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Critical Nation

Gandhi's philosophy appears most clearly enunciated in Hind Swaraj, a book written during his days in South Africa. The book in many ways offers an exposition of Gandhi's moral conception of truth, but several aspects of his notions and ideas as they evolved and were enunciated early on in Hind Swaraj are only now being analysed. This essay looks at the conception of "speed", including its relational notion to time, and which, according to philosophers of the Enlightenment, separated the modern from the ancient or the old. In Gandhi's exploration, however, speed also denotes and evokes a comparison between the civilisational ethos that marks out the east from the west.

Hind Swaraj is, to Gandhi, the book where all his thinking attained to unity and completion, teaching the gospel of love, severely condemning modern civilisation. For Partha Chatterjee it contains “the first and perhaps the fullest” systematic exposition of Gandhian ideas and “a statement of most of the fundamental elements of Gandhi’s politics”,6 which establishes the methodological priority of Hind Swaraj and expels any myth about indeterminateness of Gandhi’s political acts; rather, they can be shown to follow rigorously from Hind Swaraj. According to Robert Payne, in July 1947, to the would-be prime minister Nehru, Gandhi presented a copy of the book, which Nehru had rejected earlier.7 The remarkable consistency of Hind Swaraj is to perform various functions: a whole theory of life; a higher weapon for self-protection for Indian civilisation; the book of redemption for all, even the west. It is our task to determine that which holds together such an array of themes in a little book.

Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj in a dialogical form “to make it easy reading”.8 But it is the necessity of Hind Swaraj that there be such a couple, reader-editor. To be precise, two differently thought paces – the reader who takes values to be relative and the editor. This necessity of having a scale within us maintains Hind Swaraj insofar as it is the internal dialogue of the nation, the wrestling of two speeds – “Our leaders are divided into two parties (…) the slow party and the impatient party” (p 13).9 We grasp everything in accordance with speed: “Good travels at snail’s pace” and “evil has wings”; everything is a matter of speed (p 27). Speed is a scalar quantity, unlike vector, without direction. This could be confounding since it is conventional to see a “binary opposition” operating in Gandhi, namely west/east, where west is the major term marginalising the lower term east, and to see Hind Swaraj as an attempt at overturning this opposition. That, of course, is far from the case. Even the west is defined in terms of speed, as that which speeds more than nature, east being that which maintains the good speed; one spun by machines, the other the spinner of the wheel – speed is the compass. The power of the west is its greater speed, including its power to colonise – “but for railways the English could not have such a hold on India as they have” (p 26). The scalology of speed is derived from hypophysics,10 a term borrowed from Kant’s The Groundwork for a Metaphysics of Morals. Nature is value: So we define hypophysics, or as Bilgrami says, nature “not as brute but as suffused with value”.11 Bilgrami also suggests an equation between hypophysics and “Spinoza’s pantheism”. We need to distinguish Spinoza’s “metaphysics” from Gandhi’s “hypophysics” in order to apprehend the uniqueness of Hind Swaraj. This occasions another important clarification. Ajay Skaria has examined Hind Swaraj, its sexism, and its “unthought” with respect to Heidegger’s concept of ontotheology,12 which has to be defined in order to make it clear that Gandhi is neither a metaphysician nor a theologian as per that concept.

