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Gandhi's critique of the modern state was central to his political thinking. It served as a pivotal hinge between Gandhi's anticolonialism and his theory of politics and was given striking institutional form in his vision of decentralized peasant democracy. This essay explores the origins and implications of Gandhian antistatism by situating it within a genealogy of early twentieth-century political pluralism, specifically British and Indian pluralist criticism of state sovereignty and centralization. This essay traces that critique from the imperial sociology of Henry Sumner Maine, through the political theory of Harold Laski and G. D. H. Cole, to Radhakamal Mukerjee's reworking of these strands into a normative–universal model of Eastern pluralism. The essay concludes with a consideration of Gandhi's ideal of a stateless, nonviolent polity as a culmination and overturning of the pluralist tradition and as integral to his distinctive understanding of political freedom, rule, and action.

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I would especially like to thank Pratap Bhanu Mehta for first pointing me to Radhakamal Mukerjee's work, and Jeanne Morefield and Verity Smith for organizing and including me in two APSA panels on pluralism and Laski, at which I could experiment with these ideas. I am grateful to Kavita Datla, Noah Dauber, John Dunn, Bryan Garsten, Ram Guha, Sudipta Kaviraj, Sunil Khilnani, Rama Mantena, Uday Mehta, Melissa Schwartzberg, and Annie Stilz for their helpful comments.

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1 Granville, Granville, The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation (Oxford, 2002). For an alternative account of how Gandhi's views of peoplehood, self, and swaraj may have shaped India's constitutional imagination see Sarbani, Sarbani, The Constitution of India: Popular Sovereignty and Democratic Transformations (Oxford, 2007); and David, David, “Rule of Law, Rule of Life: Caste, Democracy, and the Courts in India”, American Historical Review 115/2 (April 2010), 406–27.

2 Gandhi, M. K., “Draft Constitution of Congress (29-1-1948)”, in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (electronic book), 98 vols. (New Delhi, 1999), 98: 333. All references to this edition are cited hereafter as CWMG, followed by volume and page number.

3 For recent work that questions the assumed trajectory from empire to nation state in anticolonial thought and practice see Cooper, Fred and Burbank, Jane, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton, 2011); and Gary, Gary, “Untimely Vision: Aimé Césaire, Decolonization, Utopia”, Public Culture 21/1 (2009), 101–40.

4 See especially Sudipta, Sudipta, “On the Enchantment of the State: Indian Thought on the Role of the State in the Narrative of Modernity”, European Journal of Sociology 46/2 (2005), 263–96.

5 Situating Mukerjee and Gandhi alongside the work of pluralists like Cole and Laski can helpfully suspend the instinct to see the former's turn to the village as simply a backward-looking enterprise. Pateman makes a similar use of Cole, namely to offset claims that participatory or “classical” democracy is incompatible with large-scale, industrial societies. See Carole, Carole, Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge, 1970).

6 Dhawan originated the interpretation of Gandhi as a philosophical anarchist, a view that has been reiterated many times. Here, antipathy to the modern state is seen to stem from a deep suspicion of all forms of (external) authority and rooted in Gandhi's reading of Tolstoy and Thoreau. While correct in the broad sense, in its very abstractness, this position can only signal an undifferentiated critique of all state forms and, indeed, of all institutions as such. It cannot account for the constructive side of Gandhian politics, namely the search for alternative, voluntary forms of association and authority. Ganguli and Bondurant have perceptively noted that the constructivist side may indicate a divergence from the full-blown institutional skepticism of Thoreau and Tolstoy, spurring more apposite comparisons with Kropotkin's anarchism and guild socialism. What remains absent from these more textured accounts is a conceptual linking between Gandhi's antistatism, anticolonialism, and understanding of swaraj. Parel and Parekh have tried to overturn this older consensus and, in their different ways, see Gandhi as more reconciled with statism—even as endorsing some progressive functions of the state. However, both admit that this tolerance appears as a grudging concession, a via media towards a truly nonviolent, stateless society. See Gopinath, Gopinath, The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi (Allahabad, 1951); Sharma, Bisan Sarup, Gandhi as a Political Thinker (Allahabad, 1956); Majumdar, Biman Bihari, ed., Gandhian Concept of State (Calcutta, 1957); Bondurant, Joan V., Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict (Berkeley, 1965); Bose, Nirmal Kumar, Studies in Gandhism (Ahmedabad, 1972); Ganguli, B. N., Gandhi's Social Philosophy: Perspective and Relevance (New York, 1973); Parekh, Bhikhu, Gandhi's Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination (London, 1998); and most recently Parel, Anthony, “Gandhi and the State”, in Parel, Anthony and Brown, Judith, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi (Cambridge, 2011), 154–72.

