Did Romney Read Gandhi?
Mitt Romney has hit a nerve. The mainstream media are indignant and downright apoplectic over Romney's "47 percent" comment. But as Eric Hoffer once observed, "we are least open to precise knowledge concerning the things we are most vehement about."
In fact, the Obama administration's long term strategy is to create a permanent class of federally dependent citizens tipping over 50 percent in order to suffocate the very atmosphere that gives life to intellectual and political diversity in America. As James Madison said, there are "two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests."
But James Madison wasn't alone in his belief that the presence of an overwhelming government would stifle the freedom which serves as a prerequisite for individuality and creativity. An impressive short list of some of history's most penetrating and influential thinkers all agreed -- for all their differences -- on the same basic premise: the long and painful process of individual self-mastery and character development could only flourish in an authoritarian-free environment.
For example, one can't fail to notice that Gandhi has always been championed by the left as an enlightened progressive. But in fact Gandhi was as conservative as Mitt Romney in his deep conviction regarding the status of freedom, self-respect, and individuality in the shadow of the ever-threatening welfare state. In his Collected Works Gandhi said the following in 1947:
"The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the state is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence. Hence I prefer the doctrine of trusteeship."
Since for a Hindu, the journey toward spiritual liberation takes the form of various "yogas" or methods of self-discipline life's most important ethical path would be made impossible if government redistribution plans simply created an underclass of debilitated dependents. Conversely, "trusteeship" for Gandhi meant the free choice to use one's wealth for public benefit. In fact, Gandhi was highly worried about modern statist theories of government:
"I look upon an increase of the power of the state with the greatest fear, because although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality, which lies at the root of all progress. We know of so many cases where men have adopted trusteeship, but none where the State has really lived for the poor."
Gandhi was so concerned about the threat that state directed handouts posed to one's path to self-mastery and self-respect that he, like Plato, saw the nation itself as the individual writ large even in cases of foreign aid:
"If America tries to win friendship of other countries with the help of her money . . . both will come to grief. That is why I have been daily telling Rajendra Babu [the first president of India] that import of foodgrains is the worst kind of slavery. There is nothing more degrading for a country than to beg from others when it cannot meet its requirements."
Gandhi, in other words, was well aware that the very basis of a permanent friendship was a sense of earned self-respect on both sides of a handshake:
"It is a practical principle that if you want to be friends with someone and if you want the friendship to endure, you should not seek economic aid from them. So, however rich America may be we shall only become crippled if we seek economic aid from her."
"Indian economic independence" said Gandhi "means to me the economic uplift of every individual, male and female, by his or her own conscious effort." [emphasis added]
Well known Gandhi scholar Dr. Dennis Dalton has written in his book Mahatma Gandhi: Selected Political Writings that for Gandhi, "an individual or a nation must be self-reliant, imbued with a spirit of self-discipline and industry."
"Welfare for all" according to Dalton, "denoted economic justice and equal opportunity, not dependency or the welfare system as we know it in America." As Dalton most rightly notes, whereas most of us are aware of Gandhi's idealism in the form of "compassion and charity" his views concerning freedom and individuality are less well known:
"[In Gandhi's] appeal to discipline and hard work there is an undeniable strain of what we might call 'Yankee individualism.' He identified with the gospel of self-reliance in the philosophy of two of the Americans that he admired most, Thoreau and Emerson."
Indeed, when referring to Thoreau, Gandhi said in 1928 that "in the ideal state there is no political power because there is no state. But the ideal is never realized in life. Hence the classical statement of Thoreau that the government is best which governs the least."
While addressing a joint session of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi a couple of years ago, Barack Obama said "I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as President of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared and inspired with America and the world."
With sixteen trillion in deficits, the elimination of welfare work requirements, the explosion in food stamp usage, and the reckless borrowing from nations like China to fund ever more deficit spending one can only remain highly skeptical about Obama's Gandhi-inspired claims.
Mitt Romney is being vilified for his deep concern over the most essential character defining issues of all: self-reliance, individuality, industry, self-mastery, self-respect, and the all important relationship between "trusteeship" and generosity.
In this respect, the Democrats and the "progressive" media might as well vilify Gandhi.