Firstly, Spinoza’s metaphysics, which is included in Heidegger’s ontotheology: there is only one substance whose infinite attributes express its infinite essence; modes are determinate expressions of these attributes; thought, an attribute, has modes “such as love, desire, or whatever emotions of the mind”.13 The attribution of modes to substance will be hypophysics, as a result of which, for Spinoza, people have “linked the name ‘god’ to the images of things that they are accustomed to see”.14 Secondly, Heidegger’s concept of ontotheology: This concept of metaphysics is simultaneously a diagnosis of the history of the west and the history of metaphysics (not a rejection of “modern thought”, indeed, ontotheology begins with Plato), and at the same time the decryption key to the encrypted destinality in that history, its “unthought”. Ontology is the discipline that accomplishes the ground for everything and theology is the discipline that gives an account of all beings with respect to the highest being. Their essential unity is metaphysics. “The ontotheological essential constitution of metaphysics cannot be explained in terms of either theologic or ontologic (…) For it still remains unthought by what unity ontologic and theologic belong together, what the origin of this unity is, and what the difference of the differentiated which this unity unifies”.15 Skaria’s description of ontotheology16 provides an inadvertent example for the distinction between the nominal and the conceptual; by “abstracting from presence” and “concept” what is understood therein is what Kant calls “empirical concept” – from all the wristwatches that you have seen you figure out that wristwatches are smaller than the person wearing them and by that, for Skaria, you have turned “the thing” into “object” – which has little to do with metaphysics. On the other hand the disciplines of the abstract – including number theory – are indifferent to what Skaria calls measure, but are about internal consistency, which he calls “muscle”.17 In fact, Descartes, the figure of modern thought, defined Mathesis Universalis as the science of quantities regardless of objects. Anyway, for us, metaphysics is the guerrilla transmission of thought hijacking all frequencies. Hind Swaraj does not pertain to metaphysics or to the difference that Heidegger pursued, but to speed’s variation. Indeed, there is no “unthought” in Gandhi’s systematic, for there are only well thought, badly thought, and some other thoughts.

Tagore understood Gandhi best, although as mistaken, and told him, “A mistake in geometry may make a road too long, or a foundation weak, or a bridge dangerous. But mathematical mistakes cannot be cured by moral maxims (emphasis ours)”.18 Here Tagore understands the mathematical in the Cartesian sense. But, for hypophysics nature is value, it is moral nature, which is why in that world earthquakes carry out judgments. Physics and metaphysics from the viewpoint of hypophysics denature nature. However, hypophysics is neither superior nor inferior to them. Values are gauged in accordance with scales such as speed, loudness and size, since values are nothing other than nature. Scalology is the adoption of scales to gauge nature. Gandhi adopts the scalology of speed. There were thinkers of speed before (Fallacy of Speed by Taylor is recommended at the end of Hind Swaraj19) and after Gandhi (Virilio and Derrida). But it is Gandhi’s resistance to speeding, which alone is resistance that sets him apart. To learn what resistance is for Gandhi we follow his hypophysics.

Railways are one such means by which man overrides his locomotive limits, and therefore “are a most dangerous institution” (p 28). Since hands and feet, which are limits, are themselves building these confounded machines there must be evil in human nature, precisely, in the override; “Railways accentuate the evil nature of man. Bad men fulfil their evil designs with greater rapidity” (p 26). Railways disrupt the unity of the nation, firstly, by introducing variability and upsetting the boundaries – “It was after the advent of railways that we began to believe in distinctions” (p 27). Secondly, by the mixing of masses – “Without them, masses could not move from place to place” (p 26). Speed makes many venture into those places where only a few deserve to be. Earlier, only true devotees visited pilgrim sites enduring great difficulties, but with railways anyone could travel anywhere, “nowadays rogues visit them in order to practice their roguery” (p 26). This increase of speed renders ineffective the test to detect “real devotees”, and as a result now “(t) he holy places of India have become unholy” – the holy and the unholy are determined by speed (p 26). Here the reader has a question, why do the good men not take the fullest advantage of the railways? The answer is quite obvious, “Good travells at a snail’s pace – it can, therefore, have little to do with railways” (p 27). Good is never a body in hurry, it knows that “to impregnate people’s mind with good requires a long time”. Whether the mind gets impregnated with good or evil is determined by the speed of that impregnation – today, postal services aided by railways and printing; “now anybody writes and prints anything he likes and poisons people’s minds” (p 20). The effect of the speed of railways is the disruption of the “One thought that inspired us” and held us as one nation; due to railways “man comes in contact with different natures, different religions and is utterly confounded” and “Owing to them man has gone further away from his Maker” (pp 27, 28). That is, the “One thought” of the nation is the thought corresponding to the speed pre-existing the advent of railways.