7 To my knowledge, Ganguli (Gandhi's Social Philosophy) is only interpreter to suggest a link between Gandhi and the broad stream of pluralist antistatism associated with Maine, Maitland, and guild socialism.

8 Gandhi, M. K., “The Charkha (9-1-1940)”, CWMG, 77: 209.

9 Gandhi, M. K., “Speech at Chatham House Meeting (20-10-1931)”, CWMG, 54: 56–7.

10 Firminger, Walter Kelly, ed., The Fifth Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Affairs of the East India Company Dated 28th July, 1812 (Calcutta, 1917), 157–8. This extract was included in Marx's Tribune article on “The British Rule in India”, Karl Marx–Frederick Engels Collected Works, vol. 12 (London, 1979), 131. For the salience and repetition of this description see Louis, Louis, “The ‘Village Community’ from Munro to Maine”, Contributions to Indian Sociology 9 (1966), 6789; and Inden, Ronald B., Imagining India (Indiana, 2000).

11 The Fifth Report, 157–8.

12 In Maine, this transition was marked by the emergence of the individual (as opposed to the corporate family) as the legal unit of society, and of territory (and opposed to kinship) as the grounds of political obligation. Maine famously formulated the first shift as a movement “from Status to Contract”, while the second, from kinship to locality, tracked the transition from tribal to territorial sovereignty.

13 Gandhi, M. K., “Petition to Natal Assembly (28–6-1894)”, CWMG, 1: 145.

14 At this stage, Maine was often cited alongside a discordant group of eminent authorities (from Max Mueller and Frederick von Schlegel to Thomas Munro) to establish less Indian civilizational identity than parity and dignity. In Hind Swaraj, the village functions as part of the critique of industrialism, but is not yet understood as a full-blown moral and political ideal. On Gandhi's changing ideas of the village see especially Surinder S. Jodhka, “Nation and Village: Images of Rural India in Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar”, Economic and Political Weekly, 10 Aug. 2002, 3343–53.

15 Gandhi, M. K., “Speech at Y.M.C.A., Calcutta (25-8-1925)”, CWMG, 32: 332.

16 Gandhi, M. K., “Speech on Swadeshi at Missionary Conference, Madras (14-2-1916)”, CWMG, 15: 160.

17 Gandhi, M. K., “Speech at Meeting of Deccan Princes (28-7-1946)”, CWMG, 91: 372.

18 Maine, Henry Sumner, Ancient Law: Its Connection with the Early History of Society, and Its Relation to Modern Ideas (London, 1861), 272.

19 Maine, Henry Sumner, Village-Communities in the East and West (London, 1876), 66, 117, 125–7, 192.

20 For an extended discussion of Maine's theory of kinship see Karuna, Karuna, Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism (Princeton, 2010), chap. 2.

21 Maine, Ancient Law, 139.

22 Maine, “The Effects of Observation of India upon European Thought”, in idem, Village-Communities, 219–20.

23 See especially Lyall, Alfred Comyn, Asiatic Studies: Religious and Social, vol. 1 (New Delhi, 1976; first published 1882), chap. 7. Lyall, a close associate and successor of Maine's, extended Maine's understanding of village communities to other genealogically ordered groups, and an analysis of caste and clan formation in India.

