Gandhi, a Libertarian Saint?

Gandhi, a Libertarian Saint?
Profile photo of Jayant Bhandari

Gandhi_spinningCan the Jews resist this organised and shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected and forlorn? I submit there is. No person who has faith in a living God need feel helpless or forlorn. Jehovah of the Jews is a God more personal than the God of the Christians, the Mussalmans or the Hindus, though as a matter of fact in essence, He is common to all and one without a second and beyond description. But as the Jews attribute personality to God and believe that He rules every action of theirs, they ought not to feel helpless.

– Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi [circa 1938, in response to the events happening in Nazi Germany]

The Asiatic peoples are not justified in blaming the invaders for atrocities committed in previous years. Indefensible as these excesses were from the point of view of liberal tenets and principles, they were nothing extraordinary when measured by the standards of oriental customs and habits. The demands for liberty and self-determination on the part of the Asiatic peoples are a result of their Westernization. The natives are fighting the Europeans with ideologies borrowed from them. It is the greatest achievement of Europe’s nineteenth-century Asiatic policies that the Arabs, the Hindus, and the Chinese have at length grasped the meaning of Western political doctrines

— Ludwig von Mises in “Omnipotent Government”

Gandhi is often quoted in the libertarian literature, for his beliefs in non-violence and his sainthood. One must be bothered. The issue is not Gandhi, for he had no real philosophy, but the corruption of libertarianism that usage of his name entails. Gandhi was a simple-minded common-man devoid of much thinking-power or common-sense but who events of history propelled to sainthood.

The Path to Power

Gandhi was in every text book of my school in India. Every subject I studied had something on Gandhi. Mathematical examples were explained using Gandhi. In our literature text book, if two lovers met, they discussed Gandhi. We practiced elocution using Gandhi’s speeches. We enacted his conversations. We used his quotes everywhere. We were taught to copy Gandhi’s conduct in our lives. Of course that was only the façade, for hypocrisy unashamedly, in stark nakedness, ruled.

Our teachers thrashed us, if we failed to fully explain the nuances of Gandhi’s beliefs in non-violence. People would talk about why not to eat meat and drink alcohol and why to speak the truth, and then promptly defied their own talks in their actions, almost without blinking an eyelid. Dishonesty and corruption ruled every sphere of the Indian family and social life. Despite society’s existence in intellectual lethargy and cesspool of conflicting beliefs, you faced immediate opposition, often violent, in case you challenged the hypocrisies.

There was absolutely no way a saint could have arisen to a position of power in that society. Such a society has no eyes to identify a saint. In India, to rise up, you must pass through a maze of approvals from corrupt power-brokers and pander to the base demands of the masses. To survive, you had to play a manipulative game, with friends, in families, in jobs, in schools, in business, and, of course, in politics.

You ruled with a heavy hand or you were submissive, depending on who had the power; nothing ever was based on either fairness or compassion. It is for this reason that India is poor and wretched. Like the great Indian rope trick, non-violence was a complete myth.

Gandhi, were he a saint, had absolutely no way to rise to where he did.

A saint in Indian politics would have suffocated, in no time. A real freedom-fighter would have immediately recognised that, were English no saints themselves to leave India, it would go into the hands of wolves.

Not only were Indian politicians crooked, they were uneducated, irrational, superstitious, and utterly stupid. Only someone completely devoid of any sense of morality and civilisation could avoid seeing what Gandhi managed. Someone really keen on seeing a better future for India would have begged English to stay over in India.

There was a Bengali Nobel laureate, a poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who was against Gandhi for the simple reason that he believed that Indians were prisoners of their own minds. He lampooned Gandhi’s movement. He emphasized self-help and intellectual upliftment of the masses, stating that British imperialism was not a primary evil, but instead a “political symptom of our social disease”, urging Indians to accept that “there can be no question of blind revolution, but of steady and purposeful education.

