Blogs > Liberty and Power > Gandhi on Gun Control

Oct 16, 2005 3:39 pm


Gandhi on Gun Control



"Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest." -- Mahatma Gandhi

M.K. Gandhi An Autobiography OR The story of my experiments with truth, p. 238.




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David T. Beito - 10/20/2005

Let's say that I titled the blog "Gandhi on Censorship" and quoted Gandhi criticizing the British for "depriving a whole nation of the right to publish newspapers."

Would my title of "Gandhi on Censorship" be misleading in that case? I don't see why it would. Issues of human rights, including the right to used armed self-defense or the drafting of the first amendment in 1787, usually can be traced to specific contexts.


Roderick T. Long - 10/18/2005

Gee, there's so much I disagree with here that it's hard to know where to begin. Well, let me take the main points in order:

> to claim that any of his statements are statements on the
> general topic of gun control is simply manipulative within
> ones own selfish ideology. Gandhi's concern was the atrocities
> of colonialism, as well as the oppression that came out of it.

Sure, Gandhi's focus was colonialism, but the reason he opposed colonialism is that it involved the colonisers oppressing and injuring the colonisers. If it's legitimate for the colonised to use force to defend themselves against being oppressed and injured by the colonisers, surely it's equally legitimate for any group or individual A to defend itself by force against any group or individual B. Gandhi never said oppression and injury were wrong only when they occurred between colonisers and colonised.

And incidentally, how exactly is libertarianis a "selfish" ideology? I would be selfish if all I said was that you have no right to coerce me, but if I also say that I have no right to coerce you, it's hard to see where the selfishness comes in.

> The two choices I see as a human rights lawyer and academic
> is to either let all those who misinterpret the Second Amendment
> and the right to bear arms have their weapons and be free to utilize
> them...but then they must be consistent, no complaining about terrorists
> using them for their ideology and protection...no complaining about rogue
> governments...no complaining at all, as it would be the individuals choice
> to return to Hobbes' state of nature and a type of twisted social darwinism.

a) I don't see any argument here for the claim that the libertarian interpretation of the 2nd amendment is a "misinterpretation." In any case, the libertarian argument against gun control doesn't rest on the 2nd amendment. It rests on the moral right of self-defense.

b) How do you interpret the right to use arms in self-defense as the right to use arms for aggressive purposes?

c) It is actually proponents of gun control, in my view, that are advocating a return to the Hobbesian jungle, since in the absence of arms the physically strongest have power over the weaker.

> When I teach him in my rights theory course, we start with many
> of the good ideas that he has that can be interpreted positively, and
> then demonstrate why, because he starts at liberty instead of equality
> and justice, his whole house of cards falls apart.

Actually, libertarianism is based on a specifically egalitarian conception of justice. See my article Equality: The Unknown Ideal.

> Your calling upon legal positivism to defend gun control is
> simply untenable, as legal positivism has little to do with law
> at all...it has to do with power relationships, who gets to make
> the decisions, and who can enforce their own ideological rules.
> This is not law...this is Machiavellian politics. Law, by definition,
> must be universal, based in logic and reason, and rational.

Huh? I have no sympathy with legal positivism and have not "called" on it. The distinction betwene just law and power-enforced statutes is a standard libertarian point.

> Anti-gun control positions are none of these things...they fail to
> see that there is no such thing as an individual...individuals only
> exist because of the relationships that give rise to the artificial entity
> that is called an individual (science bears this out by the way)...if
> there was a true individual, that entity could not interact with
> anything else and would end up totally irrelevant because as soon
> as the entity interacted with its environment it would cease to be an
> individual and would become a product of the relationships that
> shape it. Individual liberty is in the end, a red herring.

This is a straw-man argument, since by "individual" libertarians do not mean -- nor does any English-user mean -- a being completely indepndent of circumstances. And the libertarian case against violent oppression does not depend on any such bizarre notion of the individual. Indeed, the idea that individuality is socially constructed is historically a libertarian idea (see the libertarian feminism essay I wrote with Charles Johnson) and is no objection to individualism.



William J. Stepp - 10/18/2005

Gandhi was merely pointing out something that the (so-called) founders knew well, that depriving an occupied people of their guns is a necessary condition of pacifying them. That's why Hitler said it would have been a mistake to let the Jews in Germany keep their guns.

As for the Second Amendment, the (sometimes contested) right to own guns existed before it did, as Joyce Lee Malcolm and others have pointed out.
Gandhi's remark can and probably should be read for what it was, without any reference to the U.S. Constitution. It was you who brought it up, not David Beito.
The rest of your post is too convoluted to reply to, but I can't let the comment about science having refuted individualism go by unchallenged. I took a number of courses in science in school and never saw this; and I don't think it's true. Could you provide a source?


chris l pettit - 10/18/2005

A rather large misnomer I'm afraid...

