his understanding of the field of comparative philosophy is lacking in some respects, as already mentioned. To compare this, I will allude to a famous essay by Rorty entitled ‘Dewey’s Metaphysics’21 where Dewey is accused of ascribing to the metaphysical, a ‘notion of Truth as accuracy of representation’.22 I do not intend to comment further on this well-known
prejudice of Rorty against Dewey’s notion of experience.23 But I think the essential part of Berlin’s criticism of the notion of positive freedom is analogous to this Rortyan critique and rests upon Berlin’s unjustified fears about the realization of the will of the individual, his criticism of ‘self as a finite emanation of the central world spirit which proceeds according to laws, but laws not logically deducible so much as obeying some “inner logic” which guides the creative artist, the prophet, inspired man of action’.24 Dewey’s Democracy and Education is the most natural counterpart to the ‘dark’ side of the so-called ‘inner freedom’ (i.e., of a religiously or metaphysically grounded notion of ‘perfect freedom’). Son-Hoon Tan has shown convincingly how different Dewey’s teleology is even from Hegel’s (equally organic) teleology.25 It is Dewey’s notion of the finality of ends that prevents any metaphysical interpretation and subsequently dynamizes his vision of democracy (and freedom) without subjecting it to some higher or final end (such as history, nature, inner or ‘spiritual’ realization, etc.). Democracy, for Dewey, is simply individuality reconciled with sociality qua community, that is, it describes a society in search for a measure. Dewey deliberately evades both extremes: that of an ideal society (communist, religious, etc.) and that of a conservative repetition of ‘traits which are actually found’.26 This conception of democracy and liberty, is based on communication; the progress of one member (as in family) has worth for the experience of other members. The disembodied and pre-social self, as expounded in Kant (and Rawls) finds its counterpart in the pragmatist ‘empiricist’ rejection of such a self and on the insistence on the embodied social self. For Dewey, the self is essentially social and permanently responsive to the needs of an environment which in fact constitutes community.27 Dewey is therefore a natural opponent of any exclusively proposed view of negative freedom which would be based merely on a classical liberal assumption of individual liberties within any given democratic society. In Freedom and Culture, Dewey posits a tough question: ‘Will men surrender their liberties if they believe that by so doing they will obtain the satisfaction that comes from a sense of fusion with others and that respect by others which is the product of the strength furnished by solidarity?’28 If the answer is ‘yes’, then we are on the way towards a new conception of liberties, a conception that goes far beyond the mere dichotomy between negative and positive freedom. According to Son-Hoon Tan, Dewey distinguishes three elements in
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genuine freedom: ‘(1) efficiency in action, ability to carry out plans, the absence of cramping and thwarting obstacles; (2) capacity to vary plans, to change the course of action, and to experience novelties; (3) the power of desires and choice to be factors in events’.29 This is not dissimilar to what Martha Nussbaum has proposed with her ‘capability approach’, a political doctrine that focuses on the necessary conditions for an outgrowth of a just society.30 I am convinced that this view holds great potential for searching out new ways of imagining a culture of communication, a democracy of attitudes and not merely a democracy of institutions, as Dewey had already proposed. In the first chapter of his Freedom and Culture, Dewey also aims to posit a communal ‘human nature’. By human nature, however, he does not mean a static entity; on the contrary, it is ‘the factor which in one way or another is always interacting with environing conditions in production of culture’.31 Culture is defined as a ‘complex body of customs’: this culture cannot depend upon political institutions alone but has to be expressed in the attitudes of human beings, pragmatically measured by consequences produced in their lives.32 It comprises a community based on the idea of absolutely unrestrained private and public freedom. Now, it is at this juncture that I wish to turn to Ambedkar and consider his answer to what we have discussed so far. Among Ambedkar’s other important influences was also the British absolute idealist and liberal T. H. Green (1836–1882). Interestingly, Green was one of the first modern liberals ‘openly to embrace a “positive” conception of freedom’. And it is a fact that Ambedkar’s notion of liberty was ‘of the T. H. Green kind’.33 In his speech on the occasion of the adoption of the Constitution in 1949, Ambedkar said eloquently: On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value . . . How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life?34
I find this view to be the most elaborate, indeed, universal statement of the tensions within the life of any political community. Deweyan in its character, it states that equality is not a matter of political fact or principle, but lies in the community-based process of building a
humane culture. I already mentioned Nussbaum, who is more than familiar with Indian political culture (being also a critical follower of Amartya Sen’s seminal ideas on economic and social capabilities). Her form of revised liberalism for people with various impairments (the topic of Frontiers of Justice deals with capabilities and disabilities) can analogously be applied to all kinds of social ‘disabilities’, be it in Ambedkar’s or today’s India. It is no coincidence that Nussbaum refers to the Preamble to the Constitution of India when commencing her analysis of the prospects for democracy and equality in India.35 Ambedkar’s well-known views on caste inequality in India need no elaboration here. His ‘pragmatist’ vision of democracy rests on his views about dharma, religion and social ethics with related reconstruction of social (and ‘political’) habits. Personally, I find the most intriguing part of his analysis, and consequently, the importance of his thought for contemporary political philosophy and its intercultural applications in the following passage: These views of Western writers on politics [i.e., on constitutional morality] regarding democracy and self-government are erroneous for very many reasons. In the first place, they omit to take into account the incontrovertible fact that in every country there is a governing class grown up by force of historical circumstances, which is destined to rule, which does rule and to whom adult suffrage and constitutional morality are no bar against reaching places of power and authority and to whom the servile classes, by reason of the fact that they regard the members of the governing classes as their natural leaders, volunteer to elect as rulers.36
Later on, Ambedkar states (unsurprisingly): The governing class in India consists principally of the Brahmins.37
I find in Ambedkar’s reference to Western writers and his subsequent interpretative shift to the ruling class of India of his time (i.e., Brahmins) a sign of a far reaching and important idea. Clearly, Ambedkar is talking about India, but inherently he is criticizing Western political philosophy, addressing the Western audience with its political and economic elites. In search of which form of democracy is Ambedkar? To approach this question, let me analyze very briefly his references to Dewey in his texts. In all cases, the reference is to Democracy and Education. This shows how important education was also for Ambedkar. (I also mentioned earlier Dewey’s own testimony about
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the centrality of this book for his entire thought.) Pragmatism is social experimentalism, so I will begin with Dewey’s well-known connections with the experimental school in Chicago. His colleague (a pragmatist) Jane Addams was the founder of the reformist Hull House in Chicago (in 1931 Jane Addams became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for her efforts). Dewey helped her and occasionally lived and worked in the Hull House. Basic to her philosophy was: a vision of society in which all people, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status, would have a chance to develop individual talents and interests. She believed that personally enriching experiences for the immigrants were vital in a society based on democracy as a way of life. At the settlement house, she tried to solve the daily problems of new citizens. The result was a humane institution in which the immigrants were able to grow and eventually contribute to community affairs.38
This is a genuine pragmatist democratic criterion. We find similar efforts in India — for instance, in Shantiniketan, where Rabindranath Tagore founded his experimental school in 1901. This was an educational experiment which has surprising overlaps with Dewey’s own educational efforts and it is not out of the question that Tagore was familiar with Dewey.39 The emphasis on imagination, creativity and joy, alongside Dewey’s firm support of gender issues were the key tenets in this experimental school project. One could not imagine a bigger difference existing between this school and ‘educational’ experiments with children within the Rashtriya Swayam Sevek Sangh (RSS) shakhas in India in the 1990s, also mentioned in The Clash Within.40 It is to this ‘school field’ that we can apply a genuine pragmatist democratic criterion that stands on the opposite end of coercion and indoctrination: it is to learn and to be able to share the imagined ideals with others within the community; to proceed with care for them when care is needed, and to feel and understand the vibrant equality growing in a society. It is finally to be able to extend the circles of solidarity and our loyalties beyond those of the closest family or kin, clan or community. This is what is meant by pragmatist growth — ethical living as a process and aim. Ambedkar was aware of the importance of education and in his references to Dewey one can see his commitment to this ideal. To return to the aforementioned citation, Ambedkar suggests that there is no dialogue between the governing class and the rest of the people in India. Moreover, Ambedkar accuses ‘Western’ writers on democracy for this failure.
For him, parliamentary democracy has ‘continuously added to the economic wrongs of the poor, the downtrodden and the disinherited class’ (elements which are critically confronted also by Unger, as we will see later).41 Furthermore, his famous essay ‘Annihilation of Caste’, can be seen to prefigure the ‘capabilities approach’ as developed by Sen and Nussbaum.42 In his words, that closely resemble Dewey’s views on democracy, he states: If you ask me, my ideal would be a society based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity . . . Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience . . . Equality may be a fiction but nonetheless one must accept it as the governing principle. A man’s power is dependent upon (1) physical heredity, (2) social inheritance or endowment in the form of parental care, education, accumulation of scientific knowledge, everything which enables him to be more efficient than the savage, and finally, (3) on his own efforts.43
‘Conjoint communicated experience’ is a formulation taken directly from Dewey’s Democracy and Education.44 By adding three more criteria, he encapsulates fully the ideal of a democratic society: a. b. c.
How numerous and varied are the interests which are consciously shared by the groups? How full and free is the interplay with other forms of associations? Are the forces that separate groups and classes more numerous than the forces that unite?45
Pragmatically oriented towards an ideal society, Ambedkar knows that these criteria hold for every society, in Europe and in Asia, past and present. To this end, one must sacrifice what is old, what does not contribute to welfare, what one can imagine to be superseded by new social habits invested with an ethical awareness of the democratic life of a community. Allow me a small neopragmatist digression before I turn to another important part of Ambedkar’s political visions. In his essay ‘Failed Prophecies, Glorious Hopes’, Richard Rorty has shown the importance of reading two key texts: the New Testament and the Communist Manifesto.46 It is not insignificant to note that Rorty wrote his essay
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against the backdrop of the end of the socialist and communist era in Eastern Europe. The essay could well be entitled ‘Jesus Christ and Marx’. Rorty makes two main points in the text: (a) Christ did not return, and (b) all ‘Marxist’ regimes so far have been absurd perversions of Marx’s intent.47 Moreover, according to Rorty we should forget about the apocalyptic and soteriological claims (i.e., its otherworldliness) in the New Testament and claims about violence as the only effective tool for overthrowing the existing social conditions in Marxism. Instead we should teach our children about both the texts and find our inspiration for social hope in them. It is to Rorty’s great credit that he is able to show the importance of both the texts and social movements. For him, ‘Christian Socialism’ is simply pleonastic and some role of democratic governments in redistributing money is necessary. Finally, in a memorable passage, Rorty states: For both documents are expressions of the same hope: that some day we shall be willing and able to treat the needs of all human beings with the respect and consideration with which we treat the needs of those closest to us, those whom we love.48
Interestingly, Ambedkar raises similar questions in his analysis of Marx and Buddha. Indeed, in his essay Ambedkar can be seen to draw substantially on Dewey. It is also worth considering the special relation of contemporary American religious naturalists and radical empiricists (both pragmatists and process philosophers/theologians) to Buddhist philosophy.49 But Ambedkar’s intentions differ from Rorty’s in an important detail: for Ambedkar, following Dewey’s argumentation, the use of force is allowed, while the use of violence is not permitted. Ambedkar argues: Buddha was against violence. But he was also in favour of justice and where justice required he permitted the use of force.50
The force that is permitted is closely connected to the so-called ‘evaluation of means’. According to Dewey — and it is here that Ambedkar draws on him — the end can indeed justify the means. For Dewey (and Ambedkar): the achievement of an end involves destruction of many other ends which are integral with the one that is sought to be destroyed. Use of force must be so regulated that it should save as many ends as possible
in destroying the evil one . . . Buddha’s Ahimsa was not as absolute as the Ahimsa preached by Mahavira the founder of Jainism.51
Now here is the paradox: Ambedkar does not exclude the use of force (war?), if necessary, to save the ‘wives and children’ and stop suffering. Rorty, however, only talks about ‘rage’52 but does not tolerate, say, the Latin American ethico- and socio-political struggles and liberation efforts as expounded by philosopher Enrique Dussel.53 It seems to me we can trace the origins of Indian ‘liberation philosophy’ (apart from its early attempts in the thought of Jyotirao Phule, Ambedkar’s guru) precisely in Ambedkar’s thought. I think his form of democratic thinking can also provide us with a new, interculturally invested space of democratic change. For Ambedkar, there is no need for religion to wither away in this process; and Buddhism, for him, is ‘[c]ommunism without dictatorship, a miracle which Lenin failed to do’.54 Analogously, Dussel attributes this role to the experience(s) based on the ancient Maya civilization and religious culture and their ancient theoretical horizon (i.e., a horizon of ‘Maya democracy’).55 To sum up, what Ambedkar proposes is not only a pragmatist and Indian understanding of social change but actually a new ethical criterion for democracy. In the following section, I will try to outline this ethical criterion and put it in dialogue with two other important thinkers of democracy and ethics, Unger and Luce Irigaray.
Ambedkar’s Ethical Criterion for Democracy: An Intercultural Encounter with Unger and Irigaray In his book Democracy Realized, Unger argues for a new pragmatist vision of democratic experimentalism and deepened democracy. An important role in this process is attributed also to the emancipatory school. Unger refers to the large marginalized countries of the world, China, India, Russia, Indonesia and Brazil, as those which ‘represent fertile terrain for the exploration of these possibilities’.56 Unger believes: institutional experimentalism that may occur in these countries throws light upon the hidden opportunities for democratic transformation in the rich democracies.57
I fully agree with this claim, but I think the hidden potential lies also in the intercultural dialogue as already found in the encounter
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between Dewey and Chinese philosophers, and in India this is could be a dialogue between Indian philosophers and pragmatists (Dewey, Unger). Unger largely draws on economic and institutional processes by trying to outline concrete features of progressive politics of the so-called ‘radical democracy’. In an era of huge global inequalities and incipient insecurities in all spheres of our lives we need a new democratic culture, a culture which is able to weave various textures of social relations and social lives into a new framework of deepened democracy. I will put aside economic and institutional innovation, so eloquently discussed and proposed by Unger, and try to sketch some intercultural uses of his pragmatism for Indian social thought. Broadly speaking, democratic change can be approached in two ways: the first involves institutional and economic changes, underpinned by an alternative political programme and renovation. The second, which I will focus on, largely consists of an ethical attempt to outline the basic ethical criteria for democratic change needed in our times (institutional changes notwithstanding). Unger covers this attempt in his recent book The Self Awakened. The proposed alternative is pragmatist in character and attributes the key role to the ‘idea of the infinity of the human spirit, in the individual as well as in humanity’.58 This ‘spirit’ does not signify the remains of metaphysical or perennial philosophy, transformed into a new ethico-political strategy. Rather it is: a view of the wonderful and terrible disproportion of that spirit to everything that would contain and diminish it, of its awakening to its own nature through its confrontation with the reality of constraint and the prospect of death, of its terror before the indifference and vastness of nature around it, its discovery that what it most shares with the whole of the universe.59
Besides, it is also an ethical attempt to secure the conditions for avoiding the ‘extreme inequalities of opportunity, respect and recognition’.60 This ‘spiritual’ nature of pragmatism Unger resonates with Ambedkar, as I will show later. The fundamental pragmatist maxim of practical difference becomes in Unger a maxim of social and political experimentalism, which — with the principal question of the crisis of Western liberal democracy (growing social inequality resulting from declined social cohesion in the US as well as in Europe and other parts of the world) — carries within itself/dictates/is extended into a vision of new ethical alternatives in society and politics founded on the ideals of care and solidarity within a reconsidered ‘deepened democracy’ and ‘awakened self’. Unger is pleading for an intersection of an alternative
set of conditions of practical progress on the one hand and individual emancipation on the other. As a pragmatist he is thinking of a new political realm of opportunities and liberties ‘deepening our central experience of freedom’.61 Unger is also arguing for our ability to love and for solidarity derived from our ability ‘to recognize and to accept the otherness of other people’.62 For him ‘democratic experimentalism draws energy and meaning from concerns outreaching politics and economics’,63 a statement that for me signals a gateway to the realm of freedom as it was hoped for, both by Dewey and Ambedkar. For Unger, the path of practical philosophy is closely related to political theory, to the questions of holding society together, of trust, fellow feeling and ultimately, love. It is in this vision, I would propose, that Ambedkar’s thought resonates with high hopes as found in Unger. Let me now try to define the (pragmatist) ‘ethical criterion’ for democracy in Ambedkar. It is a recognition of a spiritual need, inherent in humanity and characterized by two parallel traits: one coming from Indian philosophy and religion (Buddhist and Hindu), the other from Dewey’s philosophy. The criterion may be outlined as follows: a. the progress of each member has worth for the experience of other members; b. all people, regardless of their socioeconomic status, must have a chance to develop individual talents and interests (school); c. each invididual must be able to proceed both with compassion and care for others; d. democracy is a spiritual need, inherent in humans as embodied beings, developed through maitri and karuna towards equality. This criterion brings to the forefront the very issue of positive liberty as related to the ideas of unobstructed self-realization and personal development of an individual. It is an ethical stance, an attitude comprising many traits as found in the many segments of Ambedkar’s writings: his defence of secularism (‘secular religion’), his explicit efforts for the liberation of the untouchables, his plans to shape the new democratic culture in India that would indeed surpass traditional liberal democracies of the West. Finally, it is a criterion fulfilling the hope for the imagined democratic ideal of Abraham Lincoln: of the ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ (which also inspired Jyotirao Phule who dedicated to him his book on slavery Ghulamgiri). This criterion stands in line with other interculturally
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invested criteria for democracy, as found in Latin America, Africa and in the West.64 I would like to conclude this essay by reading this criterion in the light of another Western proposal for democracy — namely by Luce Irigaray. Irigaray holds the view that the task of any democracy is in ‘reorganizing the way that humanity lives and produces’, alongside the ‘awakening [of the] consciousness to another stage in its becoming, which will allow us to begin building new ways of existing and thinking’.65 For Irigaray, the role of ‘education in being’ is equally indispensable in this process. Her philosophy could indeed be labelled as ‘pragmatist’ precisely because of her emphasis on communication, community and education in achieving the new forms of citizenship; so, I will approach Irigaray through a pragmatist reading. Rosi Braidotti has noted the pragmatist credentials of Irigaray, writing in her Transpositions: [The] proper object of ethical inquiry is not the subject’s moral intentionality, or rational consciousness, as much as the effects of truth and power that his or her actions are likely to have upon others in the world. This is a kind of ethical pragmatism, which is attuned to the embodied materialism of a non-unitary vision of the subject.66
Now, Irigaray’s philosophy shows her indebtedness to Indian traditions. The most elaborate statement on this encounter is her book Between East and West. This work singles out two principal gestures needed in our times: how ‘to reground singular identity’ and how ‘to reground community constitution’.67 It is in India that Irigaray learnt to pay attention to breath and she constitutes her ‘ethical criterion’ precisely through this bodily/spiritual phenomenon. I say bodily/spiritual because it is in prana as the psycho-physical vital breath that life dwells. I therefore understand the spiritual task of humanity (also expressed in Unger and Ambedkar) as follows: ‘For the masters of the East, the body itself can become spirit through the cultivation of breathing’.68 It is clear that if democracy is essentially related to a spiritual need, inherent in humans as embodied beings (see ethical criterion in Ambedkar), then the task of humans is a recognition (as a sign of life) and cultivation (care, attention and solidarity) of this need through the culture of breath. In modern times, there are only a few philosophical elaborations of breath: we find it first in William. James who understands breath as a phenomenon surpassing and replacing the old and egoistic Kantian mode ‘I think’. We find it in
Richard Shusterman’s efforts to ground pragmatist somaesthetics, and finally, we find it in Irigaray.69 It is noteworthy that all references to breath/ing in philosophy appear precisely within the broader ‘pragmatist’ tradition (including Irigaray). For Irigaray, breath is the first and last gesture of life and hence it is already in a mother’s ‘silent teaching’ that breath resides. It is: giving-sharing one’s breath with one who does not yet know the way of natural or spiritual life . . . Woman is . . . close . . . to the Buddha . . . Women shares her breath . . . Woman, like the creator God, engenders with her breath.70
This proto-ethical plane of shared breath is the eternal germ of a spiritual community, i.e., a community of embodied individuals, caring for each other. This is where democracy really begins. Democracy is respect and care for the spiritual being of the other(s), for the life (vital breath) of the other, based on a cultivation of a vital and spiritual breath (ruah, prana, aer, psyche, pneuma, spiritus, ki/qi in differenct culturo-religious contexts). Education thus begins in this sharing of breath between ‘you’ and ‘me’. Democracy is feminine in character — it is through carrying the child, through her mothering, that a woman ‘does not simply give, she shares’.71 But democracy is also a gesture which fully incorporates and recognizes the sexual difference ‘that can open the transcendental horizon between man and woman’.72 It is the respect for the other person, for his or her life, an ethical recognition from which spiritual freedom can emerge. Finally, Irigaray’s Sharing the World is her most elaborate statement on the role of ethical gestures in the forming of community.73 The individual thus invents another world, a world of a mysterious embodying in which we become two. It is consonant with her earlier thoughts from Democracy Begins Between Two about the task of politics as ‘a rational and sensible sharing at both the national and supranational levels’.74 In this task, however, we should not forget our ‘own becoming, our shared becoming’.75
Conclusion In this essay, I outlined a possibility for an ethical criterion for democracy in India based on the pragmatist reading of Ambedkar’s ideas of democracy. One of the characteristics of Indian democracy is its special relation to its religious and cultural traditions: Hindu,
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Buddhist, Jain and Islamic. I find in Ambedkar’s contention about the task of democracy (viewed from the standpoint of positive freedom) — to bring equality, fraternity and liberty — an echo of an ancient Upanishadic formula from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: Da! Da! Da!’ — Demonstrate restraint! Demonstrate bounty! Demonsrate compassion!76
It is the restraint (damyata) of our senses, the cultivation and sharing of breath that brings equality; it is the unlimited bounty (datta) of our common corporeal-spiritual nature that brings liberty; and it is compassion (daya) which brings solidarity and sharing among people and which enacts fraternity in community. In the Upanishads, according to Amartya Sen, we find both the argumentative tradition (which, of course, is the principal trait of any deliberative form of politics, including pragmatist) and the old Upanishadic recognition of gender equality — respect for women.77 The new humanistic culture will have to pay great attention to the crucial role of public discussion, deliberation and unobstructed communication between persons forming a community. Only then it will be possible to imagine the ‘universal’ ideal of democracy as an expression of an ethical criterion infusing with love and mutual trust the unjust liberal order of gender, caste and class inequalities.