24 Gandhi, “Speech on Swadeshi”, 160.

25 Maine, Early History of Institutions, 384.

26 Maine, Village-Communities, 28.

27 For a detailed analysis of Maine's account of the impact of British rule see Mantena, Alibis of Empire, chap. 5.

28 Maine, Early History of Institutions, 387.

29 Ibid., 390.

30 Ibid., 396.

31 Maine, Henry Sumner, Popular Government (Indianapolis, 1976).

32 For most pluralists—and especially for Mukerjee and Gandhi—statism was associated with majoritarianism, mass democracy, and/or elite-driven and constrictive systems of territorial representation. In turning to models of local organization and functional representation, pluralists were working with a concept of democracy defined more by ideals of direct participation and self-rule rather than by majority-rule and popular sovereignty. See Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory, 22–44.

33 Laski, Harold J., Studies in the Problem of Sovereignty (New Haven, 1917), 3, 11–21. In addition to Hobbes and Bodin, Laski and other pluralists were also reacting against the nineteenth-century revival of sovereignty theory by John Austin and the idealist theory of the state offered by contemporaries Bernard Bosanquet and T. H. Green.

34 Laski, Harold J., Authority in the Modern State (New Haven, 1919), 3158.

35 For discussions of pluralist theory and institutional practice see Jay, Jay, Socialism and the Challenge of War: Ideas and Politics in Britain 1912–1918 (London, 1974); Marc, Marc, Progressives, Pluralists, and the Problems of the State: Ideologies of Reform in the United States and Britain, 1906–1926 (Oxford, 2002); and Hirst, Paul Q., The Pluralist Theory of the State: Selected Writings of G. D. H. Cole, J. N. Figgis, and H. J. Laski (London, 1989). Other recent work on pluralists includes Laborde, Cécile, Pluralist Thought and the State in Britain and France, 1900–25 (New York, 2000); James, James, Conceptualizing the State: Innovation and Dispute in British Political Thought 1880–1914 (Oxford, 1995); David, David, The Pluralist State: The Political Ideas of J. N. Figgis and His Contemporaries (London, 1975); and David, David, Pluralism and the Personality of the State (Cambridge, 1997).

36 Figgis was foremost in contesting the legal basis of the “concessionary theory” of group personality, for which he relied on the historical jurisprudence of Gierke and Maitland. Figgis, John Neville, Churches in the Modern State (London, 1914). For a discussion of the pluralist theory of corporations, see Runciman, Pluralism and the Personality of the State.

37 Laski, Studies in the Problem of Sovereignty, 17.

38 Ibid., 18.

39 Cole, G. D. H., “Conflicting Social Obligations”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 15 (1914–15), 140–59.

40 Cole, G. D. H., “The Nature of the State in Its External Relations”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 16 (1915–1916), 310–25. See Jeanne Morefield's illuminating discussion of Cole's view of sovereignty in “Democratic Commonwealth or Historic Fiction: Early Twentieth Century Imperialist and Pluralist Narratives of State Responsibility”, presentation at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston (2008).

41 See Laborde, Pluralist Thought and the State in Britain and France, 1900–25.

42 For the mutual interactions between English pluralists and American progressives see Stears, Progressives, Pluralists, and the Problems of the State.

43 Notable examples include Sudhir Chandra Ray's “The idea of Liberty in Relation to State and Non-state Organization in England” (PhD thesis, London School of Economics 1922); Brij Mohan Sharma's “The Problem of Indian Federalism” (PhD thesis, Lucknow University 1931); Prasad's, BeniTheory of Government in Ancient India (post-Vedic) (Allahabad, 1927); Sinha, Har Narain, Sovereignty in Ancient Indian Polity: A Study in the Evolution of Early Indian State (London, 1938). On the pluralist historiography of ancient India inspired by Laski, see especially Inden, Imagining India, 194–6.

