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Gandhi on Freedom, Rights and Responsibility

By Dennis Dalton

"Let each do his duty, If I do my duty, that is, serve myself, I shall be able to serve others. Before I leave you, I will take the liberty of repeating:



1. Real Swaraj is self-rule or self-control.
2. The way to it is satyagraha: that is, soul force or love-force
3. In order to exert this force, Swadeshi in every sense is necessary.
4. What we want to do should be done, not because we object to the English or because we want to retaliate but because it is our duty to do so." - Hind Swaraj 1909 (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi- hereafter referred to as CWMG - Vol. 10, p. 64)

These concluding lines from Hind Swaraj are so condensed with meaning that they might be called the Gandhi sutras. Connections are explicitly drawn here among his key ideas of freedom (swaraj), duty (dharma), non-violent action (satyagraha) and self-reliance (swadeshi). The focus of this paper is on his theories of swaraj and dharma and the conceptual relationships that he constructed between them.

Raghavan Iyer observed that "Gandhi equated freedom with self-rule because he wished to build into the concept of freedom the notion of obligation to others as well as to oneself, while retaining the element of voluntariness that is the very basis of freedom. The notion of self-rule implies the voluntary internalization of our obligation to others which will be obstructed by our placing ourselves at the mercy of our selfish desires." (Iyer, The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi, 1973, p. 349). This states precisely what Gandhi intended and achieved. We may elaborate this analysis further by examining the content and implications of this way of viewing freedom and obligation,

European and American political theory has remained split since the 17th century in its conceptualization of freedom and obligation. The philosophies of Locke and Mill on the one side against Rousseau and Hegel on the other, mark a theoretical schism related to these two concepts so deep that it suggests, in Isaiah Berlin's judgment, "profoundly divergent and irreconcilable attitudes to the ends of life." (Four Essays on Liberty, 1969, p. 166) George Sabine has argued that the philosophical differences between Locke and Rousseau on freedom and authority represent "two democratic traditions," quite distinct from each other. (Sabine, The Two Democratic Traditions in The Philosophical Review LXI, October 1952, pp. 451-74) Attempts at reconciling these positions have been unsuccessful and American or British political theorists are sometimes reduced in MacCallum's opinion to making "the facile assumption that the adherents on one side or the other are never sincere." (Gerald C. MacCallum, Jr., Negative and Positive Freedom, in The Philosophical Review, LXXVI, 1967, pp. 312-34).

Perhaps Berlin has aggravated the problem by concentrating on conflicting theories of the latter, "negative" versus "positive" liberty. He champions the former and remains dubious of arguing that "Everything is what it is' liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or human happiness or a quiet conscience." (Berlin, p. 125) British liberals, following J.S. Mill, appear to share this skepticism of positive liberty. Maurice Cranston affirms with Berlin the idea of negative liberty. He defines freedom as an area within which a person can do what one wants and views Rousseau's or Hegel's idea of positive liberty as a distortion. (Cranston, Freedom: A New Analysis, 1953, pp. 28-9) Berlin and Cranston object to positive freedom because it identifies liberty with discipline. This is contradictory, whether it is self-discipline voluntarily imposed by the individual or political discipline enforced by a state. John Laird put this liberal bias bluntly: "If we are seriously asked to believe that freedom means self-control under the jurisdiction of right reason, it seems clear without further argument that freedom means no such thing." (Laird, On Human Freedom, 1947, p. 23 )

Mortimer Adler, in an encyclopedic study of the idea of freedom undertaken by The Institute for Philosophical Research, does not reject the concept of positive freedom because, as he observes, it has come from eminent ,Philosophers dating back to Plato. Adler distinguishes between what he calls "circumstantial" and "acquired" freedom. The former "lies in the unhampered actions by which the individual pursues his own good as he sees it and realizes his desires." It "looks to the circumstances that affect a man's ability to carry out his wishes." (M.J. Adler, The Idea of Freedom, 1958, p. 200) Adler identifies this position with Locke and Mill among many others, and it clearly corresponds with Berlin's meaning of negative freedom.

Adler offers a much more sympathetic view of positive freedom than Berlin or Cranston. The idea of "acquired" freedom "consists in doing as one ought; it depends on the state of mind or character which enable a man to act in accordance with a moral law, or an ideal befitting human nature." The ability to act as one ought ',is in no sense circumstantial. The individual does not have it or lack it merely as a result of living in a favorable or unfavorable environment, but always as a result of developing his own personality, character, or mind in a certain way." Adler agrees with Berlin that these two concepts of freedom are irreconcilable. On the one hand, there is "the acquired freedom of being able to will as one ought," and on the other hand, "the circumstantial freedom of being able to do so as one pleases." (Ibid., p. 251) Adler's study attempts to trace acquired freedom from the Greeks and Catholic theologians to Rousseau, Kant and Hegel. Although his catalog of philosophers is encyclopedic, he does not consider any Indian thinkers.

The major difficulty that Berlin, Cranston and Laird seem to have with the concept of positive or acquired freedom is not only that it distorts the meaning of freedom but also that it embraces a mode of thought friendly to authoritarianism. Berlin advocates negative liberty because it demands "absolute barriers to the imposition of one man's will on another's. The freedom of a society is measured by the strength of these barriers, and the number and importance of the paths which they keep open." He polarizes the two schools of thought completely by contending that the difference lies not with liberty alone but includes an entire cluster of ideas, extending to how one views authority. Advocates of negative freedom, he asserts, are "at the opposite pole from the purpose of those who believe in liberty in the positive-self-directive-sense. The former want to curb authority as such. The latter want it placed in their own hands. That is the cardinal issue." It is after making this point that he concludes that the two interpretations of liberty, as representative of contrasting intellectual traditions", are not two divergent interpretations of a single concept, but," as noted above in the phrase that bears repetition, "profoundly divergent and irreconcilable attitudes to the ends of life."