D Notes 1. Roberto M. Unger, Democracy Realized (London; New York: Verso, 2001). 2. Roberto M. Unger, The Self Awakened (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007). 3. For post-liberal perspectives see Cornel West, The American Evasion of Philosophy (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), p. 214. In her recent book, Rosi Braidotti describes Irigaray’s philosophy as ‘a kind of ethical pragmatism, which is attuned to the embodied materialism of a non-unitary vision of the subject’, Transpositions (Cambridge: Polity, 2006), p. 14. 4. Unger, Democracy Realized, p. 27. Other countries listed by Unger among the large marginalized countries are Russia, Indonesia and Brazil. 5. David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, The Democracy of the Dead: Dewey, Confucius, and the Hope for Democracy in China (Chicago; Lasalle, IL: Open Court, 1999). See also Joseph Grange, John Dewey, Confucius and Global
6. 7. 8. 9.
10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.
19. 20. 21. 22. 23.
L Š Philosophy (New York: SUNY Press, 2004); John Dewey, John Dewey, Lectures in China, 1919–1920, ed. and trans. R. W. Clopton and T.-C. Ou (Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii, 1973), p. 3. Dewey’s lectures were translated from Chinese. Dewey intended to revise, expand and publish them, but ‘this intention was not carried out’, Dewey, John Dewey, Lectures in China, 1919–1920, p. 2. For the process of bringing his lectures back to English, see ‘Introduction’, ibid. See J. Ching-sze Wang, John Dewey in China: To Teach and to Learn (New York: SUNY Press, 2007). See Introduction, The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002). Ibid., p. 21. John Dewey, Democracy and Education, in John Dewey, The Middle Works, 1899–1924, vol. 9, 1916, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980). Ibid., p. 3. John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action (New York: Prometheus Books, 2000), p. 59. West, The American Evasion of Philosophy, p. 103. Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action, p. 54. Unger, Democracy Realized, p. 5. Cf. John Dewey, Democracy and Education, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale; Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985), p. 93. Ibid., p. 25. Isaiah Berlin, ‘Two Concepts of Freedom: Romantic and Liberal’, in Political Ideas in the Romantic Age, ed. Henry Hard (Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006), Chapter 3. Ibid., pp. 192–93. For a brief history and analysis of this political concept, see Andrew Heywood, Political Theory: An Introduction (Hampshire; London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), pp. 260–64. Positive freedom can basically be understood in two senses — first, it is concerned with the question ‘by whom am I governed?’ (rather than ‘how much am I governed?’, p. 260) and second, it ‘relates to the ideas of self-realization and personal development’ (ibid.). It is in the latter sense that I use the term in this essay. Ibid., p. 163. Son-Hoon Tan, Confucian Democracy: A Deweyan Reconstruction (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2004), p. 12. Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), Chapter 5, pp. 72–89. Ibid., p. 86. I defend Dewey against Rorty’s prejudice in ‘Pragmatism and Social Ethics: An Intercultural and Phenomenological Approach’, Contemporary Pragmatism, vol. 5, no. 1, June 2008, pp. 121–46. Berlin, Political Ideas in the Romantic Age, p. 203.
Pragmatism and Deepened Democracy 25. 26. 27. 28.
35. 36. 37. 38.
40. 41. 42.
Son-Hoon Tan, Confucian Democracy, p. 56. Dewey, Democracy and Education, p. 88. See Son-Hoon Tan, Confucian Democracy, p. 25ff. John Dewey, Freedom and Culture, in John Dewey, The Later Works, 1925–1953, vol. 13: 1938–1939, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), p. 65. Son-Hoon Tan, Confucian Democracy, p. 160. See Martha Nussbaum, Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Cambridge, MA; London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), Chapter 3. Dewey, Freedom and Culture, p. 75. John Dewey, Freedom and Culture, in John Dewey, The Later Works, 1925–1953, vol. 13: 1938–1939, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), p. 76. See Heywood, Political Theory, p. 261 and ‘Introduction’, The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, p. 21. Green’s aim was to be able to imagine the ability of people ‘to make the most and best of themselves’, Heywood, Political Theory, p. 262. B. R. Ambedkar, ‘Speech on the adoption of the Constitution’, in Niraja Gopal Jayal, ed., Democracy in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 24. Martha Nussbaum, The Clash Within (Cambridge, MA; London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), p. 122. The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, pp. 134–35. Ibid. Alexander S. Rippa, Education in a Free Society: An American History (New York: Longman, 1997). For the citation see, http://nlu.nl.edu/ace/ Resources/Addams.html (accessed 10 December 2008). For Jane Addams, see her Democracy and Social Ethics (New York: Macmillan & Co., 1902). According to Martha Nussbaum, they were ‘very likely aware of each other’s experiments’, see Nussbaum, The Clash Within, p. 87, n. 22. Nussbaum refers to Amiya Chandra Chakravarty who asserts that Tagore had discussions with Dewey. However, Chakravarty does not offer the evidence for this claim. See Amiya Chandra Chakravarty, A Tagore Reader (Boston: Beacon, 1961), p. 388. Nussbaum, The Clash Within, 152ff. The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, p. 62. B. R. Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste’, in The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, ed. Valerian Rodrigues (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 263–305. Ibid., p. 276; emphasis added. ‘A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience’, Dewey, Democracy and Education, p. 93; emphasis added.
45. The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, p. 285. 46. Richard Rorty, ‘Failed Prophecies, Glorious Hopes’, in Philosophy and Social Hope (London: Penguin, 1998), Chapter 14. 47. Ibid., pp. 292–93. 48. See Nancy Frankenberry, Religion and Radical Empiricism (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1987), Chapter 5. Frankenberry refers to James, Dewey, Wieman, Meland and Loomer. For radical empiricism and intercultural philosophy see my ‘Pragmatism and Social Ethics’. 49. The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, p. 184. 50. Ibid. 51. Ibid., p. 185. 52. Rorty, ‘Religious Faith, Intellectual Responsibility and Romance’, in Philosophy and Social Hope, p. 161. 53. On a controversy between Rorty and Dussel see my ‘Thinking Between Cultures: Pragmatism, Rorty and Intercultural Philosophy’, Ideas Y Valores, vol. 57, no. 138, pp. 41–71, 2008, http://www.revistas.unal.edu.co/index.php/ idval/article/view/9105 (accessed 1 October 2010). I take Dussel’s words from Enrique Dussel, The Underside of Modernity: Apel, Ricoeur, Rorty, Taylor and the Philosophy of Liberation, trans. and ed. Eduardo Mendieta (Amherst: Humanity Books, 1996), p. 105: ‘Reflection departs from the poor or oppressed, who in her suffering, needing corporeality, works: where there is a priority of developing an economics from the oppressed, from the suffering which is felt as misery (Elend, Marx would say) of the dominated (this is the ethical moment). This setting out from a “we” lies “beyond” (in an exteriority) the dominating, ruling, hegemonic, central (i.e., center-periphery), “we intentions” of “liberal irony”.’ For Dussel, Rorty’s experience and struggle within philosophy (linguistic turn) is ‘very North American, intra-university’ — existentially Rorty departs ‘from a North American academic and universitary medium’, ibid., pp. 103–4. Rorty’s criticism of Dussel’s (and similar) efforts was prejudiced (perhaps not without justification) precisely because of his grave doubts about any ‘emancipatory’ notion of politics, grounded in different ‘metaphysical’ visions of a (social, or any) Reality. 54. The Essential Writings of B. R. Ambedkar, p. 189. 55. Enrique Dussel, Beyond Philosophy: Ethics, History, Marxism, and Liberation Theology, ed. Eduardo Mendieta (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003); see ‘Ethical Sense of the 1994 Maya Rebellion in Chiapas’, Chapter 10. 56. Unger, Democracy Realized, p. 27. 57. Ibid. I understand ‘institutional experimentalism’ in a broader sense (including schools, universities, etc.). 58. Unger, The Self Awakened, p. 26. 59. Ibid. 60. Unger, The Self Awakened, p. 175. 61. Unger, Democracy Realized, p. 7. 62. Ibid., p. 9.
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63. Ibid., p. 10. 64. For Latin America see Dussel’s Beyond Philosophy, Chapter 10, ‘Ethical Sense of the 1994 Maya Rebellion in Chiapas’: it is expressed in the form of a larger solidarity with others as a mode of our communal ethical being-in the-world, as manifested in a slogan of the EZLN: todo por todos, nada por nosotros (‘for everyone, everything, for ourselves, nothing’). Solidarity with others (those in similar situations of poverty and suffering) which is based on the politico-ethical recognition of basic corporeal needs is therefore a signpost for new socio-ethical thinking in a globalized world. For African ethical criterion see J. Mbiti’s statement ‘I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am’ and the ubuntu ethics. The criterion consists of two basic principles: the first states that ‘to denigrate and disrespect the other human being is in the first place to denigrate and disrespect oneself only if it is accepted that oneself is a subject worthy of dignity and respect’, and the second states that when one is confronted with a choice ‘between wealth and the preservation of the life of another human being, then one should opt for the preservation of life’. Mbiti’s statement is cited after Kwame Gyekye, Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 52. For the contemporary ‘ubuntu ethics’ see Mogobe B. Ramose’s essays, ‘The Philosophy of Ubuntu and Ubuntu as Philosophy’, ‘The Ethics of Ubuntu’ and ‘Globalization and Ubuntu’, in P. H. Coetzee and A. P. J. Roux, eds, The African Philosophy Reader (London: Routledge, 2003); for citations, see p. 644; emphasis added. For a further discussion, see my ‘Pragmatism and Social Ethics’. 65. Luce Irigaray, Democracy Begins Between Two, trans. Kirsteen Anderson (London: The Athlone Press, 2000), pp. 4, 9. 66. Braidotti, Transpositions, p. 14; emphasis added. 67. Cf. Luce Irigaray, Between East and West, trans. Stephen Pluhácek (Delhi: New Age Books, 2005), p. 3. 68. Ibid., p. 7. 79. For the elaboration of breath in William James, see his Essays in Radical Empiricism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), p. 19: ‘I cannot help that, however, for I, too, have my intuitions and must obey them. Let the case be what it may in others, I am as confident as I am of anything that, in myself, the stream of thinking (which I recognize emphatically as a phenomenon) is only a careless name for what, when scrutinized, reveals itself to consist chiefly of the stream of my breathing. The ‘I think’ which Kant said must be able to accompany all my objects, is the ‘I breathe’ which actually does accompany them. There are other internal facts besides breathing (intracephalic muscular adjustments, etc., of which I have said a word in my larger Psychology), and these increase the assets of ‘consciousness’, so far as the latter is subject to immediate perception; but breath, which was ever the original of ‘spirit’, breath moving outwards, between the glottis and the nostrils,
70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77.
L Š is, I am persuaded, the essence out of which philosophers have constructed the entity known to them as consciousness.’ I analyze the importance of breathing in James’s thought in my essay ‘Pragmatism and Social Ethics’. For the problematic of breath in Richard Shusterman, see his Body Consciousness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). Irigaray, Between East and West, pp. 79–80. Ibid., p. 80. Ibid., p. 90. Luce Irigaray, Sharing the World (London: Continuum, 2008). Irigaray, Democracy Begins Between Two, p. 168. Ibid., p. 170. Upanisads, trans. Patrick Olivelle (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 73 (Khilakanda, 5.2.3). Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), Chapter 1. Sen admits that it was the famous question posited by Maitreyi (‘What should I do with that by which I do not become immortal?’; 8n) that helped him understand that it was not the GNP/GDP which would serve as a tool for judging progress in humanity (i.e., the realm of positive freedom).
7 Constitutional Democracy and Hindu Nationalism R B
lthough a more or less secular Congress government has ruled for over five years, India, the world’s largest democracy, is not completely out of danger. The loss of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recently held elections (2004, 2009) does not entirely convince people like me that the tussle for the constitutional soul of India is over and that a secular democratic India is securely in place. This essay is an attempt to capture the contours of the struggle about India’s identity. In order to help focus on some of the issues I have in mind, it might help to revisit the gruesome violence in Gujarat in February–March 2002 — the horrific killing of 58 Hindus on a train, followed by widespread pogrom of Muslim communities across the state. The Gujarat pogrom was viewed by large sections of the BJP, the leader of the governing coalition at that time, as an opportunity. Taking advantage of the fact that it also controlled the state government in Gujarat, it sought to advance its agenda of polarizing Hindus against Muslims in India by calling for state elections there. This aggressive strategy of early state elections in Gujarat was based on the calculation that a rich electoral harvest could be reaped from the communal tensions that the carnage provoked. This gamble was designed as part of a larger political strategy to pave the way for a militant ‘Hindutva’ (an exclusively Hindu-centred definition of ‘Indianness’) line that would replace the fuzzy agenda of the then ruling coalition in New Delhi. The BJP plan went awry. A meticulously worded order of the Election Commission (EC), a constitutional body with sole responsibility to conduct free and fair elections, ruled that conditions were not yet appropriate for elections in Gujarat. The argument of the Commission
was premised on a fundamental democratic principle: that every vote is equally valuable, and that the overall political climate must allow each vote to be cast peacefully and fairly. The large-scale displacement of people, especially victimized minorities, and the pervasive fear that haunted riot-affected areas had rendered the electoral roll gravely defective. The Commission argued that elections could be held only after the revision of the roll. It rightly claimed that, at that particular juncture, political mobilization, an integral part of the electoral process, would inflame passions and shatter the fragile peace in the state. Several leaders of the BJP were furious with the Commission and began a campaign of slander against the Chief Election Commissioner, J. M. Lyngdoh. The Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, hurled insult after insult against the Commissioner. Boundaries between the party and the government blurred. Lal Krishna Advani, the then Deputy Prime Minister, said that the job of the EC was to hold elections, not to stop them. All this was expected. But more striking was that the BJP also felt compelled to challenge the order on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. A couple of days later, the BJP cabinet referred the order of the EC to the President. In turn, he referred it to the Supreme Court. Mercifully, the Supreme Court declined to interfere with the EC’s decision to postpone elections. By the skin of its constitutional teeth, India was saved from gross moral impropriety and perhaps, from even greater tragedies. The election was eventually held in December 2002 and Narendra Modi won. Yet, a question worth addressing remains: why did the BJP condemn the order as unconstitutional? Why was it not content with hurling abuses at the Commissioner? I believed then and continue to believe now that this subsequent episode showed that, whether they like it or not, the rules of liberal, secular democracy continue to constrain political strategies and to set boundaries on the language and rhetoric of ultra-Hindu nationalists in India even when they are in power. They felt obliged then and do so now to legitimize their actions in terms of the normative, value-laden vocabulary of secular democracy. To show this to be the case is part of the objective of this essay. However, I have one other goal. The last decade has seen the growth of an enormously varied and rich scholarship on the rise of militant Hindu nationalism (Jaffrelot, Hansen, Corbridge and Harriss, to name a few). It is also my aim to fill an important lacuna in the intellectually
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astute and engaging explanations of this phenomenon available to us. Without building a coherent causal narrative, Section I lists some of these explanations for the resurgence of Hindu nationalism. Section II identifies an important feature absent in these explanations, namely the normative vocabulary of secular, liberal democracy embedded in the Indian Constitution. In section III, I argue against the view that its presence in the Indian public domain is anyway weak and wholly superficial. Section IV, the meat of the chapter, delineates why and how it shapes the motivational structure of ultra-Hindu nationalists and how in turn they shape it. I argue that though constrained by this framework, ultra-Hindu nationalists negotiate it by stretching the criteria of the application of key normative terms such as democracy and secularism. In doing so, they seek to transform not merely the meaning of words but an entire political culture. This crucial step has to be undertaken by them if they are to advance any further.1 Since a complete explanation of a phenomenon must answer not only why-questions but also how-questions, the story of this ideological battle is a crucial ingredient in a fully adequate explanation of the resurgence of Hindu nationalism and the form it assumes. At the end, I hint toward a possible discourse-related, concept-sensitive explanation of the crisis of India’s secular democracy.
I What made the re-emergence of a vigorous anti-secular politics possible? What has put the saffron wave on the boil? What explains its ‘move from the margins to the centre’? Before I proceed further, allow me to list a set of factors, neither exhaustive nor arranged in causal hierarchy, which explains the resurgence of Hindu nationalism. My sole purpose here is to draw the attention of the reader to the missing link in the explanatory chain.
Long-term Standing Enabling Conditions a. The availability of certain forms of identities generated by specific religious regimes in India and the presence of certain strands of Hindu nationalism within most varieties of Indian nationalism. (Peter van der Veer).2 b. Colonial classification and enumeration that reified/essentialized communities and made their legal codification into discrete
and incompatible groups possible (Cohn, Kaviraj, Hansen, Corbridge and Harriss).3 c. The presence of an irreversible process of social egalitarianism that persistently challenges traditional hierarchies and forever throws up new interest and identity claims. d. The institutionalization of representative democracy and its propensity to encourage ethno-religious political mobilization.
Short-term Standing Enabling Conditions a. The presence of majoritarian democracy since the 1980s. b. A communalized state machinery causally linked to gradual erosion of the state’s commitment to secularism.4 c. The availability of new bargaining strategies and the opportunities to directly undermine political opponents and to brazenly manipulate symbols in the political field.5 d. Pervasive consumerism and an unconstrained disposition to pursue brutal self-interest (greed), fostered by the deployment of neoliberal economic strategies.
Long-term Actions by Primary Political Actors (Proponents of Hindutva) a. The relentless ideological and organizational work of militant Hindu nationalists day after day, every morning, against the ‘Gandhi–Nehru vision of India’ and to build politically useful ‘welfarist’ networks in civil society.6 b. The sustained political manipulation of symbols of group identity to bolster the centralizing and homogenizing tendency within Hinduism and, by the simultaneous stigmatization and emulation of others, to seek not only a massive comparative advantage for a modern, centralized, semitized Hindu community, but to also replace liberal, secular democracy by the Hindu rashtra.7
Short-term Actions by Primary Political Actors a. Ideological and political campaigns such as the Ekmatayajna and around issues such as the Meenakshipuram conversion, Babri Masjid, Shahbano and the missionary work of Christian organizations. b. The attractive packaging, at the right time, of historically produced notions of Hinduness.8
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Short-term and Long-term Actions by Secondary Political Actors a. The strategy of the Congress Party to alternately abet majority and minority communalism. b. The role of the Congress in fostering Hindu majoritarianism. c. The politicization of institutions, for short-term political gain, by the Congress. d. The instrumentalist attitude of Left parties to liberal–democratic institutions.
Long-term and Short-term Actions of Social Actors a. The support given to ultra-Hindu nationalists by upper-castes/ middle classes to curb the rising assertiveness of hitherto marginalized classes, castes and to tackle the political uncertainty generated by it.9 b. Sections of Indian people support Hindu nationalism because it appears to rectify the apparently disastrous consequences of modernization and to provide solution to the atomization, anomie, fragmentation and alienation seen to be necessary features of modernity.10
II What’s Missing? I have here merely mentioned these factors. It is not part of my objective to construct a story out of this list, to assign causal weights to factors, or to assess their relative significance. On my part, I find each of these plausible. However, I believe something important to be missing in these accounts. The missing feature is this: the discourse of liberal democracy that compels even ultra-Hindu nationalists to legitimize their actions in terms of its normative vocabulary. Readers may have noticed that explanations offered thus far focus on actions and their enabling conditions. As a first step towards identifying the missing pieces in a more comprehensive explanation, we must notice the structural constraints at work. The social and political fields that disable human beings from acting in certain ways also direct them to seek alternative ways of acting and therefore contribute to the explanation of what they do and how they realize their objectives. For instance, Jaffrelot claims that the success of ultra-Hindu
nationalists has varied with the character and performance of the Indian state. The Nehruvian state, determinedly secular, kept Hindu nationalism firmly in check till the 1960s.11 However, over time, with the communalization of the legal machinery and of the wider public domain, a resurgent Hindu nationalism was witnessed. Going further, Hansen claims that wider constraints moulding Hindu nationalism are still at work today. For him, no matter how strongly they rely on hate speech or on violence against minorities, ultra-Hindu nationalists have had to advance, by and large, by following the procedures of parliamentary democracy and by respecting ‘the judiciary, the electoral process and the rules of the game’.12 Indeed both Jaffrelot and Hansen are sensitive to constraints on political actors imposed not only by institutions but by the availability of discursive genres and strategies. For Hansen, political action is conditioned by the ‘structured archive of possible connotation and reconstruction available in the production of political legitimacy’.13 Jaffrelot, even more explicitly, draws upon the work of Bourdieu and Bailey, and refers to the ‘legitimating problematic of politics’, to ‘normative rules’ by which particular actions are judged right or wrong and publicly justified or condemned.14 I join hands with this discourse-sensitive analysis of political action because I believe, as its proponents do, that the resurgence of Hindu nationalism cannot be explained only by material interests, by the will to power or even by ideals of nationalists themselves. A sound explanation must refer to public values and norms of justification that are constitutive of the conditions that inhibit or enable certain kinds of political acts. Hansen clearly believes in the efficacy of certain kinds of discourses in shaping and perhaps even restricting the resurgence of Hindu nationalism. However, given his belief that liberal democracy never quite took root in India, it is not entirely clear whether in his view the discourse of liberal democracy is part of the legitimating problematic of politics that constrains Hindu nationalism. On the other hand, Jaffrelot’s reference to the constraining power of the secular state on the activities of ultra-Hindu nationalists explicitly includes secularism as a legitimating norm. In the Nehruvian era, certain kinds of political actions were rendered impossible by the prevailing legitimating problematic. For example, the normative vocabulary of secularism frequently inhibited ethno-religious mobilization, and therefore curbed the rise of Hindu nationalism. However, over time, as secularism lost its legitimacy, the very same acts, once inconceivable, became publicly acceptable. Quite clearly, Jaffrelot has a good sense of how values and principles enable or constrain political action. By and large,
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only those acts which can be publicly legitimized are realizable. If an action currently inhibited by available norms of public justification is to be performed, the content of these norms must first be altered. This indeed has been done. Over time, the discourse of public justification has in fact changed, a point amply demonstrated by the erosion of secularism. Hence, the proliferation of Hindu nationalism. I agree on the explanatory significance of public norms and values with both Hansen and Jaffrelot, but differ on an important detail. For Hansen, the constitutional discourse of liberal–democratic norms and values has never been salient in India. (This is different from a more broadly conceived democratic discourse to which he does give overwhelming importance.) For Jaffrelot, this discourse was once salient, but, with the gradual erosion of Nehruvianism, is now completely eclipsed. Indeed, its absence explains the rise of Hindu nationalism. For me, the discursive field set out by liberal democracy continues to shape, enable and constrain the political strategies and discursive performance of ultra-Hindu nationalists. I believe liberal democracy is part of the standing discursive conditions in Indian society and that, therefore, ultra-Hindu nationalists frequently possess a motive to legitimize their actions in terms of its normative vocabulary. The central objective of my chapter is to show how this is so and to identify the actual mechanism by which this happens. More modestly put, I wish to carry forward and fine-tune Jaffrelot’s analysis and in the process hope to bring to light the micro-level mechanisms by which ultra-Hindu nationalists are able or are disabled from implementing and advancing their agenda. Hardly anyone disagrees about the erosion of secularism. But surely differences can arise over the extent and outcome of this erosion and its precise mechanism. No doubt, the legitimating norms that govern Indian politics have changed but perhaps not quite in the manner suggested by Jaffrelot. The story of their erosion is more complicated. Conversely, the sedimentation of liberal–democratic norms, both its dispersion and the depth it has reached in Indian society and polity is more than is currently believed by many academics.
