Gandhi on Truth
The contribution made by Gandhi towards the understanding of the means which make for peace has been for me of inestimable value, yet I have the feeling that for most people, especially those of us in the West, he does not quite speak to our condition. This may be because the problems of today are not those which faced Gandhi, perhaps also because of our different environment. Gandhi’s struggle was to regain freedom, whereas the main challenge facing the nations today is how to preserve it, and how to establish an international authority capable of restraining an aggressor by nonviolent means. Until we can establish such an authority, it seems to me more than likely that nations will continue to rely on their own defence.
Gandhi’s insistence on Truth therefore needs relating to these changed circumstances. Truth, Gandhi believed, was another way of describing God, and as I believe God is the author of nature, which we can observe around us, I think it will help to examine more closely how the laws of God are observed, and how these can form the basis of International Law.
The idea of Natural Law has been held by international lawyers for a very long time, and was given clear expression by Grotius three hundred years ago, when he said that “it is composed of the dictates of right reason, which pointed out the act according as it is or is not in conformity with nature, and has a quality of moral baseness or moral necessity, and either forbidden or enjoined by God; the author of nature”. This belief in Natural Law coming from a body of people in close contact with the enforcement of international law deserves far more examination than has yet been given by peace-workers. What follows is an attempt to understand more of this concept, because clearly, if there are natural forces more powerful than violence, we should attempt to discover them.
Grotius, we note, states that Natural Law is based on the dictates of right reason, while Gandhi, as we know, insisted on discovering Truth. From both these approaches emerges a new morality and a new awareness, giving birth to the enforcement of law, or, as Gandhi termed it, “truth force”.
This search for truth and right reason between nations can well be undertaken by UNESCO, because only UNESCO can combine the resources of many nations thus making their conclusions more acceptable to all. The potential resources of UNESCO are still not appreciated by most people, although many valuable beginnings have already been made. Let us hope that far more information and knowledge will soon be assembled which can be disseminated around the world through U.N. information centres. Modern means of communication have tremendous possibilities both for good and for evil, and large numbers of people can now assimilate knowledge which they are eager to acquire if the matter is presented in the right manner. For instance, we are now often made acutely aware, through TV, of poverty in other lands and of how people abroad live and work. The assembling of facts may not seem very exciting to most people, but nevertheless once gathered, if they point conclusively in one direction, slowly but surely they gain acceptance. Thus, without peoples consciously becoming more moral, they come to accept a new code of behaviour, because they now have an understanding of the other’s problems.
We are fortunate today that there are many studies and sciences which can throw much valuable light on the problems before us, and we urgently need to enroll the help of educationalists, historians, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, industrialists and, not least, those whose approach is to study the whole ecology of life. Such studies could well be taught in schools such as those pioneered by Grundtvic in Denmark and extended to most of Scandinavia, an experiment which has resulted, I believe, in many advanced forms of cooperation, social security, and the remarkable degree of nonviolent resistance under Hitler. It is probably not too much to say that the one single act well within our power to effect, and one which would really go to the root of the problem before us, would be to encourage the growth of similar schools. Only when people have a better appreciation of the art of living can the techniques of nonviolence be really effective.
I have stressed the need for more research and education as a means of discovering Truth and right reason because, although research and education is being stressed on all sides, practically none of it is related to the arts of peace. Even where there is an awakening to the need, considerable uncertainty seems to exist as to where to begin. This uncertainty could be resolved I suggest by a combined attempt by many sciences to appreciate more fully the concept of natural law as understood in the Middle Ages and outlined by St. Thomas Aquinas and others. Until we discover the source of true power we cannot establish a new world pattern under the rule of law and justice. Already many of the newer social sciences have much to offer, and their knowledge needs relating to peace. For instance, we hear much about the manner in which people can be conditioned, usually for evil ends. We hear little of how people could be conditioned through their environment to become peaceful, although Plato long ago always insisted on the profound effects of environment. Whether we approve or not, the fact is that we are all being conditioned. At present our environment encourages violence, perhaps because people compete against each other instead of cooperating, or because there is little reverence for personality. One of the reasons that so much of our peace work falls on deaf ears is this unfavourable environment. It is also the reason why the idea of nonviolent resistance as a technique only is doomed to fail. Until people feel within themselves some instinct pulling in a certain direction peace workers will continue swimming against the tide of opinion. We need to understand far more also about what the analytical psychologists call the “Self or Mid-point of Personality”, and what the Quakers call “that of God in every man”. Ultimately it is only through this self and through our environment that the peace we seek will be found.
