From the central hall of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi to a statue at Union Square Park in New York, and across far flung corners of the world, M. K. Gandhi is loved and celebrated as an apostle of non-violence. Yet it is Gandhi’s little-known work on what it means to be truly civilized that might be far more crucial to the future of our species.
The multiple global crises – social inequity, financial turmoil and ecological
imbalance – have made it imperative to revisit and pay close attention to
Gandhi’s radical but more sustainable civilizational vision. Within India, both
the economy and polity are in a state of distress. More than six decades after
independence, India remains at the bottom of the United Nations’ Human
Development Index. Twenty years of economic liberalisation have expanded the
size of India’s middle class, but not raised the standard of living for the
overwhelming majority of Indians. Globally, people are slowly acknowledging that
the global financial system is fundamentally flawed and not just going through a
cyclical low. We are also more sceptical now about the ability of the prevailing
market culture to ensure even basic well-being for the seven billion people who
inhabit the earth. At the same time, the human economy and nature’s eco-systems
appear to be critically out of sync. Despite an increasing urgency for
trans-national cooperation, there are persistent fears about a clash of
civilizations – primarily between the West and the Islamic world, but also
within multi-ethnic societies in large parts of the contemporary world.
This paper explores how the Mahatma’s civilizational vision can serve as a new
lens to understand contemporary global crises – identity-based conflicts, the
failed promise of universal prosperity and the threat of ecological collapse.
What we have here are not ready solutions but a framework which might help us to