III Does a Liberal–Democratic Discourse Really Exist? I have assumed the existence of a liberal–democratic discourse so far. But does it exist at all? Many critics believe it does not. Predictably, there are two versions of this critique, one strong, the other weak.
The stronger version, that I have earlier called the cultural inadaptability thesis, and which I associate with Ashis Nandy and T. N. Madan, makes a claim that modernity, Western by origin and character, is entirely alien to home-grown outlooks and can exist in India only superficially, by more or less coercive, external imposition.15 For example, Madan argues that secularism is impossible in South Asia if viewed as a shared credo of life, impracticable as a basis for state action, and impotent as a blueprint for the foreseeable future. For Madan, secularism is impossible because it depends both on the distinction between the sacred and the profane and on the availability of a relation of equality between the two domains they inhabit. However, either South Asian religions make no such distinction or when they do it is invariably encompassed within the sacred giving the religious a distinct priority over the secular. This makes it impossible to give equal validity to the domains of the sacred and the profane. Under such cultural conditions, secularism, born out of a dialectic between protestant Christianity and the Enlightenment, cannot take root in India. I agree with the view that modernity originated in the West and migrated elsewhere, and also with the claim that in some spheres and to varying degrees, it failed on its arrival to take root because non-modern cultural systems by which ordinary people lived their lives were deeply entrenched, resilient to change and not easily displaceable.16 However, this view fails to notice two other processes also at work in India. First, Western modernity found a safe niche in these societies quite easily. To take just one example, Westernization was adopted for purely instrumental reasons. Something akin to this process had begun as early as the late-17th century when a section of the commercial middle class were seen to be ‘clad in a more stylish garb, with a head-dress of calico-coiled turban, light vest, and loose trousers. They all spoke English, offered their services for small wages, and waited on the passengers to execute their business’.17 A rational choice to be Western was also not entirely uncommon in the early18th century. Calcuttan youth, shocked by the murky excesses of traditions, ‘openly adopted an aggressive attitude to everything Hindu and openly defied the cannons of their inherited religion . . . while some of them offended public opinion by their youthful exuberance, such as drinking to excess, flinging beef-bones into the houses of the orthodox and parading the streets shouting “we have eaten Musalman bread”’.18 In short, hyper-Westernization became a form of protest against the filth in one’s own traditions, something started by
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Ram Mohan Roy and continued to this day by dalits. (The bespectacled statue of Ambedkar in a blue suit, and polished shoes, with a copy of the Constitution in hand is an apt reminder.) Quite possibly, changes in society necessitated certain functions to be performed and, in the absence of functional analogues within existing cultural systems, this role could be fulfilled only by elements within Western modernity. This explains the painless, rather smooth, acceptance in India of modern educational and legal systems. As early as 1841, ‘it was noticed that the Chamars, despised untouchables of northern India, were not afraid to bring suits against their landlords’.19 This quick absorption of Western modernity had another reason. Perhaps it contained many elements that correspond to deep mythical structures within non-Western civilizations. Despite differences on the surface, if any feature of Western modernity had a deeper universal structure, its absorption was mere formality. Something along these lines is suggested by Ashis Nandy in his explanation of why cricket, an early modern English game, gained huge popularity in the entire subcontinent.20 However, a second, equally important, process also requires attention. When Western modernity began to interact with local cultural systems, something like a hybrid culture began to emerge, possibly by creative adaptation, for which an analogue can be found neither in Western modernity nor in indigenous tradition. These new phenomena resemble Western modern and traditional entities and can be mistaken one for the other but they escape the interpretative grid and discourse relating to both. This cluster of newly developed phenomenon forged from modern Western and indigenous traditional cultural systems begets a different, alternative modernity. In non-Western societies, different modernities emerged as non-Western peoples broke loose from not only past practices but also from the shackles of a particular version of Western modernity imposed on them.21 Weaker versions do not defend the impossibility of the entry of modernity into India but claim that despite the efforts of early social reformers, the discourse of liberal democracy could not flourish or be easily transplanted on Indian soil for specific historical reasons. This point has already been well illustrated by me elsewhere.22 There I argued that the claim that the entire discourse of rights was detached from its individualist framework and plugged into a collectivist world-view is over simplistic. Such a view is mistaken for two reasons. First, it radically misunderstands Indian intellectual history. It buys the orientalist view that people of India conceived
themselves wholly in terms of communities and that individualist self-conceptions reached India only with colonial modernity. A strong shadow of a deeply ahistorical understanding of an immutable caste structure falls patently on this perspective. It might be argued that I caricature the orientalist view. After all, does it not accept an otherworldly individualism has always been integral to the world-view of Hindus and Buddhists? But this misses my point. My critique is more subtle. I believe that the orientalist does not see a non-Western but ‘this-worldly’ self-orientation in Indian history. To support my claim, I provide two examples. The first comes from the Vir Shaivite movement that condemned child marriage and arranged marriage, and opposed caste distinctions as well as the intermediary role of brahmins in the performance of rites and ceremonies. Although one cannot transpose modern individualist ideas on to the 12th century, it is hard not to conclude that some form of this worldly individualism is presupposed by this radical agenda.23 My second example is from late19th century. Henry Clark, an Evangelist, was perplexed to find that the palanquin-bearers in parts of Punjab were using tobacco even though they were Sikhs. When asked, they told him that their hard labour demanded that they refresh themselves with the hukkas, so when they left their homes for the town they gave up Sikhism and had their hair cut. On their return home for the winter, they paid a few annas and were re-initiated. Quite clearly, this movement in and out of religious identities is not possible without some individualist self-understanding.24 This is why I claimed that something akin to what we now call liberalism existed in India well before the advent of colonial modernity. Anyhow — and this is my second reason — many Western liberal ideas could make a considerable impact on an aspiring middle stratum of Indian society because it genuinely articulated and responded to their needs. How else does one explain the substantive liberal content in the Indian opposition to the infamous Rowlett Act that proposed the extension of emergency powers and arbitrary detention after the end of the First World War? Western individualist liberalism did not arrive in India only through the spoken or the written word but as a structural need of a modern polity. A claim such as Khilnani’s that the discourse of liberal democracy could not take root in India is overstated.25 A different, perhaps more subtle view is found in Hansen which notes that ‘early intellectuals strove to retrieve the conceptual grammar of liberal democratic discourse from the connotative domain it had
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developed in the west and to implant it in the colonial context as a critique of colonial incompatibility with true universalism’. It recognizes the existence of ‘a language of negative rights defined in opposition to colonial power’ but finds that liberalism did not take deep roots in India as ‘the discourse of rights and equality was applied almost entirely to collectivities’. Therefore, the language of negative rights ‘was subordinated throughout colonial struggle to rights of communities to representation, separate legislation, recognition and national self-determination’.26 But Hansen merely asserts this claim without citing any evidence in its support. True, the language of collective rights had a visible, sometimes overwhelming, presence in India but it hardly follows from this that it automatically subsumed the language of individual rights. In fact, Hansen’s claim begs the question: were the two languages always mutually exclusive? Did one have to subordinate the other? Could not one complement the other, occupying and responding to different spheres of equally valuable human aspirations? Indeed, Hansen’s claim sits uncomfortably with his view that the agrarian movements of the 1970s reveal that as commercialization and democratization transform class and status, the language of rights and entitlements — the right to protest, assert oneself, to be heard by the government — has become naturalized in rural India.27 This language of political assertion and protest is part precisely of the discourse of ‘negative rights defined in opposition to colonial power’. This is not to deny that liberal democratic discourse is in crisis in India today. Liberal institutions in India appear to be prematurely fatigued. Given the Western origins of liberal democracy, its apparent distance from traditional Indian cultural ethos and because of the increasing delegitimation of liberal democratic institutions in contemporary India, it is tempting to believe that whatever else it might be Indian democracy never was and never can be liberal. However, this view is not convincing. On the contrary, I believe the present crisis of liberal democracy is due in large part to its own success. The introduction of civil liberties gave voice to the mute, and the stage for action was set by the democratic process for those hitherto debarred from the public domain. They entered it with new modes of speech and action to which the initiators of liberal democracy were unaccustomed, and in numbers that greatly exceeded the tiny upper crust that led the national movement. It is no doubt true that those empowered by institutions of liberal democracy do not come from a cultural background with an obviously liberal or democratic character.
However, from this it would be mistaken to conclude that this newly empowered class is wholly maladjusted to these institutions. I am more tempted to believe that a more vibrant presence of dalits and OBC will change the form of liberal democracy in India, not negate it. To sum up, I stand by my claim that assertions about the absence of liberal democracy in India are grossly exaggerated, that an Indian version of liberal–democratic discourse has been and continues to be part of the standing discursive conditions, and that it provides a valuable normative resource, and therefore, in different and often unacknowledged ways, shapes the motivational structure of almost every social and political agent in India.
IV Liberal–Democratic Discourse as a Standing Condition, as a Legitimating Motive It is time to return to the explanatory narrative. So, how does the real story go, especially in conditions that have become more propitious for the consolidation of Hindu nationalism? Every society has an ethical identity or a range thereof. By the ethical identity of a society, I mean a certain kind of awareness of ourselves constituted partly by the values and principles in terms of which we aspire to judge our collective practices and institutions. I believe the professed and projected ethical identity of Indian society, no matter how fiercely contested, is still shaped at least partly and in some significant ways by the normative vocabulary of liberal democracy embedded in the Constitution by the language of freedom and equality, of rights, justice, secularism and democracy. Furthermore, I believe that the discursive field created by the Constitution continues to hem in ultra-Hindu nationalists in the sense that they are continually compelled to justify their unseemly acts in terms of the normative vocabulary of the Constitution. This means that ultra-Hindu nationalists must remain constantly alert to any inimical assessment of their acts by defenders of the Constitution, to meet the challenge posed by such critics and to hope to overcome it. They must convince their critics that the key evaluative terms that constitute the core of the normative content of the Constitution can be used in reasonably suitable re-descriptions of actions that are mistakenly believed to be constitutionally illegitimate.
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They are frequently forced to point out to their critics that the standard criteria of the application of terms by which their ideological foes evaluate the constitutionality of their own actions also render constitutional the seemingly improper acts of BJP. Suppose then that ultra-Hindu nationalists act in a way that, on the standard interpretation of legitimating norms of the Constitution, is condemned as improper, say that it violates norms of democracy or secularism or rights. Ultra-Hindu nationalists can respond to this objection in at least two ways: either to say, so what, and who cares?28 Or else, say that the act under consideration does not violate rights or democracy or secularism because these terms are not what they are in standard taken to mean but connote something different, that which had hitherto never been brought to light. They can then go on to claim that, when understood properly, by their lights, which is the only relevant way to understand them, their acts are perfectly consistent with what rights or secularism or democracy really mean. So they can now say, ‘Look here, contrary to your claim, I really am a rights-supporter or a supporter of secularism or a supporter of democracy’. The pertinent question to ask is: do or do they not have a motive to take this second option? In short, do or do they not possess a motive to legitimize their acts in terms of the normative vocabulary of the Constitution? I believe they do, for three reasons. First, what might be called the residual normative power of the Constitution; no matter how mauled, abused or neglected, the Constitution still retains instrumental value even for Hindutva forces. Despite all its alleged shortcomings, it has after all given some space to these forces to carry forward their agenda. Second, visibly ascendant social forces, such as the dalits, which even ultra-Hindu nationalists cannot afford to ignore, support the Constitution. For them, its language — with its grammar of rights and democracy — remains a living force because in their own distinctive yet amorphous way, they recognize it to be an integral part of the conditions that improve their material wellbeing. In a small but important way, the Constitution really does empower ordinary people. Because it promises emancipation to a large majority of people, and captures the aspiration of those left behind or out of the processes of ‘development’, the constitutional discourse is a major, though not hegemonic, discursive resource. Perhaps a comparison between the moral language of the Constitution and the English language can be instructive here.
English no longer enjoys the status that it once enjoyed in post-colonial India, no longer bestows privilege on its speakers as it once did, but it is clear enough to everyone that it still brings enormous material benefits. Much the same may be true of our constitutional discourse. It may no longer — perhaps never did — have the halo around it which makers of the Constitution thought it would or should enjoy, but, designed to give opportunity, entitlements and a life of dignity to everyone, it has immense practical utility. People may not care much about the high theory that surrounds or informs the Constitution but they can nevertheless straightaway understand how it helps improve their day-to-day existence. The political party of ultra-Hindu nationalists, the BJP, is an electorally-driven, culture-sensitive party, in search of moral hegemony and looking to extend, by all possible means, its moral legitimacy across diverse groups. Therefore, wherever possible, it hopes to co-opt the language of the Constitution. Since the BJP lacks complete legitimacy in the moral climate in which it finds itself, it cannibalizes other values in order to legitimize its behaviour. A third reason is to do with the nature of the Indian middle class, the main support base of the BJP. This middle class does not act in defiance of the Western world but rather in the hope of being recognized properly by Western eyes. In this sense the programme and strategy of a party supported by this middle class is bound to be different from the behaviour of a party led say by Khomeni. Since the language of rights and democracy continues to be an important constituent of international norms of public justification, and a part of the legitimating problematic of the politics of Western countries, it is not easily shrugged off. Those who seek recognition by the West must take care to legitimize their actions in terms of this discourse. So, in my view, the BJP does possess a motive to legitimize its practices in terms of the normative vocabulary of the Indian Constitution. To say that ultra-Hindu nationalists have a motive to legitimize their actions in terms of the normative vocabulary of the Constitution is not to suggest that they take the normativity of this vocabulary seriously, that they really believe in these values or principles. I am not committed even to the view that they act out of mixed motives, combining their own paramount, sectional interests with a half-hearted belief in a smattering of constitutional principles. The situation under discussion is one where acts are guided neither wholly nor partly by professed constitutional principles. Everyone, all relevant parties, the subjects of these acts themselves, the co-inhabitants of the same political field, as well as observers, share the view that political actors
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do not hold or follow the principles they profess. On the contrary, all evidence, including the one provided by subjects themselves, suggests the assessment of the critic to be right — their acts blatantly violate liberal democratic principles and are frequently meant to. Yet, a need is also felt by at least some members of the BJP that an appeal to others must be made in a language wholly alien to their own ideological ancestry and that their actions be legitimized in terms of this normative resource. It is of course true that straightforward manipulation may be involved here. The real aim of ultra-Hindu nationalists is to alter the ethical identity and character of Indian politics and society. This real motive is camouflaged by putting on a mask, with as much sham sincerity as can be mustered, to publicly claim that actions condemned by ideological opponents can be easily redescribed so that any disapproving judgement must be withheld. Despite these very real motives, and because agents are interested in the public legitimation of their actions, they are forced to adopt a rhetorical device, compelled to use the language of the Constitution, to talk and sometimes even behave as if the professed norm, value or principle was in fact part of their motivational set. They must pretend that their acts are in conformity with the principles and values in the normative tradition made available by the Constitution. Undoubtedly, this is a cynical and unscrupulous move, ideological in the worst sense of the term, but it recoils on ultra-Hindu nationalists in that by adopting this rhetorical device they limit themselves only to those acts which can be so legitimized.29 It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to continue to perform acts which, despite all the manoeuvre, can never get this legitimacy. Some acts are so blatantly beyond the pale of constitutional legitimacy, possessing an unethical character so obvious and plain, that it is impossible for political agents to simultaneously adopt the rhetoric, feign sincerity and perform them. The need for legitimization, and the hold of the rhetoric of rights, democracy, even secularism, is so strong that the performance of some acts must be forsaken. If ultra-Hindu nationalists continue to possess a motive to legitimize their actions in terms of the public, normative vocabulary made available by the Constitution, then in a sense the conditions that prohibited certain kinds of acts in the past continue to operate even today. However, such acts do not operate in the same way and their hold has certainly loosened. This has happened because an ascendant Hindu nationalism, though constrained by this discourse, has also had an impact on it. It has had to confront it, but it has no reason to
follow it in spirit. It has a motive to legitimize its actions in its terms but no motive to comply with it. Thus, many of its acts which would be inhibited in the past, can now be performed provided they can appear to be constitutional. If so, the same constitutional language both constrains some type of acts and is part of the enabling condition of others.30 How has this happened or how can this be done? How do ultra-Hindu nationalists manage to perform acts which they could not possibly have performed in the heyday of Nehruvian secularism? They do this by further muddying an already muddled discourse, by generating enough confusion and ambivalence to befuddle the observer. They do this, as Skinner puts it in an entirely different context, ‘by the performance of a linguistic sleight of hand’.31 The actors now perform an ideological trick, confounding the critic by dropping some criteria that apply in ordinary and standard cases of the use of an evaluative term but retaining others. They either try to stretch the meaning of constitutional terms or extend the range of cases to which they apply. If the strategy is to succeed, the manoeuvre has to be played delicately, with a considerable degree of deftness. Ultra-Hindu nationalists must drop neither too many nor too few of the relevant criteria. If they do not drop enough, it will be obvious that the term does not apply to their acts. If they drop too many, it is again obvious that an entirely different meaning is invested in the old term, that it has been thoroughly distorted and abused.32 Either way, it leaves the critic unconvinced. In order to make my point, let me take as examples two key constitutional terms: democracy, which I discuss briefly, and, secularism, of which I speak in some detail.
Democracy In the Constitution, the term ‘democracy’ refers to a complex, five-feature system in which (a) decisions are reached by a peaceful procedure wherein (b) the widest possible range of individual as well as group interests are represented (c) by persons elected through a system of universal franchise (d) who discuss and accommodate the enduring needs and current preferences of each other’s constituencies and who (e) are inhibited from arriving at decisions that may adversely affect the common interests and rights of all citizens.33 The Constitution particularly emphasizes our identity as citizens that presupposes political community and political equality, regardless of caste, religion,
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gender or race, and identifies democracy with the alternating rule of temporary political majorities which must never infringe the legitimate rights of individuals or of religion-based minorities. Equality of citizenship, rule by temporary political majority, and the protection of individual and group rights are central to this conception of democracy. Gradually, the political practice of very nearly every major political party, and the sustained ideological work of ultra-Hindu nationalists, has very nearly transformed the constitutional meaning of ‘democracy’. A serious blow to the original constitutional meaning came by a deft, though not entirely planned, strategy of subtracting some criteria of using the constitutional sense of the term. Features (a) and (c) are retained: democracy remains a system where decisions are taken by a peaceful procedure by representatives elected by all adults. But from both features (b) and (d), elements crucial to the earlier view are dropped. The widest range of interests may no longer be adequately represented in the decision-making arena, and the enduring needs of individuals, and particularly, minority communities need not be discussed or accommodated. Dropping these features opens up the strong possibility that feature (e) is violated. If so, an entire series of outcomes are rendered possible: the exclusion of certain communities from the system, the violation of community-specific or individual rights, the infringement of the principle of equality of citizenship. The critical distinction between the temporary rule of a political majority and the more or less permanent rule by an ethno-religious majority is fudged. Democracy is identified now with majority rule. For many, it has begun to mean rule by a permanent majority, a system of peaceful rule by a political/ethno-religious group legitimately elected under a system of universal suffrage. It is crucial that the meaning of ‘democracy’ not be mutated beyond recognition. Only if some of the older criteria continue to apply, do enough people remain convinced that the actions of political groups and the system generated by them are democratic. So, democracy remains an important ingredient of the legitimating problematic; only it can now mean something very different.
Secularism Secularism provides my other example. In several essays, I have outlined the distinctive conception of secularism to be found in the Indian Constitution and in the best practices of the Indian state.
