Monday, 5 November 2012

Gandhian interessement- Negotiation or Noble Lie?

Leo Strauss makes a distinction between two approaches to Political Philosophy. Either one can have Negotiation on the basis of the true interests of different parties or else you can have a 'Noble Lie' which everybody agrees to pretend to believe and act in accordance with.
Gandhism looks like a Noble Lie. The elite pretend to believe it so as to fool the masses into thinking the only way they can gain power is by following tactics the elite knows are doomed to fail.
 The record shows that Gokhale knew that Gandhi was no good at negotiation and that his achievements in South Africa, if the truth were known, were actually little to write home about. Nevertheless, Gandhi swiftly gained a pivotal role as the most important interlocutor for Viceroy Reading. Was this because the Indians weren't prepared for negotiations because they didn't want to admit, even to themselves, what their true interests were? Perhaps all they wanted was some glorious myth or Noble Lie.
 Swadesi was in the interests of Indian manufacturers, khaddar was in nobody's interest- yet khaddar and the Charka displaced Swadesi as the banner of the I.N.C.
Similarly, Islam could have gained a lot by the establishing of a sort of Imam ul Hind who could speak for all Indian Muslims. Khilafat, on the other hand, was bad for Indian Muslims, a disaster for Turkish Muslims and only of use to some British Secret Service operation aimed at assassinating Attaturk.
Indians needed Education. What Gandhi offered them was 'Basic Education' whereby people who couldn't earn a living by spinning, taught spinning such that an enormous amount of cotton was wasted in the creation of unusable yarn. Yet the 'Noble Lie' that this sort of Education was self-financing trumped the blindingly obvious truth that, as Dr. Zakir Hussein later admitted 'Basic Education, as practiced today, is nothing but a fraud.'
I suppose one could say that the Indians were actually negotiating through their Noble Lies- they were sending a signal that ...urm.. they wanted to emigrate from the Real World to some other Solar System?

The big question is why the Indians didn't want negotiation. Defining what you really want and spotting what the other guy really wants or needs is the way not just to make agreements that stick but also to introduce the  possibility of co-operation on the basis of engineering or other such technical knowledge. One would have thought that the Indian elites would have eagerly embraced that possibility. After all, Industrialists, like the Tatas, were doing very well by working with foreign concerns. Indian Scientists and Academics were part of the Global community. Even poets, like Tagore, or artistes, like Uday Shankar, or Religious leaders like Vivekananda, were International in their outlook. So why did the Indian elites not embrace the path of Negotiation as opposed to a particularly stupid 'Noble Lie'?
If they were subject to pressure from below, that would be understandable. But these weren't all Zamindars trying to control disaffected tenants. True, Industrialists used Nationalist leaders, like Bose, to break strikes but the workers were making genuine advances and Trade Unions were becoming more independent- a position they only lost post-Independence when compulsory arbitration was imposed.
The truth, I suppose, is that 'Noble Lies' should be looked at more as an interessement mechanism rather than in an abstract Straussian way.
Still, to my mind, there was something very peculiar happening during the early Twenties which would repay study.


  1. there was something very peculiar happening the early Twenties which would repay study- it was the Bolshevik Revolution.

  2. Yes, but the more general point is that the Bolshevik Revolution was about Monarchy at its last gasp- Kings were all cousins, yet had mobilized their people in an unprecedented way to slaughter each other rather than quietly enrich themselves. So Monarchy becomes unviable. I am tempted to say that a 'negative probability' has been introduced such that a type of accommodation between the Kaiser and the Working Class, such as that orchestrated by Bismark, ceased to be possible or that a constraint against it existed. Negative probabilities are associated with a sort of Uncertainty principle whereby how you look at something limits what you can see. They also point to a variable as being the 'difference' between two other random variables. That 'difference' itself could have a concurrency type inertial appearance and perhaps that's how it should be understood. In other words the failure of 'Negotiation' arose because of a sort of Uncertainty as to 'true interests'.But, for that same reason the 'Noble Lies' of the early Twenties have a sort of strategic rather than essential truth and look like a type of interessement mechanism towards Negotiation.

  3. thanks for sharing..