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PHILOSOPHY > THE MIND OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Essence of Democracy

 

Essence Of Democracy

The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires change of the heart….. [It] requires the inculcation of the spirit of brotherhood.... (YI, 8-12-1920, p. 3)


Democracy must in essence … mean the art and science of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources of all the various sections of the people in the service of the common good of all.
(H, 27-5-1939, p. 143)

Discipline
The highest form of freedom carries with it the greatest measure of discipline and humility. Freedom that comes from discipline and humility cannot be denied; unbridled license is a sign of vulgarity injurious alike to self and one’s neighbours. (YI, 3-6-1926, p. 203)


Democracy disciplined and enlightened is the finest thing in the world. A democracy prejudiced, ignorant, superstitious, will land itself in chaos and may be self-destroyed. (YI, 30-7-1931, p. 199)

Responsibility Of Individual
In true democracy every man and woman is taught to think for himself or herself. How this real revolution can be brought about I do not know except that every reform, like charity must begin at home.
(H, 14-7-1946, p. 220)


In democracy, the individual will is government and limited by the social will which is the State, which is government by and for democracy. If every individual takes the law into his own hands, there is no State. it becomes anarchy, i.e., absence of social law or State, that way lies destruction of liberty. Therefore, you should subdue your anger and let the State secure justice. (H, 28-9-1947, p. 350)

The Test
The truest test of democracy is in the ability of anyone to act as he likes, so long as he does not injure the life or property of anyone else. It is impossible to control public morals by hooliganism.
(YI, 1-8-1920, p. 4)


A born democrat is a born disciplinarian. Democracy comes naturally to him who is habituated normally to yield willing obedience to all laws, human or divine…. Let those who are ambitious to serve democracy qualify themselves by satisfying first this acid test of democracy. More over, a democrat must be utterly selfless. He must think and dream not in terms of self or party but only of democracy. Only then does he acquire the right of civil disobedience.
I do not want anybody to give up his convictions or to suppress himself. I do not believe that a healthy and honest difference of opinion will injure our cause. But opportunism, camouflage or patched-up compromises certainly will. If you must dissent, you should take care that your opinion voice your innermost convictions and are not intended merely as a convenient party cry. (H, 27-5-1939, p. 136)


Democracy will break under the strain of apron strings. It can exist only on trust. (H, 16-11-1947, p. 409)


Capital exploits the labour of a few to multiply itself. The sum total of the labour of the cores, wisely realized, automatically increases the wealth of the cores, therein lies true democracy, true Panchayat Raj. (H, 28-12-1947, p. 488)

Representation In Democracy
I hold it to be an utter delusion to believe that a large number of delegates is in any way a help to the better conduct of business, or that it safeguards the principle of democracy. Fifteen hundred delegates, jealous of the interests of the people, broad-minded and truthful, would any day be a better safeguard for democracy for democracy than six thousand irresponsible men chosen anyhow. To safeguard democracy the people must have a keen sense of independence, self-respect and their oneness, and should insist on choosing as their representatives only such persons as are good and true. (A, p. 369)


True democracy is not inconsistent with a few persons representing the spirit, the hope and the aspirations of those whom they claim to represent. I hold that democracy cannot be evolved by forcible methods. The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.
(BC, 18-9-1934)


The very essence of democracy is that every person represents all the varied interests which compose the nation. It is true that it does not exclude and should not exclude special representation of special interests, but such representation is not its test. It is a sign of its imperfection. (H, 22-4-1939, p. 99)


In the true democracy of India the unit is the village, …. True democracy cannot be worked by twenty men sitting at the centre. It has to be worked from below by the people of every village.
(H, 18-1-1948, p. 519)


Surely, timidity has no place in democracy, where people in general believe in and want a particular thing. Their representatives have but to give shape to their demand and make it feasible. A favorable mental attitude of the multitude has been found to go a long way in winning battles. (ibid, p. 518)

The People

The voice of the people may be said to be God's voice, the voice of the Panchayat. But how can there be the voice of God where the people themselves are the exploiters…? Ii the voice of the people is the voice of God, they will be above party. His scales will be ever evenly weighted with truth and non-violence.
(H, 29-9-1946, p. 332)


I have repeated times without number that, for national work, it is not necessary that national workers should have political power. But it is necessary for the people to deep in constant touch with those whom they put in power. These can easily be counted. They are too few. But if the people were to realize their power and use it wisely and well, things would right themselves. (H, 14-9-1947, p. 321)


