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March 27, 2011 9:42 AM   Subscribe

"Among the Hagiographers": The Wall Street Journal's review of a new biography questions our supposed deification of Mohandas Gandhi.
posted by beisny (94 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Human being had human flaws, news at 11.
posted by killdevil at 9:44 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Human being had human flaws, news at 11.

Yes, but are those flaws glossed over to a much greater extent with Gandhi than with other major historic figures?
posted by beisny at 9:49 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was going to post this myself yesterday, but couldn't figure out how to frame it without turning it into a clusterfuck of a thread.
posted by empath at 9:49 AM on March 27, 2011


I've read things like this about Gandhi before. Frankly, if you study history at college level you very quickly realise that most of what exists in the popular consciousness about topics like this is completely wrong. Gandhi is, I think, just a more extreme version, since the idea of him that most people have could never hold up to reality.
posted by anaximander at 9:51 AM on March 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


"Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive intellectual, professing his love for mankind as a concept while actually despising people as individuals."

I can appreciate a re-appraisal of the man's life but I'm ready to balk at an article that starts off with a sentence as loathsome as that.
posted by jeffen at 9:54 AM on March 27, 2011 [31 favorites]


Yes, but are those flaws glossed over to a much greater extent with Gandhi than with other major historic figures?

No. Next post!
posted by verb at 9:55 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


One of the "flaws" the article points out is that he may or may not have had homosexual tendencies. It insinuates that he might have, and treats this as an insinuation of an unseemly facet of his character, but is too cowardly to openly reveal its author's stance on gays.

Also, the article does a fairly typical hatchet-job maneuver, refusing to acknowledge that Gandhi might have ever changed his mind about anything.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 10:01 AM on March 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


No. Next post!

Well, I don't know if 'glossed over' is the right phrase exactly, but it's certainly true that what most people think they know about Gandhi is very far from the truth. (Particularly given that what most people think they know about Gandhi isn't even that much to begin with.)
posted by anaximander at 10:02 AM on March 27, 2011


Next you'll be telling me that Mother Theresa didn't believe in god.
posted by panaceanot at 10:02 AM on March 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Bush's Imperial Historian
posted by empath at 10:04 AM on March 27, 2011 [22 favorites]


Reflections on Gandhi, by George Orwell
posted by Blasdelb at 10:04 AM on March 27, 2011


Yeah, I'm not sure what the shock the article expresses is about. Any reasonably astute person would understand that "deity" status is grossly overblown when you're talking about people, and that between ideals and reality lies a fairly wide, humanity-shaped chasm.
posted by Rykey at 10:09 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


*looks up a couple of dates, does a bit of math*

So, it should be right around 2065-2070 that we'll finally have a column in the WSJ denouncing the hagiography of Reagan.
posted by hippybear at 10:12 AM on March 27, 2011 [19 favorites]


Well, this is certainly more interesting that what I learned about Gandhi in high school ("He was a bit of a dick sometimes, but otherwise nigh perfect"). The article itself seems rather too gleeful in tearing him down, though.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:14 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's hard to tell whether the hatchet job is coming from the book or the review.

Seconding Jeffen's irritation with that sentence.
posted by fatbird at 10:16 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


...while actually despising people as individuals

If he really despised people as individual, he was able to inspire incredible loyalty and love in his followers in spite of that. Gandhi the Man, the story of his transformation from bumbling lawyer to revolutionary leader, was written by a disciple who loved Gandhi and who also was privy to his foibles.

Yes, he was an imperfect man: he failed to include black people in his revolt in South Africa and some of his remarks and thoughts as expressed in Easwaran's book appear extremely racist. Nevertheless his humanity shines through.

I just will have to read this new biography and make up my mind by myself.
posted by francesca too at 10:17 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the "flaws" the article points out is that he may or may not have had homosexual tendencies. It insinuates that he might have, and treats this as an insinuation of an unseemly facet of his character, but is too cowardly to openly reveal its author's stance on gays.

I assume that this was addressed in the biography itself. It's too bad that out of all the issues raised by this article, Andrew Sullivan found only this point worthy of comment.

This topic is of interest to me because my view of Gandhi rather changed after reading Edward Luce's "In Spite of the God's: The Strange Rise of Modern India" - I highly recommend it.
posted by beisny at 10:17 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yikes. Empath's link should be part of the FPP.
posted by phooky at 10:18 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


from link: "Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive intellectual, professing his love for mankind as a concept while actually despising people as individuals."

jeffen: “I can appreciate a re-appraisal of the man's life but I'm ready to balk at an article that starts off with a sentence as loathsome as that.”

Loathsome? True.
posted by koeselitz at 10:18 AM on March 27, 2011


remember this you successful Indian business people: you may be rich and they'll take your money but those boys on Wall Street will never see you as more than a sex-crazed monkey.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:22 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's too bad that out of all the issues raised by this article, Andrew Sullivan found only this point worthy of comment.