This belief in the profound effects of environment is echoed by Dag Hammarskjold’s view that it “seems imperative to push forward institutionally and, eventually, constitutionally all along the line guided by current needs and experiences, without preconceived ideas of the ultimate form”. By this I understand him to mean that only by cooperating together through international agencies can the nations create the constitutional means for creating the international authority we seek. This idea seems to be borne out by the experience of the Common Market countries and other countries with close federal associations. Yet we lack an understanding of why and how such cooperation leads to the ends we desire. Probably one reason is that individuals, and communities, need a loyalty to their immediate family, and through that family to the community of which that family is part. No man and no nation is an island. We all need to feel wanted by others and to do work which is both creative and of value, and we know from psychology that if these instincts are denied or suppressed, aggression is very probable. This need to feel wanted and to be creative needs to be related to discover the structure within which it can flourish. Evil and aggression can be overcome by understanding and cooperating with Natural Law and that of God within man. This cooperation can be established if we organize and create a favourable structure governing relationships between groups and nations. This means power itself needs decentralizing to the local level because only then can it be prevented from getting out of control. For instance, we may learn that the long period of peace under Pax Romana owed much to the fact that the Romans believed intensely in the healthiness of a local, really local loyalty, while at the same time they extended the privileges of Roman citizenship to all free men in the empire.
Fortunately, I see considerable hope for the future, as well as dangers, because in many respects the world is moving in the right direction. It should be the responsibility of peace workers to understand this direction and encourage it. So far, the movement is a very faltering one, and often the right action is taken for the wrong reason. I see the world moving in the right direction because more and more countries are becoming independent, and regional administration - at least in England - is seriously being discussed. Even in Russia the long-term aim is to decentralize and give more local autonomy. This trend throughout the world towards decentralization of power can be justified on economic grounds and needs encouraging. A further sign I find hopeful is the manner in which nations are slowly learning to cooperate. Again this is largely because it is economic common sense to do so.
Arising from this cooperation there are powerful unseen forces which statesmen have to respect. Unfortunately the reverse is often the case, and we find that those who are supposed to be in power are helpless to prevent a trend going in the wrong direction. Cooperation between the nations on the other hand can give rise to favourable forces, because when there is cooperation, it becomes increasingly difficult to hurt others without hurting oneself even more. This cooperation, together with appreciation of values and the assimilation of facts relating to history and social affairs, combines to create a favourable climate of world opinion. For example, this climate of world opinion is responsible for aid to undeveloped lands. There is probably also a realization that the well-being of the wealthy nations depends to some extent on the well-being of all nations and, as a result, aid is being given. It is not yet being given in the right manner, through bilateral agreements instead of through the U.N., but at least the will to help is there. What is not seen clearly is the manner in which the above hopeful indications lead to the increasing of the authority of the U.N. This increased authority is being found in many of the above ways, and their existence can be proved by the manner in which statesmen today are being forced to respect world opinion, which only a few years ago they would have ignored. At least nations today consider the effect of their actions on world opinion and attempt, where possible, to avoid coming into conflict with it. We need to increase this natural trend.
I have mentioned above the need for much more research, yet one of the saddest facts of modern life is that, as science has progressed, it has inevitably led to specialization, leading to the separation of one science from another, with the result that it has become increasingly difficult to see the problem as a whole. This need to see the problem as a whole is particularly important in peace work. It may help us to understand this fact better if we think of war as a disease and instead of attempting to suppress the germ which causes the disease, we concentrate more on discovering the means which enable the healthy body to overcome it in a natural manner. With disease, in nearly all forms of life, we notice that when the germ or bacteria causing the disease is suppressed, amazing results are often obtained and health restored. Yet, because nature works slowly, and because the laws of nature are not always observed or understood, nature has an awkward way of recoiling, and what is thought of as success turns out to be failure. Nature has laws which we can ignore, or flout, only at our peril. We can cooperate with nature and remarkable results can be achieved, as any scientist will recognise, but we can only fight against nature for a short-term advantage. For instance, there is a distinct danger now that we may be upsetting the whole balance of nature through the apparently harmless DDT and other similar poisons. Fortunately, in England, some of these have recently been banned, but not before considerable losses have been noted in wild life. A similar recoil by nature is happening in Rhodesia where the Tsetse fly is reappearing in vast numbers after having gained immunity to a particular poison. Radiation is a further hazard both to plant and animal life. Nature, it seems, will always have the last word. Let us hope that in all fields of life, human, animal or plant, there will be a further awakening to the need to study this ecology of life before it is too late. The dangers are gradually being recognised, but because of man’s belief in his superior intellect, he tends to fall into the error of assuming that he, and
he alone, can suppress and kill the disease. Mankind has still to discover his humility before God, the author of nature, and to recognise that although we can perform wonders with His cooperation, we can only court disaster by ignoring it. This surely is a principle which affects all aspects of life and is one that was followed by Gandhi when he fasted and dieted. If this is so, then we should always be striving to create the conditions of health so that the body itself can overcome the disease. The same emphasis on health should apply also to the disease of war. Only by creating a healthy society and world order can war be eliminated.