Berlin knew that when he gave this ringing defence of negative freedom in his inaugural address at Oxford, there were critics of the concept even among British liberals. Mill's Liberty had been attacked a full century before and continuously since for being muscular on individual liberties and rights but weak on reasons for political obligation or civic responsibility. The antinomies in western political theory of negative versus positive liberty and of rights versus responsibilities were evident a hundred years ago, and in England and America, democracy has long been caught in the dilemma described by Sabine: the more individual freedom and rights, the less legitimization of civic duty and economic equality. (Sabine, p. 452)

This dilemma has been noted recently in America, especially from the critical perspective of the lack of an ethic of social responsibility and community in the United States. Michael Walzer represents this view when he comments: "We are perhaps the most individualist society that ever existed in human history. Compared to earlier, and Old World Societies we are radically liberated, all of us. Free to plot our own course. To plan our own lives. To choose a career. To choose a partner or a succession of partners. To choose a religion or no religion .To choose a politics or an anti-politics .To choose a lifestyle--any style. Free to do our own thing ,and this freedom energizing and exciting as it is ,is also profoundly disintegrative, making it very difficult for individuals to find any stable communal support very difficult for any community to count on the responsible participation of its individual members. It opens solitary men and women to the impact of a lowest common denominator, commercial culture. It works against commitment to the larger democratic union and also against the solidarity of all cultural groups that constitute our multi-culturalism ." (Walzer, Citizenship and Civil Society, Rutgers, N. J., Series on the Culture of Community, Oct. 1992, pp. 11-12)

The dilemmas of the American system are perhaps worse than Walzer describes because he does not mention the unprecedented gross disparity of wealth that has overtaken the country since the late '70's. This economic injustice underscores the nation's inability to assert effective civic responsibility and a spirit of mutual care. Some feminist theorists see this problem in gender terms and associate it with certain elements of a masculine mode of thought and behavior. The most influential of this group is Carol Gilligan who published In a Different Voice in 1982 as a criticism of Lawrence Kohlberg's rights theory in the field of educational psychology. Gilligan asserted that "the morality of rights differs from the morality of responsibility in its emphasis on separation rather than connection, in its consideration of the individual rather than the relationship as primary." The dominance of the rights ethic has induced a psychology of "winning and losing," to the point of providing a strong "potential for violence" and a" hierarchy of power." American society needs an "ethic of care" that can view life "not as opponents in a contest of rights but as members of a network of relationships on whose continuation they all depend." The virtue of such an ethic, with its code word of "connectedness," is that it offers a mature world view or "different voice," which will not prize "individual autonomy" at the expense of " relationship and responsibility." Gilligan views with alarm the endemic social violence, particularly abuse of women, that persists in the United States. As an educationist, she believes that American society should learn to focus on "an ethic of care which rests on the premise of non-violence--that no one should be hurt." (Gilligan, In a Different Voice, 1982, pp. 19,30-2,173-4)

The broad controversy that was sparked in the United States by Gilligan's thesis occurred in some areas of the biological sciences as well as in the social sciences and humanities. The response testified not only to the extent of her influence but more significantly to what one theorist called "the impoverishment of political discourse" that existed in the conventional literature about rights and responsibilities. Gilligan, by becoming a popular figure in the feminist movement and advancing a critique long overdue, demonstrated that there is an urgent need in America for creative thinking about social responsibility. Sara Ruddick presents the debate on rights and duties from a feminist perspective by arguing that male and female alike should learn to "depend on and foster conceptions of the self and 'human nature' that Carol Gilligan and others have heard in the 'different voices' associated with women. According to these conceptions, human nature is not an enemy, humans change and learn to welcome change, and responsible reconciliation is a permanent possibility. Individuals are not primarily centers of dominating and defensive activity trying to achieve a stable autonomy in threatening hierarchies of strength... They are also and equally centers of care, actively desiring other selves to persist in their own lively being...." (Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking, 1989, pp. 182-83)

This critique of social thought in America reached another point of analysis in the writings of Jean Bethke Elshtain and Mary Ann Gordon. The former contends in Democracy on Trial, that with the decay of a sense of civic duty in contemporary America, "the rights-bearing individual came to stand alone--'me and my rights' --as if rights were a possession. Rights were construed increasingly in individualistic terms as their civic dimensions withered on the vine. As legal theorist Mar). Ann Glendon pointed out in her book Rights Talk, the dimensions of sociality and responsibility are missing when the rights-de£med self stands alone." (Elshtain, Democracy on Trial, 1994, p. 15)

Glendon presents a systematic critique of rights theory. She opens her analysis by arguing that America today utterly lacks "the vision of a republic where citizens actively take responsibility for maintaining a vital political life." In terms of theory, the problem can be traced to British influences on American thinkers, especially to the philosophies of John Locke and even more to William Blackstone, the 18th century legal philosopher, who managed to outdo even Locke in his deification of individual property rights as absolute. "Blackstone's commentaries," Glendon says, "was the law book in the United States in the crucial years immediately preceding and following the American Revolution." It proclaimed that "There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination and engages the affections of mankind as the right of property." Americans devoured all of this. Neither Rousseau, who "wrote that property rights are always subordinate to the overriding claims of the community, that an owner is a kind of trustee or steward for the public good," nor Karl Marx, who warned of "man regarded as an isolated monad, withdrawn into himself," had a chance against the appeal of British liberalism, adding now Mill to the list of most influential theorists. The consequence is that "The exaggerated absoluteness of our American rights rhetoric is closely bound up with its other distinctive traits-a near silence concerning responsibility, and a tendency to envision the rights-bearer as a lone autonomous individual." After an incisive analysis of U.S. Supreme Court cases, including a focus on how some key decisions have outdone Mill in glorifying "the right to privacy, the quintessential right of individual autonomy and isolation," she asks, "why does our rhetoric of rights so often shut out relationship and responsibility, along with reality?" (Mary Ann Glendon, Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse, 1991, pp. 17,23,34,45-47, 52-54, 59-60,72)

