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ARTICLES > PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > Non-violence and Western Sociological and Political Thought

 

Nonviolence And Western Sociological And Political Thought

By K. C. Aravinda Rajagopal 

The emphasis on nonviolence represents the creativity of mind and heart as factors in human evolution.  It implies that evolution is not automatic, directed by the progress of objective forces, but is influenced by the rate and moral powers of men.  In sociological terms, nonviolence represents social coordination, mutual adjustment, and social-mental correlation and integration.  Consequently, in place of tension, conflict, and antagonism, it stands for accommodation and cooperation.   It wants increasing coordination and mutual relationship between different groups, classes, races, and nations into which humanity is apparently divided.  It pleads for the replacement of imperialism by the dynamics of creative Love. 

Rolland indicates that Gandhi’s nonviolence went further than that of Christians because they did not go “so far as to help their persecutors in danger” as Gandhi did.  Hence the victory of nonviolence would necessarily signify the success over brutality, mutual rapacity, and pugnacity.  Nonviolence removed from passive acquiescence, is of conservation and adulation of the status quo, because it does imply the dynamization of love for the extirpation of social evils.  The Gandhian notion of progressive realization of nonviolence in social and political life gets confirmation from the doctrines of the Russian sociologist Jacques Novicow who believed in replacement of the physiological economic and political struggles of man by a  form of bloodless intellectual competition.  According to Novicow, the physiological, economic, and political and intellectual struggles are a continuation of the previous chemical, astronomical, and biological struggles.  He was sanguine that eventually justice will triumph as to the final end of the universal conflicts.  August Comte, the French sociologist and champion of positivism, hopes for the supremacy of beneficence and universal consensus in human affairs. 

Gandhi was certain that eventually the force of violence would be replaced by the overpowering authority of justice, truth, and peace.  To this extent, his view is similar to the views of Kant, Spencer, Cobden, and Bright who generally believed that the progress of reason, individuality, and right will lead to the nullification of power politics and realization of the ethical state based on peace.  But the failure of the hopes of optimists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries about liberal humanism, peace, progress, and cosmopolitanism makes us skeptical of those plans and formulae, which want the battle of peace to be won in the hearts of human individuals.  The human heart is not an isolated factor in the world but is one variable in a complex web of several mutually related factors.  The role of objective social, economic, and political forces is immense.  Hence the battle of peace has to be fought not only in the individual soul but deliberate attempts have also to be made to transform that defiled and polluted political structure which exploits the human heart by means of domination, constraint, and propaganda.  The change of human heart has to proceed simultaneously with the change of the social and political structure.   

The Gandhian nonviolence is a morally more demanding concept that the “general will” as empowered by Rousseau, because the latter only accepts the voluntaristic of will for the public good, while Gandhi prescribes a conscious moral training for the growth of the power of universal love.  Both Gandhi and Rousseau were opposed to militarism.  Rousseau says: “By reason of indolence and money, they end up by having soldiers to enslave their country and representatives to sell it.”  Rousseau’s general will requires for its success the mutual cancellation of the “pluses and minuses” of selfish will and the adequate provision to the assembled populate of the necessary relevant information regarding public issues.  But the vindication of nonviolence depends on long years of dedicated adherence to the great moral vows like truth, celibacy, and God-fearingness.  Nonviolence taught by Gandhi is also the higher concept than the “real will” of Bosanquet.  Bosanquet identified the real of the individual, the general will of the society and the political will of the state.  Even at its highest levels, this real will is only the will to accept voluntarily the social norms, canons, and conventions, and the accumulated cultural heritage of the national community, while nonviolence as a political force pleads for universal fraternization.  Bosanquet regarded the nation–state as the guardian of moral values.  Gandhi believed in ethical universalism and cosmopolitanism. 

Furthermore, nonviolence is a more spiritual conception than the notion of socialization, responsiveness, accommodation, etc., popularized by the Western sociologists.  Being a believer in evolutionary revolution brought out by the matchless weapon on nonviolence, Gandhi prescribes the energization of the faculty of positive suffering as a technique of social change.  Conflicts and animosities are solved in this theory not by superior acceleration of force, but by a deliberate conscious act of self-abnegation. 

For the realization of a nonviolent society, which will be a thoroughly transformed society, having transcended power politics, there is no necessity, according to Gandhi, for a biological transmutation.  Gandhi would have reacted wit horror to the suggestions of genetism.  Gandhi’s new man in not a biological type, but is the embodiment of the moral truths of love and purity.  He is to be a perfect Satyagrahi and stithaprajana.  Instead of the improvement of the human species through genetic solutions, Gandhi adopts the constructive moral approach.  His approach is more in the Christian tradition. 

There have been some liberal thinkers in the West who prescribed a political and institutional solution for the malady of the world.  They pointed out that if an adequate institutional set-up, a world parliament or a world system of republics could be built up, humanity would have an era of freedom and progress.  But Gandhi was not happy with a mere institutional formula.  He felt that humanity was passing through a crisis of entire civilization and it could only be cured by a restoration of moral vows of truth and nonviolence.  Gandhi would have emphatically declared that behind the political crisis lay the crisis of moral values.  He taught the absolutism of nonviolence which has as its political goal, the cultivation and realization of the unity of mankind and which implies the activisation of the sentiments of mutual loving considerations, harmony, peace, moral autonomy, and non-constrained trend towards accommodation.  He believed in the ethical purification of man to be achieved through self-suffering, non-covetousness, and a spirit of loyalty to truth.  Gandhi thus advocated a meta-political approach to the solution of the maladies of modern civilization.

Source: Gandhi Marg Vol. 26, No. 3, October-December 2004