Satyagraha and fanaticism of the “open” kind, Tolerance. Tony Milligan, Author. ” Civil Disobedience: Protest, Justification and the Law.” 2013.


It is tempting to say that for satyagraha to occur, only the leadership and the specially trained satyagrahis were required by Gandhi to take steps towards the transformation of anger into love. But while love on the part of satyagrahis might be used to disarm and to help persuade political opponents by appealing to what is best in them, Gandhi made it clear that satyagraha, understood as the force of love or soul force, involved more than persuasion. It was not mere supplicatoin, not even polite supplication. “It is not a matter carrying conviction by argument. The matter resolves itself into one of matching forces.” Forces cannot be reduced to communication although an element of the latter might still be involved. Rather, satyagraha was supposed to cooperate with what was best in opponents in order to coerce what was worst. Effort was involved: “When love is bestowed on the so-called enemy, it is tested, it becomes a virture and requires an effort, and hence is an act of manliness and real bravery.” Here we may be uneasy about Gandhi’s echoing of Thoreau on the subject of manliness. Beyond being forceful and manly, satyagraha was nonetheless still civil in a variety of senses and for Gandhi this did mean that it had to be public: “Disobedience to be civil has to be open and non-violent.” Similarly, in another passage which speaks of civility: “The law-breaker breaks the law surreptitiously and tries to avoid the penalty; not so the civil resister.” This insistence upon open and the appeal to the good inside the immediately confronted political opponent, differs significantly from the more on-directional and not necessarily requited appeal. For Gandhi, something in political opponents had to answer to civility and love. This made the sacrifice of the satyagrahi, even the sacrifice of life, worthwhile. “He disobeys the ruler’s orders and his laws in a civil manner and willingly submits to the penalties of such disobedience, for instance imprisonment and gallows.” Stripped of a certain romantic appeal, this looks suspiciously like a conflation of political responsibility and fantaticsm. It is tempting when faced with passages like this to wonder if Gandhi was occasionally carried away by winged words. But it is difficulty to overlook the fact that many activists were killed duing the agitation for independence, even at the culmination of the otherwise peaceful Salt March, when suppporters were brutally clubbed and did not respond in anger. There was a match between the political rhetoric and real danger. Such a conceptionof the task that faced the truest of satyagrahis is also presupposed demandingness to the point of sacrificial leadership, a model which (again) is by no means alien to Christian modes of political thought. Perhaps we may be inclined to say that, even with its fanatical overtones, this was the right conception of protest for the time and for the circumstances in question. Perhaps we may even say that disparate mass movements, with all sorts of internal tensions and a varying record of success were, on several occasions during the twentieth century, united to an unusual degree by figures who, like Gandhi, appeared to stand head and shoulders above the fray while often,in point of fact, being prepared to take a stand on factional disputes. Here, I am thinking also of Martin Luther King and closer to our own time, Nelson Mandela. Their authority has stretched far beyond anything that is customarily associated with political leadership. It is the authority of political figures who are not to be regarded as mere politicians. Individuals of this standing who are not to be regarded as mere politicians. Individuals of this standing are often expected to comment in a deep way upon the human condition in addition to providing notes about political strategy. As an instance of such a politicized moral and spiritual leader, Gandhi may have denied any claims of personal sainthood, but his conception of the satyagrahi, at least on the strongest formulations of the later, was not so much an ordinary activist ideal but a model for saintly leadership, one that may perhaps occasionally be embodied by very few which may inspire but is nonetheless unlike to match up well with the more mixed psychological makeup of ground- level political activism.

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