The theme, then, of freedom and rights versus responsibility and community, central to western political theory for centuries, now troubles American thought. Elshtain cites Alan Wolfe who says that Americans are "confused when it comes to recognizing the social obligations that make freedom possible in the first place," and then she concludes that "for all our success in modem societies, there is a sense, desperate in some cases, that all is not well, that something has gone terribly awry," because the "confusion permeates all levels, from the market place to the home to the academy." (Elshtain, pp. 14-15) Berlin's negative freedom, long acclaimed by liberals as the bulwark of the free world against communism, now appears as flawed because it so lacks a spirit of civic duty.

What follows is an attempt to show how certain modem Indian thinkers, especially Gandhi (1869-1948), have discussed ideas of freedom, rights and duty. Their arguments are notably different from most American and British liberal theorists. As with all political theory, the distinctive qualities of Indian ideas are explained by their historical context, the colonial situation of British India. Generally since Ram Mohun Roy (1772-1833) and particularly since Vivekananda (1863-1902), the Indian intellectual response to western imperialism may be characterized in Aurobindo's (1872-1950) terms as "preservation by reconstruction." This meant "a synthetical restatement" which "sought to arrive at the spirit of the ancient culture and, while respecting its forms and often preserving them to revivify, has yet not hesitated also to remould, to reject the outworn and admit whatever new motive seemed assimilable." (Sri Aurobindo Ghose, The Renaissance in India, 1951, pp. 39-40)

Bhikhu Parekh, a contemporary political theorist, observes that "the central principles of Indian civilization" that modern thinkers beginning with Roy deemed "sound and worth preserving," included an" emphasis on duties rather than rights," or the regulation of life according to roles of dharma or moral obligation. (Parekh, Colonialism, Tradition and Reform, 1989, pp. 59-60) But this traditional stress on dharma had to be reconciled with the western ideal of liberty.

Nineteenth-century India produced several prominent thinkers but Aurobindo is correct that "Vivekananda was in his lifetime the leading exemplar and most powerful exponent of the Indian renaissance." His outstanding contribution came with how he conceived of individual freedom and social responsibility as complementary values. On the one hand, he asserted that "Liberty of thought and action is the only condition of life, of growth and well-being. Where it does not exist, the man, the race, the nation must go down, Caste or no caste, creed or no creed, any man, or class, or caste, or nation, or institution which bars the power of free thought and action of an individual- even so long as that power does not injure others- is devilish and must go down." (Vivekananda, Works, V, p. 29) Yet, on the other hand, he insisted that with this freedom came an obligation to "help others" by, "attaining through unselfish work" (Karma Yoga) a stronger community. {Ibid., V, pp. 141-42; I.p. 110)

Vivekananda wrote as though his purpose was to harmonize the needs and obligations of 'individual and community:

"The individual's life is in the life of the whole, the individual happiness is in the happiness of the whole; apart from the whole, the individual's existence is inconceivable- this is an eternal troth and is the bedrock on which the universe is built. To move slowly towards the infinite whole, bearing a constant feeling of intense sympathy and sameness with it, being happy with its happiness and being distressed in its affliction, is the individual's sole duty. Not only is it his duty, but in its transgression is his death, while compliance with this great truth leads to life immortal." (Ibid., IV, p. 463)

This, then, was the direction of thought established by the end of the nineteenth century in Bengal: a reinterpretation of personal freedom to bring it in harmony with the traditional emphasis on duty. Each person's quest for liberation must entail service to society, what Gandhi would later call the idea of Sarvodaya or upliftment of all.

Vivekananda's discussion of individual freedom and social responsibility was continued and enlarged not only by Gandhi but by other Indian theorists early in this century. Aurobindo Ghose and Bipin Chandra Pal (1858-1932) conceptualized freedom around the word swaraj in ways that would become important to Gandhi. Insisting that swaraj could not be translated in western terms of freedom or liberty, Aurobindo wrote that "Swaraj as a sort of European idea, as political liberty for the sake of political self-assertion, will not awaken India." An ideal of "true swaraj for India must derive from the Vedantic concept of self-liberation."

Indian philosophy, he said, leads us to this definition of freedom: "By liberty we mean the freedom to obey the law of our being, to grow to our natural self-fulfillment, to find out naturally and freely our harmony with our environment. The dangers and disadvantages of liberty (conceived in the limited western sense) are indeed obvious. But they arise from the absence or defect of the sense of unity between individual and individual, between community and community, which pushes them to assert themselves at the expense of each other instead of growing by mutual help.... If a real, a spiritual and psychological unity were effectuated, liberty would have no perils and disadvantages; for free individuals enamored of unity would be compelled by themselves, by their own need, to accommodate perfectly their own growth with the growth of their fellows and would not feel themselves complete except in the free growth of others ....Human society progresses really and vitally as law becomes the child of freedom; it will reach its perfection when, man having learned to know and become spiritually one with his fellow-man, the spontaneous law of his society exists only as the outward mould of his serf-governed inner liberty." (Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, 1962 pp. 564-66)