After centuries of invisibility in the historical record, it's not surprising that GLBT people point out when a revered historical figure is revealed to be gay. Demonization makes it imperative that counter-examples to the myths and othering be pushed forward. I'm sure plenty of other columnists will address the other issues raised, so there's nothing wrong with Sullivan picking that one.
posted by hippybear at 10:24 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


This reminded me of the old National Lampoon feature "Lives of the Great". Here's Gandhi, with links to many others. And my apologies for linking to a crap site hosting uncredited material.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:25 AM on March 27, 2011


Bush's Imperial Historian
Andrew Roberts describes himself as "extremely right wing" and "a reactionary," and, in Great Britain, the 44-year-old has long been regarded as a caricature of a caricature of the old imperial historians. He famously lauds the British Empire--and its massacres and suppressions--as "glorious" on every occasion. He sucks up to the English aristocracy to the point that Tatler, the society journal, says, "[H]is adolescent crush on the upper classes is matched by virtually no one else in this country."
Well, I can see why he didn't like Gandhi.
posted by delmoi at 10:26 AM on March 27, 2011 [19 favorites]


from link: "Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive intellectual, professing his love for mankind as a concept while actually despising people as individuals."

jeffen: “I can appreciate a re-appraisal of the man's life but I'm ready to balk at an article that starts off with a sentence as loathsome as that.”

Loathsome? True.


A sweeping, unprovable partisan generalization designed solely to pander to his audience.
posted by jeffen at 10:26 AM on March 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Having read empath's link to the end, I'm now also disgusted with the WSJ for even publishing that twat. I mean, I didn't have illusions about them before, but that's basically handing a weekly column to David Duke.
posted by fatbird at 10:27 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


It doesn't seem very likely that he was totally gay if he was sleeping with naked young girls in order to 'test his chastity'
posted by delmoi at 10:29 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sure thing. I'm certainly not hopping on that bandwagon. I'm only speaking to why Sullivan would have pulled that to the fore.
posted by hippybear at 10:30 AM on March 27, 2011


jeffen: "A sweeping, unprovable partisan generalization designed solely to pander to his audience."

Even so, loathsome? That's a bit overwrought, isn't it?
posted by koeselitz at 10:32 AM on March 27, 2011


Well, I don't know if 'glossed over' is the right phrase exactly, but it's certainly true that what most people think they know about Gandhi is very far from the truth. (Particularly given that what most people think they know about Gandhi isn't even that much to begin with.)

Sure. But the question was whether Ghandi's flaws are glossed over to a greater extent than other major historical figures. Winston Churchill? Ronald Reagan? Abraham Lincoln? Martin Luther King Jr.?

I still say, "Nope."
posted by verb at 10:33 AM on March 27, 2011


Back in 1969, Arthur Koestler re-evaluated Gandhi's life and philosophy and his take was pretty negative.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:38 AM on March 27, 2011


I think regardless of who ghandi was as a person, his insight about the power of non-violent resistance, however poorly or inconsistently implemented, changed the world for the better. The rest is trivia.
posted by empath at 10:42 AM on March 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


jeffen: A sweeping, unprovable partisan generalization designed solely to pander to his audience."

koeselitz; Even so, loathsome? That's a bit overwrought, isn't it?


I'm comfortable with loathsome, especially after reading the article empath linked to.
posted by jeffen at 10:44 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


His name is capitalized and spelled correctly all over the place, people. Take the cue.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 10:45 AM on March 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Funny this, more "information" meant to throw doubt on the legacy of progressive and liberal heros from the same social milieu that spend the rest of their time putting out bs analysis that sows doubt about whether or not poverty is actually a bad thing while deifying the greedy and self-centered titans of Wall Street. Get back to me when this same lot isn't also promoting garbage about how truly great and misunderstood murderous despots like Ghengis Kahn were. Revisionist history in service to lifestyle design, that's all this kind of crap is, IMO. Preferred conclusions in search of facts to support them.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:47 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


verb: "... The question was whether Ghandi's flaws are glossed over to a greater extent than other major historical figures. Winston Churchill? Ronald Reagan? Abraham Lincoln? Martin Luther King Jr.? I still say, 'Nope.'"

Seriously? The reevaluation by Arthur Koestler that njohnson23 mentions is actually quite cogent; there are some really troubling things about him. The author of this WSJ piece is clearly just a right wing nutter, and it's possible to believe in some of the ideals Gandhi expressed, but isn't it rational to have some misgivings about the man?
posted by koeselitz at 10:48 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ghengis Kahn

That's beautiful; got any tips on cleaning up my exploded head?
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 10:52 AM on March 27, 2011


jeffen: “I'm comfortable with loathsome, especially after reading the article empath linked to.”

Well, it's a minor point. We both agree that it's a silly article by a silly person. I guess I just don't have such a reaction to statements simply because they seem to insult the political group with which I have an affinity.