I am well aware that Gandhi advocated certain types of resistance against colonial oppression. Many of his writings from the period when he was in South Africa show that he was not always the pillar of non-violence that he is presented as. That being said...to claim that any of his statements are statements on the general topic of gun control is simply manipulative within ones own selfish ideology. Gandhi's concern was the atrocities of colonialism, as well as the oppression that came out of it. Whether you want to attribute that to a sort of nationalism or humanism is up to you, but the fact remains that his commentary must be viewed within its proper context and should not be allowed to be hijacked in the name of defending a much broader ideological position...it is simply dishonest and manipulative. If you choose to misinterpret Gandhi for yourselves, fine...just don't pollute the academic discourse by voicing those misinterpretations. Gandhi was not anti gun control...he was anti-colonialism, and the hostile statements that he makes regarding gun control must be taken in their complicated contexts.

In regards to your question...you actually think there are laws now? There are rules that are enforced by those with the power to impose them. There is a huge difference between the rule of law and the rule of man. The two choices I see as a human rights lawyer and academic is to either let all those who misinterpret the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms have their weapons and be free to utilize them...but then they must be consistent, no complaining about terrorists using them for their ideology and protection...no complaining about rogue governments...no complaining at all, as it would be the individuals choice to return to Hobbes' state of nature and a type of twisted social darwinism. The other choice is to actually utilize our ability to reason and understand that for law to be in place, it must be universal. The libertarian ideal that liberty is at the core of rights is simply untenable. Nozick has been deconstructed and debunked more times than can be counted. When I teach him in my rights theory course, we start with many of the good ideas that he has that can be interpreted positively, and then demonstrate why, because he starts at liberty instead of equality and justice, his whole house of cards falls apart. Your calling upon legal positivism to defend gun control is simply untenable, as legal positivism has little to do with law at all...it has to do with power relationships, who gets to make the decisions, and who can enforce their own ideological rules. This is not law...this is Machiavellian politics. Law, by definition, must be universal, based in logic and reason, and rational. Anti-gun control positions are none of these things...they fail to see that there is no such thing as an individual...individuals only exist because of the relationships that give rise to the artificial entity that is called an individual (science bears this out by the way)...if there was a true individual, that entity could not interact with anything else and would end up totally irrelevant because as soon as the entity interacted with its environment it would cease to be an individual and would become a product of the relationships that shape it. Individual liberty is in the end, a red herring. This is not an argument for a state, as power politics and manipulation do not enter into the rule of law and universal rights.

Sorry this was a bit all over the place...I will post a link to a rather lengthy essay laying out my own position. I guess I should note that I fully acknowledge that ignorance is rife, and that people are so hooked into their own idiotic and indefensible ideologies that my only comfort is to be able to point out their hypocrises and flawed assumptions...and then watch as they refuse to critically analyze and simply try to impose their ideologies on others. In that way, I suppose you end up like George Carlin...watching worthless ideological misfits battle to impose their equally wrong ideologies on the world and just trying to stay out of the way while enjoying their ignorance and willful blindness.

How ironic is it to be a human rights lawyer and academic who fully acknowledges that humanity is one of the lower and more destructive forms of existence? So many worthless ideological misfits who really have no business blathering on about their fundamentally flawed assumptions...and PLEASE realize I am not including anyone here directly in this group (although if the shoe fits...) That being said...look around this site and you will find quite a few...on both sides of the directional aisle

CP


Roderick T. Long - 10/18/2005

Regardless of whether Gandhi intended a critique of gun control in all contexts, what he says here certainly furnishes the basis for a critique of gun control in all contexts. (And it's by no means the only context in which Gandhi endorsed the use of defensive force.)

Just out of curiosity, how exactly could a "state" bring about "the abolition of all weaponry"? If it does it by force of law, then it seems it will need its own weaponry in order to enforce the edict. A world without weaponry would be a world without states and enforced laws, and thus a fortiori a world without gun control laws.


chris l pettit - 10/17/2005

blatant misinterpretation of the context of that comment?

I don't think there is any way that the comment can be seen as a commentary on gun control as a whole...except within a very narrow ideological framework. It must be viewed within the proper historical context regarding colonialism and the specific societal relationships of the period. There are several other places in Gandhi's writings where he can be interpreted as advocating the total abolishment of weaponry in all contexts...whether by a state or by global movements.

I apologise if I am misinterpreting the post, but it was rather unclear and left open to misinterpretation.

By the way...on the subject of gun control...I would highly recommend reading Arthur C Clarke's "The Trigger Effect"...even as a work of fiction, it rather clearly discredits the arguments of those who mistakenly interpret the 2nd Amendment and the supposed need for the right to bear arms.

CP

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