B.C. Pal writing around the same time as Aurobindo and following closely his conceptualization of freedom, agreed with him that swaraj must not be defined as liberty in the way British liberalism did, but as "the conscious identification of the individual with the universal," suggesting "spiritual liberation" in the traditional Hindu sense. Pal argued with that definition of swaraj as "home rule" expressed by anglicized Indian liberals like Dadabhai Naoroji. He sought its true meaning" in the Upanishads to indicate the highest spiritual state, wherein the individual self stands in conscious union with the Universal or the Supreme Self. When the Self sees and knows, whatever is as its own self, it attains swaraj: so says the Chandogya Upanishad." Pal then contrasted this Vedantic conception of swaraj with the modem European notion of freedom as he understood it, arguing as Aurobindo did the superiority of the classical Indian view:

"Indeed the idea of freedom as it has gradually developed in Europe ever since old Paganism was replaced by Christianity with its essentially individualistic ethical implications and emphasis, is hardly in keeping with the new social philosophy of our age. Freedom, independence, liberty (as defined in Europe) are all essentially negative concepts. They all indicate absence of restraint, regulation and subjection. Consequently, Europe has not as yet discovered any really rational test by which to distinguish what is freedom from  what is license. "Swaraj does not mean absence of restraint or regulation or dependence, but self-restraint, self-regulation, and self-dependence." A spirit of social duty or dharma flows from a belief in the unity of being. We are all part of one another: "the self in Hindu thought, even in the individual, is a synonym for the Universal." (B.C. Pal, Writings and Speeches, 1958, pp. 75-77)

Finally, before turning to Gandhi's thinking on these ideas, it is important to note how thinkers before him explicitly raised the issue of fights, connecting it to the basic problem of reconciling individual freedom with social responsibility. Vivekananda anticipates Gandhi: " Selflessness only, not selfishness, can solve the question. The idea of 'right' is a limitation: there is really no 'mine' and 'thine', for I am thou and thou art I. We have 'responsibility' not 'rights'." (Works, V III, p. 23) Aurobindo then characteristically develops this idea in the context of Indian philosophy by observing "It was a marked feature of the Indian mind that it sought to attach a spiritual meaning and a religious sanction to all, even to the most external social political circumstances of its life, imposing on all classes and functions an ideal, not except incidentally of rights and powers, but of duties, a dharma with a spiritual significance." (Aurobindo Ghose, The Spirit and Form of Indian Polity, 1966, pp. 7-8.)

These ideas of freedom, rights and duty flowed in the conceptual stream that Gandhi's Hind Swaraj dramatically widened and deepened. The unique cluster of ideas presented there soon merged with the contemporary thinking about freedom and responsibility to produce a powerful intellectual statement. There are obvious differences between Gandhi and the Bengali thinkers mentioned above, but their thinking about swaraj and dharma is strikingly similar.

Anthony Parel argues that "the concept of swaraj holds the key to Mahatma Gandhi's political philosophy," because from the writing of Hind Swaraj he develops the "dual meaning" of swaraj connecting the self-rule of individual and nation. (Parel, The Doctrine of Swaraj in Gandhi~ Philosophy, 1995, pp. 57-8) The point to be made here is how this mode of thinking offers a way out of Berlin's "irreconcilability" of negative and positive freedom. Vivekananda, with his interpretation of Vedanta in response to British liberalism, led others to formulate a philosophy of "spiritual freedom" that criticized western liberty as license. India could do much better than that with its conceptual correlates of swaraj and dharma. The ideal was, as liberals seemed to stress, self-realization. But this could come only through awareness of human connectedness and correspondent action for humanity.

Gandhi agreed with this but insisted that freedom as swaraj could come only through acceptance of considerable personal and political obligation that involved enormous self-sacrifice and social service. No nationalist before Gandhi had embraced the responsibility of the colonized so unequivocally: "To blame the English is useless," Gandhi's "Editor" (speaking in the author's voice) declared to the Reader," "they will either go or change their nature only when we reform ourselves...

We shall become free only through suffering." (Ibid., pp. 63-4) Indians must recognize this duty because "Swaraj has to be experienced, by each one for himself." (Ibid., p. 39) It can be achieved only through commitment to the cause of freedom, so "it is our duty to say exactly what we think and face the consequences." (ibid., p. 64)

Hind Swaraj resounds with these challenges, demanding that if Indians want freedom then they must sacrifice to acquire it. They have duties of disloyalty to the Raj as well as reform of their own society. Such attainment of freedom depends wholly on the person, never on the state. When Berlin asserts that "the cardinal issue" is authority and who holds it, that "those who believe in liberty in the 'positive'-- self-directive--sense.., want it placed in their own hands," this cannot describe Gandhi's idea of freedom. His formulation of swaraj carries a large suspicion of political authority and cannot be used to legitimize arbitrary state power in the way that Berlin seems to fear.

Gandhi defies the stereotype of the positive freedom theorist as authoritarian by stressing civil liberties. The extent of his affirmation of individual rights and civil liberty should be stressed. "Freedom of speech and civil liberty, "he asserted," are the very roots of swaraj. Without these the foundations of swaraj will remain weak." (CWMG 73:22) This unequivocal position flowed naturally from his leadership of the nationalist movement as a champion of non-violent resistance. Writing in early 1922 under the caption, Liberty of the Press, his defense of civil liberties could not be clearer:" Liberty of speech means that it is unassailed even when the speech hurts; liberty of the Press can be said to be truly respected only when the Press can comment in the severest terms upon and even misrepresent matters, protection against misrepresentation or violence being secured not by an administrative gagging order, not by closing down the Press but by punishing the real offender, leaving the Press itself unrestricted; Freedom of association is truly respected when assemblies of people can discuss even revolutionary projects, the State relying upon the force of public opinion and the civil police, not the savage military at its disposal, to crush any actual outbreak of revolution that is designed to confound public opinion and the State representing it.., The fight for swaraj means a fight for this threefold freedom before all else." (CWMG 22:176-77)