People in a democracy should be satisfied with drawing the Government's attention to mistakes, if any. They could remove the Government if they wished to. But they should not obstruct them by agitating against them. Ours is not a foreign Government having a mighty army and navy to support them. They have to derive their strength from the people. (H, 26-10-1947, p. 382)


In democracy the people's will must rule…. (H, 14-12-1947, p. 471)


If the majority of the people are selfish and untrust-worthy, how can democracy, Panchayat Raj, work? (H, 28-12-1947, p. 486)

Majority And Minority
In matters of conscience the law of majority has no place. (YI, 4-8-1920, p. 4)


Let us not push the mandate theory to ridiculous extremes and become slaves to resolutions of majorities. That would be a revival to brute force in a more virulent form. If rights of minorities are to be respected, the majority must tolerate and respect their opinion and action….. It will be the duty of the majority to see to it that the minorities receive a proper hearing and are not otherwise exposed to insults.
(YI, 8-12-1921, p. 403)


Claiming the right of free opinion and free action as we do, we must extend the same to others. The rule of majority, when it becomes coercive, is as intolerable as that of a bureaucratic minority. We must patiently try to bring round the minority to our view by gentle persuasion and argument.
(YI, 26-1-1922, p. 54)


The rule of majority has a narrow application, i.e., one should yield to the majority in matters of detail. But it is slavery to be amenable to the majority, no matter what its decisions are…. Democracy is not a state in which people act like sheep. Under democracy, individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded. I, therefore, believe that the minority has a perfect right to act differently from the majority.
(YI, 2-3-1922, p. 129)


A living faith cannot be manufactured by the rule of majority. (YI, 16-3-1922, p. 161)

Intolerance
If we want to cultivate a true spirit of democracy, we cannot afford to be intolerant. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one's cause. (YI, 2-2-1921, p. 33)


I have repeatedly observed that no school of thought can claim a monopoly of right judgment. We are all liable to err and are often obliged to revise our judgments. In a vast country like this, there must be room for all schools of honest thought. And the least, therefore, that we owe to ourselves as to others is to try to understand the opponent's view-point and, if we cannot accept it, respect it as fully as we expect him to respect ours. Its is one of the indispensable tests of a healthy public life and, therefore fitness for Swaraj.
If we have no charity, and no tolerance, we shall never settle our differences amicably and must, therefore, always submit to the arbitration of a third party, i.e., to foreign domination.
(YI, 17-4-1924, p. 130)


Intolerance, discourtesy and harshness..... are taboo in all good society and are surely contrary to the spirit of democracy. (H, 14-8-1937, p. 209)


Evolution of democracy is not possible if we are not prepared to hear the other side. We shut the doors of reason when we refuse to listen to our opponents or, having listened, make fun of them. If intolerance becomes a habit, we run the risk of mission the truth. Whilst with the limits that nature has put upon our understanding, we must act fearlessly according to the light vouchsafed to us, we must always keep an open mind and be ever ready to find that what we believed to be truth was, after all, untruth. This openness of mind strengthens the truth in us and removes the cross from it if there is any.
(H, 31-5-1942, p. 172)

Quality, Not Quantity
I attach the highest importance to quality irrespective almost of quantity…. In the midst of suspicion, discord, antagonistic interests, superstition, fear, distrust and the like, there is not only no safety in numbers but there may be even danger in them. … Numbers become irresistible when they act as one man under exact discipline. They are a self-destroying force when each pulls his own way or when no one knows which way to pull. (YI, 30-4-1925, p. 152)


I would only ask a candidate, 'How much of a man or woman you are? Have you got the ability to rise to the occasion'? Provided her or she passes these tests, I would select first the one who belongs to the least numerical section. I would thus give preference to all minorities along just lines, consistent with the welfare of India…. Welfare of India means welfare or India as a whole, not of Hindus and Mussalmans or of a particular community. (YI, 13-8-1925, p. 278)


I ask you not to be cowed down by the thought of a small minority. It is sometimes a privilege. I have so often said that I would love to be in the minority of one, because this artificial majority, which is the result of the masses, reverence for me, is a clog in my progress. But for the clog I would hurl defiance…..
(ibid, p. 279)


My implicit faith in non-violence does mean yielding to minorities when they are really weak. The best way to weaken communities is to yield to them. Resistance will only rouse their suspicion and strengthen their opposition. (YI, 2-7-1931, p. 162)