In any case, I don't think it matters much.
posted by koeselitz at 10:54 AM on March 27, 2011


I think he was Madeline's husband.
posted by hippybear at 10:54 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think regardless of who ghandi was as a person, his insight about the power of non-violent resistance, however poorly or inconsistently implemented, changed the world for the better. The rest is trivia.


Trivia to some, but to the Indians? Luce argues that India's recent growth which brought tens of millions out of abject poverty did not occur much sooner in part due to Gandhi's "disdain for modernism" and urban life, and his corresponding belief that the village life represented the Indian ideal. This has very real ramifications.
posted by beisny at 10:54 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Who is really surprised that Rupert Murdoch's WSJ 2.0 would hire a hack Tory historian to cack on a great man who devoted his life to alleviating the plight of the poor?

On the topic of partition, Gandhi was objectively right. Had India not been partitioned, the subcontinent and the world would have been spared over 60 years of continuing communal conflict. The wounds of partition have never healed, reinforcing the paranoid fundamentalist Hindu and Muslim alike in ways that seem only to resonate more strongly with time as the center falls apart. Gandhi knew this would happen and lost his life to the forces he vainly sought to bring into harmony. His inability to quell that which should never have been inevitable was tragic for him and for all of us.
posted by rdone at 10:56 AM on March 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


koeselitz: We both agree that it's a silly article by a silly person.

And we both agree that re-appraisal of revered historical figures is a worthy enterprise.
The rest is, as you say, "minor".
posted by jeffen at 11:04 AM on March 27, 2011


I'm only posting this because I've been following the thread and only just now made the connection: the review in the FPP was written by the person profiled in empath's link. Then again, I'm pretty dense.

(Off to send a handful of followup emails: "Hey, you know that Gandhi article I just sent you? I have something you need to read about the author before you send it on...")
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:05 AM on March 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I have to say, the more I look at the rest of this article, the more it really does appear loathsome. It's clearly the work of a gleeful iconoclast, delighted at the chance to tear apart a hero. I don't agree with everything Gandhi did or said, and in fact I have reservations about holding him up as a hero at all; but the joyful abandon with which Mr Roberts here rips into him is a bit repulsive. What a waste of time this article is. I don't recommend it to anyone.
posted by koeselitz at 11:08 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


His name is capitalized and spelled correctly all over the place, people. Take the cue.

capitalization is a pain the ass on the iphone.
posted by empath at 11:09 AM on March 27, 2011


news at 11 It's "Film at 11". That's the cliche.

Joseph Lelyveld is hardly a right-wing writer, so by reading the comments here, I'd have assumed that the WSJ tore the book to pieces. Would that have made everyone happier? Roberts didn't dig up all this stuff about Gandhi--it's in the book that he's reviewing.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:11 AM on March 27, 2011


Ice Cream Socialist: "His name is capitalized and spelled correctly all over the place, people. Take the cue."

ghandi ghandi ghandi ghandi ghandi ghandi ghandi ghandi ghandi.

There. Now that we've both taken the opportunity to be childish, can we have a proper conversation?
posted by koeselitz at 11:18 AM on March 27, 2011


It doesn't seem very likely that he was totally gay if he was sleeping with naked young girls in order to 'test his chastity'

He passed the test, didn't he?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:22 AM on March 27, 2011


I'd say that anyone who admires the man should take the time to learn to spell his name and capitalize it according to convention, simply out of respect. It's not that difficult, even on iOS. It's really only basic courtesy.
posted by hippybear at 11:26 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Roberts didn't dig up all this stuff about Gandhi--it's in the book that he's reviewing.

A book in a similar vein is Gandhi & Churchill. Seemed like a very clinical analysis of the successes and failures of both men. I found it very valuable, because it raised a lot of good points about Churchill (who I'd always despised) and negative points about Gandhi (who I've always lionized to an extent.) What it didn't do is tear Gandhi apart like Bill O'Reilly going after an anti-war protestor. It's impossible to come away from Gandhi & Churchill without a great deal of respect for both men. It's likely that most of the facts Roberts cites in his review do come from the book, but they are presented in the harshest possible light. I'm afraid I can't say for sure, though, because so far I've taken the advice in this thread and failed to read the review...
posted by Estragon at 11:27 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


It doesn't seem very likely that he was totally gay if he was sleeping with naked young girls in order to 'test his chastity'

I don't know if it would have any bearing on his sexuality, but I've read (sorry don't have a cite at the moment) that he had those young women around him not as some sort of chastity test, but it was because of a believe, no doubt derived from kundalini yoga or something similar, that their youthful feminine energy would give him an infusion of sustenance him during his hunger strike.