In the same letter Gandhi confirms to Nehru, “you are my heir”, that is to say the quick is the heir of the slow, speed begets speedier progenies. Madhu Limaye writes, “Many western writers have been puzzled by Gandhi’s passionately held beliefs and his naming as heir a person who was the champion of science, technology and industrialisation”.24 To comprehend this relation between the predecessor and the heir we need to follow the workings of the dia logue of speeds in Hind Swaraj, the editor-reader, instantiated in the couple Gandhi-Nehru. The reader, representative of young India, would rather see the old men out and would not like to listen to the editor’s discourse on such figures, which is to say that the battle of speeds takes place within the reader himself. The editor chides him, “We believe that those, who are discontented with the slowness of their parents and are angry because the parents would not run with their children, are considered disrespectful to their parents (…) What does it matter if they cannot run with us?” (p 10). That is, the quick inherits the slow,25 but treating the predecessor as “inimical to our growth as a nation would disable us from using that body” (p 11). Speed will inherit greater speeds and it must make an effort to carry the slow ones along, for it is from the slow that the quick comes. Gandhi does not wish to slow down to be with the Grand Old men, but he respects them. Therefore it is the reader who mistakes in the editor a desire for slowing down. This dialogue of speeds continues with the couple Gandhi-Nehru in 1934 where Gandhi is now the “Grand Old Man of India” and the socialists the young guns, “But I have found them as a body to be in a hurry (…). If I cannot march quite as quick, I must ask them to halt and take me along with them”.26 Those who have obtained a greater pace must carry along the slow ones. Regarding the Congress Working Committee composed of old men, who can no longer keep up with the young socialists, Gandhi writes in the same letter, “it is wrong to blame them for their inability to undergo the sufferings that some others have gone through”. Here again we find the battle of speeds taking place within the reader, Nehru. It is the reader who is troubled by the weight of the slowness of his elders and who demands unimpeded quickness. Hence, it will be a mistake to consider this scalology to be a determination of slowness relative to the fast and the editor to be a mere conserver of slowness demanding a relative slowness in every age; whereas it is the reader who has this comparative scale as his operative procedure to oppose a relative slowness.

“Religion is dear to me and my first complaint is that India is becoming irreligious” (p 24). By religion Gandhi does not mean any particular religion, but that which underlies all religions, the knowledge of the maker and of the god set speed of each thing; “In reality there are as many religions as there are individuals; but those who are conscious of the spirit of national unity do not interfere with one another’s religion” (p 29). R C Pradhan explains: “Gandhi’s God is free from the theological frameworks which relativise God to their particular conceptions”.27 We have earlier noted that the holy and the unholy are determined by the scalology of speed. In turn religion determines geographical boundaries. Hind Swaraj is the land of the free god; all that is religious, or the land held together by religion, the spirit of national unity. Each man is defined by individual coefficients of speed, an intellect – “We do not all think alike” (p 60). Hence individual praxis; which is the reason for Gandhi’s perplexingly different postcards of cure for different people. These coefficients are not constants, but they are parametric since each of us are compounds or alloys. Compoundings can weaken you and invite sufferings, such as East-West. But if individual religions are mistaken for Religion there can be no nation. Hindu nationalists, too, demanded a religious nation, but on the basis of one coefficient or a confined God. The prophet of the free god asks, “Is the God of the Mahomedan different from the God of the Hindu? Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter if we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal?” (p 29). This goal is Hind Swaraj, the geographic extension of the god set speed. The reader is convinced that the British united the nation and the railways abolished distinctions. The editor thinks otherwise, it is our forefathers who united the nation by conceiving that unity as religious.

