Friday, November 28, 2008

Gandhi-The Philosophical Anarchist:

On my last post, regarding the lecture on Marx, Gandhi and Social Transformation by Prof. J.V.R. Rao, a friend had asked to deliberate on the point observed on Gandhi being a "philosophical anarchist". Although the Professor did go about explaining related to this, I thought I would rather do my own research and present in this post my learnings on this topic.
To begin with, let us look at some back-ground of the concept of "Philosophical Anarchy". Let's try to understand what exactly anarchy stands for: most of us have the opinion that "anarchy" is a state of lawlessness, absence of government and political disorder. It is quite true and generally accepted. However, the political movement of "anarchism" does not see this as a pejorative term. According to the Oxford dictionary (as per the Wikipedia), there is yet another definition of anarchy: "A theoretical social state in which there is no governing person or body of persons, but each individual has absolute liberty (without the implication of disorder)".
Now having seen the two perspectives, one which propagates the idea of "disorder" and the other on "individual liberty", we'll go straight to the rise of "anarchism" as a political movement, skipping other details.
Again according to my notes from Wiki, the rise of anarchism as a political movement occured in the mid-19th century. The ideology was based on the conception of a possibility of "FREEDOM" based on political and economic "self-rule". It may be of interest to note that at the same time this began to rise, there was also a rise of the concept of "nation-state" and the subsequent large scale industrial capitalism and corresponding "corruption". Perhaps ideological and perceptional differences between these two extremes could have fueled the movement on a grand scale.
I think it's a worthwhile exercise to give this article in Wiki a good read, for further research as well:
Coming back to the Philosophical Anarchism, again, based on the information available in the Wikipedia, here are some salient points:
* The "State" lacks moral legitimacy, according to this school of thought. * It does not advocate "revolution" to eliminate the State * Those who believe in these ideas, strongly believe that there is no obligation or duty to obey the state i.e. the State has not RIGHT to command.
Philosophical Anarchism is a component of Individualist Anarchism. Some of prominent people who were philosophical anarchists were: William Godwin (the founder of this system), Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (the first ever person to call himself an "anarchist" ), Benjamin Tucker (who actually coined the term "philosophical anarchism"). And of course, Henry David Thoreau also one of the foremost to practice this ideology.
In the essay "Civil Disobedience", Thoreau shows his clear intentions of being a philosophical anarchist when he goes on to say that " That government is the best which governs the least; Or, that government in the best which does not govern at all". The idea of freedom of the individual is quite evident from his protest not to pay the taxes, for which he had to spend a night in prison. There's another related quote from Thoreau in his Walden, "The only obligation I have a right to assume is to do at any time, what I think is right".
There have been numerous instances noted by several people, including Gandhi himself, that Gandhi was highly influenced by this Yankee from the West, the transcendentalist Thoreau. Perhaps because of his influence, Gandhi was also a philosophical anarchist. According to Mr. Edgar Snow, in his own words: "Like Marx, Gandhi hated the State and wished to eliminate it, and he told me he considered himself a philosophical anarchist". (

Another important note from the same essay cited above by Mr. Snow is, based on his conversation with the Mahatma, Gandhi said: "Strictly speaking, all amassing or hoarding of wealth above and beyond one's legitimate requirements is theft. There would be no occasion for theft and therefore no thieves, if there were wise regulations of wealth and absolute social justice".