Philosophy Reviews

‘Gandhi and Philosophy – On Theological Anti-Politics’ review: Leap of faith

Two writers, through their doubts, affirm Gandhi as a serious philosopher for our times and beyond

Love takes many forms. One of the most enduring and yet arduous forms is philosophical engagement. A philosophical dialogue allows one to bridge the seemingly vast chasm of time and specificity of context establishing primacy of ideas.

One could think with a philosopher, think against or think alongside with him/her. Each of these modes produce their distinct philosophical approaches. To think alongside a thinker requires one to inhabit the universe of ideas, arrive at the skin of language and try and seek to comprehend the modes through which ideas were conceived, the choices of categories made, discern how concepts came to be imbued with meanings.

New universe of meaning

It allows one to glimpse, through a patient process of unravelling the wrap and weft through which the tapestry of ideas was woven. This creates possibility of a mimetic act; sometimes as imitation, sometimes as nonsensical similarity but enchantingly also for self-representation. It also prepares a ground from which to confront the philosopher by thinking against.

This kind of thinking is not criticism, which is a very important activity of expressing disagreement and disenchantment, but a search to provide a new universe of meaning employing the categories and modes of thought of the thinker. Even as a mimetic act it has the capacity to dig deeper into the world of ideas that impel our own activity.

M.K. Gandhi has been a ‘beloved’ of historians, biographers, political thinkers, post-colonial interlocutors. He is a delight for psycho-analysts. Economists have chosen to maintain an unsociable distance from him, almost in an unfriendly way.

Philosophers have an enigmatic relationship with him, sometimes bemused at his seemingly chaotic thought, attracted to his ability and need to inhabit Truth, perplexed by his insistence that thought and practice ought to be indistinguishable, beguiled by what his philosopher grandson Ramchandra Gandhi called his ‘rambling wisdom’ inebriated by his want to see god face to face and attain moksha and martyrdom.

Intellectual tradition

This has created philosophically somewhat an impoverished Gandhi. This despite the fact that Kishorelal Mashruwala and Vinoba Bhave were his close associates and both provided ways of philosophically reading Gandhi. Mashruwala’s Gandhi Vichar Dohan remains from the Ashramic intellectual tradition the key philosophical rendering of Gandhi.

Ramchandra Gandhi, ever so insightful and supremely playful, gave his kind of ‘rambling wisdom’ on Gandhi. In recent times Akeel Bilgrami has subjected Gandhi’s thought and practice to rigorous examination seeking to understand it through the 17th century philosophical dissent in England. Richard Sorabji situated Gandhi’s non-violence in philosophically complex and historically broader canvas.

Leela Gandhi, Ajay Skaria, Anuradha Veeravalli and Faisal Devji have given us remarkably sensitive studies that philosophically illuminate Gandhi’s thought and practice.

Shaj Mohan and Divya Dwivedi are deeply aware of Gandhi’s context, his politics, our polarised perceptions of his life and strivings and the vast secondary literatures that deal with these. This awareness becomes substratum of their engagement with Gandhi. They are aware of Gandhi’s insistence upon action, they are mindful of his quest for interiority. They know that Gandhi had deep, tender affinity for books and ideas. They do not wish to engage with either Gandhi’s action or his interiority.

What they wish to do is to develop Gandhi’s capacity for doubt. Gandhi for all his seeming certainty and prescriptive action had capacity for nurturing fundamental doubts.

We all have doubts about something; given to perplexity, vacillation, indecision. But Gandhi had a unique capacity to take a ‘leap of faith’ (to use Kierkegaard’s phrase) in moments of deep doubt. Mohan and Dwivedi seize this aspect for their own meditations on Gandhi. They nurture fundamental doubts about Gandhi, not of the man or his intentions, but the categories through which he sought to make sense of himself and the world. This they do by making an attempt to go to the roots of Gandhi’s language, trying to get to know ‘the thing-in-itself.’

The result is a remarkably adventurous book, opaque in parts (reflections of language tend to produce opacity), sometimes mimicking his need to invent words and subversive of the established Gandhi. Subversive but deeply affectionate. They through their doubt affirm Gandhi as a serious philosopher for our times and beyond.

Gandhi and Philosophy – On Theological Anti-Politics; Shaj Mohan & Divya Dwivedi, Bloomsbury, ₹799.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 5:27:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/gandhi-and-philosophy-on-theological-anti-politics-review-leap-of-faith/article29118506.ece

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