This problem of health can be shown clearly if we consider the needs of plants. We know the importance of combining the right proportions of warmth, water supply, soil conditions, food and so on. If any one of these is inadequate, or in too abundant supply, disease is inevitable. Fortunately, nature allows a large measure of error, and there is more than one way of growing a healthy plant, but no one would expect to grow a water-loving plant on dry sandy soil without applying plenty of water, or a crop of corn on a badly drained field. It is essential to understand the conditions required by the plant’s whole environment for success. In the same way, peace comprises many parts, and if it is to be attained it will demand the resources of the peace worker being devoted to every aspect of living. This is why I think many disciplines are needed to cooperate to discover these natural ways of overcoming the disease of war.
The problem of health can also be demonstrated in many other fields, and recent developments in mental health and delinquency can be used to illustrate this. No longer do we chain people in asylums and place them in conditions which can only lead to their becoming worse. Progressive thought dealing with delinquency shows the need for discipline, but a discipline arising from concern for the personality of the delinquent.
The short length of this essay prevents me from making a detailed examination of these examples, but one example I must briefly mention, and this concerns the need by people for law, order and justice. In many instances of delinquency, if not all, love has either been absent or expressed in such a manner so to be only harmful. Love, if it is to be real love, needs to give a feeling of security together with an opportunity for adventure. Above all, however, there must be order and the recognition that only within a framework of order can real love be possible. Love requires more than compassion, forgiveness and all the other virtues normally associated with the word love. It demands, as Gandhi always insisted, a search for truth, or as Grotius put it, a search for right reason. Only when we have found this knowledge can we love effectively. Truth when it is found contains within itself a force which demands respect. Similarly, in international affairs, only when we know how to cultivate the soil of international relationships, to understand its structure and organization for instance, not forgetting to understand the importance of the personality both of the individual and the group of which the individual is a part, only then will the true nonviolent international authority we seek be found. The scope before us is tremendous and one would have thought that in view of the urgency, all our resources would have been devoted to this end. Delinquency between individuals or between nations demands that we understand more fully the causes, so that we can either prevent its outbreak, or if this proves impossible, through lack of understanding, or inadequate application of that understanding, take adequate steps to deal with it when it occurs.
Along what lines then, do I think we should travel? What in, practical terms, does all the above imply? In attempting to provide the answer to these questions it is impossible to separate social welfare from international welfare, and I find we have to discover the means of organizing societies so as to enable the individual and the nation to find a place in the world, where above all else his self-respect can be retained. There must be the opportunity for peoples and nations to feel wanted to be part of the community, or of the community of nations. Individuals and nations must have the opportunity to express themselves constructively either in their day-to-day work, or in their strivings to assist the well-being of the world as a whole. There must be freedom for individualism and this demands that peoples and nations are not only brought together, but also kept apart. Only by keeping them apart can cooperation flourish. This explains why so many idealistic communities have failed. They have not failed because their ideals of brotherhood and holding all things in common have been wrong. They have failed, I suggest, because people, being human, cannot help but have weaknesses which annoy others. Families, for instance, when they grow up and marry, need to leave home and bring up their children in their own way. To demand that they remain together is asking too much of human nature. On the other hand, this does not mean that they cannot cooperate where it is to their mutual advantage to do so.
This need to cooperate based on reverence for personality, provides us, I believe, with the key to a non-violent authority based on natural forces. By the very fact of cooperating we bring into being certain agreed procedures with which all must comply for the common good. We are still far from knowing the form this cooperation should take, but there are many hopeful and interesting examples from which we can learn. There are more of these in agriculture than in industry, but even in an industrial country such as England, it is being discovered that from a purely economic point of view, it is important to create small units within the framework of overall planning. Such is the case with several large industrial firms such as ICI, while the political parties are all discovering the need for regional planning. All agree on the need for a central cooperating authority, although apart from the Liberals they have not gone so far as to advocate reversing the source of power from the top, i.e. to give those whose work is involved the means of controlling their own destiny. But such examples, even in industry, can be found.
