Might as Well Face It, We’re Addicted to Gandhi
Hind Swaraj grapples with addiction. Gandhi tells us on its opening page that he writes because “I could not restrain myself,” an opening confirmation of a complicity in the pathologies of modern subjectivity he will condemn.1 Perhaps the most compelling (or addictive) claim of this text is the positing of self-mastery as antidote to addiction and the addiction to prediction — to futurity and a future monopolized by technological determinism and the professional rationalities that accompany it. The period marked by Gandhi’s admission to London’s Inner Temple in 1888, to his politicization in South Africa, to the hammering out of this worldview in 1909, coincided with a host of new public discourses on addiction and gambling, discourses that, like Gandhi’s own travels, mapped the trajectories of capital’s imperial circuits. Indeed, the very year of Hind Swaraj’s publication in the Indian Opinion saw the meeting of the Shanghai Opium Commission, a forum that laid the moralizing foundation for the first international drug-control treaty, the International Opium Convention at The Hague, in 1912.2 A decade before the legal institutionalization of the League of Nations and The Hague as its judicial center, it was opium — perhaps the most potent symbol of capitalism’s addictive logic — that laid the groundwork for the worlding of international law.3 Hind Swaraj evinces Gandhi’s travels within the folds of such processes of globe making and his keen sense of them. Its metaphorics of addiction convey an acute sensitivity to the remapping and remaking of the idea of “the world” at this time, a process charted by colonial capitalism, its new financial imaginaries and its legal technologies.
Circulating along the paths of colonial commodity production while playing with the transgressive potential of the illicit commodity, be it khadi (the homespun cotton that contested colonial market imperatives) or untaxed salt, Gandhi commented on imperial cartographies of extraction — and so the emergent logic of globality itself — in powerfully improvisational political performatives. In Hind Swaraj, the thematics of addiction allegorized Gandhi’s perspicacious reading of the most influential transnational discourses of the time and their codependence: law and economy. These were the media of colonial governmental rationalities and, it so happens, the parameters of Gandhi’s early professional life before his incarnation as a political guru and, for some, opiate. Educated and then practicing law at the very moment of the late-colonial globalization of finance, Gandhi intimately inhabited this key phase in the history of our present, one that was enabled by the fortification of the legal architecture for finance and trade, including the colonial export of legal fictions such as the trust and generalized limited liability.
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- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, in “Hind Swaraj” and Other Writings, ed. Anthony Parel, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 9.
- Westel Woodbury Willoughby, Opium as an International Problem: The Geneva Conferences (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1925). See also United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “This Day in History: The Shanghai Opium Commission, 1909,” www.unodc.org/unodc/en/ frontpage/this-day- in- history- the- shanghai- opium- commission- 1909.html (accessed October 9, 2010).
- The term worlding, which refers to “the making of a world,” is borrowed from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s reading of Martin Heidegger on poesis. See Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Death of a Discipline (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), especially 70 – 73; Spivak, Imperatives to Re-imagine the Planet / Imperative zur Neuerfindung des Planeten, ed. Willi Goetschel (Vienna: Passagen, 1999); and Spivak, “The Rani of Sirmur: An Essay on Reading the Archive,” History and Theory 24, no. 3 (1985): 247 – 72. For a historical-theoretical framing of the market dimensions of law and globality, see Ritu Birla, “Law as Economy: Convention, Corporation, Currency,” Irvine Law Review 1, no. 3 (forthcoming).