I have argued that the Indian state is anti-theocratic and against the establishment of any religion. In this sense, it upholds the separation of the state both from the ultimate goals of different religions and from organized religious institutions. The state in India is set up to establish peace between communities, to uphold religious liberty of individuals, the autonomy of religious practices of religious communities and the same bundle of political rights of all citizens regardless of their religion. At the same time, it rejects the idea that separation must be understood as mutual or one-sided exclusion. It also eschews strict equidistance. Instead, it adopts a sophisticated stance of principled distance. It might help to summarize the main features of Indian secularism as follows: Feature A Feature B Feature B1 Feature B2 Feature B3 Feature C Feature D Feature E1 Feature E2 Feature E3 Feature E4 Feature F1
Feature F2 Feature F3
Anti-theocratic Disestablishment of religion No legal recognition to religion The separation of state institutions and religious institutions The separation of state personnel and religious personnel Principled distance of the state from all religions Peace and prevention of barbarism Religious liberty of individuals to criticize and challenge their own religion The liberty of an individual to reject the religion into which she is born and to embrace another religion Equality of religious liberty The autonomy of religious groups to maintain or change their religious practices as they deem fit Equality of passive citizenship: to physical security, minimum material wellbeing, to ordinary life with dignity Equality of active citizenship: to vote and to hold public office Equality of active citizenship: to deliberate freely in the public domain
The state in India is not merely anti-theocratic but opposed in principle to the establishment of religion. Furthermore, it keeps a principled distance from religious institutions for the sake of peace between communities, the religious liberty of individuals and, where relevant, the religious autonomy of communities (rights of religious minorities). It eschews establishment also to uphold equality of
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citizenship, to maintain the ordinary and dignified life of all citizens and to protect their political right to vote and to deliberate on the common good, irrespective of their religious affiliation. However, over the years, and particularly due to the sustained work by BJP ideologues, the term ‘secular’ has become unrecognizable. Secularism now connotes a political strategy underpinning the practices of a non-theocratic state by which it (a) maintains peace between communities and under certain conditions, within specified limits (b) protects the religious liberty of individuals . The BJP frequently cites the absence of communal rioting during their tenure as evidence of the secular character of states governed by it.34 However, by persistently attacking the social and cultural rights of religious minorities, ultra-Hindu nationalists have snapped the link between secularism and minority rights. Furthermore, thanks to the change in the meaning of democracy, the connection with is almost completely broken. If secularism is just and part of , then it is fully compatible with the privatization and de-politicization of non-Hindu religions as also the de-privatization and re-politicization of Hinduism. Full citizenship rights now depend on ethno-religious allegiance and need not be distributed equally. Principled distance too can now be reinterpreted to mean the distance of the state from religious institutions for the sake of communal peace and religious liberty of individuals, and is compatible with the public–political presence of the majority religious community. In short, secularism is now indistinguishable from the ideology of established states. (Feature B is virtually cancelled.) Much of the spadework for this complete distortion of secularism was effected by the gradual fudging of the difference between ‘secularism’ and ‘multiple establishment’ (a confusion also generated by publicizing secularism as equal respect for all religions), and then due to a further distortion of the meaning of multiple establishment. The complicity and practice of most political parties ensured that multiple establishment became a system that pampers the self-appointed, wholly non-accountable leadership of the fanatical fringe of almost every religious group. Secularism was now identified with the alternating appeasement of extremist religious groups. Once the connection of secularism with norms of equality and justice was obliterated, and secularism identified with this peculiar form of multiple establishment, not much conceptual work was required to force the term to mean simply , and a narrowly interpreted , i.e., a non-theocratic state with an overwhelming
allegiance to the dominant religious group that, under conditions of inequality, still manages to maintain a modicum of peace. Unlike the meaning of the term ‘democracy’, this piecemeal chopping of the criteria for the use of the term ‘secular’ has defiled the term beyond recognition, so much so that it is hard for even the most gullible to believe that its current connotation could be one of its possible meanings. It blatantly, in every conceivable way, infringes the idea of equality — of equal respect for religions or equality of citizenship — that lies at the heart of secularism. No matter how hard one tries, it is rather hard for anyone (for both who defend and oppose it) to stomach the view that secularism means a formal alliance of the state with the religion of the majority! This irretrievably abuses the term. Ultra-Hindu nationalists first tried to bolster and popularize this bizarre meaning, retain the positive, evaluative, tone of the term ‘secular’ and coined the negative term ‘pseudo-secular’ to designate other more pertinent meanings. But when this strategy did not work, they abandoned this irreparably damaged term or alter its ‘speech-act potential’. Instead of expressing approval, it is now frequently used to condemn certain morally defensible views and actions (for instance, respect for the rights of minorities and justice for all). Once secularism and democracy were conceptually complementary in India; now they can be presented as mutually exclusive. If democracy means the rule of an ethno-religious majority (a view that is part of middle-class/upper-caste common sense), and further, if the conceptual link between secularism and equality (and therefore equality of citizenship/ minority rights) — cannot after all be snapped a conceptual association also part of their common sense — then, given the current conjuncture of meanings, a choice between democracy and secularism is inescapable. Herein lies the crisis of secularism. Paradoxically, the very resilience of the original meaning of secularism plunges it into a deep crisis. I have argued that because of the presence of a liberal–democratic discourse in India, ultra-Hindu nationalists have a motive to legitimize their acts in terms of its normative vocabulary. However, they possess an even stronger motive not to comply with its principles. This gives them an equally strong motive to change the criteria of their application. Without dropping the use of these terms, and much to the horror of committed constitutionalists who immediately see through the trick, they seek to appropriate this discourse and stretch, indeed over stretch, the meaning of key terms. In altering the meaning of
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terms, they transform a whole political culture. I believe this change in political culture is a necessary condition of their takeover of the political arena and the state. It follows that a great deal of work must be done in sustaining and re-invigorating India’s constitutional culture, if ultra-Hindu nationalist have to be marginalized. The story of the relationship between this constitutional discourse, the major political actors in India and the broader political arena which they inhabit is an irreducible part of a comprehensive explanatory narrative of the resurgence of ultra-Hindu nationalists. Conversely, it also plays an extremely important role in constraining the Hindu nationalist. In short, it plays an indispensable function in explaining the changing fortunes of ultra-Hindu nationalism.
Much of this essay was written for and presented at a conference organized by the Department of Politics, University of Bristol, May 2001, well before the horrific pogrom in parts of Gujarat in 2002. It was published as ‘Liberal, Secular Democracy and Explanations of Hindu Nationalism’, in Andrew Wyatt & John Zavos, eds, Decentring the Indian Nation (London: Frank Cass, 2003). The current essay is a slightly modified version with a set of introductory remarks written afterwards. I thank Tani Sandhu and Jerry Cohen for helpful comments on an earlier draft. 1. This statement assumes the presence of peaceful conditions. Everything can change if militancy creates a condition of virtual civil war or what I have elsewhere called symmetric barbarism. See Rajeev Bhargava, ‘Restoring Decency to Barbaric Society’, in Robert Rotberg and Dennis Thompson, eds, Truth Vs. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions (Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 45–67. 2. Peter van der Veer, Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India (Delhi; New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 40. 3. Bernard S. Cohn, Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1996); Sudipta Kaviraj, ‘The Imaginary Institution in India’, in Partha Chatterjee and Gyanendra Pandey, eds, Subaltern Studies VII (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992); Thomas Blom Hansen, The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India (New Delhi; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Stuart Corbridge and John Harriss, Reinventing India (Cambridge: Polity, 2000). 4. Christophe Jaffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925 to the 90s (New Delhi: Viking, 1996), pp. 330–37.
164 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.
11. 12. 13. 14. 15.
17. 18. 19. 20. 21.
22. 23. 24.
R B Hansen, The Saffron Wave. See Jaffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics. Ibid. On this see Hansen, The Saffron Wave, p. 19. Ibid. For Hansen, Hindutva is a way of imposing order on a disorderly world of democratic politics so that people can learn to live with the ‘undecidable character of the social worlds they live in’, ibid. ‘Because it connects meaningfully with everyday world, Hindu nationalism enables people to make sense of and cope with their everyday anxieties of security, a sense of disorder and more generally the ambivalence of modern life’, Hansen, ibid. See also Harold Gould, ‘Religion and Politics in a UP Constituency’, in Donald E. Smith, ed., South Asian Politics and Religion (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1966), pp. 51–73, particularly p. 73 where Gould points to the support for the Jana Sangh provided by those wedded to tradition and disgruntled by modernity. See Jaffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics, pp. 102, 106, 165, 330–32. Hansen, The Saffron Wave, p. 6. Ibid., p. 27. Jaffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics, p. 106. On the cultural inadaptability thesis and its critique see my review of T. N. Madan’s ‘Modern Myths, Locked Minds’, in The Book Review, vol. 21, no. 8, August 1997, pp. 11–13 and ‘What is Secularism For?’, in Rajeev Bhargava, ed., Secularism and its Critics (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998). For a detailed argument to this effect see Rajeev Bhargava, ‘Are there Alternative Modernities?’, in N. N. Vohra, ed., Culture, Democracy and Development in South Asia (New Delhi: Shipra, 2001). B. B. Misra quoted in Yogendra Singh, Modernization of Indian Tradition (Delhi: Rawat Publications, 1988), p. 89. Charles Heimsath quoted in ibid., pp. 91–92. O’ Malley quoted in ibid., p. 100. Ashis Nandy, The Tao of Cricket: On Games of Destiny and the Destiny of Games (New York: Viking, 1989). This explains the general ambivalence of non-Western intellectuals such as Gandhi and Tagore to modernity. On the relationship between modernity and tradition in India also see Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne H. Rudolph, The Modernity of Tradition (Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 1967). Rajeev Bhargava, The Promise of India’s Secular Democracy (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 3–33. See, Kenneth W. Jones, Socio Religious Reform Movements in British India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 11. Quoted in Harjot Oberoi, The Construction of Religious Boundaries (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 3.
Constitutional Democracy and Hindu Nationalism 25. 26. 27. 28. 29.
31. 32. 33.
Sunil Khilnani, The Idea of India (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1997). Hansen, The Saffron Wave, p. 40. Ibid., p. 141. This is exactly what many do. The point is that others of the same ilk are forced to distance themselves from such expressions of defiance. See Quentin Skinner, ‘Some Problems in the Analysis of Political Thought and Action’, in James Tully, ed., Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics (Cambridge: Polity, 1988), pp. 97–118. My own analysis is directly inspired by Skinner’s approach. Skinner develops his methodology primarily for the study of the history of political thought. My focus, on the other hand, is collective political action. I try to apply some of his insights to the study of political action. Ibid., p. 117. Skinner convincingly argues that ‘any principle which helps to legitimate a course of action must be amongst the enabling conditions of its occurrence’, ibid. Ibid. p. 115. Ibid. A proper analysis of the concept of democracy in the Indian Constitution is still awaited. However, for a broader and insightful understanding of this issue see Granville Austin, The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1966). It is another matter that violence in the public domain ceases precisely when its cynical, manipulative perpetrators manage to achieve what in the first place they had used it for, namely, radical communal polarization.
8 Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings? D B
dmund Burke said many things that sound congenial to democracy. For example, that he did not know the method of indicting a whole people; that he supposed liberty was whatever the people supposed liberty to be; that the popular will, no matter how capricious, was less dangerous than any power capable of resisting it; and that if the British Constitution had to perish, he would rather see it extinguished by an excess of democracy than by the ‘austere domination’ of a cruel and negligent aristocracy. These statements may seem to connect Burke with the democrats of his time (though all of them also suggest a moderate stance). An account of his defence of the people of India ought to begin therefore by admitting that Burke was an opponent of democracy. He worked steadily throughout his political career to resist the reform of the British Constitution in the direction of popular representation. He preferred to resist democracy by persuasion, not force, and without bending to pressure for the aggrandizement of the crown. The utterances cited above are drawn mostly from the years 1770–1780 — the time of the Wilkes controversy, of Burke’s opposition to the American war, and of his response to the County Movement for the reform of parliament. In the protracted encounters of that decade, Burke saw that democracy was probably coming, and he sought by accommodation to slow its progress. It is fair to contrast Burke in this period, who at least takes seriously the insurgent force of democracy, with Burke in his last phase, the writings of 1793–97 that culminate in the Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796–97). He would come to believe that democratic revolution was a threat to the order of the world. He would denounce the democrats of France, in particular, as men of
Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings?
perverted feelings, at war with human nature and at war with heaven itself. The worst thing about democracy, the later Burke judges, is that it aspires to be democracy pure and unmixed; yet in its pure state, it is inevitably tyrannical, for the people at large cannot be the subject of punishment by any human hand. ‘A perfect democracy is therefore the most shameless thing in the world. As it is the most shameless, it is also the most fearless’.1 These distinct emphases from the 1770s and the 1790s, taken together, sharpen one’s understanding of the suspicion that shaped Burke’s policy in the prosecution of Warren Hastings. It was a suspicion of unlimited power as such: an extreme wariness that persisted in the face of that strange hybrid, ‘a government in the disguise of a merchant’. The holders of East India fortunes, Burke believed, shared the despotic traits that ‘the people’ have in common with kings when their power is unchecked. To say it another way, Burke in his India writings speaks for a political idea that is inseparable from non-despotic democracy — the idea that no man is above the law, and that a government and the power it wields are never above justice. One finds throughout the prosecution of Hastings the same admonitory stance that marks the Reflections on the Revolution in France. The people should not ‘be suffered to imagine that their will, any more than that of kings, is the standard of right and wrong’.2 So, too, a company when it administers the affairs of a country should not be suffered to suppose that its methods are the standard of right and wrong. Let us recall the peculiar authority of the East India Company in 1783 when Burke gave his Speech on Fox’s East India Bill. The Company was an interest of the British government that was not connected to the Constitution. Within India, it had the still more peculiar status of a government in the disguise of a merchant. It was an ambiguous entity, in short, that evaded the usual instruments of jurisdiction. Well, but it might be asked, what is wrong with government by a merchant or for that matter by a consortium of merchants, assuming that its agents can perform the work of government more skillfully than any other such body? I will be returning, in most of this essay, to Burke’s principled argument against any power controlling without check the fortunes of a subordinate class or a subject people. But his reply to the question about the propriety of a merchant-government comes rather in the form of a tactical argument on the character of merchants. This argument is secondary, for Burke; yet it occasionally looms large in his writings on India, and it ought to be confronted.
Burke always held in reserve a suspicion of merchants generally: an objection-in-waiting that did not presume the innocence of commerce but wondered what any branch of trade might make of those who pursue it from the sheer love of money. This has obvious affinities with his suspicion of men brought up in low occupations, such as the tallow chandler and the hairdresser whom he speaks of in the Reflections as persons unfitted by the nature of their trades for the breadth of judgement required in a member of the national assembly. So, too, when in his speech on the sixth charge Burke comes to describe Hastings himself as a ‘fraudulent bullock-contractor’ (and repeats the phrase), he brings the governor-general down to the level of the tallow chandler and the friseur. Such people are unqualified for government because they have no previous fortune in character at stake. Hastings, Burke implies, has sunk to the status of those who do his dirty work: a fraudulent bullock-contractor is one who betrays even those who have paid good money to bribe him. Yet there is a broader tactical argument in the background, which Burke sometimes alludes to and which, had he chosen to make more of it, might have strengthened his constitutional challenge to the Company. This is his criticism of the place held by a mercantile governor in the commercial system of the empire. Burke hated this emergent form of ambiguous authority, and he made his reasons plain when, in the Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, he wrote: ‘The world is governed by go-betweens’.3 Part of his meaning here is explained by the criticism Adam Smith offered in The Wealth of Nations of the role of superfluous middle men in economic exchange. An unnecessary agent or the enforcer of a useless protocol of distribution — the middle man — in cases like these obstructs the fluent traffic between the producer of a good and its destined buyers. Yet there seems to be a shade of contempt in Burke’s view of middle men that is absent in Smith’s scientific rejection of them on grounds of inutility. Middle men, for Burke, are not merely clogs on the circulation of desire, satisfaction and profit in an economy based on free trade. Rather, they are noxious growths, parasitic on the prestige of the state and the possessions it has acquired. Burke in this way suggests a defect of public character in merchants, considered as middle men, which eludes the mechanistic disposition of Smith’s analysis. The makers of East India fortunes have actually impoverished the people whom they exist to improve, by treating them as subjects or lowly assistants and not as partners in the commerce of an empire. This selfish motive, which Burke takes
Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings?
to be pervasive, is a logical concomitant of the mercantilist doctrine which aims at export and extraction rather than open exchange; and here, it must be said, Burke’s finding again converges with that of Smith, who opposed mercantilism for utilitarian reasons. Yet Burke reaches the same conclusion from a different cause. The middle men have become more than an encumbrance, as his argument sees them. They are a source of active mischief. By their ambition, they corrupt whatever they touch. The East India Company in 1783 was known to Burke already by the history and effects of its trade with the American colonies. The Coercive Acts against Massachusetts Bay Colony, which the North ministry passed in May 1774 to penalize the tea riots that destroyed the goods of the Company, had been a leading cause of the outbreak of violent American resistance to English rule. The civil war that followed (for that was what Burke thought it) cut the empire in half. Thus, the Company had played a large part in precipitating the loss of ‘the empire in the West’; and the question Burke began to ask around 1780 was whether the same Company would also squander the empire in the East. That would happen, if it happened, because England trusted the fate of India entirely to the Company and its directors; whereas, in the American colonies at least, the government had been able to rely on counsellors like Thomas Pownall and Thomas Hutchinson whose identity was political and not exclusively commercial. If, in America, the Boston Tea Party against the East India Company and British rule was the portent that caught Burke’s eye — he either wrote or oversaw the anonymous account of the riot in the Annual Register for 1773, with no pleasant feeling about the rioters — in India his anxiety was aroused instead by a policy of suppressing all protest and all complaint. One incident, he thought, revealed the depth of the abuse of power by Hastings. In 1775, an Indian tax collector, Nuncomar, had accused the governor-general of peculation. Nuncomar offered to present his evidence to the Company council in Calcutta; but Hastings, lacking the support of the majority of the council, declined to face his accuser. Soon after, Nuncomar was charged with forgery — an old accusation that had been heard before and never pursued. He was tried and sentenced to death by Sir Elijah Impey — a judge whom Hastings himself had brought to serve in India. This episode mattered enormously to Burke; and yet, the judicial murder of Nuncomar was not among the charges of impeachment finally voted by the House of Commons against Hastings. When Burke
insisted on bringing up the case in spite of its absence from the charges, Hastings’s agent in the House, Major Scott, obtained a ruling to have all allusions to Nuncomar excluded from the proceedings. A parallel between America and India must have struck Burke here once again. The unjust measure that arouses the protest of a mass of people is interesting to him in exactly the same way as the unjust measure that silences the dissent or the deposition of one man. British imperial policy in both cases showed a want of ability and conscience. Why did Burke impeach Hastings? Why impeachment as a process, and why Hastings as its target? Beyond free elections and the assurance of the fairness of courts, the elements of government that Burke thought did most to ensure the maintenance of constitutional liberty were the power of inspection and the claim of impeachment. Inspection affords the oversight and impeachment holds the offender to account in a case of maladministration. (Here Burke is close to Hume: ‘A constitution is only so far good, as it provides a remedy against maladministration’.)4 Without this oversight and this remedy, any person wielding the power of the state might choose to employ despotic means. But the Company, through ten years of Hastings’s governorship, had successfully evaded oversight, apart from the council in Calcutta and the board of directors in London. This left impeachment as the sole resource for the pursuit of evidence discovered earlier by a parliamentary select committee. Sifting the documents available to the committee, Burke had inquired into charges of peculation, bribery, breaches of contract, violent confiscations and the fomenting of wars by proxy. He thought impeachment a procedure too seldom used in government. It was the right way to open a public discussion of the misconduct or corruption of an officer of the state. Whether, in an instance like this, the governor of Bengal was, on balance, serving the interest of England or of India might be an absorbing question in its own right, but the utilitarian gain or loss of Hastings’s crimes (supposing he had committed crimes) was not Burke’s main concern. He thought in fact that the Company under Hastings’s control had served England as badly as it served India, but Burke would have wanted to bring Hastings to trial even if, by procuring the death of one innocent man, the governor had purchased a large prosperity for India and enhanced the prospects of the Company. His judgement of the good and evil of policy was not sensitive to calibrations of gain and loss. Had the policy of Hastings been neither profligate nor tyrannical, the Rohilla and Maratha wars would not have
Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings?
been less wasteful and bloody, the begums of Oudh would not have been spared insult to their persons and the plunder of their treasury, and Nuncomar, who dared to testify against the methods of Warren Hastings, would not have been less dead. Burke, to repeat, does offer a pragmatic argument against Hastings as an inefficient governor, but the major and reiterated ground of the prosecution is moral. And the morality in question is not that of free trade. Burke looks on the exposure, and at last the impeachment of Hastings, as a case of justice enacted in a political forum that for the time being is compelled to assume the shape of a tribunal. Let us say then, a government in the disguise of a merchant is tried here by an assembly taking the function of a court of justice. From so unfamiliar an arrangement of actors and roles, perhaps no satisfactory result was to be expected. At the start of the impeachment, Burke had hopes of obtaining a judgement against Hastings; yet he persisted far beyond the point where even he admitted its unlikelihood. Why? The impeachment was driven above all by Burke’s understanding of the duties of a governor. ‘The situation of man is the preceptor of his duty’, he had said in the Speech on Fox’s East India Bill, but Hastings had never formed an idea of his situation that was commensurate with the complex powers he wielded.5 A respecter of the customs and rituals of India, and indeed a scholar and historian, he was, in his practice as governor, a narrow defender of the interests of the company whose increase of riches he took to be his only mandate. In justification of his refusal to be bound by a duty to what Burke called ‘the natural equality of mankind at large’, Hastings cited the theory of Oriental despotism, which excused the present practice of tyrannical authority by the history of submission by Asian peoples to despotic rule.6 Here lay a deep difference of principle from Burke. We ought, says Burke, to act toward strangers not in accordance with our own presumed interest or their supposed self-understanding, but rather in keeping with an idea of our own dignity, which we extend to them. India, before falling under English rule, had known an aristocracy of rank and estimation as notable as any in Europe; or so Burke argued in his Speech on Fox’s East India Bill, which offered a sustained comparison with Germany: Our immediate possessions I should compare with the Austrian dominions, and they would not suffer in the comparison. The Nabob of Oude might stand for the king of Prussia; the Nabob of Arcot
I would compare, as superior in territory, and equal in revenue, to the Elector of Saxony. Cheyt Sing, the Rajah of Benares, might well rank with the Prince of Hesse at least . . . All this vast mass, composed of so many orders and classes of men, is again infinitely diversified by manners, by religion, by hereditary employment, through all their possible combinations. This renders the handling of India a matter in a high degree critical and delicate. But oh! it has been handled rudely indeed.7
By the force of equality operating through this analogy, Burke sought to level the pretensions of the rulers in Europe with the ruled in Asia. ‘Never labor hindered him, never fear, never pride’ — Emerson’s judgement of Burke applies especially to this early phase of his engagement with India.8 By comparing India with Europe, Burke showed himself free of tribal and racial pride. His friends and fellow managers of the impeachment, Fox and Sheridan, gradually lost interest in India as it proved less ripe than they had hoped for political purposes. Burke went on, and no prudential or party interest can explain his choice. To seek to expose corruption and to lift oppression for no reward has never been a common thing in politics. Then again, Burke held an unprecedented idea of the role that he himself could play. In an early letter on India, dated 23 March 1781, he praises Sir Thomas Rumbold for having discountenanced the Maratha War, while declining to take Rumbold’s side as a fellow member of the community of Britain as distinct from its possessions. He chooses to speak, he says, ‘as a Member of this Community’ but also ‘as a Member of the Community of Mankind at large’.9 Something in the idea of mixed constitutional government itself answers to Burke’s contrast between the parochial and the larger community; and he admits the parallel in a note written to Lord Thurlow in December 1784, not long before his Speech on the Nabob of Arcot’s Debts. ‘The radical Cause’, he says there, ‘of all the other Evils’ is ‘the great enormous and disproportioned momentum of private Interest weighting and operating against the publick’.10 The Speech on the Nabob of Arcot’s Debts may be felt to make a transition between the concern of the East India speech with the duties of Britain toward India generally and the concern of the trial with the punishment of an unjust governor. In the speech on the nabob’s debts, Burke speaks of Hastings as a corrupt merchant. To see his faults in the light of all their ramifications, he questions the justice of the House of Commons in paying the debts contracted by the nabob as a proxy executor of vicious policies. Burke’s attentiveness
Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings?
