Thoughts on economics and liberty

Gandhi was a MAJOR proponent of liberty. Most people have still to understand him.

I came across a brilliant blog post (thanks, Mithun) published by Unpretentious Diva at the Rational Libertarian Corner.

Unfortunately, the post is in such a combination of fonts/colour that my eyes burnt while reading it. I have therefore copied it onto this blog, below, and am reproducing it in full for the convenience of those who may find the original one hard to read. [I trust Unpretentious Diva will allow this reproduction. I'll let her know through a comment, presently.]

This blog post by UD is VERY important since MOST Indians are seriously confused about Gandhi's worldview. This post further reaffirms what I have already described in BFN, that Gandhi did NOT support Nehru's socialism.

There is a tendency in some Western circles (and even within India) to misrepresent what Gandhi stood for, merely because of his opposition to technology. This opposition of Gandhi to modern technology, which is paternalistic at its heart and therefore quite unlike him in many ways, is a perspective I can't understand, neither do I accept a few other aspects of Gandhi's worldview. But on the whole, Gandhi was one of those MOST favourable to liberty, in India's independence movement.

====by Unpretentious Diva===

Exploring the Anarchic roots of Gandhian Philosophy

[Government] control gives rise to fraud, suppression of truth, intensification of the black market and artificial scarcity. Above all, it unmans the people and deprives them of initiative, it undoes the teaching of self-help" (Gandhi, “Speech at Prayer Meeting,” 3 Nov. 1947, CWMG, vol. 97, 224)  

I look upon an increase in the power of the State with the greatest fear because, although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality which lies at the heart of all progress (Sanjeev: I located this here:in Selected Writings of Mahatma Gandhi by Ronand Duncan. However, the original source that is cited is not clear.)

It is obvious that Mahatma Gandhi was sincerely against the state and government, was Mahatma Gandhi an Anarchist?

Anarchy is often considered as a negative and anti-social concept and most of the times it is wrongly related with extremes like lawlessness or egalitarianism. However, anarchy is not lawlessness nor it is egalitarianism, rather it is the absence of hierarchy. Anarchy represents a state of pure democracy or direct democracy where, the power to take decision for the collective society or country is not allowed to be concentrated in the hands of a limited number of politicians, aristocrats or bureaucrats.

While it is still difficult to envisage a society with pure democracy, yet; many democratic countries across the world support at least three form of anarchic fundamentals which works in limiting governmental authority which are: initiative, plebiscite and recall.

Initiative is the process of demanding a plebiscite or referendum to decide over a certain cause or action.

Plebiscite or referendum means direct voting, however, it is not for selecting representatives of people to make decisions for them, rather it is voting to make decision. As for example, many states in the United States organized a plebiscite to decide whether gay marriages should be allowed or not. In India, people are demanding for a direct referendum over the issue of Janlokpal Bill supported by Civil Society and Anna Hajare.

Recall is the political power that allows the citizen of a country to have a plebiscite or direct voting to decide to remove a politician, or government officer or the whole government from the office of power.

Mahatma Gandhi always advocated democracy in its pure form, which is the direct democracy or Anarchy. He strongly opposed Nehru’s form of government and constitution and said, “If India copies England, it is my firm conviction that she will be ruined. Parliaments are merely emblems of slavery.2 ” While he considered the Individual as the smallest minority, he also criticized the majority democracy of America and said, “It is a superstition and an ungodly thing to believe that an act of a majority binds a minority3 .” [Sanjeev: Those who've understood Buchanan will appreciate why parliaments can be yet another way to enslave us. Checks and balances need to be strengthened if we are going to use such mechanisms.]

Gandhi was a strong supporter of Swaraj or Individual Autonomy. He supported the idea of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and claimed, “Everyone will have to take [swaraj] for himself. If we become free, India becomes free and in this thought you have a definition of swaraj. It is swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves.”4

In his book “Gandhi’s hatred of State Oppression,” George H. Smith mentions that “Gandhi repeatedly called himself an Anarchist, “

“He refused positions of political power … he called for the abolition of the Indian Congress after independence … he criticized Nehru’s government … he desired the abolition of the Indian military and the maintenance of, at most, a minimal police force. … his entire social program revolved around establishing decentralized “village republics” which would use social sanctions to maintain order and which would be free of State control. … Gandhi was a vigorous opponent of imperialism … war (including World War II), censorship, and virtually every other kind of State intrusion”.5

Mahatma Gandhi was hugely influenced by Henry David Thoreau. In South Africa, when he was imprisoned for three months in Pretoria, he read the book Civil Disobedience. In the book “The Triumph of Liberty,” Jim Powell mentioned a few words on Mahatma Gandhi from his diary where he acknowledged that Thoreau’s