44 Laski was particularly interested in Maine's account of obedience (a point we will return to in the final section). Notably, Laski keenly collected Maine's disparate papers and eventually had them archived at the LSE.

45 Maine and Gierke shared many theoretical imperatives, most notably their critique of natural-law theory and the dominance of Roman law, both of which were seen to underpin an absolutist conception of state sovereignty. On the importance of Gierke for pluralism see Runciman, Pluralism and the Personality of the State.

46 Rabindranath Tagore and Aurobindo Ghosh are just two of most well known intellectuals of the swadeshi movement. See the classic work by Sumit, Sumit, The Swadeshi Movement of Bengal 1903–1908 (New Delhi, 1973). Manu Goswami also situates Mukerjee in relation to swadeshi/nationalist political economy in Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space (Chicago, 2004); and idem, “Autonomy and Comparability: Notes on the Anticolonial and the Postcolonial”, boundary 2 322/2 (2005), 201–25. See also Bayly's, C. A. discussion of Mukerjee in “Empires and Indian Liberals”, in Hall, Catherine and McClelland, Keith, eds., Race, Nation and Empire: Making Histories 1750 to the Present (Manchester, 2010), 7495. For the background and influence of Mukerjee's work more generally, see the essays (including Mukerjee's own autobiographical essay) in Baljit, Baljit, ed., The Frontiers of Social Science: In honour of Radhakamal Mukerjee (Allahabad, 1956); and Joshi, P. C., “Lucknow School of Economics and Sociology and Its Relevance Today: Some Reflections”, Sociological Bulletin 35/1 (1986), 127.

47 The most important works of this historiography were Majumdar, R. C., Corporate Life in Ancient India (Calcutta, 1918); Radhakumud, Radhakumud, Local Government in Ancient India (Oxford, 1920); and Prasad, Theory of Government of Ancient India. Notably, Radhakumud Mookerji was Radhakamal Mukerjee's elder brother.

48 Agarwal, Shriman Narayan, Gandhian Constitution for Free India (Allahabad, 1946). Agarwal also published a companion work, Gandhian Plan for Economic Development of India (Bombay, 1944). Both works included forewords by Gandhi.

49 Radhakamal, Radhakamal, Democracies of the East: A Study in Comparative Politics (London, 1923), vvi.

50 Ibid., 107.

51 Ibid., 12.

52 Ibid., 7.

53 Ibid., x.

54 M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, CWMG, 10: 255.

55 Ibid., 255.

56 Agarwal, Gandhian Constitution, 10.

57 For the importance of the comparative method in nineteenth-century thought, and Maine's role in its elaboration, see John, John, Stefan Collini, and Donald Winch, That Noble Science of Politics (Cambridge, 1983).

58 Mukerjee, Democracies of the East, 46.

59 Lyall, Asiatic Studies: Religious and Social, vol. 1, 150–79.

60 Ibid., viii. See also Roger, Roger, “Anthropology and Imperial Administration: Sir Alfred Lyall and the Official Uses of Theories of Social Change Developed in India after 1857”, in Asad, T., ed., Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter (London, 1975), 223–43.

61 Mukerjee, Democracies of the East, 85.

62 Agarwal, following Mukerjee, also read the village republic to be “a product of mature thought and serious experimentation” as opposed to “a relic and survival of tribal communism”. Agarwal, Gandhian Constitution, 12.

63 Mukerjee, Democracies of the East, 8, 280–81.

64 Ibid., 165, 210.

65 Ibid., 102. In this view, Mukerjee relied upon Maine's account of the transformation of Indian law and custom under British rule.

66 Ibid., 11, 131.

67 Ibid., 358.

68 Ibid., xxv.

69 Quoted in Baljit Singh, “Mukerjee as a Pioneer in Indian Economics”, in idem, ed., The Frontiers of Social Science, 436.