Gandhi rose to the top because he had the lightest weight, philosophically. He rose because he was seen as the least threat by the utterly corrupt “freedom fighters” India had. His place was that of a eunuch in a harem. He believed in nothing. He lacked ideas or a personal philosophy of life. He was a true man of the masses. He was dough that could be moulded to fit-in anywhere. To this day, such people continue to head India, including the current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, who not surprisingly has never been elected by the people.

Childhood and Family

At the age of 19, Gandhi went to England to study. That is where he found some half-cooked enlightenment, mostly focused on vegetarianism and celibacy. After his return to India, where there were ample opportunities for someone educated in England, he utterly failed to establish himself in the legal profession. So, he went to South Africa, to see if he could make something out of himself. Gandhi was no different from a typical politician or bureaucrat. He failed to stand on his own feet, to run his own life.

He was to live in South Africa for more than 20 years. At the age of 46, he returned to India. Not knowing much about India, he decided it was time to tell them how they should live.

Gandhi did not believe in violence, not even when for self-defence. However, this belief in non-violence applied only in his relationship with others. He was obnoxious with his wife and children, so much so, that one must wonder why he ever married. Sex is not something that he found natural. When 36 years old, he unilaterally decided not to maintain sexual relationship with his wife, for he believed that the loss of semen drained a man’s vitality.

He often publicly humiliated his wife. He forced her to clean everyone’s latrines in the “ashram” (spiritual community). These latrines were ones in which human faeces had to be manually taken out. Gandhi insisted that his wife clean the latrines despite the fact that being from the high-caste and being a woman, this was close to the worst humiliation she could face. His children, who were living evidence of his “sexual sin”, faced the same predicament. He did not educate his children either at home or at the school. When an scholarship opportunity came for his son, Gandhi diverted that to someone else–as he lived on other people’s charity, he did not want to be seen as miss-using it. He tried his best to keep his sons celibate, refusing to let them marry. Everyone in his family was forced to weave cloth and undertake fasts, for self-cleansing.

Politically, Gandhi’s non-violence and disobedience worked for only one reason: he was cocooned in a liberal setting that the English rule provided. Possibility of non-violence in political action has increasingly disappeared in India since English left. A cynic might even speculate that Gandhi was an English agent or at least someone English nudged. Over a period of time, the chaos that is India was getting too unwieldy and expensive for the English. They might have thought it worthwhile to make someone malleable into a saint before departing–as they likely did in Zimbabwe as well–to reduce the chances of violent riots breaking out and to take the focus away from England.

His eldest son, Harilal, prone to heavy drinking and womanising, apparently, visited Gandhi’s funeral in a derelict condition. Harilal was, perhaps, not even recognised, to be allowed to come closer. A few months later he died, perhaps, of syphilis in a Bombay hospital. Why should I use “perhaps?” Because no one knows much about what really happened to Gandhi’s children. We never learnt about them in school. It was only after the internet revolution that we started to know who they were. They had grown up to be nobodies.

Gandhi was a Toohey, a character one should best leave Ayn Rand to describe in her masterpiece, the Fountainhead.

Character of a Toohey

Politicians and bureaucrats are corrupt, driven by baser instincts. They make money for themselves and for their families. Gandhi’s ambition was limited to becoming a saint, often at the cost of his family. Being corrupt is bad enough, but what kind of warped thinking does it require to be corrupt and still not use it materially for the self and the family, while providing a cover for others to rape and plunder? Gandhi’s character should inspire an utter cringe.

Gandhi was a loony. He could never evolve beyond sex and vegetarianism. His understanding of religion was more of a dogma than an appreciation for deeper things in life. He attempted to do some basic experiments though not of the kind too different from what a five year old child does when playing with round stones or water. He drank his own urine, which had no rational medicinal basis even in those days

So difficult it was for Gandhi to understand his sexuality that even at his old age, he shared his bed with different young women, his disciples, calling this “nature cure”. He did this to practice his control on “brahmacharya” (celibacy). In Gandhi’s view experiment of sleeping naked with women helped him in contemplating upon social problems. He involved his 19-year old niece in his experiments. Another was the 16-year old wife of Gandhi’s great-nephew. There were many others, at least some of them married. Most likely, he did not have sex with these women. In what Gandhi did, the women ended up being guinea pigs of his human experiments and faced humiliation in a deeply conservative society.