Nine years later, once again in the midst of a national campaign, Gandhi drafted for the Congress in 1931 an extensive "Resolution on Fundamental Rights" that constituted the most explicit defense of civil liberties that any modem liberal might require. Its principal aims stated: Fundamental rights of the people, including: freedom of association and combination; freedom of speech and of the Press; freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion, subject to public order and morality; protection of the culture, language and scripts of the minorities; equal rights and obligations of all citizens, without any bar on account of sex; no disability to attach to any citizen by reason of his or her religion, caste or creed or sex in regard to public employment, office of power or honour and in the exercises of any trade or calling; equal rights to all citizens in regard to public roads, wells, schools and other places of public resort;.., religious neutrality on the part of the State; Adult suffrage; Free primary education; A living wage for industrial workers, limited hours of labour, healthy conditions of work... Protection of women workers, and specially adequate provisions for leave during maternity period; Prohibition against employment of children of school-going age in factories; Rights of labour to form unions to protect their interest..." (CWMG 45:370-71)

In moving this resolution before the Karachi Congress, Gandhi stressed its extreme import, observing that it was not for legislators but "to indicate to the poor, inarticulate Indian the broad features of swaraj by making clear precisely what the rights of the citizen should constitute. Then he proceeded to comment especially on the need to respect the rights of religious minorities and women. (Ibid., pp.' 372-3.) Less than two months later, in a message to a regional Congress conference, he urged that "The resolution on fundamental rights is the most important resolution of the Congress. It shows what kind of swaraj the Congress wants to achieve.'' (CWMG 46:166) Never content to let rest an issue that he deemed imperative, he returned that July to the connection of individual rights to democracy, asserting that "Democracy disciplined and enlightened is the freest thing in the world. A democracy prejudiced, ignorant, superstitious will land itself in chaos and may be self-destroyed. The Fundamental Rights Resolution is not premature" because Indians can use it as a strong bulwark of freedom. (CWMG 47:236) No rights theorist could ask for a more complete statement of liberal doctrine than this.

However, the argument of this paper is that the contribution of modern Indian political thought in general and Gandhi in particular, lies in how they move beyond liberal doctrine, not where they affirm it. Gandhi's position is that civil rights and liberties must be grounded in a prior sense of civic duty. If not, they may either remain dormant among an ignorant and apathetic population or assume a dangerous attitude in a democracy that Glendon deplores as "hyper individualism." (Glendon, Rights Talk, p. 75) Gandhi claimed that while he yielded to no one in his defense of civil liberty, yet "Liberty cannot be secured merely by proclaiming it. An atmosphere of liberty must be created within us. Liberty is one thing, and license another. Many a time we confuse license for liberty and lose the latter. License leads one to selfishness whereas liberty guides one to supreme good. License destroys society, liberty gives it life. In license propriety is sacrificed; in liberty it is fully cherished. Under slavery we practice several virtues out of fear; when liberated we practice them of our own free will." (CWMG 42:380) In the short period that Gandhi lived following India's independence, he repeatedly warned that" the first lesson to be learnt" is that "Liberty never meant the license to do anything at will. Independence meant voluntary restraint and discipline..." (CWMG 89:112)

Western rights theorists, beginning with Locke, have affirmed that freedom is not "a liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not be tied by any laws," but it is freedom under law and the source of civic obligation is founded in law. (John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, IV, 22, 1980, p. 17) Gandhi accepts this, that in an independent India obedience comes from" voluntary acceptance of the role of law in the making of which the whole of India had its hand through its elected representatives." (CWMG 89:112) Gandhi valued highly the role of law when derived from popular sovereignty. Yet his concept of swaraj demanded a form of social and political responsibility that Locke never required, a commitment that was much closer to Rousseau: the obligation to change oneself and one's community for the betterment of all, in a spirit of social service. This was conceived as a primary duty of citizenship, the basis for a realization of individual rights.

Raghavan Iyer observes that "Whereas Western individualism emerged in modern urban society and is bound up with the doctrine of natural rights, Gandhi's individualism derived from the concept of dharma or natural obligations...." (Iyer, The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi, p. 115) The centrality of dharma to modem Indian thinkers was represented by Aurobindo Ghose when he interpreted his tradition by stressing the value of dharma or duty as being at the heart of it. But no ideologist of Indian nationalism evoked the classical concept of dharma in more ways than Gandhi. He gave the word at least two essential meanings, both serving his twin principles of satya (truth) and ahimsa (non-violence). "For me, 'there was no dharma higher than truth' (Mahabharata, Adiparvan, ch. xi, 13) and 'no dharma higher than the supreme duty of nonviolence.' (Shantiparvan, ch. CLXII, 24.) The word dharma, in my opinion has different connotations as used in the two statements. In other words it means that there cannot be an ideal higher than troth and there cannot be an)/duty higher than non-violence. A man can pursue truth only by constantly adhering to this duty. There is no other means for the pursuit o f truth." ( CWMG 62:224 )

