What constitutes civil authority according to MK Gandhi? At the root of Satya and Ahimsa or love. 

theheresyoforthodoxyTruth, peace, righteousness and nonviolence, Satya, Shanti, Dharma and Ahimsa, do not exist separately.  They are all essentially dependent on love. When love enters the thoughts it becomes truth. When it manifests itself in the form of action it becomes truth. When Love manifests itself in the form of action it becomes Dharma or righteousness. When your feelings become saturated with love you become peace itself. When you fill your understanding with love it is Ahimsa. Practicing love is Dharma, thinking of love is Satya, feeling love is Shanti,and understanding love is Ahimsa. For all these values it is love which flows as the undercurrent.  The world rests upon the bedrock of satya or truth; asatya meaning untruth also means “nonexistent” and satya or truth, means that which is of untruth does not so much exist. Its victory is out of the question. And truth being “that which is” can never be destroyed. This is the doctrine of Satyagraha in a nutshell. Ahimsa: In Gandhi’s Satyagraha, truth is inseparable from Ahimsa.  Ahimsa expresses as ancient Hindu, Jain and Buddhist ethical precept. The negative prefix ‘a’ plus himsa meaning injury make up the world normally translated ‘nonviolence’.  The term Ahimsa appears in Hindu teachings as early as the Upanishads. The Jain Religion constitutes Ahimsa as the first vow.  It is a cardinal virtue in Buddhism. Despite its being rooted in these religions, the special contribution of Gandhi was to make the concept of Ahimsa meaningful in the social and political spheres by moulding tools for nonviolent action to use as a positive force in the search for social and political truths.  Gandhi formed Ahimsa into the active social technique, which was to challenge political authorities and religious orthodoxy.

Nava Durga, Goddess Durga, Odissi by Revital Carroll. Made New.

George Clemenceau 1929. Teacher, architect and benefactor of the first world war.

Incarnant par le verbe et l’action un idéal politique fondé sur laclemenceau1 conception intransigeante qu’il avait de l’intérêt général, Georges Clemenceau fut l’une des grandes figures de la IIIe République. « Il y a en moi un mélange d’anarchiste et de conservateur dans des proportions qui restent à déterminer. » La vie de Clemenceau illustre assez bien ce jugement de l’homme d’État sur lui-même. Au terme d’une carrière politique qui a marqué un demi-siècle, c’est lui qui mena la France à la victoire en 1918.

A man known to his own people as “the Tiger” for his ferociously brilliant political writing, Georges Clemenceau did as much as anyone to weaken the Fourteen Points that Woodrow Wilson brought to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Clemenceau saw Wilson as too idealistic. As French Premier, Clemenceau had acted as minister of war in his own cabinet, pushing the war vigorously until the Allies achieved victory over Germany. As leader of the French delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, he insisted on Germany’s disarmament.

Named mayor of Montmartre in Paris after the 1870 overthrow of Napoleon III, Clemenceau was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1876. Touched by a scandal over Panama Canal funding in 1893, Clemenceau lost re-election after being falsely accused of taking money to work for British interests. Divorced by now, and alone, Clemenceau spent nine years as a journalist – writing a column for La Justice before founding Le Bloc. Most notably he defended Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish military officer falsely convicted of treason in 1894 in what came to be called the Dreyfus Affair.

Redeemed politically, Clemenceau was elected to the French senate, and in 1906 he became minister of the interior and then premier for the first time. The French alliance with Great Britain was strengthened on his watch. However, Clemenceau’s cabinet fell in 1909, and he was swept from power.

Using his newspaper, L’Homme Libre, as a public platform for his views, Clemenceau spent the years before World War I advocating for a strong military, expressing his hatred of Germany, and, once the war began, accusing the French government of defeatism. Called back to power in November 1917, Clemenceau renewed the dispirited morale of France while persuading the Allies to agree to a unified command under Marshal Foch in the last year of the war.

