Sunday, August 28, 2011

Private Property & Ownership: The Gandhian Critique

The following is Bhikhu Parekh’s pithy introduction to Gandhi’s critique of the Liberal—and capitalist—conception of private property and ownership:

“The logic of private property was logically incoherent for two reasons. First, there was no logical basis on which a man could claim exclusive ownership of the products of his labour. Born a debtor, he remained one all his life. His powers, capacities, character and energies were all socially derived, and hence not his private property but a social trust to be responsibly used for the well-being of his fellow-men. Second, the efforts of countless men and women flowed into one another to produce even a simple object, rendering it impossible to demarcate the distinctive contribution of each. Their efforts further occurred within the context of the established social order whose silent and unnoticed but vital contribution could not be ignored either. [….]

For Gandhi private property was subversive of the social order because it conflicted with the fundamental principles underlying and sustaining it. The customs, values, traditions, ways of life and thought, habits, language and educational, and other institutions constituting a social order were created by the quiet co-operation and the anonymous sacrifices of countless men and women over several generations, none of whom asked for or could ever receive reward for all their efforts. And their integrity was preserved by every citizen using them in a morally responsible manner. Every social order was thus of necessity a co-operative enterprise created and sustained by the spirit of sharing, mutual concern, self-sacrifice and yajna [‘sacrifice’ generally]. And its moral and cultural capital, available by its very nature to all its members as freely as the air they breathed, constituted their collective and common heritage to be lovingly cherished and enriched. The institution of private property rested on the opposite principles and breathed a very different spirit. It stressed selfishness, aggression, exclusive ownership, narrow individualism, a reward for every effort made, possessiveness and a right to do what one liked with one’s property. It was hardly surprising, Gandhi argued, that its domination in the modern age should have atomized and culturally impoverished society and undermined the basic conditions of human development.”

See Parekh’s book, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press,1989): 134-135.

Image: The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City (‘Making a Fresco’) (1931) is one of four murals in the Bay Area painted by Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957).


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