Gandhi & Anarchy: George H. Smith, Raghavan Iyer, B. R. Nanda

M. K. Gandhi’s biographer B.R. Nanda reports that Gandhi would have agreed with the nineteenth-century doctrine ‘that government is best which governs least. … [T]his Jeffersonian maxim was central to Gandhi’s thinking. “A society organized and run on the basis of complete nonviolence,” he stated repeatedly, “would be the purest anarchy. … That State is perfect and non-violent where the people are governed the least.” And again: “The ideally non-violent State will be an ordered anarchy. That State will be the best governed which is governed the least.”

The intellectual historian George H. Smith puts the matter very similarly. “Gandhi’s hatred of State oppression,” he writes, “was as passionate and deeply-felt as any contemporary libertarian.” Smith quotes Gandhi as having said that “any man who subordinates his will to that of the State surrenders his liberty and thus becomes a slave.”

According to Smith,

Many analysts have pointed out that Gandhi was in the anarchist tradition and that his anarchism was strongly individualistic. In contrast to the supposedly Oriental view that the individual counts for nothing, Gandhi argued that “the individual is the one supreme consideration.” “No society,” Gandhi wrote, “can possibly be built upon a denial of individual freedom. It is contrary to the very nature of man. Just as a man will not grow horns or a tail, so will he not exist as man if he has no mind of his own. In reality even those who do not believe in the liberty of the individual believe in their own.”

Smith cites the supporting opinion of the Indian academic philosopher Raghavan Iyer, who spent most of his adult life in the United States, teaching at the University of California. “It would not be extravagant,” Iyer wrote in 1973, “to consider Gandhi as one of the most revolutionary of individualists and one of the most individualistic of revolutionaries.” Smith quotes Iyer as claiming that Gandhi “could not believe in the moral priority of any collective agency over the individual.”

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