Despite his best efforts, Clemenceau was defeated when he ran for the French presidency in 1920 because of what many French perceived as his government’s post-war leniency toward the Germans. He died in Paris in November 1929.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/wilson/peopleevents/p-clemen.html

Dresden Museum in Germany Seeks to Tell Truth about War. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-history-isn-t-beautiful-dresden-museum-seeks-to-tell-truth-about-war-a-773221.html

War Is Only the Tip of the Iceberg. The first casualty of war is truth.

Gorch Pieken stands in the entrance hall of the museum. He’s wearing tinted glasses, the top two buttons on his shirt are undone and his blond hair is tied back in a ponytail. “War is only the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “We’re interested in what’s below the waterline.” Pieken studied in Cologne, and then worked for the German Historical Museum in Berlin for 10 years. When the Defense Ministry asked him to become the museum’s scientific director, he jumped at the chance.

militar

Over the years, he has managed to amass a wealth of exhibits that are surprising because they tell stories that have never been told. Stories like that of the nameless girl who sorted the shoes of the deceased in a concentration camp in Lublin, Poland. Shortly after writing a poem entitled “Dead Shoes,” she too was sent to the gas chamber. But her poem survived, and fellow prisoners learnt it off by heart. When the museum opens in October, the poem will be displayed alongside the shoes of concentration camp prisoners. Although the museum is still under construction and many of its exhibits are still in storage, its emotive power is already becoming apparent.

 

Letter of Judah Magnes to MK Gandhi. Gandhi, the Jews & Zionism. February 26, 1939.

Judah Magnes

Judah Magnes.