Public Opinion
Public opinion alone can keep a society pure and healthy. (YI, 1-12-1920, p. 4)


A popular State can never act in advance of public opinion. If it goes against it, it will be destroyed.
(H, 30-7-1931, p. 199)


Healthy, well-informed and balanced criticism is the ozone of public life. (H, 13-11-1937, p. 332)


Democracy can only represent the average, if not less than the average. Therefore, a democratic institution to be pure has to attend to the all-round education of the humblest and the lowest. It must take in its sweep all superstition and social abuse. In such a society there will be no Christian and non-Christian; there will be no distinction of sex. (H, 5-5-1946, p. 24)


What is really needed to make democracy function is not knowledge of facts but right education.
(H, 29-9-1946, p. 334)


Healthy public opinion has an influence of which we have not realized the full significance…. Public opinion becomes intolerable when it becomes violent and aggressive. (YI, 7-5-1931, p. 103)


The only force at the disposal of democracy is that of public opinion. Satyagraha, civil disobedience and fasts have nothing in common with the use of force, veiled or open. But even these have restricted use in democracy. (H, 7-9-1947, p. 316)

Legislation
Legislation in advance of public opinion is often worse than useless. Non-co-operation is the quickest method of creating public opinion. (YI, 29-9-1921, p. 208)


Democracy demands patient instruction on it before legislation. (H, 16-6-1946, p. 181)

Political Work
….. I felt compelled to come into the political field because I found that I could not do even social work without touching politics. I feel that political work must be looked upon in terms of social and moral progress. In democracy no part of life is untouched by politics. (H, 6-10-1946, p. 341)

Nature Of Power

Possession of power makes men blind and deaf, they cannot see things which are under their very nose and cannot hear things which invade their ears. There is thus no knowing what power-intoxicated government may not do. So...patriotic men ought to be prepared for death, imprisonment and similar eventualities. (YI, 13-10-1921, p. 327)


Power that comes from service faithfully rendered ennobles. Power that is sought in the name of service and can only be obtained by a majority of votes is a delusion and a snare to be avoided…….
(YI, 11-9-1924, p. 301)


Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by arts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment. (YI, 8-1-1925, p. 15)


To me political power is not an end but one of the means of enabling people to better their condition in every department of life. Political power means capacity to regulate national life through national representatives. If national life becomes so perfect as to become self-regulated, no representation becomes necessary. There is then a state of enlightened anarchy. In such a state every one is this own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbour. In the ideal state, therefore, there is no political power because there is no state. but the ideal is never fully realized in life. Hence the classical statement of Thoreau that that government is best which governs the least.
(YI, 2-1-1937, p. 162)


Whilst power, superimposed, always needs the help of police ad military, power generated from within should have little or no use for them. (H, 4-9-1937, p. 233)


Democracy is an impossible thing until the power is shared by all, but let not democracy degenerate into mobocracy. Even a pariah, a labourer, who makes it possible for you to earn you living, will have his share in self-government. But you will have to touch their lives, go to them, see their hovels where they live packed like sardines. It is up to you to look after this part of humanity. It is possible for you to make their lives or mar their lives. (YI, 1-12-1927, p. 404)


There is no human institution but has its dangers. The greater the institution the greater the chances of abuse. Democracy is a great institution and, therefore, it is liable to be greatly abused. The remedy, therefore, is not avoidance of democracy, but reduction of possibility of abuse to a minimum.
(YI, 7-5-1931, p. 99)


… When people come into possession of political power, the interference with the freedom of the people is reduced to a minimum. In other words, a nation that runs its affairs smoothly and effectively without such State interference is truly democratic. Where such a condition is absent, the form of government is democratic in name. (H, 11-1-1936, p. 380)

Dictatorship
The rule of one man over many is intolerable. It must end. "How" is the question. The way is for the many to begin to live. To cut off the head of one ruler is easy enough. Remember the legend of Ravana. He had ten heads. As soon as one was cut off, another popped up in its place. The moral is that no cutting off heads becomes necessary in the presence of a living demos. (H, 6-10-1946, p. 341)


Government of the people, by the people and for the people cannot be conducted at the bidding of one man, however great he may be. (H, 14-9-1947, p. 320)


Personally, I do not mind Government fury as I mind mob fury. The latter is a sign of national distemper and, therefore, more difficult to deal with than the former which is confined to a small corporation. It is easier to oust a Government that has rendered itself unfit to govern than it is to cure unknown people in a mob of their madness. (YI, 28-7-1920, p. 3)