Religious discipline defines India’s uniqueness and prevents the nation from being fully taken over. The difference between reader and editor here is of the speeds of survey of the bounds of nation; for the reader as fast as railways and for the editor as slow as pilgrimage, the journey at the speed of limbs and not relatively slower than railways. The editor says, “our leading men travelled throughout India either on foot or in bullock carts” (p 27). The ancestors, knowing well that god can be worshipped anywhere, established places of pil grimage in the south, east, and north – Rameshwar, Jagannath, and Hardwar – to ensure that we care to survey the land that is our nation.28 This is the nation of those who, having Ganges in their own homes, surveyed its land by way of pilgrimage (p 27). This survey is re-enacted by Gandhi as the Salt March. Railways disrupted the ancient unity by mixing peoples, which introduced confounding distinctions, and has little to do with the “making of Hindustan into an object”,29 since the west has already lost its objectivity by ignoring the negative relation between speed and good. Indeed, Gandhi never aimed at destroying railways or hospitals; for him it is natural that the railways be the progeny of the bullock cart. But this nation is not lost out to the west,30 which is godlessness, since “Rank atheism cannot flourish in this land” (p 57). In this nation religion maintains the natural speed and the ancestors’ law, the legacy of their wisdom (p 36). Religion gives the cue for living life through.

indigestion is overeating, exceeding the speed of digestion set by nature. The doctor’s pills augment that speed while alleviating the distress and inducing further indulgence, which is a violation of our religious instincts. This causes the speeding up of the weakening of mind. Pills are not the cure, but the illness itself: “Had I not taken the pills in the first instance, I would have suffered the punishment deserved by me and I would not have overeaten again” (p 35). Nature’s punishment is discontent and it urges us to gain self-mastery. Those dishonest doctors who practice supplementation of nature do not perform aetiology but set man up for the speed that is the west: “To study European medicine is to deepen our slavery” (p 36). The disease, including its army of doctors that has taken over India is modern civilisation and it is deceptive, “it even produces a seductive colour about a patient’s face so as to induce the belief that all is well” (p 26). Each increment of speed is the seductive colour which is in fact the symptom of a grave illness, western civilisation: “Honest physicians will tell you that where means of artificial locomotion have increased, the health of the people has suffered” (p 59). The aetiologist does not approach the suffragette movement as a problem requiring a solution, but as a symptom. Pace determines the place; women who should reign in households are now “labouring under trying circumstances in factories or similar institutions” and this is “one of the causes of the daily growing suffragette movement” (p 21). Caused by irreligion, western civilisation is an illness which has afflicted India, whereas Indian civilisation is godly, which alone can be the cure. Every institution of the former propagates immorality with rapidity – lawyers, doctors, railways, cities, and parliament. The English to India are like the doctors’ pills, supplementing our locomotive ambitions: “Then it follows that we keep the English in India for our base self-interest” (p 23). Decolonisation is the cure of this illness, the removal of its cause, and not a treatment of pain while keeping the thorn in the flesh.

Being well and ill involve being religious or otherwise. Hind Swaraj contains the diagnosis of an illness and its cure, it is also a manual of aetiology: “a true physician is he who probes the cause of the disease, and if you pose as physician for the disease of India, you will have to find out its true cause” (p 22). The cause of Skaria derives the meaning of swaraj from the etymological root “swa” leading to the word proper and its “questioning nature”. Giorgio Agamben’s pioneering pursuit of “the Indo- European theme *se (*swe)”, is illuminating: “In Indo-European languages, the group of the reflexive *se (Greek he, Latin se, Sanskrit sva-) indicates what is proper (cf the Latin suus) and exists autonomously […] Insofar as it contains both a relation that unites and a relation that separates, the proper – that which characterises everything as a *se – is therefore nothing simple”.33 Agamben draws our attention to the turn in Heidegger’s philosophy with respect to this theme: “The fact that the term Ereignis, “event”, with which Heidegger designates the supreme problem of his thought after Being and Time, can be semantically linked to this sphere is shown by the (etymologically arbitrary) relation Heidegger suggests between Ereignis and both the verb eignen, ‘to appropriate’, and the adjective ‘eigen’, ‘proper’ or ‘own’”.34 Heidegger did not always hide the arbitrariness of his etymologies. Agamben points out this fact: Heidegger’s “etymologically arbitrary” operations are semantically justified (etymologically the name Kamalanayana traces to lotus-eyed but its bearer could be blind). In Skaria’s register, Heidegger’s robust mind muscles on to the argument, brushing past the word. Indeed, Heidegger’s metaphysics is to establish a transcendental composition of the is not (‘Is Being at all?’35 asks Heidegger, whereas for Skaria it is a question of permitting two different speeds, which are, to vary, which Gandhi’s theory anyhow permits), unthinkable for western metaphysics as such, since it is not a process that can be forked by its nominal norms.