It's only fitting that my 10,000th comment is a response to delmoi ;)
posted by Burhanistan at 11:29 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Holy shit, if you're discounting a review written by Andrew Roberts because of his political views, your prejudices are blinding you. I don't share Roberts' politics but he's one of the most brilliant historians of his generation. Go read EMINENT CHURCHILLIANS.
posted by unSane at 11:40 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Who is worse, Ghandi or Dane Cook?
posted by Ad hominem at 11:41 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Strictly speaking, as a Nationalist, he was an enemy, but since in every crisis he would exert himself to prevent violence--which, from the British point of view, meant preventing any effective action whatever--he could be regarded as "our man". In private this was sometimes cynically admitted. The attitude of the Indian millionaires was similar. Gandhi called upon them to repent, and naturally they preferred him to the Socialists and Communists who, given the chance, would actually have taken their money away. How reliable such calculations are in the long run is doubtful; as Gandhi himself says, "in the end deceivers deceive only themselves"; but at any rate the gentleness with which he was nearly always handled was due partly to the feeling that he was useful. The British Conservatives only became really angry with him when, as in 1942, he was in effect turning his non-violence against a different conqueror."

-Orwell's essay on Gandhi. Possibly more measured.
posted by postcommunism at 11:43 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, if you're discounting a review written by Andrew Roberts because of his political views, your prejudices are blinding you.

Or his political views are very obviously colouring the review, and explain why it would be such an unrepentant assassination.

It's not that I doubt his presentation of pieces from the book. But I find my initial suspicions that Roberts is leaving out balancing information to be much more likely now that it's obvious how the review suits his agenda. It's not silly when reading, well, anyone, to consider how the specific piece suits their agenda.

he's one of the most brilliant historians of his generation

Is this your opinion or is it a general appraisal of Roberts by those in his field?
posted by fatbird at 11:49 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I always thought that essays shows that Orwell didn't understand how Gandhi worked. He deliberately made himself valuable to his targets while at the same time minimizing dependence on them, in order to improve his bargaining position. That was the point of 1942, and the reason the British were so angry at him: he judged that it was a good time to bargain.
posted by Estragon at 11:53 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gah, "essays" -> "essay", and it was a reference to fatbird's post.
posted by Estragon at 11:54 AM on March 27, 2011


Seriously? The reevaluation by Arthur Koestler that njohnson23 mentions is actually quite cogent; there are some really troubling things about him. The author of this WSJ piece is clearly just a right wing nutter, and it's possible to believe in some of the ideals Gandhi expressed, but isn't it rational to have some misgivings about the man?

I didn't say that it wasn't rational to have misgivings. As I've said in every post in this thread, I simply believe that Ghandi is no more lionized and whitewashed than any other public figure. In comparing him to Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and other luminaries, I wasn't suggesting that he was beyond reproach. I was suggesting that the starry-eyed crushes that many people have on any of those figures are misguided.

That is what was asked, that is what I answered, and that is what I continue to say. It doesn't seem that complicated.
posted by verb at 11:58 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Wall Street Journal's review..

The WSJ started a book review section about a month ago, directly competing with the NYT Book Review. I've followed the reviews closely, and have noticed a pattern of subtle conservative ideological POV's. Not always, but there is a definite bent away from the traditional liberal progressiveness one finds in many literary periodicals. For example in the first paragraph of this review:
Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive intellectual, professing his love for mankind as a concept while actually despising people as individuals.
The review is attacking not only Ghandi, but all progressive intellectuals (ie. the left). So, read the WSJ carefully - it's often worthwhile, but also a drumbeat for the right. I personally have no problem with this, literary periodicals are where some of the best writing takes place, and there have been ideologically oriented literary periodicals since the 18th century, it's normal, but know which one your reading and take it context.
posted by stbalbach at 11:58 AM on March 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


He deliberately made himself valuable to his targets while at the same time minimizing dependence on them, in order to improve his bargaining position.

That's a fair point, although you get the idea that Orwell thinks he's giving Gandhi more credit as a canny politician than the average man at the time would have. And it's "at the time" that makes the essay interesting to read; it's much more nearly contemporaneous (1949) than most accounts, and feels fresher for it.
posted by postcommunism at 12:09 PM on March 27, 2011


Now that we've both taken the opportunity to be childish, can we have a proper conversation?

Go to your room.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 12:35 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


It doesn't seem very likely that he was totally gay if he was sleeping with naked young girls in order to 'test his chastity'

The article was trying to point out that, on top of everything, Gandhi was a cheat. I should know, I lost a small fortune to him on rigged dog fights before I realized it myself.
posted by vorpal bunny at 12:44 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The WSJ's editorial stances were to the right of Attila the Hun long before Rupert Murdoch bought it, so no need to bring him into the discussion, as if you're letting us in on some big revelation.
posted by raysmj at 1:08 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


No human being is in possession of "truth". All they can do is point toward it, let it flow through their consciousness. So, MLK's embrace of the power and efficacy of non-violent resistance has little to do with Ghandi really. Whatever foibles Ghandi possessed, what really matters is that he was able to transmit this truth however indirectly to MLK, who in turn made great use of it in the civil rights movement. Even if the better part of Ghandi's life was spent in rapt egotism, he found the clarity to let some truth flow out his consciousness.