Examples in agriculture or in rural areas seem to be more common and there are cooperatives in many parts of the world. These are usually formed by a number of farmers agreeing to buy and sell through one organisation. Such cooperation in Denmark has been organized to embrace most of the economic life of the country. In Denmark each small cooperative joins with neighbouring cooperatives, when some particular need arises with which the small local cooperative by itself is unable to cope. This may involve the employment of an architect to advise on the design of buildings, or an advisory officer, or the establishment of experimental stations. Other forms of cooperation are to be found in many parts of the world, and it is noteworthy that not only do the cooperatives assist in high productivity (probably because of the personal direct interest in the work) but they are also the means for reconciling age-old disputes, as is the case in Ireland where Catholics and Protestants are sinking their differences for their mutual gain.
I have given the above illustrations because I believe it is only by following similar paths that the nations of the world can find an authority which is not tyrannical, but based on natural, law as I have indicated, under which the self-respect of nations can be preserved. Authority must be accepted willingly and because it is based on justice.
U. N. on a new path
Fortunately we already have many examples showing how this authority can be attained. In America, for instance, all the States cooperate under one government, yet each state retains much of its individuality. In Switzerland this idea seems to be even more pronounced, enabling many diverse and conflicting nationalities to live in peace. The Common Market extends this idea into a much larger bloc. But what is needed is not the creation of several large power blocs, with the inevitable likelihood of conflict between them, but of one world cooperative from which would arise the creation of a new world order and authority. At present we have world anarchy and it is strange that those who decry anarchy most in their own country, often seem the most active in supporting anarchy in world affairs. In this nuclear age, nations will have to learn that they can no longer remain a law unto themselves.
In this situation, the United Nations is struggling. The path it is taking is dark and uncertain, and there seems little real understanding by the people of the world about where it is going. Yet if we follow the reasoning I have attempted, then it appears to be going along in a very hopeful direction. Already it is discovering that police action is best served with a minimum of violence and that its influence really depends on the respect with which it is earned through service. The U.N., of course, is very much in its infancy, but it is an infant which has got to grow quickly to meet the needs and demands of the twentieth century. This being so, it is of the utmost importance for us to understand its basis more fully and to influence it in the right manner whenever we can.
Considerable influence is already being used to encourage positive creative acts of international cooperation. People from all walks of life, for instance, cooperated in World Refugee Year and World Development Year. Governments are increasing their help to many parts of the world, often to prevent communism or capitalism spreading, and making bilateral agreements. Such aid is misdirected because, although it may help the purpose for which it is aimed, it will fail to promote the creation of the new world order. The present trend, however, is to appreciate this fact, and the U.N. Agencies do appear to be gaining more and more recognition.
It would be easy to say that the answer can be found quite simply by redirecting the resources away from armaments towards the strengthening of these U.N. Agencies, but as we know to our cost, the obvious is prevented by many factors. The chief of these can be found in the fact that until confidence is established between nations, and there are other means available to prevent aggression, their peoples will feel they must continue to rely on their own physical defences. This dilemma can be well illustrated by the advice George Fox (the founder of Quakerism) gave to William Penn when he was asked what he should do with his sword. Instead of advising him to throw it away, he told him to keep it as long as he was able. In other words, until he had discovered a better way of solving disputes he would be advised to keep it. Similarly for the nations to disarm today without understanding an alternative way, instead of creating peace might even provoke war. Fortunately this better way is well within our grasp. The potentialities of the U.N. are very considerable and far beyond the imagination of us all. To enumerate them would be a long task and would require the assistance of many technical experts but we know enough to realize that such means of cooperation command all our support and resources. Once people learn to appreciate these potentialities and understand how they build the foundations for law and order between nations, we may hope that they will throw away their swords.
The above search for a nonviolent world authority has by its very nature involved discovering truth in many aspects, all leading to the creation of law based on natural forces.
I have compared war to disease and found that the problems which stimulate war, such as aggression, injustice and security, can be overcome without resort to violence.
This overcoming of the disease which makes for war demands new forces in the world, and I have attempted to show how these can be created through education, cooperation and service; also by discovering a new structure within which power can be contained.
It is no longer sufficient for men of goodwill, only to help each other. It is vitally necessary to create a world in which there is law and order based on justice and freedom, and consequently our most urgent task is to learn how we can realize this aim, but in a nonviolent manner, based on discovering the forces of nature expressed by Gandhi as truth-force.