to the steps by which the Company was thus corrupted leads him to speak of the corruption parliament itself will show when it endorses and thereby enters into complicity with Hastings’s policy. ‘A debt of millions’ will be taken on, he says, ‘in favour of a set of men, whose names, with few exceptions, are either buried in the obscurity of their origin and talents, or dragged into light by the enormity of their crimes’. The obscurity of the East India men is contrasted with the idealism to which their policies constitute an affront both by their crassness and their secrecy. ‘You are going to have one half of the globe hid even from the common liberal curiosity of an English gentleman’.11 Wars directly undertaken by the Company, says Burke, would have afforded Hastings the opportunity for ‘the most extravagant speculations of plunder’; since, however, both war and plunder were forbidden, the Company had to recruit soldiers for proxy wars from which the spoils could be transferred. This was the logic of the Company’s giving licence to Hyder Ali to ravage the Carnatic, and then generously assuming the burden of his debts. By this connivance and subterfuge the natural sympathies of the Company officers were stunted and warped. ‘They felt nothing for a land desolated by fire, sword, and famine; their sympathies took another direction; they were touched by pity for bribery’.12 The idea of an inversion of the natural order of feelings is pressed further in Burke’s account of the sleight of hand by which property changed hands without a legal change of title. He would ‘positively deny’, he says: that the Carnatic owes a shilling to the Company; whatever the Company may be indebted to that undone country. It owes nothing to the Company, for this plain and simple reason — The territory charged with the debt is their own. To say that their revenues fall short, and owe them money, is to say that they are in debt to themselves, which is only talking nonsense.13
Property matters to Burke for the same reason it did to every other writer on politics and morals in the later 18th century. Property is taken to be an extension of oneself that is necessary to defend oneself. So, to rob someone of his property is to deny and reduce his proper identity. It would be hard to generalize from Burke’s writings a consistent premise regarding human dignity as a moral or a political good; but another passage in the Speech on the Nabob of Arcot’s Debts implies a belief in dignity as a universal value whose mandate is the humane treatment of all persons. Speaking of the pattern by which a usurious European assignee supersedes an Indian farmer, and the farmer flees to the nabob to take what compensation he can, while his servants
and soldiers go unpaid and the farmer himself is at last beggared and discredited, only to be replaced by another farmer who will be removed by another European assignee, Burke at last addresses the human indignity of this degenerative cycle: Men of respectable condition, men equal to your substantial English yeomen, are daily tied up and scourged to answer the multiplied demands of various contending and contradictory titles, all issuing from one and the same source. Tyrannous exaction brings on servile concealment; and that again calls forth tyrannous coercion. They move in a circle, mutually producing and produced; till at length nothing of humanity is left in the government, no trace of integrity, spirit, or manliness in the people, who drag out a precarious and degraded existence under this system of outrage upon human nature. Such is the effect of the establishment of a debt to the Company, as it has hitherto been managed, and as it ever will remain, until ideas are adopted totally different from those which prevail at this time.14
Burke, it has been said, sympathized most acutely with people who had lost an inheritance that they counted as rightly theirs. Hence his sympathy with the French émigré nobility as well as the aristocracy of India. But the variations, in the passage above, on the words men, humanity and nature, are of an unusual density. Burke seems to have felt that that the poor of India were at one with the rich — both casualties of a system that ‘began in commerce and ended in empire’ (as he put it in his Speech in Opening on the first day of the impeachment). The poor and rich of India resemble each other in a fatality shared by all the victims of any catastrophic revolution of human affairs. The self-will inscribed in the projects of empire as in those of revolution reduces all of the people to a democracy of suffering. Only ungoverned ambition could wish to enforce a discipline of subservience on a remote nation, in accordance with a theory imported from other circumstances, and without connection to the duties of any political order whatsoever. Burke would say memorably in the Reflections: ‘The very idea of the fabrication of a new government, is enough to fill us with disgust and horror’.15 The Speech on the Nabob of Arcot’s Debts, written five years earlier, gives a strong foreshadowing of the same thought: A government has been fabricated for that great province; the right honorable Gentleman says, that therefore you ought not to examine into its conduct. Heavens! what an argument is this! We are not to examine
Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings?
into the conduct of the Direction, because it is an old government: we are not to examine into this Board of Control [set up by Pitt in 1784], because it is a new one. Then we are only to examine into the conduct of those who have no conduct to account for. Unfortunately the basis of this new government has been laid on old condemned delinquents, and its superstructure is raised out of prosecutors turned into protectors.16
The last remark is a particular criticism of Pitt, who, after supporting Fox’s East India Bill, had withdrawn his support and used the consequent collapse of the Fox–North administration to form a new ministry with himself at its head. But what exactly does the misconduct of the Company signify to Britain? What harm could be sufficiently compelling to undo the swindle and turn protectors once more into prosecutors at the public expense? Burke’s answer shows the simplicity of a commitment that would inform his conduct during the trial of Hastings; indeed, it shows the reason for his conviction that there ought to be a trial; and he had made clear his premises at the beginning of this speech. ‘Fraud, injustice, oppression, peculation, engendered in India, are crimes of the same blood, family, and cast with those that are born and bred in England’. The scene of the abuse may be ‘distant indeed’, he had added, ‘but if we make ourselves too little for the sphere of our duty . . . be well assured, that every thing about us will dwindle by degrees, until at length our concerns are shrunk to the dimensions of our minds’.17 There is a danger lest the very idea of disinterested conduct vanish from the public mind; and that is sure to happen if Hastings’s modus operandi is seen to be understood and pardoned by the silence of the House of Commons. Yet Pitt himself at first supported the impeachment. His adviser, Henry Dundas, made a note to explain his reasoning, and at the bottom of it clearly lay his comprehension of the same principle of accountability: ‘The truth is, when we examined the various articles of the charges against [Hastings] with his defences, they were so strong, and the defences so perfectly unsupported, it was impossible not to concur’.18 This comment by Dundas, alongside Burke’s on the necessity of bringing home a distant abuse, shows how nearly the speech on the nabob’s debts in February 1785 foreshadows the start of the impeachment in February 1788. Burke laid the groundwork for the trial with remarkable singlemindedness. Thus he could write to Philip Francis in December 1785 concerning the great obstacle that stood in the way of the oversight by an empire of its own operations: namely, the benign presumption
that comes to lighten every accusation when men of power are asked to judge the actions of one of their own. Guilt resides in the intention. But as we are before a tribunal, which having conceived a favourable opinion of Hastings (or what is of more moment, very favourable wishes for him) they will not judge of his intentions by his acts, but they will qualify his Acts by his presumed intentions. It is on this preposterous mode of judging that he has built all the Apologies for his conduct, which I have seen. Excuses, which in any criminal court would be considered with pity as the Straws, at which poor wretches drowning will catch, and which are such as no prosecutor thinks it worth his while to reply to, will be admitted in such a House of Commons as ours as a solid defence. Mere impudence, which in all other cases would be thought infinitely to aggravate guilt, will with us be considered as the tone of innocence and conscious virtue.19
The indisposition to judge that arises from such non-moral sympathy is ‘preposterous’, since it puts the verdict before the evidence; but the state of mind is nonetheless prevalent in dealing with the acts of our countrymen in foreign lands. Burke’s grasp of this truth of moral psychology accounts, I think, for the attention he gave to the setting of the trial. In his own presentation of the case, and in his instructions to the other managers, Burke laid stress on the grandeur and gravity of the spectacle in which all were involved. This comes out most resonantly in the peroration of his Speech in Opening the Impeachment, where he asks seriatim: Is it a crime of sufficient magnitude that you want? Is it a criminal of sufficient turpitude? Is it victims whose oppression cries out for judgement? He continues his list of necessary conditions for an occasion of such majesty, through the judges at the trial, the spectators, and finally the scene itself. This overwhelming emphasis on the spectacle of justice has often by recent commentators been traced to Burke’s predilection for the sublime, as if his interest in impartial justice could not but take a questionable tincture from his aesthetic feelings; but while such a reservation is plausible, and its propriety is allowed by Burke himself, the denigration that is made to follow from the fact is hard to agree with. A public proceeding on an accusation of state crimes, where the consequences are public and ponderable for the fame of both the accuser and the accused, must present an extraordinary spectacle no matter where it happens. Burke exhibited a keen sensitivity to the setting of the Hastings trial in the House of Commons; yet his attitude was extreme only in that it took account,
Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings?
in detail, of all the possible uses of a public stage for the difficult work of piercing the indifference of parliament. Their good names were also now on trial. His awareness, let us say then, is aesthetic, no doubt — but it is also tactical, rhetorical, and in the deepest sense, political. On 1 July 1787 he writes to Thomas Burgh: If they give us, what I think they cannot refuse, Westminster hall for the place of Trial, the Lords will not dare in the face of England and in the face of Europe, every peer rising individually in his place, to tell the Commons of Great Britain that they have brought to their Bar a false or frivolous accusation; nor, admitting the facts, in their judicial Capacity, will they venture to affirm, that those things which touch the natural feelings of mankind as the most enormous Crimes, are in their Lordships judgment meritorious actions — for merely innocent they certainly cannot be. I believe their Lordships to be bold and chivalrous personages — But I think, when it comes to the point, notwithstanding the kind of valour which many will wish to assume, they will feel some check at the moment, when they are called upon to act as men of principle and honour or to charge themselves with as heavy a loading of infamy as any with which a set of men ever sent down their names to posterity.20
Burke chooses not to refer to the letter of the law regarding the Company charter: a matter suitable to a smaller court. His appeal — and this marks a large continuity with the Speech on Fox’s East India Bill — is rather to ‘the natural feelings of mankind’. To ensure that the scope of such feelings was not artificially narrowed, his construction of the scene of the trial, before the houses of parliament assembled, was essential to the criticism he meant to launch against the mercenary conduct of the empire. The trial was to be not a domestic and civil but a public and international act. Burke avowed as much in two letters of 1 November 1787. The first, to Dundas, speaks of the importance of conducting the trial in a public place of the highest dignity. A closed tribunal will favour the private stratagems and connections of the Hastings party; but ‘if we proceed under the public Eye, I have no more doubt than I entertain of my existence, that all the ability, influence, and power that can accompany a decided partiality in that Tribunal can[not] save our criminal from a condemnation followed by some ostensible measure of justice’. Burke uses ‘ostensible’ here in its older sense to mean evident to all. ‘Our success’, he writes on the same day to General
John Burgoyne, ‘will in a great measure depend upon the publicity of our proceedings’.21 As early as the East India speech, and again in the speech on the nabob’s debts, Burke wished to associate the prosecution of British delinquents in India with the cause of humanity at large. On 15 February 1788, the first day of his Speech in Opening, he declares again that this prosecution will be advanced with a greater object in view than the fortunes of a single company or a single nation. Hastings’s are crimes not against forms merely, but against those eternal laws of justice which are our protection and our birthright: It is not from this district or from that parish, not from this city or the other province, that relief is now applied for: exiled and undone princes, extensive tribes, suffering nations, infinite descriptions of men, different in language, in manners, and in rites, men separated by every barrier of Nature from you, by the Providence of God are blended in one common cause, and are now become suppliants at your bar.22
The parliament is trying ‘the cause of Asia in the presence of Europe’, says Burke, and he sees the remoteness of the bond as confirming the strength of the principle. He appeals on behalf of the ‘dependents of this kingdom, who by their distance have a double demand upon your protection’.23 Those who live close to us enforce their dearness by familiar contact. The sense of imperative duty toward strangers, on the other hand, can come only from ourselves. Burke’s Speech in Opening passes next from the conspicuous and public nature of the acts already exposed — which it is impossible to know and not to recognize as crimes — and seeks to remove from the acts themselves the presumption of good intentions which the lords who sit in judgement are but too apt to share. Now, the test of actual good intentions, Burke argues, in the face of such corruption as Hastings witnessed would have appeared in an urgent demand to uncover the source of the wickedness and a determination to be rid of it. Yet Hastings’s conduct reveals a pattern the opposite of this. He acknowledged the corruption lightly, and went on with his work untroubled; he did not exert himself to produce a change in the Company’s methods. If you examine the correspondence of Mr. Hastings, you would imagine, from many expressions very deliberately used by him, that the Company’s service was made out of the very filth and dregs of human corruption; but if you examine his conduct towards the corrupt body he describes, you would imagine he had lived in the speculative
Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings?
schemes of visionary perfection. He was fourteen years at the head of that service; and there is not an instance, no, not one single instance, in which he endeavored to detect corruption, or that he ever, in any one single instance, attempted to punish it.24
The shocking evidence of Hastings’s moral indifference may have influenced Burke to smash the façade by the use of the apparently vulgar tactic of nicknaming. The maxim, low words for low things, may certainly be read as a recommendation to speak of Hastings as a ‘fraudulent bullock-contractor’, and to describe his agent Gunga Govind Sing as a ‘bribe-factor’. By speaking like this, Burke sets the governor-general down among the dregs whose depravity he took no step to penalize. We now come to the part of Burke’s prosecution hardest for a modern listener to sympathize with. For though he concedes that to govern a people justly in a remote country, ‘we must govern upon their own principles and maxims, and not upon ours’, yet he does not renounce the project itself of the empire in India; on the contrary, Burke speaks of the founding of the empire in the East, as he speaks of the origins of all government, as a miracle or accident in which the element of human contrivance should be concealed. In the Reflections Burke would admire the ‘politic, well-wrought veil’ with which the opponents of James II concealed the rupture they caused, by giving a non-revolutionary justification for revolutionary acts. In a similar way, two years earlier in the Speech in Opening against Hastings, he softens the abruptness of the British succession to the rule of India: There is a sacred veil to be drawn over the beginnings of all governments. Ours in India had an origin like those which time has sanctified by obscurity. Time, in the origin of most governments, has thrown this mysterious veil over them; prudence and discretion make it necessary to throw something of the same drapery over more recent foundations, in which otherwise the fortune, the genius, the talents, and military virtue of this nation never shone more conspicuously. But whatever necessity might hide or excuse or palliate, in the acquisition of power, a wise nation, when it has once made a revolution upon its own principles and for its own ends, rests there. The first step to empire is revolution, by which power is conferred; the next is good laws, good order, good institutions, to give that power stability. I am sorry to say that the reverse of this policy was the principle on which the gentlemen in India acted.25
The passage from revolution to good laws marks a transition from turmoil to stability. Burke means to suggest that only by such a change
of character, immediately upon acquisition, can an empire itself be anything but a species of revolution. Of course, stability is not the end of government; but it is, Burke thinks, the necessary condition for all the good a government can do. This was why he said he would suspend his congratulations to France in 1790 until he was informed how the revolution ‘had been combined with government; with public force; with the discipline and obedience of armies; with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue; with morality and religion; with the solidity of property; with peace and order; with civil and social manners’.26 Hastings for his part rendered all property precarious in India, and sowed a distrust of order, discipline and obedience to any but the arbitrary power exercised by himself. Burke’s attack on every possible claim to arbitrary power is one of the great pieces of impassioned reasoning in the history of constitutional politics. ‘I know the constitution of Asia’, he remarks, ‘only from its practice’, but none of the previous invaders of India ever claimed arbitrary power, and a prerogative even Tamburlaine did not dare to assert, Warren Hastings must not now be granted. ‘He have arbitrary power! My Lords, the East India Company have not arbitrary power to give him; the king has no arbitrary power to give him; your Lordships have not; nor the whole legislature’. He goes on to describe this necessary check against unlimited power as a principle of natural law: We have no arbitrary power to give, because arbitrary power is a thing which neither any man can hold nor any man can give. No man can lawfully govern himself according to his own will; much less can one person be governed by the will of another. We are all born into subjection — all born equally, high and low, governor and governed, in subjection to one great, immutable, pre-existent law, prior to all our devices and prior to all our contrivances, paramount to all our ideas and all our sensations, antecedent to our very existence, by which we are knit and connected in the eternal frame of the universe, out of which we cannot stir. This law does not arise from our conventions or compacts; on the contrary, it gives to our conventions and compacts all the force and sanction they can have.27
The principle expounded here contradicts the maxim of conquest that says: To the victor belong the spoils. ‘No conquest’, Burke continues, ‘can give such a right; for conquest, that is, force, cannot convert its own injustice into a just title, by which it may rule others at its pleasure’. The larger reason for these restrictions is that ‘men
Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings?
cannot covenant themselves out of their rights and their duties’.28 The argument comes to a complete rejection of utilitarian justifications of the seizure of power, whether by a conquering army or a dissident movement within a society.29 Burke’s understanding that we cannot make covenants at pleasure also foreshadows his argument in the Reflections for a ‘partnership’ between generations, against the view taken by Jefferson, Paine and other democrats of the 1790s that no generation can bind another since covenants are made by the living for the good of the living.30 Accordingly, the crime of any body of persons that asserts arbitrary power goes far beyond the wrong of an assault on common utility. Those who give and those who receive arbitrary power are alike criminal; and there is no man but is bound to resist it to the best of his power, whenever it shall show its face to the world. It is a crime to bear it, when it can be rationally shaken off. Nothing but absolute impotence can justify men in not resisting it to the utmost of their ability.31
Thus Burke appeals to a duty, as distinct from a right of resistance. Yet his language about the rightness of resistance to Hastings in India is similar to the language that Locke used about the claim of the people against a monarch in the face of a long train of abuses. ‘The moment a sovereign removes the idea of security and protection from his subjects, and declares that he is everything and they nothing, when he declares that no contract he makes with them can or ought to bind him, he then declares war upon them: he is no longer sovereign; they are no longer subjects’.32 All this extraordinary train of thought belongs to the second day of the Speech in Opening. One discovery above all others, for Burke, brought out the inversion of justice at work in the Company’s rule over India. An attempt had in fact been made to launch an appeal against the claim of arbitrary power by Hastings. It was made by the Indian Nuncomar. Mixed or impure as his motives may have been, and deceived as he may have been regarding the probity of the governor’s conduct, Nuncomar should nonetheless have been given a hearing. To refuse to hear, and by shunning to intimidate, a person who claims to have evidence of maladministration, is to assure the persistence of unchecked power. At this point Burke’s general charge of injustice against the Company government converges with his specific charge of indifference to corruption. By silencing his accuser, Hastings admitted himself a
source of corruption, and gave a warrant to the scriptural text Burke cites: ‘Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant’ (Luke 19:22). Speaking of the punishment of Nuncomar as a warning meant for others, Burke sums up this central example of the abuse of power: ‘The voice of India is stopped. All complaint was strangled with the same cord that strangled Nuncomar. This murdered not only that accuser, but all future accusation’.33 The proof that Hastings is a public man of vicious character is thus complete. ‘There is no man’, says Burke in conclusion, ‘but owes something to his character’, but the charge against Hastings is that ‘by never taking a single step to defeat or detect the falsehood of any of those charges against him, and by punishing the authors of them, he has been guilty of such a subversion of all the principles of British government as will deserve, and will I dare say meet, your Lordships’ most severe animadversion’.34 One may notice that, as often happens in Burke’s speeches and writings, the private and the public, the individual and the national argument, join together. The corrupt character of British rule in India is made to rest on a governor’s fugitive permission and violent termination of such a charge against himself as no innocent man could have borne to leave unanswered. The general subject of the book in which this essay appears is democracy and Enlightenment. It seems proper therefore to conclude with a thought about Edmund Burke’s commitment to the enlightened rule of law without exception in British India, and to speculate whether this engagement may exist in tension with his continuous and coherent opposition to political democracy. I take it that Burke is most accurately thought of as sharing the cause of Enlightenment with Hume and Kant. This is especially so if one agrees with A. V. Dicey in his Lectures on Law and Public Opinion that the philosophical protest against cruelty was perhaps the central concern of that movement. Burke hated all forms of cruelty and coercion. He denied the right of Britain to keep the American colonies in the empire by force. He sought to reduce the number of capital crimes in England, argued for leniency even toward members of the Gordon mob, wrote a legal code for the education and gradual emancipation of Negroes, and defended the civil rights of religious dissenters. Most of all, he worked to promote a representative government that should be guided by answerable leaders and free public discussion. An admirer of Burke must acknowledge that the last five years of his career form a significant partial exception in all these areas.
Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings?
In his final phase Burke became an extreme defender of privilege, of existing laws, and of established religion, because he thought the French Revolution, if it spread throughout Europe, would bring an end to the pattern of manners and morals of Christian Europe, which he cherished as the highest imaginable. Yet, taking Burke to be chiefly defined by the leadership of a parliamentary opposition, by which he was chiefly known in his lifetime, I suggest that the contradictions we find in his politics are largely the result of an error in our expectations, or a misjudged transfer in our own political logic, by which we take democracy to be highly compatible with, indeed almost synonymous with, Enlightenment. It is possible to be democratic without being enlightened. I say this with clarity as a citizen of an increasingly democratic but decreasingly enlightened country in which majorities in both houses of the legislature have, since 2001, twice voted to reverse a time-honoured constitutional practice that protects the rights of prisoners — a legal and moral principle that had seemed part of an irreversible progress of the laws, extending from the age of Beccaria and Bentham to the Nuremberg Trials and the Geneva Conventions. No man has arbitrary power to take, said Burke, because no man has arbitrary power to give; but we have seen in our time the president of a major democracy assert such unchecked power. We have seen his actions supported by a claim of the necessity of acting in secret, and this subversion of the law has been endorsed by the representatives of the people. Many of those representatives have been elected to serve again, and the next president has continued to assert a right to the same extraordinary powers, adding some new ones of his own. Thus arbitrary power has been taken and arbitrary power has been given in a modern democracy; and this was done with a facility that might not have prevailed in a less popular regime, where the dangers of power are more clearly marked. The moral basis of the enterprise of political Enlightenment had no more thoughtful expounder than Burke in his speeches and writings on India. The part of the Enlightenment programme that Burke was at greatest pains to affirm was the defence offered by the law against the inevitable cruelty of any claim of arbitrary power. Democracy may give one reply as a guarantee of good faith, namely, that it offers the people a substantial check, in the form of universal suffrage, against any injuries from measures supposedly undertaken on their behalf. Yet the Enlightenment understanding of humanity, by its promise to recognize the moral equality of mankind, suggests the condition by
which alone the dignity of the less powerful — whether they are a minority at home or a nation of strangers abroad — may be preserved for the eventual civilizing of democracy.
D Notes 1. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Conor Cruise O’Brien (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), p. 191. 2. Ibid. 3. Edmund Burke, ‘Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs’, in Daniel E. Ritchie, ed., Further Reflections on the Revolution in France (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991), p. 180. 4. David Hume, ‘That Politics May be Reduced to a Science’, in Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1985), p. 29. 5. Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, 9 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989–2000). See vol. 5, ed. P. J. Marshall, 1981, p. 404. 6. For an excellent discussion of Hastings’s use of the rationale, and the originality of Burke’s resistance to it, see Frederick G. Whelan, Edmund Burke and India: Political Morality and Empire (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), Chapter 4. 7. Writings and Speeches. See vol. 5, p. 390. 8. See Stephen E. Whicher and Robert E. Spiller, eds, The Early Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson: 1833–1836 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), p. 195. Emerson also judges that ‘[t]he British House of Commons whilst Burke was in it was an asylum of the earth. Every cause of humanity found in him its lover and defender. The terrors of the Constitution he turned against every cruelty and every selfishness’, ibid., p. 194. 9. Correspondence of Edmund Burke, 10 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958–78). See vol. 4, ed. John Woods, 1963, p. 344. 10. Ibid., p. 197. 11. Burke, Writings and Speeches, vol. 5, ed. Holden Furber, pp. 494, 491. 12. Ibid., p. 523. 13. Ibid., p. 530. 14. Ibid., p. 533. 15. Burke, Reflections, p. 117. 16. Burke, Writings and Speeches, vol. 5, p. 551. 17. Ibid., p. 488. 18. Quoted in G. W. Forrest, ed., Selections from the State Papers of the GovernorsGeneral of India (Oxford: Blackwell, 1910), 2 vols (Warren Hastings). See vol. 1, p. xv.