“ideas influenced me greatly. I adopted some of them and recommended the study of Thoreau to all my friends who were helping me in the cause of Indian independence. …Until I read that essay, I never found a suitable English translation for my Indian word Satyagraha.”6

It is so obvious that Mahatma Gandhi was a Libertarian and a strong supporter of Individual liberty or Swaraj, and in order to make the idea become practical, he proposed the process of Decentralization of power. In one of his letters, he wrote;

“Independence begins at the bottom… It follows, therefore, that every village has to be self-sustained and capable of managing its own affairs… It will be trained and prepared to perish in the attempt to defend itself against any onslaught from without… This does not exclude dependence on and willing help from neighbors or from the world. It will be a free and voluntary play of mutual forces… In this structure composed of innumerable villages, there will be every-widening, never ascending circles. Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual. Therefore, the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle but will give strength to all within and derive its own strength from it.”7

[Sanjeev: I think this is where I begin to differ from Gandhi. Village models are simply not sustainable. But his idea of self-governance, subsidiarity, is absolutely valid.]

One of the famous scholars of Thoreau’s philosophy, Walter Harding mentioned that after first reading “Civil Disobedience,” Gandhi “always carried a copy with him during his many imprisonments” in the years to come.

Mahatma Gandhi was an ardent supporter of Individual liberty. He wrote-

the individual is the one supreme consideration. No society 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.”8

In January 1887, B.R. Nanda, one of the close aid of Mahatma Gandhi who wrote the book “Gandhi – A Pictorial Biography,” reported in Durban that Gandhi

was assaulted and nearly lynched by a white mob … but [he] refused to prosecute his assailants. It was, he said, a principle with him not to seek redress of a personal wrong in a court of law. … [T]he distrust of the apparatus of government was almost as deeprooted in [Gandhi] as in Tolstoy. He 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.”9

Mahatma Gandhi’s open acceptance of Anarchy as the best state confirms that he was an anarchist and his strong belief in individual liberty ascertains that he was a deep rooted libertarian.

But after independence, it became clear that the Congress would make national government and his idea of self-governance or Swaraj won’t be a reality any soon, so he tried to limit the government only to fund some educational programs and to provide basic frame for his proposed economic concept of trusteeship. However, the power-hunger of other politicians and specially Nehru and his family ruined all the frames of decentralization and created a nation with a government which is no less than totalitarian in nature.

[Sanjeev: This totalitarian government continues. Hence the Freedom Team of India. Also see]

  1. Institute for Social Ecology: online library – Sanjeev: has been traced, as noted above. 
  2. Parel, Anthony (ed.) Hind Swaraj and other writings of M.K. Gandhi. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 1997. p. 38
  3. Parel, Anthony (ed.) Hind Swaraj and other writings of M.K. Gandhi. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 1997. p. 92, 
  4. Murthy, Srinivasa. Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy Letters. Long Beach Publications: Long Beach, 1987. p. 8
  5. Gandhi’s Hatred of State Oppresssion, George H. Smith
  6. Triumph of Liberty, Jim Powell, Triumph of Liberty, Jim Powell
  7. Murthy, Srinivasa. Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy Letters. Long Beach Publications: Long Beach, 1987. p. 189
  8. Gandhi’s Hatred of State Oppresssion, George H. Smith
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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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9 thoughts on “Gandhi was a MAJOR proponent of liberty. Most people have still to understand him.
  1. Nilesh Kamani

    Hello Sanjeev,

    Really great post on Gandhi.
    I understood Gandhi’s ideology of Self-Reliance and Individuality when I read Hind Swaraj.
    I talked to many people who admire Gandhi, but they have never read any books of Gandhi.

    I also wonder, how you manage to write so many blog posts every day.

    Nilesh Kamani

  2. Sunil

    Judge a man by his actions and not words. Why did MKG go out of his way to promote Nehru as India’s PM when more worthy persons were around. Did MKG not understand the difference between the ideologies of Nehru & Rajagopalachari?

  3. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Sunil, Gandhi was clearly imperfect and chose the wrong person to promote. I’m not a historian and can’t answer the question, but overall, Gandhi’s actions were mostly in favour of individual liberty.

  4. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Nilesh, the post is by Unpretentious Diva. Thank her.

    Btw, Gandhi’s works are now available at I use this source to verify his writings. Haven’t read all his writings. Impossible to do so. Just his autobiography (many decades ago), and an extracted version of his ideas by Louis Fisher.

    Thanks, but I’m not sure I write as much as I want to. RSI and eyestrain issues (and other routine things like household/work) is reducing my capacity to write.


  5. Unpretentious_Diva


    Thanks for mentioning this article in my blog.

    And thank for reminding me that the font and color of my site is not visitors friendly.

    I will be changing it pretty soon.

    Keep the good work on!


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