Whether truth or nonviolence (ahimsa paramo dharma) is the ideal, these two "different connotations" of dharma merge, as means and ends usually do in Gandhi's writings, to translate dharma as the path of duty, "the way of truth and nonviolence," or "the royal road of dharma that leads to both earthly and spiritual bliss." (CWMG 13:52 and 72:48. Also see Iyer, Moral and Political Writing of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. II, 1986, who translates Gandhi's meaning of Dharma as "path of duty", p. 5; and R. C. Zaehnefs comment on Gandhi's concept of dharma in Hinduism 1962, p. 11). Gandhi consistently identified dharma with truth and nonviolence or as "religion in the highest sense of the term." (CWMG 64:191 ) Thus he says that "We cannot commit violence in name of dharma, " and "violence is never an independent dharma. There is only one such dharma and that is nonviolence." "The truth is that all activities in this world are related to dharma or adharma," and then he gives examples of pursuing either path, of morality or immorality. (CWMG 37:33 and 36:296) one may of course be mistaken in one's interpretation or pursuit of dharma as a moral or religious duty, but the test' lies in the intention to pursue the right path: "So long as I do not see my mistakes I must practice the dharma which I consider to be true." (CWMG 38:21-2)

Gandhi uses this theory of dharma to shape his idea of rights: "Having a right surely does not mean that I should exercise that right in utter disregard of my sense of proportion... The exercise of right depends on one's sense of duty. It is my duty to follow dharma... I do what I consider my duty." (CWMG 69:208) This follows from what he had written in Hind Swaraj, where he argued that "real rights are a result of performance of duty" and criticized "in England the farce of everybody wanting and insisting on his rights, nobody thinking of his duty." (CWMG 10:44) He said that Hind Swaraj was written "to offer a glimpse of dharma," to urge India and the world to adopt a way of life attuned to a sense of moral obligation. As he assumes leadership in India, his message is consistently that our personal and political duties are connected, part of a whole that extends even beyond the nation: "One's respective dharma towards one's self, family, nation and the world cannot be divided into watertight compartments. The harm done to oneself of one's family cannot bring about the good of the nation. Similarly one cannot benefit the nation by acting against the world at large... Therefore it all starts from self-purification. When the heart is pure, from moment to moment one's duty becomes apparent effortlessly." (CWMG 50:370)

Because cultivation of a sense of social or political duty necessarily begins with "self-cultivation," the idea of dharma centers on Gandhi's concept of the individual as he developed it even before Hind Swaraj. He wrote Ethical Religion in early 1907 and explained there that a" personal morality" begins with "our duty to ourselves": "' I am responsible for this,' or 'This is my duty': this is a moving and wonderful thought. A mysterious, resounding voice seems to say,' To thee, individually, O man, is given this task.' "Before the "duty to have sympathy and fraternal regard for others" is "my duty to respect myself even as I respect others." That is, our primary duty is to develop character traits in ourselves that foster social service because " Man's highest duty in life is to serve mankind and take his share in bettering its condition. This is true worship--true prayer." We are obligated to make a "contribution to an ideal order of human life," and to achieve this the individual must through self-examination become "sincere in himself, bear no malice, exploit no one and always act with a pure mind. Such men alone can serve mankind." (CWMG 6:340-41) This is the essence of Gandhi's individualism, that a correct recognition of the relationship between rights and duties depends on formation of personal integrity and a strong social conscience: "So long as one has not developed inner strength, one can never practice the dharma of ahimsa." (CWMG 28:49)

The distinctive qualities of Gandhi's mature conception of dharma defined as duty are, first, that it begins early in his writings and develops as a pervasive theme until the end, that it accentuates his individualism and it is persistently linked with his idea of individual rights, which are always seen to flow from its performance. Near the end of his life, after Independence, he dwelt in his Delhi prayer meetings on the need to acknowledge social responsibility. When he had begun the non-cooperation movement in March 1919, he had conceded that much political education would be required for Indians to understand theft duties as well as theft rights. (CWMG 15:140) Now, in 1947, consumed with the civil war and with his own sense of failure as a leader, he directed all his thought and energy to the Hindu-Muslim conflict. At his prayer meeting in Delhi on June 28th, he stated his appeal to "Brothers and Sisters" in these terms: "The Constituent Assembly is discussing the rights of the citizen. That is to say they are deliberating on what the fundamental rights should be. As a matter of fact the proper question is not what the right of a citizen are, but rather what constitutes the duties of a citizen. Fundamental rights can only be those rights the exercise of which is not only in the interest of the citizen but that of the whole world. Today everyone wants to know what his rights are, but if a man learns to discharge his duties right from childhood and studies the sacred books of his faith he automatically exercises his rights too. I learnt my duties on my mother's lap. She was an unlettered village woman...She knew my dharma. Thus if from my childhood we learn what our dharma is and try to follow it our rights look after themselves... The beauty of it is that the very performance of a duty secures us our right. Rights cannot be divorced from duties. This is how satyagraha was born, for I was always striving to decide what my duty was." (CWMG 88:230)

Not satisfied with this appeal, he returned to his theme the next evening: "Yesterday, I talked to you about duty. However, I was not able to say all that I had intended to say. Whenever a person goes anywhere certain duties come to devolve on him. The man who neglects his duty and cares .only to safeguard his rights does not know that rights that do not spring from duties done cannot be safeguarded. This applies to Hindu-Muslim relations. Whether it is the Hindus living in a place or Muslims or both, they will come to acquire rights if they do their duty. Then they do not have to demand rights... This is a paramount law and no one can Change it. If Hindus consider Muslims their brothers and treat them well, Muslims too will return friendship for friendship... The duty of the Hindus is to share with the Muslims in their joys and sorrows." Gandhi then talked at some length about how each person must assume responsibility for stopping the conflict and then ended his speech by returning to its main theme: "People should not merely nm after rights. He who runs after rights does not secure them. His plight is that of a dog who sees his reflection in the water and wants to attack it. His right is illusory, when you do your duty the rights will drop into your lap." (CWMG 88: 236-38)