For Skaria, Gandhi’s naming of Parliament as “prostitute” and the supposed desire to remove that name while keeping the argument (whereas he omits names to prevent violence to Gandhi’s thought38) makes the whole book “tremble”. Skaria thinks what Gandhi the conservative could not – the questioning nature of proper, unthinkable for Gandhi, will permit the parliament (prostitute) and “theekana” (home) variation of speed; the “veshya” and the “theekana” will be permitted exchange with one another. Skaria is practising the postmodern trend of identifying “binary oppositions” – the conservative Gandhi/home vs the liberal parliament/prostitute – and finding the “third term” which annoys and, in certain cases, sources the opposition. But Gandhi had explicitly thought about this problem in Hind Swaraj. The reader says, “From your views I gather that you would form a third party. You are neither an extremist nor a moderate.” The editor responds, “That is a mistake. I do not think of a third party at all…I would serve both the moderates and the extremists. Where I differ from them, I would respectfully place my position before them and continue my service” (p 60). The variation of speeds, the inheritance of the slow by the fast, is never thwarted by Gandhi, who wrote in 1921 – “But today my corporate activity is undoubtedly devoted to the attainment of Parliamentary Swaraj in accordance with the wishes of the people of India”.39

That is, what Gandhi thought explicitly has been thought by Skaria as Gandhi’s unthought.

“It is difficult to become a passive resister unless the body is trained. As a rule, the mind, residing in a body that has become weakened by pampering, is also weak, and where there is no strength of the mind there can be no strength of soul” (pp 51-52). Civilisation understands will to be the propensity to higher speed, the intellect chasing the demands of the body, which drives them apart. The passive resister grasps the meaning of will correctly – it is the identity of body and mind. An offspring is a greater speed, giving rise to the speed-race of civilisations, and, therefore, a passive resister “can have no desire for progeny” (p 52).46 He trains his body and mind such that the force of his soul is able to reach closer, until he could say “accomplished”. Any one can become a passive resister irrespective of their physique – men, women, children, the sick, the rich, the poor – indeed, those who believe in the superiority of physical force are incapable of it, for they wish to battle law with law. Passive resister is always ready to take leave from laws that constrain; “Man-made laws are not necessarily binding on him” (p 49). Majority is what is bound by brute force, and reform is always initiated by the minority, the unbound.

Man-made laws, even if endorsed by the majority, enforce one particular coefficient of speed upon a populace, ignoring that each is an individual coefficient; which is one of the humbugs of religions – superstition. Passive resister is always found on the other side of man-made laws; he is not the lawbreaker, but the maker of unrest. When a prince enforced an unjust law on his subjects, finding their petitions to be ineffective they moved out of the village, ceasing to be his petitioners. The prince became restless and apologised, and would be a passive resister if he chooses to guard this blessing. It is the same force that blessed Angulimaala.