Why Did Burke Impeach Hastings? 19. 20. 21. 22.
23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29.
31. 32. 33. 34.
Correspondence, vol. 5, p. 241. Ibid., pp. 341–42. Ibid., pp. 357–58. Works of Edmund Burke, 12 vols (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1867), vol. 9, p. 340. I quote from the version of the speech that appeared in 19th-century editions of Burke. It was prepared by Burke’s executor Walker King and the Reverend James John Talman, from the parliamentary transcript by Joseph Gurney, with the addition of manuscript notes by Burke. The Gurney transcript without the additions has been used by P. J. Marshall as the basis of the version printed in Writings and Speeches, vol. 6, ed. P. J. Marshall, 1991. The Speech in Opening as edited by King and Talman seems to me often more finished as writing and more affecting as oratory; and Marshall acknowledges that ‘there is every reason to believe that whenever the editors of the Works introduced major changes into Gurney’s version, they did so on some indication of Burke’s intentions’, ibid., p. 266. Works, vol. 9, pp. 341, 342; emphasis added. Ibid., p. 361. Ibid., pp. 401–2. Burke, Reflections, pp. 90–91. Works, vol. 9, p. 455. Ibid., pp. 456, 457. On the force of Burke’s criticism of empire as a counter-statement to the language of liberal rights and utilitarian progress, see Uday Singh Mehta, Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth Century British Liberal Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). See Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (Part 1, 1791); and Thomas Jefferson, ‘Letter to James Madison’, 6 September 1789: ‘by the law of nature, one generation is to another as one independent nation to another’, Thomas Jefferson, Writings, ed. Merrill D. Peterson (New York: Library of America, 1984), p. 962. Works, vol. 9, p. 458. Ibid., p. 459. Works, vol. 10, p. 30. Ibid., p. 38.
9 Whither European Enlightenment? P M
udging from the widespread self-congratulation that one finds in Europe’s understanding of the achievements of the Enlightenment, one would think that the ideals of the Enlightenment — of cosmopolitanism, of democratic tolerance, of social and economic justice — should have taken deep roots now in the mentality of its intellectuals and writers. This brief essay takes a close and hard look at the extent to which that is so, by focusing on one central and revealing issue in contemporary European society: the presence in its midst of immigrant culture; in particular, the presence of vibrant and vocal Muslim populations in many European nations. Is Europe about to be overrun by Muslims? Are fearful white Europeans abandoning their countries en masse? Some prominent European and American politicians and journalists seem to think so. Historian Niall Ferguson predicted four years ago that ‘a youthful Muslim society to the south and east of the Mediterranean is poised to colonize — the term is not too strong — a senescent Europe’.1 According to Christopher Caldwell, an American columnist with the Financial Times, whom The Observer recently described as a ‘bracing, clear-eyed analyst of European pieties’,2 Muslims are already ‘conquering Europe’s cities, street by street’.3 So what if Muslims only account for 3 to 4 per cent of the European Union’s total population of 493 million? In his book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Can Europe be the Same with Different People in it? — which, featured on Start the Week, excerpted in Prospect and commended as ‘morally serious’ by the New York Times, has beguiled some liberal opinionmakers as well as right-wing blowhards — Caldwell writes that ‘of course minorities can shape countries. They can conquer countries.
Whither European Enlightenment?
There were probably fewer Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 than there are Islamists in Europe today’.4 It is not only Islamist revolutionaries but also rapidly breeding Muslims who are transforming Europe into ‘Eurabia’. The birth-rates of Europe’s Muslim immigrants may be falling and converging on national averages, according to a recent survey in the Financial Times. But ‘“advanced” cultures’, Caldwell claims, ‘have a long track record of underestimating their vulnerability to “primitive” ones’.5 Muslims, Nick Griffin of the British National Party (BNP) recently warned, are seducing underage white girls in order to outbreed white British people into a minority.6 Caldwell is also convinced that ‘Muslim culture is unusually full of messages laying out the practical advantages of procreation’,7 and, he wonders, though Muslims don’t despise Europe as much as Palestinians hate Israel, didn’t Yasser Arafat call the wombs of Palestinian women ‘the secret weapon’ of his cause? Caldwell’s book stops short of speculating what Europe would or should do to atone for its folly of nurturing a perfidious minority. Canadian journalist Mark Steyn, who has been hailed by Martin Amis as a ‘great sayer of the unsayable’, does not hesitate to spell it out in his bestselling America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It: In a democratic age, you can’t buck demography — except through civil war. The Serbs figured that out — as other Continentals will in the years ahead: if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ’em.8
Bruce Bawer, whose book While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, suggests that European officials, who are ‘in a position to deport planeloads of people everyday’, ‘could start rescuing Europe tomorrow’.9 There are now even politicians ready to do the ‘unsayable’.10 The Dutch MP, Geert Wilders, whose party was one of the big right-wing winners of June’s elections to the European parliament, proposes expelling millions of Muslims from Europe. A separate ministry for this purpose is advocated by Austria’s neo-Nazi parties, which gained an unprecedented 29 per cent of the popular vote in 2008. Many European politicians and commentators are reluctant to abhor the headscarf worn by Muslim women as a ‘terrorist operation’ (French philosopher Andre Glucksman’s description), or to see the Somali-Dutch polemicist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, presently employed by an American neo-conservative think tank, as Islam’s Luther. But these
sceptics may be, according to Bruce Bawer’s new book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom, as much the dupes of ‘Islamofascism’ as Europe’s multiculturalists, who, Bawer writes, ‘might have been invented by Osama Bin Laden himself’.11 At a private conference in Sweden a couple of years ago I saw some of Anglo-America’s leading academics, journalists and columnists denounce Ian Buruma, Timothy Garton Ash and other liberal critics of Hirsi Ali with even more bitter passion than they spent on what Caldwell calls ‘the penury, servitude, violence, and mediocrity of Muslim societies worldwide’.12 Such rage and contempt — from men who seemed never to have visited a Muslim country or known any Muslims — was startling. The lone representative of the Muslim world among us, a Turkish scholar, occasionally protested, and was ignored. He later complained in his newspaper column about the ‘Islamophobia’ that makes his country’s accession to the European Union (EU) all the more arduous. It was hard then not to feel the poignancy of Turkish aspirations. 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 westernized elite brutally imposed secularism, among other things, on its devout population of peasants. Despite having taken almost all prescribed routes to Western modernity, Turkey finds that Europe would rather use it as a foil. According to Austria’s neo-Nazi Freedom Party, Christendom’s old rival is not welcome in Europe because ‘there was no Enlightenment and no Renaissance in Turkey’ and ‘one of the most important values of Europeans, tolerance, does not count in Turkey’.13 The Turks might be forgiven for ironically recommending a less flattering self-image to Austria, which was, in living memory, a major collaborator in the Nazi scheme to murder and enslave most Europeans. But then, as Tony Judt has pointed out, the modern idea of Europe, the presumed embodiment of democracy, human rights, gender equality, and many other good things, conveniently suppresses collective memories of brutal crimes in which almost all European states were complicit. Genocide and ethnic cleansing both during and after the Second World War were what finally resolved Europe’s long-standing minority ‘problem’, blasting flat, as Judt writes, ‘the demographic heath upon which the foundations of a new and less complicated continent were then laid’.14 In Europe’s largest migrations of refugees some 13 million ethnic Germans fled Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania
Whither European Enlightenment?
after the war. The eviction of other ethnic groups (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks) brought many countries closer to fulfilling the Versailles ideal of national homogeneity. Soon afterwards the continent began to acquire, in a fit of absentmindedness or optimism, a new foreign population. Western Europe’s resurgent post-war economies needed cheap labour, which turned out to be readily available in the parts of Asia and Africa that Europe’s tottering old empires had either hastily vacated or still clung on to. France, which had imported tens of thousands of North African labourers to make up for its depleted work force during the First World War, drew again upon the Maghreb, or northwestern Africa. Britain depended on its former subjects in India and Pakistan to serve its welfare state. Holland’s Muslims came from Morocco and Turkey as well as its old colonies, Indonesia and Surinam. Labour shortages in the early 1960s forced Germany to invite Turks as ‘guest workers’. Even Spain in the 1970s was moved to host a large population of Muslims for the first time since the reconquista. These immigrants were expected to work hard in their mostly menial jobs and then return to their respective countries. Living in their urban ghettos, they were rarely expected to become full citizens. 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. They have been joined, since the 1970s, by a second generation of Muslims born in Europe, many of them with bleaker prospects of employment than their parents. Today, about 15 to 16 million Muslims from families of immigrant origin live in the EU, mostly in the cities. Surveys and opinion polls, including a recent one by Gallup, repeatedly reveal the average European Muslim as poor, socially conservative, unhappy about discrimination, but generally content, hopeful about his children (who attend non-religious schools) and eager — like his non-Muslim peers — to get on with his life.15 Initially high, birth rates among Muslim communities across Europe are falling as more men and women become literate. Exposure to secular modernity has also weaned many of these immigrants away from traditional faith — only 5 per cent of Muslims in France regularly attend mosques, and elsewhere too, non-observant ‘cultural Muslims’ predominate.
Restrictive immigration laws passed since 1973 have generally upheld the conservative idea that, as the German philosopher Carl Schmitt put it, ‘a democracy demonstrates its political power by knowing how to refuse or keep at bay something foreign and unequal that threatens its homogeneity’.16 Denmark now has a law preventing citizens under the age of 24 from securing residence rights for their foreign spouses. Germany appeases anti-Turk sentiment by requiring migrants from poor countries to pass a language test before joining their spouses in Germany. In 2008, fewer immigrants obtained German citizenship than at any time since unification. European governments, which are now almost entirely centre-right, periodically unfurl the flag of majoritarian nationalism in order to seduce anti-immigrant votes away from extreme right parties. Many of these, like France’s National Front, Austria’s Freedom Party, Belgium’s Flemish Interest, and the British National Party have repackaged their foundational anti-Semitism, and now accuse Muslims rather than Jews of secretly conspiring to control the world. Ordinary Muslims in Europe, who suffer from the demoralization caused by living as perennial objects of suspicion and contempt, are far from thinking of themselves as a politically powerful, or even cohesive, community, not to speak of conquerors of Europe. So, what explains the rash of bestsellers with histrionic titles: While Europe Slept, America Alone, The Last Days of Europe?17 None of their mostly neo-conservative American authors were previously known for their knowledge of Muslim societies; all of them suffer the handicaps of what philosopher Charles Taylor in his introduction to a new collection of scholarly essays Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship calls ‘block thinking’, which ‘fuses a very varied reality into one indissoluble unity’.18 Certainly, the idea of a monolithic ‘Islam’ in Europe appears an especially pitiable bogey when you regard the varying national origins, linguistic and legal backgrounds, and cultural and religious practices, of European Muslims. Many so-called Muslims from secularized Turkey or syncretistic Sindh and Java would be condemned as apostates in Saudi Arabia, whose fundamentalist Wahhabism informs most Western visions of Islam. Unemployment, discrimination and other generic psychological disorientations of second- or third-generation immigrants make many young Muslims in Europe vulnerable to globalized forms of political Islam, many of whose militant versions vend political aphrodisiacs of a restored Islamic community to powerless individuals. But it is a tiny
Whither European Enlightenment?
minority that is attracted to or is ready to condone terrorist violence. Most of these Muslims live unsurprisingly in Britain, the European country most tainted by the calamitous ‘war on terror’ that David Miliband as well as Barack Obama now concede was possible to see as a war on Muslims. Europe’s security and intelligence agencies are demonstrably more effective against Islamist terror groups than they were against many homegrown militant organizations: the murderous attacks on London in July 2005 and Madrid in March 2004 have to be measured against the more numerous and relentless assaults by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the past and Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) in the present. But the killings of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Gaza, which are exhaustively reported and not euphemized away as ‘collateral damage’ by the global Muslim media, have created a general volatility, in which seemingly local acts can, as the Danish cartoon controversy proved, immediately spark a worldwide conflagration. In July 2009, a German put on trial for abusing an Egyptian pharmacist in a headscarf fatally stabbed his victim in a Dresden court, provoking massive anti-Europe protests in Egypt. The good sense and ordinary decency that European citizens of different background display in everyday transactions of civil society may be more effective than state-sponsored multiculturalism in keeping the peace among Europe’s politically diverse communities. Nevertheless, Eurabia-mongers from America seem determined to strike terror among white Europeans about their local newsagent and curry house owner. ‘If the spread of Pakistani cuisine’, Christopher Caldwell writes, ‘is the single greatest improvement in British public life over the past half-century, it is also worth noting that bombs used for the failed London transport attacks of July 21, 2005, were made from a mix of hydrogen peroxide and chapatti flour’.19 Of course, most South Asian cuisine consumed on British High Streets hails from India or Bangladesh rather than Pakistan. Caldwell, however, would not let facts get in the way of the many eagerly consumed chapattis rising up his white British reader’s gorge, though a reference to Pakistan ‘in the nineteenth century’ does make one wonder whether Caldwell can tell his brown folks apart. His grasp of European history, too, seems a bit shaky: Italy, he tells us, is like Sweden in being ‘without an important colonial history’.20 Approvingly quoting Ernst Renan’s and Hilaire Belloc’s scaremongering about Islam as a threat to ‘white civilization’, he seems to be unaware that these two writers also
described Jews as inferior ‘aliens’ in Europe. It is unlikely that Caldwell knows that Edmund Burke, from whom he derives his book title, had a rather exaggerated reverence for Islam. Caldwell does claim to like Islam for its ‘primitive’ vigour, which he speculates may just revitalize ‘drab’, materialistic Europe. Indeed, a very 1930s-ish obsession with sexual virility and racial purity runs through Reflections on the Revolution in Europe.21 Quoting from an essay titled ‘White Man, What Now?’ by a novelist called Matthias Politycki, Caldwell wonders why Europeans today feel so ‘contemptible and small, ugly and asexual’ before Asians and Africans.22 Like many fellow neo-conservatives, he seems finally less worried about Islamic revolution, which he is probably clever enough to see as no more than a TV-friendly sound bite, than about Europe’s cheese-eating surrender monkeys who will not prop up the dwindling power of the United States. Speculating ‘why America is hated with such bitterness in the columns of the Guardian and other opinion forums in Europe’, Caldwell concludes that Europeans, who have helplessly imitated American culture all along (the ‘ethnic women’s fiction craze’, for instance, developed in America well before Zadie Smith and Monica Ali cashed in on it), finally desire ‘emancipation from American tutelage’.23 This is why most of them opposed the war in Iraq. Even worse, in countries that did line up behind the Bush administration, Europeans encouraged Muslims to be disloyal and anti-American. ‘When Muslims’, Caldwell writes, ‘marched in antiwar demonstrations, after all, their secular and Christian fellow citizens marched alongside them’.24 The crabby protagonist of Saul Bellow’s novel Mr. Sammler’s Planet, rages against ‘White Protestant America for not keeping better order’ in the 1960s and for ‘cowardly surrender’ to aggressive racial minorities.25 Mr Sammler, a proto-neoconservative, believes America’s old elites are ‘eager in a secret humiliating way to come down and mingle with all the minority mobs and scream against themselves’.26 Caldwell seems similarly incensed by Europe’s self-loathing, Guardian-reading, white liberals; and he is unlikely to have been appeased by the eager complicity shown by Tony Blair, José Aznar, Silvio Berlusconi and other European leaders in supporting Bush administration’s endless wars, and torture and rendition tactics. ‘For the first time in centuries’, Caldwell writes, ‘Europeans are living in a world they did not, for the most part, shape’.27 More alarmingly, the responsibility for shaping the world is now passing from the United States itself. Fear and anxiety (‘White Man, What Now?’), though
Whither European Enlightenment?
never explicitly acknowledged, darkens every page of Caldwell’s book as it tries, like other jeremiads about America Alone, to boost morale by conjuring up worthy new racial and civilizational enemies. The dramatic shifts in economic and political power across classes as well as nations have of course inflicted traumas deeper than those found in the flourishing literature of white supremacism. A more thoughtful conservative than Caldwell could have examined valuably how neoliberal capitalism, while enriching Europe’s translational elites, has frayed the continent’s old cultures and solidarities. In Europe, as in India and China, globalization has provoked great anxieties about inequality and unemployment, fuelling new xenophobic nationalisms and backlashes against ethnic and religious minorities. Social anthropologist Arjun Appadurai claims in Fear of Small Numbers: The Geography of Anger that ‘minorities are the major site for displacing the anxieties of many states about their own minority or marginality (real or imagined) in a world of a few megastates, of unruly economic flows and compromised sovereignties’.28 This at least partly explains why a few hundred women in headscarves incited such fierce passions in a nation state whose geopolitical insignificance in recent years has only been partly obscured by its hyperactive president Nicolas Sarkozy. In Politics of the Veil, the distinguished scholar of gender studies, Joan Wallach Scott, explains how the banning of a small piece of cloth that covers the head and neck affirmed an ‘imagined France’, one which was ‘secular, individualist, and culturally homogenous’, and ‘whose reality was secured by excluding dangerous others from the nation’.29 Scott demonstrates that French Muslim girls, who were directly affected by the law on the foulard, were ‘strikingly absent from the debates’ in France, which were dominated by intellectuals and politicians frantically defining the dangerous ‘other’ (typically by describing the veil as, in Jacques Attali’s words, a ‘successor to the Berlin Wall’).30 The veil has now been turned into, Scott writes, a highly charged ‘sign of the irreducible difference between Islam and France’.31 Elsewhere, too, politicians and journalists — self-proclaimed ‘liberals’ as well as unabashed right-wingers — rhetorically ask whether ‘Islam’, which allegedly enforces a harsh divine law upon all Muslims, is compatible with ‘European’ values of reason and tolerance, which are supposedly derived from the Enlightenment (or Christianity, as Nicolas Sarkozy blurted out in 2007, in a revealing breach of republican protocol).
In actuality, the everyday choices of most Muslims in Europe are dictated more by their experience of globalized economies and cultures than their readings in the Koran or Sharia law. Along with their Hindu and Sikh peers, many Muslims in Europe suffer from the usual pathologies of traditional rural communities transitioning to urban secular cultures; the encounter with social and economic individualism inevitably provokes a crisis of control in nuclear families, and such ills as forced marriage, general ill-treatment of women, and militant sectarianism. However, in practice, millions of Muslims, many of them with bitter experiences of authoritarian states, coexist without friction and gratefully with regimes committed to democracy, freedom of religion and equality before the law. For many of these Muslim aspirants for full and equal citizenship, the urgent questions are whether the old-style liberalism of many European nation states, which has traditionally assumed cultural homogeneity, can accommodate minority identity, and whether majority communities in Europe can tolerate expressions of cultural and religious distinctiveness. A part of the secular intellectual priesthood, which cannot survive without its theological opposition between the Enlightenment and Islam, thinks not. In 2004, France’s ban on the wearing of headscarves in public schools bluntly clarified that Muslims will have to renounce all signs of their religion in order to become fully French. This expectation of identity-suicide has a rather grim history in enlightened Europe. Voltaire burnished his credentials as a defender of reason and civility with attacks on Jews who, as slaves to their scripture, were, ‘all of them, born with raging fanaticism in their hearts’.32 (The Nazis put together a sizable anthology of Voltaire’s rants against Jews.) Accused of mistreating their women, proliferating with devious rapidity, and goaded to abandon their religious and cultural baggage, many Jews in the 19th century paid an even higher cost of ‘integration’ than the one confronting Muslims today in France. As it turned out, those Jews who suppressed the Torah and Talmud, and underwent drastic embourgeoisement, became even more vulnerable to malign prejudice in post-Enlightenment Europe’s secular nation states. The persecution of Alfred Dreyfus in France convinced Theodore Herzl, the creator of modern Zionism, that ‘the Jew who tries to adapt himself to his environment, to speak its languages, to think its thoughts’,33 would remain a potentially treacherous ‘alien’ in the secular West. Reporting in the 1920s on Jewish communities exposed
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to a particularly vicious recrudescence of anti-Semitism, novelist Joseph Roth denounced assimilation as a dangerous illusion, blaming its failure on the ‘habitual bias that governs the actions, decisions, and opinions of the average Western European’.34 Roth, who trusted Europe’s old ‘fear of god’ more than its ‘so-called modern humanism,’ bluntly questioned the ‘civilizing missions’ of European empires in Asia and Africa in a preface he wrote to his book in 1937: ‘What is it’, he asked, ‘that allows European states to go spreading civilization and ethics in foreign parts but not at home?’35 Joan Wallach Scott’s account of France’s colonial history reveals that violent prejudice against religious and racial ‘others’ was also an intrinsic part of spreading European civilization and ethics abroad. The veil, fixed in the 19th century by the French as a symbol of Islam’s primitive backwardness, was used to justify the brutal pacification of North African Muslims and to exclude them from full citizenship. Meanwhile, as colonialist stereotypes again proliferate, second- and third-generation Muslim women creatively use their head-coverings in their own passage to modernity. In Another Cosmopolitanism, political philosopher Seyla Benhabib describes the bold actions of three French girls who in 1989 consciously risked expulsion by wearing headscarves to school.36 ‘They used’, she writes, ‘the symbol of the home to gain entry into the public sphere by retaining the modesty required of Islam in covering their heads; yet at the same time, they left the home to become public actors in a civil public space in which they defied the state’.37 Liberal spaces within Europe have brought many more Muslim women out of their old confinements. Benhabib asserts that these women, who ‘struggle at first to retain their traditional and given identities against the pressures of the state’, then go on to engage and contest their Islamic traditions.38 As Europe’s own passage from tradition showed, this necessary reconfiguration is not the work of a day. It requires the practices and institutions of European citizenship to grow more rather than less flexible. In historic terms, Muslims are a recent presence in Europe, especially when compared to the minorities in different parts of the continent — Jewish, Italian, Portuguese and black — that were once feared to be unassimilable. Their initial position as barely tolerated ‘temporary workers’ was never likely to create the conditions for quick integration. Muslims from a young, globalized and highly political generation are now poised to enter the public spheres open to them,
or embrace extremism or, like many of their parents, retreat into passive resentment. But these choices in turn depend on how quickly and readily their ‘hosts’— ordinary Europeans as well as their governments — will make them feel at home. Strident invocations of the Enlightenment or some other historically and eternally fixed essence of Europe seem increasingly to be symptoms of intellectual lag and cultural defensiveness. Multi-ethnic Europe is an immutable fact, and needs, appropriately, a more inclusive, open-ended identity, one derived more from its pluralistic and relatively peaceful present, and supranational future, than its brutishly nationalist and imperialist past. Writing in 1937 about the minority then most despised in Europe, Joseph Roth predicted that ‘Jews will only attain complete equality, and the dignity of external freedom, once their “host-nations” have attained their own inner freedom, as well as the dignity conferred by sympathy for the plight of others’.39 This proved to be too much to ask of Europe in 1937. But the moral challenge has not gone away — civilization remains an ideal rather than an irreversible achievement — and the dangers of leaving it unmet are incalculable.