This does, of course, excuse any abuse he may have inflicted, but then that's pretty much par for the course among "successful" people. Plenty of opportunity to indulge yourself in whatever attachments are formed in unconsciousness. But let's not let the (alleged) character assassination extinguish the flame of truth. Carry on humanity.
posted by absentian at 2:02 PM on March 27, 2011


BTW, it's Gandhi. (I used to make that mistake, too.)
posted by Estragon at 2:11 PM on March 27, 2011


yes thanks! I am so not in possession of the truth.
posted by absentian at 2:14 PM on March 27, 2011


"Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive intellectual, professing his love for mankind as a concept while actually despising people as individuals."

The twisted logic of the right never ceases to amaze me. First question: how can you despise all people as individuals when you can't know them as individuals?

Is the suggestion that Gandhi despised all of his friends, associates, and family?

If at times he did feel negative feelings towards his personal circle, then he is the same as all other people. All of our friendships and family relationships are fraught with difficult moments. If they weren't, they wouldn't be very meaningful.

But to suggest Gandhi felt nothing but negative feelings towards them seems patently absurd, and though I'm no Gandhi scholar, almost certainly disprovable through a cursory examination of his correspondence and personal writings. We can certainly weigh the relative sincerity and success of one public figure's personal relationships against another's, but this article doesn't broach that topic.

What we then have is a partially true general description of every human being masquerading as an indictment of one.

In fact, what conservatives really resent about progressives is that, when it comes to the masses, they continue to obstinately attempt to raise them up, even as, in the small circle of elites in which progressives count conservatives as peers, they look down on right-wing attitudes as cruel and unenlightened.

Thus this indictment, which is tantamount to one elite asking another, "Why do you CARE whether these grubby fools improve their station? I can't imagine you're sincere, so this must be some sort of false consciousness. You're trying to assuage your guilt and flatter your ego by working for the betterment of groups of people that are better of being simply and quietly exploited by us. Traitor!"

So it goes: if only the left had the strength of character to ignore whatever gnawing feelings of guilt and small sense of solidarity they have with their fellow human beings, we could get on with the business of exploiting the weak that has always been the noblest pursuit of humanity.

It's what Jesus would've done.
posted by macross city flaneur at 2:14 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


But let's not let the (alleged) character assassination extinguish the flame of truth.

The idea that only "good" people can do good things lies at the heart of all that is fucked-up with politics.

What did Jesus accomplish in his lifetime, frankly? A few "miracles" according to legend, but by and large left the planet pretty much in the same shitty shape as he found it. Like the son of any successful man, he was a huge underachiever compared to daddy. The legends say god the father created the heavens and earth. Jesus settled for carpentry. His Jewish mother must have been so proud.....

That the Mahatma might have been deeply flawed as an individual should not take anything away from his accomplishments.
posted by three blind mice at 3:20 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Take this for antidote.

The Martyrdom of Baghat Singh

By the way can someone smarter than me write a decent FPP for the blog above?
posted by lslelel at 3:25 PM on March 27, 2011


As is usually the case in these things, the real hero of Gandhi's story, especially when you read his autobiography, was his wife. Whether he saw it that way is another matter.
posted by 1adam12 at 3:41 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, if you're discounting a review written by Andrew Roberts because of his political views, your prejudices are blinding you.

Hmm, what if you are dismissing it because he seems to be an incredibly sloppy historian?
posted by oneirodynia at 3:47 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Gandhi that we know is a myth. A myth about the possibility of non-violent revolution. The motives for attacking the myth are pretty transparent and....loathsome.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 3:58 PM on March 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


The idea that only "good" people can do good things lies at the heart of all that is fucked-up with politics.

What did Jesus accomplish in his lifetime, frankly? A few "miracles" according to legend, but by and large left the planet pretty much in the same shitty shape as he found it. Like the son of any successful man, he was a huge underachiever compared to daddy. The legends say god the father created the heavens and earth. Jesus settled for carpentry. His Jewish mother must have been so proud.....

That the Mahatma might have been deeply flawed as an individual should not take anything away from his accomplishments.


I'm not sure where you're coming from, I was not asserting "only good people can do good things." I was just trying to make a neutral statement in order to focus on Gandhi as opposed to Roberts.

As far as Jesus goes, well, it's been two thousand years and you're still talking about him, so he's got that on his resume. :)
posted by absentian at 3:59 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

Seems he may have paraphrased this from someone else.

What did Jesus accomplish in his lifetime, frankly?


This has no historical answer but I understand it. If we believe the scriptures, his turning over of the money tables is quite a feat. It got him killed because he took the protest to Jeruselum. Not many had the guts to do that, not even Barabbas. Also, Christ blessed or forgave Dismas, a criminal even in his own distress.

