Europeans and Americans tend to hold the opinion that democracy is a uniquely Western inheritance. In The Common Cause Leela Gandhi recovers stories of an alternative version. Using ethics as a lens, she describes a transnational history of democracy in the first half of the twentieth century.
She 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 and 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, Leela Gandhi presents moral imperfectionism as the lost tradition of global democratic thought. She 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.