This article was earlier published as ‘A Culture of Fear’ in The Guardian, 15 August 2009. 1. Niall Ferguson, ‘The Way We Live Now: Eurabia?’, The New York Times, 4 April 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/04/magazine/04WWLN. html(accessed 25 September 2010). 2. David Goodhart, Do We Need More People in Europe? The Guardian: The Observer, 17 May 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/17/ christopher-caldwell-immigration-islam (accessed 25 September 2010). 3. Christopher Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Can Europe be the Same With Different People in It? (London: Allen Lane, 2009), p. 180. 4. Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, p. 206. See Dwight Garner, ‘A Turning Tide in Europe as Islam Gains Ground’, The New York Times, 29 July 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/30/books/30garner.html?_r=1 (accessed 25 September 2010). 5. Ibid., p. 15. 6. ‘The British National Party Gains Strength’, The Times, 19 April 2007, www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article1672185.ece (accessed 25 September 2010).
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7. Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, p. 13. 8. Mark Steyn, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It (New York: Regnery, 2008), p. 5. 9. Bruce Bawer, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within (New York: Anchor, 2007). 10. A blog entry by Bruce Bawer, subsequently deleted. See http://europenews. dk/en/node/32928 (accessed 25 September 2010). 11. Bruce Bawer, Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom (New York: Anchor, 2010), p. 5. 12. Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, p. 35. 13. Matt Bunzl, ed., Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Hatreds Old and New in Europe (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2007), p. 33. 14. Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (New York: Penguin, 2006), p. 9. 15. The Gallup Coexist Index 2009: A Global Study of Interfaith Relations (Washington DC: Gallup, 2009). 16. Quoted in Tomislav Sunic, ‘Liberalism or Democracy? Carl Schmitt and Apolitical Democracy’, http://rosenoire.org/articles/schmitt.php (accessed 25 September 2010). 17. Bawer, While Europe Slept; Steyn, America Alone; Walter Laqueur, The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007). 18. Charles Taylor, ‘Foreword’, in Geoffrey Brahm Levey and Tariq Modood, eds, Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. xv. 19. Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, p. 15. 20. Ibid., p. 265. 21. Ibid., p. 153. 22. Ibid., p. 83. 23. Ibid., p. 271. 24. Ibid., p. 210. 25. Saul Bellow, Mr. Sammler’s Planet (New York: Penguin, 2007), p. 86. 26. Ibid. 27. Caldwell, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, p. 267. 28. Arjun Appadurai, Fear of Small Numbers: An Essay on the Geography of Anger (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), p. 43. 29. Joan Wallach Scott, Politics of the Veil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), p. 18. 30. Quoted in Laila Lalami, Beyond the Veil, The Nation, 10 December 2007, http://www.thenation.com/article/beyond-veil (accessed 25 September 2010). 31. Scott, Politics of the Veil, p. 41. 32. Arthur Hertzberg, ‘Voltaire and the Jews’, The New York Times, 30 September 1990, http://www.nytimes.com/1990/09/30/books/l-voltaire-and-thejews-590990.html (accessed 25 September 2010).
33. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The Controversy over Zion (London: Addison-Wesley, 1996), pp. 64–65. 34. Joseph Roth, The Wandering Jews, trans. Michael Hofmann (London: Granta, 2001), p. 5. 35. Roth, The Wandering Jews, p. 135. 36. Levey and Modood, eds, Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship. 37. Seyla Benhabib, Jeremy Waldron, Bonnie Honig, Will Kymlicka, Another Cosmopolitanism, ed. Robert Post (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 53. 38. Ibid., p. 67. 39. Roth, The Wandering Jews, p. 137.
10 Popular Festivals, Populist Visual Culture and Modi Masks P D M
he emergent debate on public culture is making its presence felt across many disciplines offering new perspectives on the notions of the ‘public’ and ‘culture’.1 In this essay, I explore the concept of public culture as it emerged in the context of public festivals and state propaganda. At the outset, it is perhaps vital to distinguish between the concept of public culture and that of public cult. It is via the notion of ‘public cult’ that public culture in India can be understood as inflected by its own cultural history and traditions. With festivals like Navratri and Uttarayana centring around religion, to what extent the notion of the sacred structures the space of public culture in India is something that no study of culture in India can afford to discount. This, of course, does not imply that there is no secular space available but that even the latter is mediated powerfully by religion. It is equally crucial to understand the term ‘religion’ as primarily performative and secondarily textual.2 One of the main reasons for the omnipresence of the ‘religious’ in public life is that it underwrites the very codes of patriarchy which pervade the everyday life of society through cultural practices. I argue that the articulation of visual images under discussion is not a secondary activity, which simply responds to the political and social ideology of the time, but that it is a primary act which helps constitute and maintain the particular and partial interpretation of culture and society.
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Public Culture and Public Cult Public space is not only constituted as a place for the citizens of a nation state; it is also characterized by a set of cultural practices that have the potential of registering the aspirations or discontents of the public, a place of consensus-formation or contestation over civic concerns. What if these public cultural practices also converge around certain religious figures and aspire to capture the public imaginary? With the advent of globalization and the multinational economy of late capitalism, the contours of public space have altered in urban and rural contexts in its mode of address and registers of representation. In India, the shift has demonstrated new internationally oriented religiosities that have adapted contemporary technology — particularly, pertaining to mechanical reproduction — to its own ends. Perhaps, their emergence may be seen as resistance to the homogenizing dynamics of globalization itself. It is within the persistence or the transformation of the religious discourse in the age of globalization that I locate the term ‘public cult’ as opposed to the more standard concept of ‘public culture’. In India, the public sphere itself stems from the public cult and when the latter enters the modern civic space, it gives rise to the possibility of public culture. In India, the space of the public cult is so dominant that it makes it difficult to segregate the space of public culture from it. In the West, it was against the idea of a cult (understood in pejorative sense as antimodern and superstitious) that the sphere of the public was defined. In India, it is from public cult, say a tree, both a place of worship as well as a centre of community life, that the public sphere emanates. If we define public culture in the Habermasian sense, of public sphere as the site of formation of free public opinion, then it leaves out the public cult from its purview and thus cannot grasp the dynamics of public sphere in India.
Public Cults and Cultural Practices in the Age of Global Capitalism The theme of this section is to probe how the state of Gujarat in the times of globalization, deploys a public festival centring around the mother goddess and women’s fertility to showcase a region for promoting global trade and address an international audience. That culture is inevitably the site of the political is most blatantly
Popular Festivals, Populist Visual Culture and Modi Masks
established in the state-wide display of posters celebrating the Navratri or the ‘nine days’ of garba from 25 September to 5 October in 2003. ‘Garba’ derives from the Sanskrit term ‘garbha’ (meaning the womb) traditionally associated with the celebration of women’s fertility in Gujarat. With modernization it has transformed itself into a cultural event, celebrated during the festival of Dussehra usually in the month of October. Today garba offers occasion for community dancing for nine days around the image of the mother goddess Amba. What is particularly noteworthy is the centrality that garba received in the unprecedented publicity campaign undertaken by the state of Gujarat through massive posters, pamphlets and stickers in 2003. These posters were placed in main public spaces, e.g., near traffic signals and dominated all other advertisements in size, scale and colours. The smaller sized posters were freely distributed to all public institutions. These featured prominently in the state-sponsored campaign to promote Gujarat under the theme, ‘Vibrant Gujarat: Global Investor’s Summit’. As far as the spectatorship was concerned, the promotional brochure proudly announced the non-resident Indian (NRI) investors who were the main invitees at this summit held in 2003. The promotional brochures best expresses how culture is interwoven with economics as follows: Gujarat is a state renowned for its unique blend of business enterprise and festivity. Emphasizing this very fact is the Government of Gujarat’s Global Investor’s Summit. Organized with the backdrop of Navratri celebrations, this summit ensures that your casual holiday ends up opening exciting business opportunities for you.3
In the same vein as the ‘Festivals of India’ — which is viewed to have carried Indian culture to the West during the 1980s — in this instance the NRIs are wooed to visit Gujarat where its cultural heritage is flamboyantly showcased for their consumption. The garba was thought to be the ideal vehicle for state propaganda to strike a chord among the NRIs hailing from Gujarat. Welcome to Navratri, the world’s longest dance festival. Nine nights of unmatched joy, passion and excitement, celebrated by millions in the state of Gujarat (India). A festival you can experience first hand between September 25th and October 5th, 2003 . . . Gujarat — the land of Lord Krishna and home to the festival — is located on the west coast of India. It is a land of peace, prosperity and progress, with a rich historical and cultural tradition dating back to the Indus Valley civilization.4
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Plate 10.1: Garba dance, brochure on ‘Vibrant Gujarat: Global Investor’s Summit’, 2003. Source:
An instance of folklorization of ‘traditional Indian culture’ for NRI consumption, women’s bodies are redeployed as screens on which
Popular Festivals, Populist Visual Culture and Modi Masks
the State inscribes its economic and political agendas. The visually arresting circular format — with its eye-catching colours converging around the dazzling light of the lamps at the centre — communicates a sense of social coherence. The black background which vaguely evokes the image of the teeming multitude of people is to be read both as the vast audience assembled to witness the Navratri festivities as well as the people of Gujarat, offering a comforting picture of unity. On closer scrutiny, the ring of dancers around the lighted lamps is constituted mostly of ethnically dressed women dancers, some accompanied by their male counterparts. Interspersed among them are young girls dressed up in more modern attire, with their hair let loose, suggesting a happy juxtaposition of traditionalism and modernity. Interestingly the few male dancers punctuating the female dancers pose themselves as Krishna. This is illustrated, for example, by the person in the foreground (Plates 10.2 and 10.3), holding an imaginary flute and echoing the brochure text: ‘Gujarat — the land of Lord Krishna’. Extremely slick and professional posters (employing digital photography) turn out to be the most easily appropriated mode of representation to project an image of a peaceful and vibrant Gujarat in the post-riot, post-Godhra and post-Akshardham tragedies. Repeated emphasis on peace and prosperity betray the anxieties of the state’s complicity in the recent history of violence. This is resonated by the brochures’ empty rhetoric that desperately gestures towards an amnesia of this very recent past. It is within this context that the garba posters and hoardings have a strategic role to play in wiping the slate/state clean of its messy recent past and seduce the prospective NRI investors back to their ‘original’ homeland. Festivals, when mobilized both in the name of authentic regional culture and commercial venture for foreign investment, serve the ever-expanding scope of capitalism. They belie any neat modernist division between cultural space and useful space, between the space of leisure and that of work. In an interview with Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, a journalist asked him: Isn’t your government becoming known as a government for festivals what with Navratri, Uttarayan and more such programmes being planned?5
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Plate 10.2: Garba dance, brochure on ‘Vibrant Gujarat: Global Investor’s Summit’, 2003. Source:
Plate 10.3: Comparing the pose of Lord Krishna in Sandesh, a Gujarati daily (left) and a detail of a male dancer from the brochure on ‘Vibrant Gujarat: Global Investor’s Summit’, 2003 (right). Source:
Popular Festivals, Populist Visual Culture and Modi Masks
Here came the official reply: My job is to release the creative energies of people. Festivals are the time when people on their own are charged and gather for celebrations. I want to tap this energy and use it for positive purposes.6
The positive purpose for which the crowd is objectified and the festivals harnessed is revealed in the next statement: These officials from my culture department have organized the programmes well, but you saw the crowds — they are from nearby villages. They are not connoisseurs. Next year we must have corporate sponsorship for the festival and extend invitations far and wide.7
Festivals become, for the Chief Minister, the site for not only luring the cosmopolitan NRI investors to Gujarat but also bringing within his ambit the rural audience who constitute the public on these occasions. While the metropolitan artists try to break out of the white cube space of an art gallery to occupy the space outside through various public art projects, the ease with which these state festivals find their audience can be explained through the category of public cult and not as democratization of art and culture as glibly claimed by the Chief Minister. For me, it is vital to distinguish these two categories: in public cult in the modern context, certain, usually dominant, sections of the public aspire to present a homogenizing picture of themselves around a religious identity by systematic exclusion of others. On the other hand, public space is a place for the citizens of a nation state, a set of cultural practices that register the aspirations or discontents of the public, a place of consensus formation or contestation over civic concerns. In the election campaigns in the West, masks are often used to lampoon the politicians. However, in the case of the Modi mask, it is a means of connecting with people. It was Modi’s graphic designer, Manish Bharadia, who created the Modi mask. As an electoral strategy, it did in fact cast a hypnotic spell on the voters.8 Masks are held with reverence and the very act of putting them on and looking out on to the world through Modi’s eyes, so to speak, involves performance that confers on the wearer the persona of the Chief Minister. Every wearer gets a chance to place oneself in Modi’s shoes and simulate him. In the West, masks are more often used by the party in opposition to poke fun and deride a politician but in this instance there is no place for parody and laughter. The Modi masks offer to the wearer a chance to
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be like Modi and assure an imaginary proximity to the Chief Minister. Perhaps it is via the concept of the public cult that we can understand almost a cultic deference towards the mask and the manner in which the public can partake of the aura of its leader by donning the mask. The very act of appearing in a public space with the Modi mask becomes a newly invented ritual which assures that Modi’s presence is literally multiplied and his megalomania acquires a public dimension and sanction (Plate 10.4).
Plate 10.4: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers wearing masks of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi during the campaign for the upcoming state assembly elections in Ahmedabad on 21 November 2007. Source:
The Times of India Group, © BCCL. Used with permission.
Complicit with the logic of body politic, the mask partakes of the politics of representation, as its multiple copies superimposed on the faces of the people perversely resonate with the politicization of aesthetics and democratization of culture. Just as the leader represents the people in electoral representation, by a semiotic reversal the Modi-masked men and women represent Modi and complete the circle of signification.
Popular Festivals, Populist Visual Culture and Modi Masks
A mask is meant only to cover the face and as a floating signifier it can be attached to any body, and at times, the body politic and gender politics confront each other in a ludicrous combination. When worn by women, the mask that may appear to make the wearer look like a transvestite, in fact, heightens the popularity that this male charismatic politician has among women (Plate 10.5).
Plate 10.5: Unmasking Women’s Lib? Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Mahila Morcha (Women’s Front) activists from all over India wearing Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi masks during a rally at Ramlila grounds in New Delhi on 21 February 2008. Seeking to corner United Progressive Alliance (UPA) over the women’s quota issue, BJP, the opposition party, asked the government to bring the long-pending Bill to provide 33 per cent reservation in the following Budget session of Parliament and promised to back it. Source:
The Times of India Group, © BCCL. Used with permission.
In a public gathering where men and women throng flaunting the Modi masks, each of their faces appear more real than their own faces with the synthetic rubber surface simulating the feel of facial skin and muscles, with the illusion intensified by the spectacles, an appendage of the appendage. Here, the new media technology, through which multiple masks are produced and circulated, lends a spatial mobility to propaganda campaigns. A mask is more than an image. Whereas the media images of the politicians are ephemeral that flash from the TV screens, the mask enjoys the materiality of being an object that can be held in
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hands and touched. Once placed on the face, its visuality becomes performative as the spectacular and the political merge just as the two senses of representation — political and aesthetic — coalesce. [T]he mask did bring about a connect between me and the masses. When I was attacked, they felt the pain.9
Masks, when inserted into a cultural habitus of a public given to sacred spectacles such as the popular tradition of Ramlila easily translate into sites of immanence of political power. At a subliminal level masks transform into sacred objects even when they are held in the hands given the cultural memory they invoke. Within this logic of the body politic, the metaphorical and the metonymical, collapse into one. It is no longer a question of ideology of power, but the scenario of power which is enacted here through the masks. In place of an aggressive political propaganda, the Modi masks work through controlling reality by signs — where the voter, the wearer of the mask, becomes a simulator: ‘Ideology only corresponds to a betrayal of reality by signs; simulation corresponds to a short circuit of reality and to its reduplication by signs’.10
D Notes 1. Arjun Appadurai and Carol A. Breckenridge, ‘Why Public Culture?’, Public Culture Bulletin, vol. 1, no. 1, Fall 1988, pp. 5–9. 2. S. N. Balgangadhara, The Heathen in His Blindness (Leiden: Brill, 1994). 3. See event websites www.navratrifestival.com, www.vibrantgujarat.com (accessed 1 October 2010) and the Gujarat state tourism brochures. 4. Ibid. 5. Narendra Modi, interview by Kingshuk Nag, ‘I am a 24 Hour Chief Minister’, The Times of India, 22 January 2004, p. 2. 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid. 8. Ankur Jain, ‘Modi’s Face Reached out to Voters Where He Couldn’t, Say Experts’, The Times of India, 24 December 2007, p. 16. 9. Narendra Modi, interview by Rajeev Deshpande, The Times of India, 24 December 2007. 10. Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ‘Simulacra and Simulations’, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988), p. 182.
11 Globalization, Culture and Education N P
t is said that the logical development in our time of the European ‘advances’ made during the Enlightenment two or more centuries ago is the global and cosmopolitan culture that we find ourselves in today. This brief essay is a critical scrutiny of this phenomenon from within my own experience of it as an architect and a film-maker. All of us are familiar with the benefits of globalization that are most visible — higher salaries, greater purchasing power and overcrowded shops everywhere; we also know that India is becoming a large market by sheer strength of numbers, not only students and wage-earners, but also those who take decisions that create consumer power. Personal and professional experience and involvement in architecture and film-making has given me insights into the downside of this so called ‘boom’. I find that original ideas, and the development of these ideas into workable products — what could be termed ‘intellectual property’ (IP) — is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Though ‘IP’ is a relatively new term, the concept is as ancient as civilization itself and can be recognized in numerous forms of art, music, dance, literature, theatre, and so on. In architectural terms, instead of building on our rich tradition of what was once known as the mother of all the arts, we are now witnessing an orphaned monster, growing fast and wild — oblivious of any parentage. The entire facade of urban India is being smothered under mediocre buildings which are neither beautiful nor energy efficient or economical. ‘Cut & paste’ facades are being built in massive numbers using the most expensive materials that create neither craftsmen nor craftsmanship of any lasting value.
The prospect of anything changing for the better is diminished not only because there seems no prospect of arresting the worst aspects of globalization which are responsible for this deterioration in our artistic culture, but because the very mentality of our country’s talent is being shaped by a form of education that is bound to perpetuate the deterioration. I think of it as nothing less than the ‘tragedy of education’ and want to spend much of the rest of this essay on it. Indian architecture had already achieved ‘international’ status by the 18th century. Our research during the making of the feature film ‘DEVI’ Ahilyabai revealed a remarkably advanced state of architectural wisdom as well as practice that prevailed throughout the land, including rural areas which were never centres of power, political or otherwise. I remember reading about an early representative of the British Crown or maybe a trader-in-chief from the East India Company. He is in quandary over the issue of a ‘nazzar’, or gift that is to be presented to the Mughal emperor at the ‘darbar’ (public audience) at the Red Fort in Delhi. Having spent some time in India, this man had been able to sincerely observe that the emperor already possessed the best of architecture, jewellery, crockery, garments and fabrics, foods and a menagerie of the most exotic animals and birds imaginable. The presentation of an appropriate gift to the emperor had turned, therefore, into an issue of acute embarrassment. (I guess weapons were the only area of genuine European expertise.) I will pursue the singular instance of architecture and try to look at the so-called ‘development’ of architectural education as a key to understanding how and why our building skills have disintegrated so rapidly over the past 200 years. Architecture was never independent of actual building work though it may have been an intellectual activity amongst a ‘lunatic’ fringe. The architect (as an individual that we know of today) was always part of a master builder’s team that included craftsmen for stone, wood, lime, etc. and those who organized and managed various groups of artisans and labour. This traditional system of building (design as well as construction) included transportation, food and beverages as well as training of younger people into a variety of future jobs which were related to the building crafts. Apprentices worked, observed and learnt as they grew into manhood, and thus the master builder was also like the principal of an architectural college. This pattern of human and material resource management operated not only for palaces and
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temples but also at a far smaller scale at rural levels where most people built their own homes with help and advice of fellow caste members and obviously the village priest had to be accommodated into these discussions. This integrated system responded most efficiently to new styles and techniques that often came along with conquerors and rulers. Many rulers opened ateliers where the art of miniature painting flourished, and inclusion and absorption of imported styles did not appear to have faced any opposition. A major change occurred at the turn of the century with the establishment of the British power and the recognition of the need to create an architectural stamp of its authority. Local experts were part of a traditional power structure; this was no longer ‘reliable’ and therefore a trusted supervisory class had to be created. The ‘middlemen’ and the Anglo-Indians (in spirit as much as by birth) were introduced into the system to provide services of whose fundamental job was to control and report to the new boss. The training of architects was also fitted into the new British educational framework and this became a regular part of the profile of various fine arts institutions. A clear separation of (civil) engineering from architecture, however, did create a permanent chasm between the two disciplines that flourishes to this day. The tremendous power wielded by the public works department (PWD) vis-à-vis the architects is an obvious and glaring example of this gap. By August 1947, all fine arts colleges in India offered diplomas in architecture, which could be upgraded with membership of (and English recognition) from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA.) More than a generation of Indians was already well established amongst ‘upper class’ urban professionals. Like lawyers and doctors, architects too began to see themselves as the real future of a new nation that was adopting a path of science and technology (rather than arts and craftsmanship) in order to forge a new nation. This vision of a new India (along with other ‘English’ oriented biases) also translated into higher salaries for science streams as against the teachers in the fine arts. Over the next few years the teaching staff of architectural colleges across India gathered together to demand a raise in their salaries, not by asking for an equal status for the arts, but by shifting architecture itself into ‘technology and engineering’. If science and industry was to be the future of India, if large dams and factories were the ‘temples’ of the modern era, how could architecture be left behind?