I think the question is not what Jesus did (He was not be a politican like Ghandi), but what his message says and how it effects history.
posted by clavdivs at 5:45 PM on March 27, 2011


Yes, indeed, the good folks at the WSJ (or their chosen reviewers) would certainly be the first ones I would turn to to give me an unbiased take on Gandhi. I look forward to hearing more of their views on MLK, Howard Zinn, and Margaret Sanger too.
posted by emjaybee at 5:49 PM on March 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


Is the WSJ where I get to write an unbiased take on the Kochs or Murdoch?
posted by jaduncan at 6:13 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


unSane: Holy shit, if you're discounting a review written by Andrew Roberts because of his political views, your prejudices are blinding you.

I'm sorta skeptical of the mega-greatness of a historian who argues that "nationalist sentiments can be successfully crushed with massive violence." If nothing else -- it's completely specious.

This Lelyveld biography is undoubtedly worth reading, but Roberts' review of it has very little to do with the biography and seems part of a larger project -- and one that sells. Iconoclasm directed at supposedly unassailable liberal icons is big business for the publishing industry these days. I don't see many bestselling biographies coming down like a hammer on the historical fetishes of right-wing reverence.

After all, Lelyveld's point is not that Gandhi was a disordered freak who was implausibly idolized and turned into a demigod by posterity (which is Roberts' point). Lelyveld's point is that Gandhi "made the predicament of the millions his own, whatever the tensions among them, as no other leader of modern times has." Roberts completely ignores this point in the review in pursuit of his -- yes -- political views.

beisny: It's too bad that out of all the issues raised by this article, Andrew Sullivan found only this point worthy of comment.

I don't understand your point. Is it that what Sullivan comments upon is unworthy of comment? Or that it pales in comparison to the other points raised by Roberts, despite his insistence on highlighting in the second sentence of his review that Gandhi must have been a "sexual weirdo" because he "left his wife" for a "German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder"?
posted by blucevalo at 6:15 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


psycho-alchemy: "The Gandhi that we know is a myth. A myth about the possibility of non-violent revolution. The motives for attacking the myth are pretty transparent and....loathsome"

Recent events in Egypt show that people are much more decentralized in organizing for change; no central figure required. An attack on a leader in non-violence from 50 years ago doesn't do much to those who've already internalized the messages. Gandhi (and the myth) relit the torch, but the power of those ideas is what makes them endure. Those things make me much more hopeful for the future in and of themselves.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:33 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not as well known is the fact that Gandhi's esoteric religious practices made his feet thick and leathery from walking the streets barefoot, and that Gandhi's vegetarian diet made him weak and made his breath extremely malodorous.

He was a super-calloused fragile mystic cursed with halitosis.

Sorry about that. I've been waiting 20 years for the appropriate Metafilter thread to use that joke. Not sure this one is it. Maybe 20 more years?
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:26 PM on March 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


If the Jews of Europe had resisted Hitler with organized peaceful resistance, he would have had to have killed 6 million of them before you could say it was a failure. He would have had to gun down massive numbers of Jews in public to make the consequences of peaceful resistance worse than the Holocaust actually was. If Jews had resisted peacefully after Kristalnacht, they might have been murdered in massive numbers on the streets, but the act could have revolted the mass of German people, not to mention key members of the military and oligarchy, and delegitimized his regime before it even started. If it took anything less than 6 million Jewish deaths to accomplish this, it would have been worth it.
posted by Faze at 7:55 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


If the Jews of Europe had resisted Hitler with organized peaceful resistance, he would have had to have killed 6 million of them before you could say it was a failure.

Try telling them that when they've hit a million dead in peaceful resistance, and no idea about the Holocaust they're avoiding.
posted by fatbird at 9:17 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Try telling them that when they've hit a million dead in peaceful resistance, and no idea about the Holocaust they're avoiding.

Well, yes. That's the problem with peaceful resistance: it's a very hard sell in the here and now, especially when there is genuine monstrous injustice and genocidal evil on the table.
posted by verb at 9:20 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


He equally alienated B.R. Ambedkar, who spoke for the country's 55 million Untouchables ... Ambedkar pronounced Gandhi "devious and untrustworthy."

They were fighting two very different battles, Gandhi to give self-determination to Indian elites, Ambedkar to give the same to the Indian poor. Gandhi later came to understand Ambedkar's brilliance and finagled him the position of writing the Indian Constitution, a surprising feat given that Ambedkar was an Untouchable who had once publicly burned a Hindu sacred text and gotten a bunch of Untouchables to wade into a sacred lake.

The truth is somewhere in between guys!!!
posted by shii at 12:06 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


From Arthur Koestler's Wikipedia entry :

In 1998, a biography of the late Hungarian-born writer Arthur Koestler by David Cesarani alleged Koestler had been a serial rapist and that Craigie had been one of his victims in 1951. Craigie confirmed the allegations.[4]

You can't trust anyone, can you ? As Henry Ford said, "History is wank."
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 5:58 AM on March 28, 2011


Ad hominem: Who is worse, Ghandi or Dane Cook?

