Synopses & Reviews
Europeans and Americans tend to hold the opinion that democracy is a uniquely Western inheritance, but in The Common Cause
, Leela Gandhi recovers stories of an alternate version, describing a transnational history of democracy in the first half of the twentieth century through the lens of ethics in the broad sense of disciplined self-fashioning. Gandhi identifies a shared culture of perfectionism across imperialism, fascism, and liberalisman ethic that excluded the ordinary and unexceptional. But, she also illuminates an ethic of moral imperfectionism, a set of anticolonial, antifascist practices devoted to ordinariness and abnegation that ranged from doomed mutinies in the Indian military to Mahatma Gandhis spiritual discipline.
Reframing the way we think about some of the most consequential political events of the era, Gandhi presents moral imperfectionism as the lost tradition of global democratic thought and offers it to us as a key to democracys future. In doing so, she defends democracy as a shared art of living on the other side of perfection and mounts a postcolonial appeal for an ethics of becoming common.
“The Common Cause strikingly reframes the political history of the first half of the twentieth century, recovering an occulted strand of democratic practice defined by its moral imperfectionism—its dedication to forms of self-ruination, inconsequence, making oneself less rather than more. Drawing on an unusual mix of archives, and moving fluidly between dynamic analysis and vivid historical narrative, this study is a major contribution to current debates on the relation of ethics to politics. An important and original book.”
“The Common Cause brings a new dimension to the history of anticolonial struggles. In forgotten meetings, surprise encounters, and anomalous events that exceed the frame of traditional historiography, Gandhi finds a transnational art of the possible expressed in a minor key, in the most unexpected of ways: asceticisms of imperfection, ethics of undoing, and celebrations of the inconsequential. But the consequences are enormous—no less than an alternate history of democracy foregrounding events of errant relation. A major contribution to postcolonial studies that not only gives us a new sense of the past, but reopens ethical paths to the future.”
"As intellectual history with real contemporary resonance, Leela Gandhi’s The Common Cause . . . makes impressively wide-ranging connections in time and space. It makes excellent use of theory and a number of well-known philosophers. It is elegantly written and well constructed, and it communicates a generous vision which is sincere and passionate."
“Gandhi mobilizes ideas and practices across the globe with a sense of investigative symmetry that is a rarity in our times. . . . Her erudition is impressive.”
The book provides an overview of postcolonialism's pervasiveness in the academy, and lucidly illustrates the debates about the often conflicting consensus regarding the proper content, scope and relevance of its concerns. From its influence in Marxism and poststructuralism, from the work of Edward Said to Salman Rushdie, from feminist imperialism to globalization and hybridity, Gandhi demonstrates the ethical concern that postcolonial theory can offer: how to take into account diversity without erasing distinct diasporas of difference.
This is the first book of its kind to clearly map out the field of postcolonialism in its own terms. The book provides an overview of postcolonialism's pervasiveness in the academy, and lucidly illustrates the debates about the often conflicting consensus regarding the proper content, scope and relevance of its concerns. The book also elaborates on the themes and issues that have engaged the attention of postcolonial critics. From its influence in Marxism and poststructuralism, from the work of Edward Said to Salman Rushdie, from feminist imperialism to globalization and hybridity, Gandhi demonstrates the ethical concern that postcolonial theory can offer: how to take into account diversity without erasing distinct diasporas of difference.
Postcolonial Theory is a ground-breaking critical introduction to the burgeoing field of postcolonial studies.Leela Gandhi is the first to clearly map out this field in terms of its wider philosophical and intellectual context, drawing important connections between postcolonial theory and poststructuralism, postmodernism, marxism and feminism. She assesses the contribution of major theorists such as Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha, and also points to postcolonialism's relationship to earlier thinkers such as Frantz Fanon and Mahatma Gandhi.The book is distinctive in its concern for the specific historical, material, and cultural contexts for postcolonial theory, and in its attempt to sketch out the ethical possibilities for postcolonial theory as a model for living with and knowing cultural difference non-violently.Postcolonial Tehory is a useful starting point for readers new to the field and a provocative account which opens possibilities for debate.
In “The Common Cause,” Leela Gandhi reconsiders the history of democracy in the first half of the twentieth century through the lens of ethics in the broad sense of disciplined self-fashioning. Gandhi recovers the stories of Indians and others who refused the spoils of anticolonial nationalism and spiritually embraced an alternative democracy, including the best that Europe itself had to offer. She identifies, on the one hand, a heroic ethic of moral perfectionism shared across imperialism, fascism, and new liberalism--an ethic notably contemptuous of the ordinary and the unexceptional. On the other hand, and the main focus of her book, is an ethic of moral “imperfectionism”--a set of anticolonial, antifascist practices devoted to ordinariness, indeed abnegation, and ranging from doomed mutinies in the Indian military to Mahatma Gandhi’s spiritual discipline. These oppositional practices, Leela Gandhi argues, made common cause both with the victims and abettors of social injustice by defending the former and reforming the latter. Her book elegantly recovers the elusive history of moral imperfectionism, offering it to us as a lost tradition of democratic thought and as a key to its future elaboration. Euro-American opinion holds that democracy is a uniquely Western property and inheritance. In contrast, Gandhi’s book claims a global provenance for democracy as a shared art of living “on the other side of perfection.” It mounts a postcolonial appeal for an ethics of becoming common.
About the Author
Leela Gandhi is professor of English at the University of Chicago. She is the founding coeditor of the journal Postcolonial Studies and the author, most recently, of Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought and the Politics of Friendship.
Table of Contents
AcknowledgmentsIntroduction: Moral Imperfection: An Ethics for Democracy1 After Virtue: The Strange Case of Belle Époque
Socialist Antimaterialism2 On Descent: Stories from the Gurus of Modern India3 Elementary Virtues: Great War and the Crisis of European Man4 Inconsequence: Some Little-Known Mutinies Around 1946Epilogue: Paths of Ahimsaic HistoriographyNotesIndex