Passive resistance is a critical blessing to everyone, even the English. It is an all-sided sword, blessing the wielder and the wounded (p 51). As he treks the land of his forefathers, the passive resister is the sword that blesses both its bearer and the bearer of its cut, and he is the guardian of the cut. He is not passive, but passion defines him. He is the zero hero “I must reduce myself to zero.”47 He is not the one who runs from the sound of a gun, but “he who keeps death always as a bosom friend” and his nation “rests its head upon death as its pillow” (p 50). Here we see that the passive resister is critical in two senses, unlike the parliament. Firstly, as a point of transition from the first sense of law to the second; his passion, involving self-sacrifice, does not submit to the legal and the medical system from whose point of view he is critical, whereas for him it is those systems that are the sick running to their end (p 48). Secondly, as the guardian of the wound who evaluates, his life exposes the civilised to their own passion. Now we can define Hind Swaraj as critical nation. “The Swaraj that I wish to picture is such that, after we have once realised it, we shall endeavour to the end of our life-time to persuade others to do likewise” (p 39). That is, there will be only one critical nation.

Bilgrami recognises the importance of speed in Gandhi’s thought. He conceives the passive resister as an exemplar, and sets the slowness of village life as the condition of exemplarity – “(Gandhi) was fully aware that the smaller the community of individuals, the more likelihood there is of setting examples”.48 The speed of “global economies” is non-conducive for an exemplar – “In such places and such forms of life, there is no scope for exemplary action to take hold (…). To find a basis for tolerance and non-violence under circumstances such as these, we are compelled to turn to arguments of the sort Mill tried to provide”.49 Towards the accomplishment of the critical nation Gandhi did not seek an interlude of village life as condition, nor did he believe that the villages of India were already critical nation. Gandhi knew the narrow-mindedness of villages, which priests hold together by brute force – “Our religious teachers are hypocritical and selfish” (p 57). He wrote to Nehru in 1945, “You will not be able to understand me if you think that I am talking about the villages of today”.50 Shahid Amin’s Event, Memory, Metaphor is the history of Gandhi’s strenuous relationship with contemporary village and its hypophysics; the historian, trailing the outside of Hind Swaraj, gives a most insightful reading. He describes Gandhi and the crowds of villagers seeking “darshan”, which made Gandhi beat his own head in anger, “It was these mobs that Gandhi wanted disciplined by trained volunteers”.51 Yet the village is what critical nation would look like when attained, since swadeshi would be its conduct.

Swadeshi, the conduct of passive resister, is at the speed of what always remains, of the ancients who “after due deliberation decided that we should only do what we would with our hands and feet” (p 37). Gandhi writes in 1919 regarding the swadeshi vow, “For a proper observance of the pledge, it is really necessary to use only hand-woven cloth made out of hand-spun yarn”.52 The speed of the village is the nearest to critical nation; a place where there is no machinery to cause override will be undemanding on the passive resister when he endeavours to undeceive them. If critical nation is near then there is no need to burden the villager with the enslaving English education, which is a flood of great speed that could carry them away as it had urban Indians. It is a false education, incapable of carrying out the critical act to completion (pp 54-55).

Derrida, the Other-thinker of speed, says about global-nuclearwar, “it is a non-event”, if it takes place there will not be anything left as evidence, of any event.53 The decisive speed race is the nuclear arms race, which speeds on to the apocalypse, as its deterrence. Absolute speed will be that event, and it alone can judge all other speeds, which are (straining to hear) the faintest of the loudest of all sounds, of judgment. Derrida explains his proto-ontology: “The hypothesis of this total destruction watches over (judges) deconstruction, it guides its footsteps”.54 For Derrida the world is the summing up or the speeding up of the world, where there can be only one apocalypse, one night without mercury and no dawn to follow – the summary “non-event”; every other speed is speeding onto the other speed. While for Gandhi, speedings are histories interrupting the formation of the critical nation and apocalypses are autolyses, ends of histories, which are always survived by the slow, from which progenies would arise again – “We, therefore, say that the non-beginning of a thing is supreme wisdom” (p 58).

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