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January 21, 2011


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Patrick S. O'Donnell

I am heartened to see a “total law prof geek project” tackle some Gandhian economic beliefs!

For the inspired few wanting to place these Gandhian snippets within the larger context of his life and work (Gandhi was not a systematic political theorist, but he was often an original and provocative if not utopian thinker) I recommend, short of reading the some 90 plus volumes of his collected writings, the manageable collection edited by Raghavan Iyer: Moral and Political Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, 3 Vols. (1986) (there’s also a one volume edition by Iyer available for those who seek something yet shorter).

Of course there is an enormous number of works on Gandhi’s life or ideas, but I’ve culled here what I immodestly think is the crème de la crème:

The best biography of Gandhi remains Judith Brown’s Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope (1989).

On Gandhi’s religious and spiritual beliefs, see Margaret Chatterjee’s Gandhi’s Religious Thought (1983). More particularly, and because his interpretation of the Gita came to have such an enormous influence on his spiritual praxis, see J.T.F. Jordens, “Gandhi and the Bhagavadgita,” in Robert Minor, ed., Modern Interpreters of the Bhagavad Gita (1986): 88-109.

On Gandhi’s moral and political philosophy, see Joan Bondurant’s Conquest of Violence (1965), Bhikhu Parekh’s Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination (1989), and especially Raghavan Iyer’s* nonpareil study, The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi (1st ed., 1973; 2nd ed., 1983).

Gandhi’s economic ideas are fruitfully conceptualized under the theory of “trusteeship.” See, for example, Iyer’s “Gandhian Trusteeship in Theory and Practice,” a short essay published by the Institute of World Culture, Santa Barbara, CA: Concord Grove Press, 1985.

For a fine treatment of some of the more trenchant as well as facile criticisms of this or that aspect of Gandhi’s life and thought, see B.R. Nanda’s Gandhi and His Critics (1985).

* Full disclosure: Raghavan was one of my undergraduate teachers for political philosophy and his wife, Nandini, was one of my teachers in Religious Studies. Nandini and the Iyer’s son, the writer Pico Iyer, remain close friends (indeed, Nandini is my best friend).

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Incidentally, the imaginary dialogue is rather civil and polite, not unlike a dialogue one would expect from Gandhi in conversation with a political opponent. All the same, it seems Churchill loathed Gandhi, at least while the latter was alive, as evidenced in these quotes from Churchill (the first is well-known, the second came to light not long ago):

“It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer...this malignant subversive fanatic...striding half-naked up to the steps of the Viceregal palace, while he is still organising and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor...The truth is that Gandhiism and all it stands for will, sooner or later, have to be grappled with and finally crushed. It is no use trying to satisfy a tiger by feeding him cat’s must be made plain that the British nation has no intention of reliquishing its mission in India...we have no intention of casting away the most truly bright and precious jewel in the Crown of the King, which more than all our other Dominions and Dependencies constitutes the glory and strength of the British Empire.”

Winston Churchill once called Mahatma Gandhi “a bad man and an enemy of the Empire” who should have been done away with. The war-time prime minister of Britain told Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts of South Africa at a meeting of the war cabinet in London in the 1940s: “You are responsible for all our troubles in India - you had Gandhi for years and did not do away with him.” To which, Smuts replied: “When I put him in prison - three times - all Gandhi did was to make me a pair of bedroom slippers.”

When the Mahatma went on a hunger strike during World War II, Churchill told the cabinet: “Gandhi should not be released on the account of a mere threat of fasting. We should be rid of a bad man and an enemy of the Empire if he died.”

Bridget Crawford

Patrick, you give me way too much credit! I didn't set out to address Gandhi's economic belief...just the English per stirpes approach to intestate distribution, but all the better if I did!

Patrick S. O'Donnell

I know, it's just that one gets a taste of his economic ideas and for that I, for one, am most grateful.

Tanya Marsh

Bridget, that is awesome! Thanks for sharing! I look forward to the sequel...

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