Dane Cook impersonating Gandhi: "So I was reading this thing online, on a newspaper website -- Wait, how is that? It's a newspaper with the news on a website! CRAZY! Anyway, have you heard of this crazy dead Indian dude, Gandhi? He's totally crazy! Everyone says he's soooo great, but this newspaper ... website (pause for laughter) said he's a total pervert! Of course people think he's great!"

(And imagine all the ridiculous arm-waiving and thrashing about you want.)
posted by filthy light thief at 8:41 AM on March 28, 2011


If Jews had resisted peacefully after Kristalnacht, they might have been murdered in massive numbers on the streets, but the act could have revolted the mass of German people, not to mention key members of the military and oligarchy, and delegitimized his regime before it even started.

It would have been worth trying, surely, but I don't think you can really say for sure that the Germans would have blinked had Hitler just massacred them. Are there any cases where the German public said, "Okay Hitler, now you've gone too far" and he reversed course?
posted by empath at 8:45 AM on March 28, 2011


Next you'll be telling me that Mother Theresa didn't believe in god.

That she did, although I can't say I'm a fan of how it influenced her treatment of others. As I understand it, she believed that suffering was the best path to god, so she made sure that the people she took in suffered as much as possible, denying them any form of relief.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:04 AM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"You know how there are some people whose work you’re supposed to respect because everyone else seems to? And you know how at least with some of these people your respect fades over time, slowly, with each new piece of information that you gain? And you know how sometimes you feel you must be crazy, or a bad person, or you must be missing something, because everyone keeps telling you how great this person is, and you just don’t get it? And you know how you keep fighting to maintain your respect for this person, but the information keeps coming in, until at long last you just can’t do it anymore? That’s how it was with me and Gandhi. I lost a lot of respect when I learned some of the comments I’ve mentioned here. I lost more when I learned that because he opposed Western medicine, he didn’t want his wife to take penicillin, even at risk to her life, because it would be administered with a hypodermic needle; yet this opposition did not extend to himself: he took quinine and was even operated on for appendicitis. I lost yet more when I learned that he was so judgmental of his sons that he disowned his son Harilal (who later became an alcoholic) because he disapproved of the woman Harilal chose to marry. When his other son, Manilal, loaned money to Harilal, Gandhi disowned him, too. When Manilal had an affair with a married woman, Gandhi went public and pushed for the woman to have her head shaved. I lost more respect when I learned of Gandhi’s body hatred (but with his fixation on purity, hatred of human (read animal) emotions, and death wish this shouldn’t have surprised me), and even more that he refused to have sex with his wife for the last thirty-eight years of their marriage (in fact he felt that people should have sex only three or four times in their lives). I lost even more when I found out how upset he was when he had a nocturnal emission. I lost even more when I found out that in order to test his commitment to celibacy, he had beautiful young women lie next to him naked through the night: evidently his wife—whom he described as looking like a “meek cow”— was no longer desirable enough be a solid test. All these destroyed more respect for Gandhi (although I do recognize it’s possible for someone to be a shitheel and still say good things, just as it’s possible for nice people to give really awful advice). But the final push was provided by this comment attributed to him: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall—Think of it, ALWAYS.” This is as dismissive as his treatment of his wife and sons. It’s as objectifying as his treatment of the young women he used as tests. It’s as false as his advice to Jews, Czechs, and Britons. The last 6,000 years have seen a juggernaut of destruction roll across the planet. Thousands of cultures have been eradicated. Species are disappearing by the hour. I do not know what planet he is describing, nor what history. Not ours. This statement—one of those rallying cries thrown out consistently by pacifists—is wrong. It is dismissive. It is literally and by definition insane, by which I mean not in touch with the real physical world."

-Derrick Jensen, Endgame: Volume 2
posted by lazaruslong at 12:58 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Faze: "If the Jews of Europe had resisted Hitler with organized peaceful resistance, he would have had to have killed 6 million of them before you could say it was a failure. He would have had to gun down massive numbers of Jews in public to make the consequences of peaceful resistance worse than the Holocaust actually was.

This is sort of a useless assertion. If we accept it as fact, (which I don't,) then my best response to you would be that hindsight is 20/20. At the time, the ensuing slaughter, no matter how large or small, would still have been a slaughter.

But the Jews did resist in armed conflicts. Those who didn't were either killed or simply rounded up and shipped to the camps. Would the German media have bothered to cover non-violent protests? Doubtful. Would the rest of the world have learned about such protests? Also doubtful.

If Jews had resisted peacefully after Kristalnacht, they might have been murdered in massive numbers on the streets, but the act could have revolted the mass of German people, not to mention key members of the military and oligarchy, and delegitimized his regime before it even started.