Were Gandhi not looking for sainthood, he would have been more kind with his family. He would not have fought the English. He would have spread the message of freedom he learnt in England. He would have used the English to liberate the Indian society from its very deep-rooted dogmas. He would have listened to Tagore. Alas, “freedom” for him and for the top people in India’s “freedom movement” was more of a socialist construct heavily influenced by personal political motivations. Very likely, Gandhi did not even understand what Tagore meant.

Gandhi was no saint. In fact, I feel ashamed writing about someone who was a common human from the masses, with simplistic beliefs and conduct. His mistakes and sins were nothing unusual in the ever-contradictory and hypocritical cesspool that Indian society exists in. He was not to be one, but it was the accidents of the history that gave him a position of a saint. He was not responsible for killing anyone. If he did, he did not consciously mean to. His work might have and indeed did cause a lot of pain, but that was not really his mistake, for he did not have the foresight to look much further in life, not too unlike someone who does a 9-to-5 job and cannot think beyond his evening beer to understand the consequences of his actions. He deserves no place in history and certainly not in the libertarian philosophy, either as a hero or as a villain.

  • Mahesh Sreekandath

    The critique of the methods of Gandhi could have taken more space than the character sketch. We could have appreciated a deeper analysis of the contradictions inherent in Gandhian ideas, Mises does explain how we should analyze every action on its merit & comprehend its subjective nature. We should not even attempt to interpret Gandhi's character instead we should see his actions in context and on its own merit.

    Mises also explains how Marxists tend to attack the source and not the idea & how they attempt to debase the idea by interpreting all their actions in light of the character of the source which they themselves create, we shouldn't never go down that path because history is susceptible to contrasting interpretations & Gandhi's character might also interpreted in different ways.

    I agree with the inference that the accessibility of Gandhian ideas might be because it appeals to certain baser instincts of humans and signify its lack of refinement but only a dissection of Gandhian ideas can be a testament not a fallible interpretation of his character.

  • Mahesh Sreekandath

    Thank you for the response!

    Must say that your emphasis on the contrast between Rabindranath Tagore & Gandhi was very striking. What Tagore said was in line with individualism and spontaneous order while Gandhi might have been hypocritical when advocating self rule (swaraj) but at the same time using dogma based collectivism to force the change.

    Tagore believed that “there can be no question of blind revolution, but of steady and purposeful education", this seems in line with the the British tradition of steady but slow evolution of institutions and society v/s Gandhi's seemingly rationalist revolutionary change which someone might equate to the unrealistic ideals of French revolution.

    The contrast between Tagore & Gandhi is relevant, I intent to read much more about Tagore in future and undoubtedly, equating Gandhi with Libertarianism is erroneous.

  • Jayant Bhandari

    I completely agree with you. Indeed, from whatever I have read of Tagore, he is a true libertarian icon; certainly he was very wise and very, very enlightened. Indeed during the late 19th century, Indians were burning widows on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands and child marriages were rampant. There were many, many cultural problems. No rational person could blame these on the English.

    Tagore and several other enlightenment movements that had emerged in India, given what they saw right in front on them, preferred to use the English to get India rid of its cultural problems, instead of wasting everyone's energy on wasteful and distracting endeavors. Tagore those days ran a very famous school, Shanti Niketan, which was responsible for generating a group of enlightened individuals. I don't feel any nationalistic feelings inside me, but if I did, I would be tremendously proud of Tagore.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

Profile photo of Jayant Bhandari

Jayant Bhandari is constantly traveling the world to understand it and to look for investment opportunities, particularly in the natural resource sector. He advises institutional investors about his finds. He also runs a yearly seminar in Vancouver entitled "Capitalism & Morality."

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