The damage to not only the self image but to the fundamental philosophy of architectural education, as well as practice, was permanent. Instead of being a busy and active ‘doing’ verb, this noble profession became a social status, a NOUN (with capital letters) that made management of expenses more important than the act of building. Higher education in the form of postgraduate and PhD courses did nothing for the development of actual building skills but merely added numbers to a defunct academic population. All the ills of today’s architectural calamities can be traced back to this profound error in our educational system. Even today, most of the architectural colleges in India take in students only from science streams (of the 10+2 school system). As far as I know, this does not happen in any other country in the world. My depressing account of education would be incomplete without referring to the training that is currently being imparted in the cinematic arts. Most institutions fortunately follow a ‘hands-on’ approach to education, and we have cinematographers, editors and sound recordists who are proficient with their tools. Directors and writers have a huge problem at hand because their basic tool (other than paper and the pen) is their own sense of judgement and wisdom; their own concepts of good and bad and their own philosophy of life, never taught or learnt, but gathered subconsciously from their homes, from the streets and from the environment that is no longer conducive to learning or scholarship. The system works because (in India at least) we have a large population and an institution of any worth or social status will select one out of every hundred applicants. That in itself ensures that the smartest students work their way through so-called ‘academics’ without having to depend on anybody else. Returning from the theme of education to the general problems for Indian culture generated by globalization, the situation with Indian cinema, to which I have contributed as a film director and producer, is not very different from architecture. Other than producing the maximum number of films every year, we are not creating, cultivating or nurturing audiences, technicians or students in any sustained or meaningful manner outside the hype that accompanies all forms of entertainment. The poster and the promo have themselves become prime products. Both buildings and cinema involve huge quantities of money and human effort, but shouldn’t we be concerned about lasting values and products that can claim to be truly meaningful? Can we place
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our professions, occupations and hobbies within a holistic format of integrity, commitment and our own interpretation of the meaning and significance of life itself? What are the artist’s values, if without values, no art is possible? Indians at home and abroad continue to derive confidence, inspiration and even pride from past ‘achievements’ like the Taj Mahal, forest wealth (ayurveda) and yoga. Links between the artist and the metaphysical, between creativity and spirituality, continue to occupy an important part of the USP that accompanies all cultural activity. Yet all this does not ever get translated into reality, not even working models or laboratory case studies. Is there a way out? Can we, not necessarily as a nation, but as culturally homogenous groups, find our identity and our direction, our passions and our joy of living, outside the rat race and thirst for money and success? If we can use our common and collective past as a source of inspiration and not just historic injustices that need to be corrected, we may as yet break out of this cycle of revenge and greed and actually see, feel and experience the unity amongst all living beings. This can hopefully lead to an awareness that is culture; if this were to happen, globalization will become a useful vehicle to help all of us get together with our hearts and minds.
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A E E Akeel Bilgrami is Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Heyman Centre for the Humanities at Columbia University. He has written extensively on philosophy of mind and language as well as on political philosophy and moral psychology. He is the author of Belief and Meaning (1992) and Self-Knowledge and Resentment (2006). Among his forthcoming works are Politics and the Moral Psychology of Identity; What Is a Muslim? and Gandhi’s Integrity.
C E Rajeev Bhargava is Director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. He was formerly Professor of Political Theory at Jawaharlal Nehru University and the University of Delhi. He has taught or held fellowships at Harvard, Columbia, Bristol, Belfast, Jerusalem and London. He was Fellow, Wissenshaftskolleg, Berlin (2009–10). His publications include Individualism in Social Science (1992); Secularism and its Critics (1998); Politics and Ethics of the Indian Constitution (2008); What is Political Theory and Why do We Need it? (2010); and The Promise of India’s Secular Democracy (2010). David Bromwich is Sterling Professor of English at Yale University. His books include Hazlitt: The Mind of a Critic (1983) and a selection of Edmund Burke’s speeches, On Empire, Liberty, and Reform: Speeches and Letters (2000). He is currently completing an intellectual biography of Burke. Fred Dallmayr is Packey J. Dee Professor in the departments of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame (USA). He holds a Doctor of Law degree from the University of Munich and PhD from Duke University. He has been Visiting Professor at the University of Hamburg and at the New School for Social Research in New York, and Fellow at Nuffield College in Oxford. During 1991–92, he worked in India on a Fulbright research grant. Among his recent publications are: Alternative Visions (1998); Achieving our World (2001); Dialogue among Civilizations (2002); Peace Talks (2004); and In Search of the Good Life (2007). Parul Dave Mukherji is Professor and Dean at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her publications include Towards A New Art History: Studies in Indian Art (co-edited, 2003) and the co-edited special issue on Visual Culture of the Journal of Contemporary Thought, vol. 17, Summer (2003).
Vivek Dhareshwar is an independent scholar based in Bangalore. His research interests are normativity in ethical and political theory, relationship between secularization and the existing social sciences, and the nature of experiential knowledge in Indian intellectual traditions. Mohamed Mehdi received his PhD from McGill University in 2008. His research focuses on the political significance of conceptions of the contemplative life in various traditions, ancient as well as modern. His publications include ‘Bearing the Name of the Prophet’, in Natasha Bakht, ed., Belonging and Banishment: Being Muslim in Canada (2008) and ‘The Discipline of Leisure: Humanities in an Age of Connectivity’, Journal of Contemporary Thought, vol. 29 (2009). Uday Singh Mehta is Distinguished Professor of Political Theory at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of The Anxiety of Freedom: Imagination and Individuality in the Political Thought of John Locke (1992) and Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth-Century British Liberal Thought (2000). He is in the process of completing a book on ‘War, Peace and Non-Violence’. Pankaj Mishra is a novelist and essayist. He is the author of The Romantics: A Novel (2000), winner of the Los Angeles Times’s Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction; An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World (2004); and Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in Small Town India (2006). He frequently contributes literary and political essays to The New York Review of Books and The Guardian among other publications. His most recent book is Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond (2006). Nachiket Patwardhan is an architect and film-maker based in Pune and graduated from the Baroda College of Art. He has executed architectural projects in several cities including Varanasi, Bangalore, Uttarkashi, Nagpur, Indore and Aurangabad. He has pursued a career in painting, design and independent cinema and has won numerous awards for his films as director and art director. He is currently Visiting Professor of Art Direction & Production Design at the Film & Television Institute of India and Dr. Bhanuben Nanavati College of Architecture and PVP College of Architecture, Pune.
Lenart Škof is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at the Faculty of Humanities Koper, University of Primorska, Koper, Slovenia. His recent works include papers on American pragmatism and intercultural philosophy. He has authored monographs in Slovenian on Schopenhauer’s ethics and American pragmatism and translated the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad into Slovenian. He is also the editor-in-chief of the journal Poligrafi.
Addams, Jane 129 Advani, Lal Krishna 144 ahimsa 8, 12, 18, 87 alienation and disenchantment, concept of 49 Al~Jazeera
Ambedkar, B. R.I22, 123, 151; ethical criterion for democracy 132-36; political and social pragmatism
thought 124-32 America Alone The End of the World as We Know It (Steyn) 187 American war 118, 166
Ames, R. T. 123
Bawer, Bruce 187, 188 begums of Oudh 171
Bellow, Saul 192 Benhabib, Seyla 185, 195 Bentham, Jeremy 125, 183 Berlin, Isaiah 5, 20, 62, 125-26 Between East and West (lrigaray) 135
Bhagavad Gita 9, 66, 77, 78, 85, 106, 114 BharatiyaJanataParty (BJP) 143, 144, 156, 161, 206-7 Bilgrami, Akeel 23, 65, 68, 82, 84, 85, 116
anima munJi 31 Annual Register (1773) 169
birth rates, among Europe's Muslim immigrants 187 bodily/spiritUill phenomenon 135 Boisvert, Raymond 3, 6, 18
Another Cosmopolitanism (Benhabib)
Amis, Marrin 187
195 anti~secular politics
Boston Tea Party 169
Appadurai, Arjun 193
Boyle, Robert 33 brahmacharya 96
Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (Burke) 168
Aquinas, St. Thomas 73 arbitrary power 183; Burke's views
on 180 architectural education, development
of210 Arendt, Hannah 119 aristocracy of rank, English rule for
171 ashram 102, 103, 114, 117 Babri Masjid 146 Baty, Theodore de 14
Braidotti, Rosi 135 Upan~had
British constitution 166
Btitish India 65, 182 Btitish National Party (BNP) 187, 190 Buddhist doctrine, of freedom 125; shunyata 16 Burke, Edmund 60, 118, 192; Emerson's judgement of 172; Enlightenment programme 183; Hastings trial 166-83; hatred against all forms of cruelty and coercion 182; opposition to American war 166; Speech in Opening the Impeachm.ent
Index 176, 178; Speech on Fox’s East India Bill 167, 177; tribal and racial pride 172; views on abuse of power in India during colonial rule 182 Bush, George W. 108–9 Caldwell, Christopher 186–88, 191–93 capitalism 2, 5, 11, 15, 54, 193, 200, 203 capitalist economics 15 caste distinctions 152 caste inequality, in India 128 caste system 75, 77, 81 Chamars 151 child marriage 152 A Chinese Mirror (Rosemont) 15, 16 Chinese Revolution 117 Christian model, for cultures 72 Christian organizations, missionary work 146 Christian Socialism 131 chün-tzu 14 Churchill, Winston 39, 40 civil rights: movement 47, 119; of religious dissenters 182 civil war 169, 187 Clarke, Samuel 33 Clark, Henry 152 The Clash Within (Nussbaum) 129 codes and principles, politics of 55 Coercive Acts against Massachusetts Bay Colony 169 cognitive democratization 35 cognitive enslavement 76, 79, 80 cognitive public sphere 41 colonialism 64, 77; and conflict between abstract principles of War and Love 92; India’s politics under 98; violence committed during 67 Communist Manifesto 130 connaissance 72 Constant, Benjamin 2 Constituent Assembly 106 cooperative experimentalism 124
cosmopolitanism 186 County Movement, for reform of parliament 166 cultural inadaptability 150 Dahl, Robert A. 3 dalits 151 damyata 137 datta 137 daya 137 decolonization 64, 117, 120 democracy: concept of 100; feminine character 136; Gandhi’s views of 104; meaning under Indian Constitution 158–59; relation with education 123 Democracy Begins Between Two (Irigaray) 136 The Democracy of the Dead (Hall and Ames) 123 Democracy Realized (Unger) 122, 132 democratic: culture 27, 33, 47, 133, 134; experimentalism, concept of 122; revolution 166; tolerance 186 demo-power 4 ‘Deus Absconditus’ 30 ‘Deus Deracinus’ 30 Dewey, John 3, 6, 9, 122; Democracy and Education 123, 124, 126, 128, 130; educational efforts 129; Freedom and Culture 126, 127; Liberalism and Social Action 124; notion of finality 126; philosophy of liberalism 124; political and social pragmatism 124–32; Second Confucius 123 dharma 7, 9, 66, 77, 128 Dicey, A. V. 182 disenchantment, process of 48 Dussehra festival 201 Dussel, Enrique 132 Dworkin, Ronald 125 Early Modern developments, democratization of value and 36
East Asia, liberal democracy in 13–16 Eastern mystical traditions, for freedom at work 125 East India Bill 175 East India Company: American civil war 169; authority of 167; arbitrary power 180; Boston Tea Party 169; loss of empire in West 169 economic justice 186 economic liberty 5 egocentric individualism 15 Ekmatayajna 146 Election Commission (EC) 143 Elias, Norbert 36 Enlightenment: Christianity and 150; democracy and 182; European 49, 186–96, 209; orthodoxies of 25; political 56; programme 80, 183; radical ideals of 40, 49, 55 epistemic democratization 35 ethical and spiritual ‘vows’ 10 ethical duty, performance of 7 ethical identity, of society 154 ethical learning 66, 69, 75, 81 ethically liberal democracy 16 ethical pragmatism 122, 135 ethnic cleansing, after World War II 188 ethnic groups, eviction of 189 ethno-religious political mobilization 146 ‘Eurabia’ 187 European Enlightenment 49, 186–96, 209 European Muslims 189, 190 European pieties 186 European Union (EU) 188 Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) 191 Evans, Gareth 53 experiential identification of agency 54 experiential knowledge 72, 73, 76–79
Faering, Esther 117 ‘false’ civilization 92 fastings, and acts of self-intensification 116 Fear of Small Numbers: The Geography of Anger (Appadurai) 193 Ferguson, Niall 186 First Law of Political Psychology 41 Flemish Interest 190 Fox–North administration 175 France 166, 180; ban on wearing headscarves 194; collapse of Old Regime 56; colonial history 195; Muslims immigrants 189; National Front 190, 193; North African labourers 189 Francis, Philip 175 Freedom Party 190 free trade 168, 171 French Revolution 48, 60, 183 Freud 43 fu-li 14 Gandhi, Mahatma 6; advocacy of nonviolence 87; conception of integrity of experience 67–68; concept of dharma 67; ethical commitments 117; fasting and acts of self-intensification 116; intuitions about violence and Western civilization 69; and parliamentary democracy 90; philosophical arguments against modernity 68; political idealism 117; practice of satyagraha 65, 69; rejection of violence in politics 89; relation to masses 117; understanding and rejection of colonialism 64, 67; views on: democracy 104; India’s loss of freedom 93; non-violence 109, 114; Western civilization 64; Western political theories 70
Index garba dance 202–4; meaning of 201 Geneva Convention 183 genocide, after World War II 188 Ghulamgiri (Phule) 134 Gita see Bhagavad Gita globalization 193; benefits of 209 The Good Society (Lippmann) 17 Greco-Roman culture 76 Green, T. H. 127 Gujarat pogrom 143 Hall, D. L. 123 Hastings, Warren 167–84 Hegel, G. W. F. 109 Hegelian dialectic 42 Hellenistic-Roman (HR) model, for cultures 72 Hill, Christopher 35 himsa (violence) 106 Hind Swaraj (Gandhi) 6–8, 24, 54, 68, 77, 87; moral perfection and Indian tradition in 92–98 Hinduism 7, 68, 77, 146, 161 Hindu nationalism, resurgence of 144–45; concept of Nehruvianism and 149; liberal–democratic discourse and 154–58; long-term and short-term actions of social actors 146; long-term standing enabling conditions for 145–46; militancy and 146; secularism and 149; short-term actions by primary political actors for 146; short-term and long-term actions by secondary political actors 147; short-term standing enabling conditions for 146 Hindutva 143, 146, 155 Hobbesian axiom 111 Hobbes, Thomas 1–2, 109 House of Commons 169, 172, 175, 176 hsiu-shen 14 Hull House in Chicago 129
human equality, concept of 110 humanity, liberal–individualistic conception of 12 Ignatieff, Michael 111 ignorance (avidya), concept of 78, 80 immigration laws 190 impeachment 170–71 Indian civilization 65; based on ‘selfcontrol’ or ‘self-restraint’ 71 Indian Constitution 106, 157 Indian independence movement 88 Indian National Congress 143; Constructive Program 8 inherent idealism 113 inner freedom, concept of 126 intellectual knowledge 72 intellectual property (IP) 209 internal conflict 42, 45, 46 Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (Freud) 59 Iqbal, Muhammad 17 Irigaray, Luce 122, 132, 135 Irish Republican Army (IRA) 191 Islamist revolutionaries 187 Islamo-fascism 188 Islamophobia 188 Jacksonian democracy 5–6 James, William 9 jen 14 Kant, Immanuel 109, 115, 126, 182 karma yoga 9, 10 k’e-chi 14 King, Martin Luther, Jr. 119 Koran 194 labour shortages, in Germany during 1960s 189 Laden, Osama Bin 188 laissez-faire 2, 6, 15, 17, 18
Lectures on Law and Public Opinion (Dicey) 182 The Lesser Evil (Ignatieff) 111 Letters on a Regicide Peace (Burke) 166 liberal democracy 1; in East Asia 13–16; existence of 149–54; minimal 2–6; in South Asia 6–13; Western origins of 153 liberal–democratic institutions 147 liberal democratic model 12 Liberalism Against Populism (Riker) 5 Lincoln, Abraham 134 Lippmann, Walter 17 Locke, John 2, 109–11, 113, 181 London attack (2005) 191 Lyngdoh, J. M. 144 Madan, T. N. 150 Madisonian democracy 6 Madison, James 3 Mahila Morcha (Women’s Front) 207 Maratha war 172 Marx on false consciousness 42 Marxian exegesis 42 Marxism 71, 72, 131 Massachusetts Bay Colony 169 Maya civilization 132 McDowell, John 29 Meenakshipuram conversion 146 mercantilist doctrine 169 merchant government 167 Miliband, David 191 Mill, John Stuart 2, 109, 125 minorities, religion-based 159 modern civilization 66, 89, 90, 92–94, 96–98 modern market economics 2 Modi mask 199–208 Modi, Narendra 144, 203, 205, 207 monolithic Islam, in Europe 190 moral correspondence, principle of 100 moral judgement, theory of 42
Mr. Sammler’s Planet (Bellow) 192 ‘multiple establishment’ 161 Muslim(s): culture 187; Europe, in 190, 194; settlement in West 189 Nandy, Ashis 150, 151 National Book Critics Circle Award 187 National Front (France) 190 National Peking University 123 National Socialists in Germany 117 natural rights 2 Navratri festival 199, 201, 203 Nazi scheme 188 ‘negative liberty’ 3; Isaiah Berlin’s notion of 5 Nehru, Jawaharlal 8, 9, 106 neoliberalism 1, 4 neo-Nazi Freedom Party 188 New Testament 130, 131 Newtonian conception, of the world 114 Newtonianism of the Royal Society 34 non-cooperation movement 88, 117 non-despotic democracy 167 non-resident Indian (NRI) investors 201, 205 non-violence: concept of 87; movement 88 Nozick, Robert 125 Nuncomar169–71, 181–82 Nuremberg Trials 183 Nussbaum, Martha 127, 128, 130 Obama, Barack 37, 191 objectification of value 52 On Violence (Arendt) 119 Oriental despotism 171 panchayats 11 Pantham, Thomas 12
Index parliamentary democracy 89, 90, 91, 130, 148 participatory democracy 12, 99 Peinim, Ni 14, 21 Phule, Jyotirao 132, 134 Plato 91 Platonic model, for cultures 72 polis 91 political community 91, 107, 108, 111, 127, 158 political ethos 4 political governance, democratic modes of 120 political idealism 117, 118 politics: analytical conception of 5; democratic conception of 99; juridico-philosophical model of 74; and Newtonian mechanics 113; Western concepts of 80 Politics of the Veil (Scott) 193 positive liberty 5, 10, 13, 16, 134 pragmatism: influences on democracy 123–24; political and social thought 124–32; and social experimentalism 129 A Preface to Democratic Theory (Dahl) 3 public cult and cultural practices 200–208 Public Works Department (PWD) 211 ‘Quit India’ 8 radical democracy 6, 133 Radical Enlightenment 55, 62 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) 105, 129 rational choice theory 4 Rawls, John 125 ‘red states’, in America 39 Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Can Europe be the Same with Different People in it? (Caldwell) 186, 192
Reflections on the Revolution in France (Burke) 167 religious cast, of thought and value 45 religious identities 152, 205 The Republic (Plato) 91, 92 rights-based liberalism 125 right to equal liberty 2 Riker, William 5 Rorty, Richard 130 Rosemont, Henry, Jr. 15 Roth, Joseph 195–96 Rowlett Act 152 Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) 211 Royal Society 32–34 Roy, Ramashray 10 Roy, Ram Mohan 151 Rumbold, Sir Thomas 172 rural communities 194 Russian Revolution 117 Sachedina, Abdulaziz 17 Sandel, Michael 17 sanyasi 95, 96 Sarkozy, Nicolas 193 Sartori, Giovanni 4 satya 8 satyagraha 8, 12, 59, 65, 69, 83, 116 satyagrahi 59, 77, 95 Saudi Arabia 40, 41, 190 Schmitt, Carl 190 Scott, Joan Wallach 193 secularism: concept of 134; meaning of 159–63 Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship (Levey and Modood) 190 secularization, process of 79 secular re-enchantment 50 secular religion 134 Self and Society (Roy) 10 The Self Awakened: Pragmatism Unbound (Unger) 122, 133
self-centred: liberalism 15; materialism 7 self-cultivation, concept of 14 self-emptying, concept of 18 self-knowledge, concept of 38, 39, 43, 46, 66, 72, 76–78, 81, 85, 118, 120 self-transcendence, concept of 10, 16 Sen, Amartya 128, 137 Shahbano case 146 shakhas 129 Shantiniketan 129 Sharia law 194 Sharing the World (Irigaray) 136 Shu-hsien, Liu 15 Shujing 15 Shusterman, Richard 136 Sincerity and Authenticity (Trilling) 115 Sing, Gunga Govind 179 Sittlichkeit 4 slavery 95, 98, 134 Smith, Adam 20, 29, 30, 31, 50, 51, 168–69 social activism 38 social egalitarianism 146 social ethics 128 social justice, enlightenment of 186 social ‘relationism’ 18 Soroush, Abdulkarim 17 South Asia, liberal democracy in 6–13 Speech on the Nabob of Arcot’s Debts 172, 173, 174 Spinoza 28, 29, 32, 50, 52, 53 ‘spirit of domination’ 118 spiritual community 136 spiritual knowledge 72, 73, 75 sthithaprajna 77 Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom (Bawer) 188
swaraj 8, 10, 12, 64, 82, 116; and liberal–minimalist conception of democracy 11 Tan, Son-Hoon 126 Taylor, Charles 85, 190 Terchek, Ronald 11, 12 terrorist operation 187 The Theory of Democracy Revisited (Sartori) 4 Thurlow, Lord 172 Tiananmen Square 14–15 Toland, John 34, 57, 58 Tolstoy 9, 88, 93 Trilling, Lionel 115, 116 truth, concept of 77 Turkey 189, 190; views on Europe 188 ultra-Hindu nationalists 144, 147–48, 155, 158; resurgence of 163 unconscious conflict 46 Unger, Roberto 122, 123, 124, 130, 132, 133, 134 United Progressive Alliance (UPA) 207 untouchables 134, 151 Uttarayana festival 199 value, objectification of 52 vice-regents 17 village self-government 11 Vir Shaivite movement 152 ‘voluntarist conception of freedom’ 17 voting, theory of 5 Wahhabism, and Western visions of Islam 190 The Wealth of Nations (Smith) 168 Weber, Max 29, 33, 106, 112 Weiming, Tu 13–15 ‘welfare’ programmes 3
Index Western civilization 64; based on selfindulgence 71; and ethical learning in Indian society 81; material wealth and 95; violence associated with 66, 69 Western political theories 70 While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within (Bawer) 187 White Protestant America 192
Wilders, Geert 187 Wilkes controversy 166 Winthrop, Puritan John 6 yamas 10 yogas 9, 10 yogis 96 Young India 24 Zionism 194