Regarding non-violent protests somehow raising awareness: in the '30's, Europe knew that Jews were being mistreated, and did very little. America knew and also did very little -- they pursued a policy of isolationism and tried to keep their hands clean. The Germans knew and some of them were entirely complicit. Others knew and did nothing. Whether the full scope of what was going on was apparent to the average German is debatable, but certainly they knew something was going on in the 1930's. In the 1920's, their newspapers had agitated for boycotts of Jewish businesses, resulting in the Aryanization of many throughout the 20's and 30's. The German government had enacted laws that were anti-Jew. Government rhetoric and speeches were antisemitic. Everyone was aware of this, both within Germany and in the outside world. In 1933, Chancellor Hitler put his "political enemies and Jewish, Communist and Socialist jobholders in concentration camps." "Concentration camps" was a term used at the time to describe internment camps, not extermination camps. The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service was antisemitic legislation, and it was passed in 1933, and covered widely in the media worldwide. The Nuremberg Race Laws were passed in 1935, and everyone knew about them as well. None of this was a secret.

From the 1938 Man of the Year article:
Germany's 700,000 Jews have been tortured physically, robbed of homes and properties, denied a chance to earn a living, chased off the streets. Now they are being held for "ransom," a gangster trick through the ages. But not only Jews have suffered. Out of Germany has come a steady, ever-swelling stream of refugees, Jews and Gentiles, liberals and conservatives, Catholics as well as Protestants, who could stand Naziism no longer.
By 1940, it was well known in the West that the Germans were murdering large numbers of people, but the scope was not necessarily known. By 1942, the scope was a lot more apparent. But I highly doubt non-violent protests would have mattered in a country where the media had no love for Jews, and had been broadcasting antisemitic messages to the public for more 10-15 years. As Inge said, it is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism, while the wolf remains of a different opinion.
posted by zarq at 2:17 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Faze wrote: If the Jews of Europe had resisted Hitler with organized peaceful resistance, he would have had to have killed 6 million of them before you could say it was a failure.

The usual criticism made by people without any idea of what things were like during the Holocaust is that Jews were too passive. I find it hard to comprehend how people can look at the Holocaust and blame its victims, but there you go.

How do you propose that they should have organised themselves, given that they were stripped of their property, confined in ghettoes, and denied the right to move within Nazi-held territory? How would they have communicated among themselves, and which imaginary inter-communal body would have instructed them? For that matter, how do you suggest anyone would have found out about it, given the lack of free newspapers?
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:38 AM on March 29, 2011


I find it hard to comprehend how people can look at the Holocaust and blame its victims, but there you go

In frustration, I asked similar questions when I was a child. "Why didn't we just fight back?" and "Why didn't other countries step in to help sooner?" Eventually the questions led to deeper understanding.

In trying to make sense of the unthinkable, we fall back on the familiar. So we look back at atrocities committed by others and think "That's insane. How could that possibly have happened? How could it have been allowed? It wasn't that long ago...."

It's hard to wrap our heads around.
posted by zarq at 5:35 AM on March 29, 2011


Empath, I just read that article you linked to again. Thanks very, very much for linking to it. Was a much-needed counterpoint to Roberts' Gandhi essay.
posted by zarq at 5:39 AM on March 29, 2011


Aside re. ... Ghengis Khan ...

Y'all would be referring no doubt to Leadership Secrets of Ghengis Khan.

I'm sure I'll never watch it again, but that atrocious Kevin Costner mangling of David Brin's (flawed but interesting) novel The Postman did include one priceless scene, where the postapocalyptic warlord (who it turns out is a former Xerox salesman) has inexplicably invited Our Hero for one on one tea & torture and takes the opportunity to show off his intellectual superiority by gesturing to a shelf with a small selection of books. The camera lingers long enough to determine that one of them is the aforementioned Leadership Secrets of Ghengis Khan.
posted by lodurr at 8:04 AM on March 29, 2011


Hardcore Poser's point about the decentralized nature of recent rebellions is well-taken. Such decentralization is probably a good thing: Above a certain threshold of participation, it makes them harder to stop (but below that threshold, it probably makes it easier to stop them); it may make them more difficult to co-opt (if they're decentralized enough and there's free enough access to information -- otherwise they can be easier to co-opt).

Generally I dislike and distrust demagogues. Power tends to go to their heads; really good ones are rare and they're seldom who you expect. (At the time, who would have thought the FBI couldn't dig up dirt on Malcolm X, of all people? Yet it seems they couldn't. MLK, they got plenty of dirt on. Didn't do them any good -- and probably wouldn't have even if they'd tried to use it [he may have been weak but he wasn't weak that way] -- but they got it. So maybe, maybe, people who've really been bad understand better how to be good? Worth a ponder, at least.) Anyway, I've always distrusted the Gandhi legend for that reason, and I think books like this are a useful corrective.

Trust the movement, not the man: I think that's a good rule of thumb, and I tend to have more respect for leaders who make a point of stressing it. Of course, you'll always be able to find examples of people who pay just the right kind of lip-service to an ideal like that and end up getting lionized in spite of (or because of) it.
posted by lodurr at 12:48 PM on March 29, 2011


Indian Govt planning to ban the book.
posted by Gyan at 10:30 PM on March 29, 2011


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