70 Gandhi, M. K., “Independence (21-7-1946)”, CWMG, 91: 325–6

71 Gandhi, “Speech at Meeting of Deccan Princes”, 371.

72 Gandhi, “Independence”, 325–6.

73 Gandhi, M. K., “Question Box (18-7-42)”, CWMG, 83: 113.

74 Gandhi, “Speech at Meeting of Deccan Princes”, 371.

75 Gandhi suggested two qualifications on universal adult suffrage: a bread-labor rule (labor as a requirement for voting) and a limited age range from 18 to 50. See Bose, Studies in Gandhism, chap. 3.

76 Gandhi, “Speech at Meeting of Deccan Princes”, 371–2.

77 Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, 256.

78 Mukerjee, Democracies of the East, 195.

79 Gandhi, “Independence”, 325–6.

80 Mukerjee, Democracies of the East, 292.

81 Gandhi, “Independence”, 326.

82 “It is an individualistic theory of the State . . . But is individualistic in so far as it asks of man that he should be a social being.” Laski, Studies in the Problem of Sovereignty, 24.

83 “Men do not make communities—they are born and bred in them”. Cole, G. D. H., Social Theory (London, 1920), 1. See also Peter, Peter, “G. D. H. Cole on the General Will: A Socialist Reflects on Rousseau”, European Journal of Political Theory 4/3(2005), 283300.

84 Gandhi, M. K., “Enlightened Anarchy—A Political Ideal (Jan 1939)”, CWMG, 74: 380

85 Gandhi, M. K., “Hyderabad (8-10-1940)”, CWMG, 79: 293.

86 Gandhi, M. K., “Interview to Nirmal Kumar Bose (9/10-11-34)”, CWMG, 65: 318.

87 Gandhi, M. K., “Hand-Spun as Measure of Value (13-1-1942)”, CWMG, 81: 424.

88 Laski, Studies in the Problem of Sovereignty, chap. 1. Here, Laski was explicitly building upon an insight of Maine's. Maine had also considered the contractarian theory of obligation to be incomplete, that empirically and historically coercive force could not explain the logic of legal obligation. He wrote that though “the pupil of Austin may be tempted to forget that there is more in actual Sovereignty than force”, in practice “a whole enormous aggregate of opinions, sentiments, beliefs, superstitions, and prejudices perpetually shapes, limits, or forbids the actual direction of the forces of society by its Sovereign”. Maine, Early History of Institutions, 360–61.

89 Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, 261.

90 See especially Gandhi, M. K., “Constructive Programme—Its Meaning and Place (13–12-1941)”, CWMG, 81: 355–74.

91 Gandhi, “Speech on Swadeshi”.

92 See Bose, Studies in Gandhism, chaps. 1 and 3.

93 Gandhi, M. K., “Our Helplessness (24-2-1929)”, CWMG, 45: 104.

94 Gandhi, M. K., “Foreword to ‘Constructive Programme—Its Meaning and Place’ (13-11-1945)”, CWMG, 88: 325.

95 Gandhi, “Draft Constitution of Congress”, 333.

96 Gandhi, “Foreword to ‘Constructive Programme’”, 325.

97 Gandhi, “The Charkha”, 209

98 Gandhi, “Question Box”, 113.

* I would especially like to thank Pratap Bhanu Mehta for first pointing me to Radhakamal Mukerjee's work, and Jeanne Morefield and Verity Smith for organizing and including me in two APSA panels on pluralism and Laski, at which I could experiment with these ideas. I am grateful to Kavita Datla, Noah Dauber, John Dunn, Bryan Garsten, Ram Guha, Sudipta Kaviraj, Sunil Khilnani, Rama Mantena, Uday Mehta, Melissa Schwartzberg, and Annie Stilz for their helpful comments.

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