Butchers go free: Gandhi and the French Revolt of 18th Century. Not.


MK Gandhi

MK Gandhi v. the French Revolution.

Robespierre’s directorship is a locus classicus of governmental use of terror ostensibly in the public interest. Gandhi doubted the benefit; he said, in 1909: “There is a forceful book by Carlyle on the French Revolution. I realized after reading it that it is not from the white nations that India can learn the way out of her present degradation. It is my belief that the French people have gained nothing of value through the Revolution.” —And, in 1920 (in a passage just after another allusion to the French Revolution):“[O]rder established by a tyrant in order to get hold of the tyrannical reigns of Government… is no order for me but it is disorder. I want to evolve justice out of this injustice.” —And, in 1942:“I believe that in the history of the world there has not been a more genuinely democratic struggle for freedom than ours in colonial India. I read Carlyle’s History of the French Revolution while I was in prison, and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has told me something about the Russian revolution. But it is my conviction that in as much as these struggles were fought with the weapon of violence they failed to realize the democratic ideal.  In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today.”  Here the phrase “everybody… his own master” is a call to self-discipline among the citizens of free India. Only such inner moral strength, so widespread as to be culturally predominant, could compensate adequately for the absence of tyrannical or quasi-tyrannical authority imposed by Government.  When Gandhi felt outraged (which was often the case) he normally did not express it directly as outspoken rage, but instead took up certain forms of vigorous dialogue, political activism and constructive work. It seems to me that Mao’s concept of political common sense:“We cannot love our enemies. We cannot love the ugly things in society; our goal is to wipe out such things;  that is human common sense” is gradually being superseded in some quarters by Gandhi’s common-sense view that win-win solutions to social conflicts are better than win-lose. I don’t mean that a nonviolent approach to socially pathological people willing to devour other people (in one way and another) is so problem-free as to be a simple panacea. It was, in Gandhi’s opinion, a necessary but insufficient precept of effective liberation. This can be a mere platitude but I would suggest that it is better than a likewise simple precept of “beating dogs in the water.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.