Mobocracy
… Nothing is so easy as to train mobs, for the simple reason that they have no mind, no premeditation. They act in a frenzy. They repent quickly…. Non-co-operation I am using in order to evolve democracy. (YI, 8-9-1920, p.5)


… We must train these masses o men who have a heart of gold, who feel for the country, who want to b taught and led. But a few intelligent, sincere, local workers are needed, and the whole nation can be evolved out of mobocracy. (YI, 22-9-1920, p. 3)


A democratic organization has to dare to do the right at all cost. He who panders to the weaknesses of a people degrades both himself and the people, and leads them not to democratic but mob rule. The line of demarcation between democracy and mobocracy is often thin, but rigid and stronger than steel unbreakable.
The one leads to life and progress, the other is death pure and simple. In the ultimate analysis, the cause of our fall is to be sought from within, and not from without. All the empires of the world could not have bent us, if as a people, we have been above suspicion and temptation. This may not be regarded as a mere truism. If we recognize the fundamental facts, we would be true and patient and able to deal with whatever difficulty that may face us whether from within or without. (H, 31-3-1946, p. 66)

Militarism
…Democracy and dependence on the military and the police are incompatible. You cannot say it is good in one place and bad in another. Military help will degrade you. In a democracy, if the electorate sets up a hooligan as the head of the Government, they then lie in the bed they have made or else convert the electorate through Satyagraha if necessary. That is democracy. (H, 12-1-1947, pp. 488-9)


Democracy and the military spirit I hold to be a contradiction in terms. A democrat relies upon the force not of the arms his State can flaunt in the face of the world, but on the moral force his state can put at the disposal of the world. (H, 13-7-1947, p. 233)


The spirit of democracy cannot be established in the midst of terrorism, whether governmental or popular. In some respects popular terrorism is more antagonistic to the growth of the democratic spirit than the governmental. For the latter strengthens the spirit of democracy, whereas the former kills it.
(YI, 23-2-1921, p. 59)

Democracy And Nonviolence
Democracy and violence can ill go together. The states that are today nominally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or, if they are to become truly democratic, they must become courageously non-violent. It is a blasphemy to say that non-violence can only be practiced by individuals and never by nations which are composed of individuals. (H, 12-11-1938, p. 328)


The true democrat is he who with purely non-violent means defends his liberty and, therefore, his country's and ultimately that of the whole of mankind. (H, 15-4-1939, p. 90)


True democracy or the Swaraj of the masses can never come through untruthful and violent means, for the simple reason that the natural corollary to their use would be to remove all opposition through the suppression or extermination of the antagonists. That does not make for individual freedom. Individual freedom can have the fullest play only under a regime of unadulterated AHIMSA. (H, 27-5-1939, p. 143)


My nation of democracy is that under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest. That can never happen except through non-violence. No country in the world today shows any but patronizing regard for the weak.…. Western democracy, as it functions today, is diluted Nazism or Fascism. At best it is merely a cloak to hide the Nazi and the Fascist tendencies of imperialism…...
(H, 18-5-1940, p. 129)


I believe that true democracy can only be an outcome of non-violence. (GCG, 1942-44, p. 143)


….. No perfect democracy is possible without perfect non-violence at the back of it. (H, 2-3-1947, p. 44)

Democracy: East And West
Western democracy is on its trial, if it has not already proved a failure. May it not be reserved to India to evolve the true science of democracy by giving a visible demonstration of its fitness? Corruption and hypocrisy ought not to be inevitable products of democracy as they undoubtedly are today; nor bulk a true test of democracy. (Press Statement, 17-9-1934)


Democracy of the West is, in my opinion, only so-called. It has germs in it, certainly, of the true type. But it can only come when all violence is eschewed and malpractices disappear. The two go hand in hand. Indeed, malpractice is a species of violence. If India is to evolve the true type, there should be no compromise with violence or untruth. (H, 3-9-1938, p. 24)


India is tying to evolve true democracy, i.e., without violence. Our weapons are those of Satyagraha expressed through the Charkha, the village industries, removal of untouchability, communal harmony, prohibition and non-violent organization of labour as in Ahmedabad. These mean mass effort and mass education. We have big agencies for conducting these activities. They are purely voluntary and their only sanction is service of the lowliest. (H, 18-5-1940, p.129)