Before independence, Gandhi had insisted that Indians must accept responsibility for colonization: they had allowed it to happen and they could end it if they resolved to do so. Now, in the face of tragedies like the Great Calcutta Killing, he demanded that people accept responsibility for what had happened. How could they claim to enjoy their rights in a free India when they had failed in their responsibility to maintain civil peace and order? After Gandhi fasted in Calcutta for communal harmony, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan visited him and then commented to the press: "I have told Mahatmaji not to confuse between goonda [thug] activities and communal violence. What had happened in Calcutta during the last few days was absolutely the work of goondas and nothing else." (quoted in The Statesman, Sept. 5, 1947, P. 8)

This was an argument that had never appealed to Gandhi. For years Indians had blamed criminal elements in society for communal conflict as well as other urban violence. Gandhi replied: "Goondas do not drop from the sky, nor do they spring from the earth like evil spirits. They are the product of social disorganization, and society is therefore responsible for their existence .In other words, they should be looked upon as a symptom of corruption in our body politic."( CWMG 72: 456) That was in 1940.When in 1946 he was confronted with the Bihar riots ,he again unequivocally placed the responsibility where it belonged by deploring "the habit of procuring a moral alibi for ourselves by blaming it all on the goondas. We always put the blame on the goondas. But it is we who are responsible for their creation as well as encouragement." (CWMG 76:76) In September, 1947,his reply to Radhakrishnan was no less direct: "The conflagration has been caused not by the goondas but by those who have become goondas. It is we who make goondas. Without our sympathy and passive support, the goondas would have no legs to stand upon .... It is time for peace-loving citizens to assert themselves and isolate goondaism." (CWMG 89: 132)

Until the end of his straggle for freedom, he emphasized the idea of duty that he had first announced in South Africa. After a lifetime of leadership, he sought to quench the fires of civil war with constant appeals for responsible social action by "peace-loving citizens." But the basic message introduced in Ethical Religion and Hind Swaraj remained unchanged after Indian independence. Commitment to liberation of the self and of country requires a path of dharma not adharma. For this, satyagraha is the most effective method. As Gandhi said in one of the speeches cited above, "satyagraha was born" out of his "striving to decide what my duty was." Before independence, he translated this into "the duty of disloyalty," the title of an article written during the salt satyagraha in March, 1930. He argued there that to attain swaraj through satyagraha, Indians must understand their political obligation: "It is a duty of those who have realized the awful evil of the system of Indian Government to be disloyal to it and actively and openly preach disloyalty. Indeed, loyalty to a State so corrupt is a sin, disloyalty a virtue." Civil disobedience become obligatory because it is the individual's "clear duty to man any risk to achieve" swaraj. Gandhi's categorical conclusion that "Disobedience of the law of an evil state is therefore a duty," (CWMG 43:132-33) recalls Henry Thoreau who also proclaimed that breaking the law is an obligation in an unjust polity but he neither grounded his theory of civil resistance in a concept of dharma nor developed much the idea of nonviolence. Yet both Thoreau and Gandhi can concur with Iyer's statement that" In the case of civil resisters, their civil disobedience is simply the performance of a duty that owe themselves under the dictates of their conscience." (Iyer, The Moral and Political Thought of Gandhi, p. 279)

In Gandhi's theory of swaraj is related to dharma through satyagraha or, in his phrase, the "duty of disloyalty," it is equally connected to it through his emphasis on social responsibility; that is, his ideal of the good citizen. After colonial role ended, Gandhi wanted his people to understand that swaraj would give them not license to do as they wished but increased obligation to act as they should as citizens of an independent India. This is the essential distinction between "negative" and "positive" freedom, the latter to be acquired through insight, reflection and political education. With the goal before him of swaraj as the liberation of India, Gandhi spoke in 1939 about what "true citizenship" meant: "In swaraj based on ahimsa people need not know their rights [as much as] it is necessary for them to know their duties. There is no duty but creates a corresponding right, and those only are true rights which flow from a due performance of one's duties. Hence rights of true citizenship accrue only to those who serve the State to which they belong. And they alone can do justice to the rights that accrue to them. Everyone possesses the right to tell lies. But the exercise of such a right is harmful both to the exerciser and society.

To him who observes troth and non-violence comes prestige, and prestige brings rights. And people who obtain rights as a performance of duty, exercise them only, for the service of society, never for themselves. Swaraj of a people means the sum total of the swaraj (self-role) of individuals. And such swaraj comes only form performance by individuals of their duty as citizens. In it no one thinks of his rights. They come, when they are needed, for better performance of duty." (CWMG 69:52)

Gandhi wrote this in connection with one of his many local satyagrahas which he conceived as being more of a political education program than a confrontation with the British. In an article written a week earlier for the same purpose, he had asked, "Responsible government will come, but will the people be able to shoulder the burden and rise equal to the task?" He stressed his aim of "educating the public" in the urgent need for social reform so that they should "cultivate the spirit of corporate service," but for this they must "learn to be disciplined." (CWMG 69:45-5) This was the way that he used his theory of satyagraha to resolve contradictions between freedom and obligation, rights and responsibilities.

When he says, in the long passage quoted above, that swaraj does not require knowledge of rights as much as duties, he certainly does not mean to imply an inattention to the need for the former. As noted earlier, his resolution On rights at the Karachi Congress of 1931 and subsequent commentary on it, gave abundant attention then and later to individual fights. But his concept of swaraj will not permit rights to stand unattached to duties. Just as one acquires freedom through discipline and insight, so one also acquires rights by fulfilling the responsibilities of citizenship.

