October 17, 2019

Hind Swaraj


For some time now, I have been thinking about doing a book as a follow-up to my "Dual Process" essay (the last one in AWTY), exploring non-socialist alternatives to capitalism, which I see as coming to an end by 2100. My specific interest is in the models proposed by John Ruskin, William Morris, and Mahatma Gandhi--a rather daunting task, in view of the literature available on these three individuals, not to mention the accumulated works on post-industrial society. In addition, I may have been partly scooped by a recent work by John Blewitt:


So who knows? Perhaps I'll do a biography of Tulsi Gabbard instead (source material in her case is a lot more manageable, for some reason). In the meantime, I wanted to share some thoughts on the subject (i.e. Ruskin et al., not Tulsi) as discussed as far back as 1996 by Patrick Brantlinger (Prof. Emeritus at Indiana University). The title of his article is "A Postindustrial Prelude to Postcolonialism." (I hope you all can access it; my own route was via JSTOR, which is available via academic institutions.) His focus, oddly enough, is on Ruskin, Morris, and Gandhi. After working his way through their critiques of industrial society as a horror show, and the alternative models they proposed, he asks whether these models were ever realistic alternatives to more and bigger industrialization, "with its attendant scourges of economic exploitation and environmental degradation." Gandhism, for example, still survives in India, but it was clearly Nehru who carried the day (after Gandhi's death in 1948), with centralization and big technology. Ruskin, Morris, and Gandhi are typically dismissed as utopian thinkers (cf. Morris' novel, News from Nowhere), although this accusation always reminds me of C. Wright Mills' famous characterization of our current economic system as "crackpot realism." In any case, Brantlinger has this to say about the subject:

"No doubt the Utopian imagination has limitations; perhaps it is always romantic, nostalgic, backward-looking. But, as Andre Gorz contends, 'those who propose a fundamentally different society can no longer be condemned in the name of realism. On the contrary, realism now consists of acknowledging that "industrialism" has reached a stage where it can go no further, blocked by obstacles of its own making.' Another perspective on Gandhian anti-industrialism...might ask whether a renewal of pre- or postindustrial village culture may not be a viable economic alternative, and not just for India--an alternative that modernizing nation-states around the globe have buried in the ruins of their relentless pursuit of 'the mirage of modernization.' The idea of such an alternative path--the nonindustrial, nonviolent, decentralized, democratic, communitarian, and economically and ecologically sustainable path that Morris imagined and that Gandhi wanted to follow--may turn out to be the only rational blueprint for survival." {Refs: Andre Gorz, Paths to Paradise, 1985; Boris Kagarlitsky, The Mirage of Modernization, 1995}

We still need Gandhi, Brantlinger goes on to say; we still need Morris and Ruskin. All of them understood "that the most important product of industrialism isn't progress, but the destruction of civilization--that is, the destruction of the very possibility of a social formation in which both justice and beauty prevail."

As one student of sustainability recently put it, "The choice is a sustainable society or no society at all."