Cloth $75.00 ISBN: 9780226019871 Published March 2014
Paper $25.00 ISBN: 9780226019901 Published March 2014
E-book $7.00 to $25.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226020075 Published March 2014

The Common Cause

Postcolonial Ethics and the Practice of Democracy, 1900-1955

Leela Gandhi

The Common Cause
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Leela Gandhi

256 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2014
Cloth $75.00 ISBN: 9780226019871 Published March 2014
Paper $25.00 ISBN: 9780226019901 Published March 2014
E-book $7.00 to $25.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226020075 Published March 2014
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 liberalism—an 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 Gandhi’s 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 democracy’s 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.
Radical Philosophy
"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."
Exemplar: The Journal Of South Asian Studies
“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.”
Amanda Anderson, Brown University
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.”
Brian Massumi, Université de Montréal
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.”
Introduction: Moral Imperfection: An Ethics for Democracy
1 After Virtue: The Strange Case of Belle Époque Socialist Antimaterialism
2 On Descent: Stories from the Gurus of Modern India
3 Elementary Virtues: Great War and the Crisis of European Man
4 Inconsequence: Some Little-Known Mutinies Around 1946
Epilogue: Paths of Ahimsaic Historiography
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