Gandhi explained his idea of swaraj carefully: "The root meaning of swaraj is self-role. Swaraj may, therefore, be rendered as discipline role from within... 'Independence' has no such limitation. Independence may mean license to do as you like. Swaraj is positive. Independence is negative... The word swaraj is a sacred word, a Vedic word, meaning self-role and self-restraint., and not freedom from all restraint which 'independence' often means." (CWMG 45:263-64) He made this comment in 1931, having emphasized this interpretation of freedom since 1909 from the publication of Hind Swaraj. His purpose was consistently to teach this hard political lesson, that freedom demands responsibility, that rights are earned through civic service and the attainment of difficult social reforms.

Perhaps Gandhi's emphasis on social responsibility was excessive. Parekh argues that Gandhi so restricted the roles of kama (sensual pleasure) and artha (property) in life that he "thus made dharma the sole basis of life." (Parekh, Gandhi Political Philosophy, 1989, p. 210) From this viewpoint, his ideas can assume a dark color of guilt and unnecessary suffering. On the other hand, as Parekh also observes, Gandhi's theory of obligation "gave a new and deeper meaning" to the current conception of our political and social nature, by extending a citizen's duties "far beyond those based on consent, promise, contract and membership of a specific community." (Ibid., p. 197) Through his campaigns against untouchability and for Hindu-Muslim unity, "he shamed and mobilized the Hindu masses, stirred their consciences, awakened their sense of responsibility..." (Parekh, Colonialism, Tradition and Reform, 1989, p. 291) Gandhi's connection of swaraj and dharma meant that India having attained independence by duty to disloyalty, could not gain full freedom without each assuming responsibility for the uplift of all.

Gandhi may be criticized from the perspective of liberal democracy as deflating human rights theory or denying natural rights doctrine by insisting that rights exist only as derivative from performance of duty. Gandhi does have fundamental differences with liberal democracy and these have been explained or defended by Parekh, Ronald Terchek, Thomas Pantham, Iyer and Bondurant. (Parekh, Gandhi's Political Philosophy. Ch.5, pp. 110-141; Colonialism, Tradition and Reform, pp. 74,102; Ronald Terchek, "Gandhi and Democratic Theory" and Thomas Pantham, Beyond Liberal Democracy: Thinking with Mahatma Gandhi," in Political Thought in Modern India, edited by Pantham and Kenneth L. Deutesh, 1986, pp. 307-346, Iyer, Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi: Joan Bondurant, Conquest of Violence, 1988, chs. 4,5) This paper has tried to focus on concepts of freedom, rights and responsibility, but Gandhi's critique of liberal democracy raises other issues as well. He criticized it for being "individualistic in the sense of stressing rights rather than duties and self-interest rather than altruism, and materialistic in the sense of being concerned solely with deriving its moral legitimacy from its ability to promote the material interests of its citizens. It lacked moral orientation and turned the state into an arena of conflict between organized groups." This is a version of democracy gone astray. (Parekh, Colonialism, etc., p. 74)

From this perspective, Gandhi's contribution to democratic thought is the way  he conceives of civic duty. He viewed the problem of democracy being that "We discuss political obligation as if it were a kind of moral tax extracted from us by a coercive government, rather than as an expression of our commitment to uphold and improve the quality of the shared life." (Parekh, The Philosophy of Political Philosophy, 1986, p. 19) Terchek makes the point that Gandhi's idea of freedom is fundamentally different from the Anglo- American liberal conception because he places such emphasis on duty that" Freedom without responsibility is a contradiction in terms." (Terchek, "Gandhi and Democratic Theory," p. 315)

The relationship that Gandhi makes between swaraj and dharma is the "different voice" of Indian political thought. Anthony J. Parel examines this relationship and in explaining the idea of dharma as Gandhi conceived it, observes: "Dharma, he said, is not dogma; it is a 'quality of the soul' through which we know 'our duty in human life and our relation with other selves.' We cannot know this duty unless we know the self in us. Hence, dharma is the means by which we can know ourselves. (Parel, The Doctrine of Swaraj, p. 65; quoted from CWMG 32:11) This interpretation of dharma places in perspective the primary role of the self in fulfilling social or political responsibility. Parel concludes his article with a quotation from a letter that Gandhi wrote to Maganlal Gandhi in 1910 which clearly makes the point of where one's duty must lie: "Please do not carry unnecessarily on your head the burden of emancipating India. Emancipate your own self. Even that burden is very great. Apply everything to yourself. Nobility of Soul consists in realizing that you are yourself India. In your emancipation is the emancipation of India." (Ibid., p. 78; quoted form CWMG 10:206-07)

Individualism of this variety may appear so extreme as to be irreconcilable with a firm sense of political and social responsibility. The ways that Gandhi and other Indian thinkers have interpreted swaraj and dharma to construct their conception of a right relationship of the individual to society may not appeal to most western theorists. We cannot know how Berlin, Cranston, Adler, Elshtain, Glendon or Wolin might regard Indian thought because none mentions non-western thinkers. Only Sara Ruddick among those theorists noted in this paper, examines Gandhi seriously and values his contribution to an ethic of care. (Maternal Thinking, pp. 168-171) I do not wish to suggest that modem Indian political thought presents a solution for the problem of the conflicting claims of individual freedom and social obligation, Yet it does offer a different voice that merits inclusion in western political discourse. Elshtain has stated the problem precisely that "the dimensions of sociality and responsibility are missing when the rights-defined self stands alone." Gandhi and others of his tradition might suggest that modem theory needs to discover resources for better conceptualizing a strong social conscience and commitment to a higher quality of civic life.

(The writer is the Prof. of Political Science, Barnard College, Columbia University, 3009, Broad Way, N.Y.- 100 27, USA)

Source: International Seminar on GANDHI AND THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY (January 30 - February 4, 1998) New Delhi- Wardha.