Dear Mr. Gandhi: What you have said recently about the Jews is the one statement I have yet seen which needs to be grappled with fundamentally. Your statement is a challenge, particularly to those of us who have imagined ourselves your disciples. I am sure you must be right in asserting that the Jews of Germany can offer Satyagraha to the “godless fury of their dehumanised oppressors.” But how and when? You do not give the answer. You may say that you are not sufficiently acquainted with the German persecution to outline the practical technique of Satyagraha for use by the German Jews. But one of the great things about you and your doctrine has been that you have always emphasised the chance of practical success if Satyagraha be offered. Yet to the German Jews you have not given the practical advice which only your unique experience could offer, and I wonder if it is helpful merely in general terms to call upon the Jews of Germany to offer Satyagraha. I have heard that many a Jew of Germany has asked himself how and when Satyagraha must be offered, without finding the answer. Conditions in Germany are radically different from those that have prevailed in South Africa and in India. Those of us who are outside Germany must, I submit, think through most carefully the advice we proffer the unfortunates who are caught in the claws of the Hitler beast. If you take the sentences of your statement as to what you would do were you a German Jew, you will find, I believe, that not only one German Jew, as you require, has had “courage and vision”, but many whose names are known and many more who have borne witness to their faith without their names being known. “I would claim Germany as my home”. There has never been a community more passionately attached to its home than the German Jews to Germany. The thousands of exiles now to be found everywhere are so thoroughly German mentally, psychologically, in their speech, manners, prejudices, their outlook, that we wonder how many generations it may take before this is uprooted. The history of the Jews in Germany goes back to at least Roman times and though the Jews throughout their history there have been massacred and driven out on diverse occasions, one thing or the other has always brought them back there. “I would challenge him to shoot me or to cast me into the dungeon”. Many Jews – hundreds, thousands – have been shot. Hundreds, thousands have been cast into the dungeon. What more can Satyagraha give them? I ask this question in humility, for I am sure that you can give a constructive answer. “I would not wait for fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example”. But the question is how can Jews in Germany offer civil resistance? The slightest sign of resistance means killing or concentration camps or being done away with otherwise. It is usually in the dead of night that they are spirited away. No one, except their terrified families, is the wiser. It makes not even a ripple on the surface of German life. The streets are the same, business goes on as usual, the casual visitor sees nothing. Contrast this with a single hunger strike in an American or English prison, and the public commotion that this arouses. Contrast this with one of your fasts, or with your salt march to the sea, or a visit to the Viceroy, when the whole world is permitted to hang upon your words and be witness to your acts. Has not this been possible largely because, despite all the excesses of its imperialism, England is after all a democracy with a Parliament and a considerable measure of free speech? I wonder if even you would find the way to public opinion in totalitarian Germany, where life is snuffed out like a candle, and no one sees or knows that the light is out. “If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescriptions here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now”. Surely you do not mean that those Jews who are able to get out of Germany are as badly off as those who must remain? You call attention to the unbelievable ferocity visited upon all the Jews because of the crime of “one obviously mad but intrepid youth”. But the attempt at civil resistance on the part of even one Jew in Germany, let alone the community, would be regarded as an infinitely greater crime and would probably be followed by a repetition of this unbelievable ferocity, or worse. “And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy”. I wonder that no one has drawn your attention to the fact that those German Jews who are faithful to Judaism – and they are the majority – have in large measure the inner strength and joy that comes from suffering for their ideals. It is those unfortunate “non-Aryans”, who have a trace of Jewish blood but who have been brought up as German Christians, who are most to be pitied. They are made to suffer, and they do not know why. Many of them have been raised to despise Jews and Judaism, and now this despised people, this scorned religion is, in their eyes, the cause of their suffering. What a tragedy for them.  But as to the Jews – I do not know if there is a deeper and more widespread history of martyrdom. You can read the story of it in any Jewish history book, or, if you wish a convenient account, in the Jewish Encyclopedia published in New York a generation ago. To take Germany alone, you may be interested in one document that has come down to us from the middle ages. It is called the Memorbuch of Nuernberg – Nuernberg of the Nuernberg laws, whose synagogue has just been torn down and a 15th century covering of a Scroll of the Law stolen and presented recently to the city’s arch-fiend.  The Memorbuch gives a list of the places where massacres took place in Germany during the Crusades from 1096 to 1298. There are some fifty of these massacres entered chronologically. There is a further entry of some 65 large pages containing dates and places with the names of those martyred from 1096 to 1349. Take what happened in this very Nuernberg on Friday the 22nd of Ab 5058 of the Jewish calendar, the 1st August 1298 of the Christian calendar. We find the names of 628 men, women and children, whole families, old and young, strong and sick, rabbis and scholars, rich and poor, slaughtered on that day – burned, drowned, put to the sword, strangled, broken on the wheel and on the rack. In some places the elders killed the young, and then put an end to their own lives.  In Spain and Portugal where Jews were given the chance of conversion to Christianity, what usually happened in a stricken town was, that about a third converted, and a third succeeded in escaping, and always at least a third accepted their agony with the praise of God and his Unity on their lips. Our Hebrew literature is in many ways a literature of martyrdom. Our Talmud, which covers a period of about 1000 years, is a literature that grew up in large measure under oppression, exile and martyrdom, and it contains discussions, traditions and rules bearing upon our duty to accept martyrdom rather than yield to “idolatry, immorality, or the spilling of blood”. The Hebrew liturgy throbs with elegies in which poets and teachers commemorate the martyrs of one generation after another.  If ever a people was a people of non-violence through century after century, it was the Jews. I think they need learn but little from anyone in faithfulness to their God and in their readiness to suffer while they sanctify His Name. What is new and great about you has seemed to me this, that you have exalted non-violence into the dominant principle of all of life, both religious, social and political, and that you have made it into a practical technique both of communing with the Divine and of battling for a newer world of justice and mercy and of respect for the human personality of even the most insignificant outcast. What you could give to help the Jew add to his precious contribution to mankind, “the surpassing contribution of non-violent action”, is not as much the exhortation to suffer voluntarily, as the practical technique of Satyagraha.  You would have the right to say that some Jew should do this. But we have no one comparable to you as religious and political leader.  There are, as I am aware, other elements besides non-violence in Satyagraha. There is non-cooperation, and the renunciation of property, and the disdain of death. The Jews are a people who exalt life, and they can hardly be said to disdain death. Lev. 18, 5 says: “my judgements which if a man do he shall live in them”, and the interpretation adds as a principle of Jewish life “and not die through them”. For this reason I have often wondered if we are fit subjects for Satyagraha. And as to property, it is but natural that Jews should want to take along with them a minimum of their property from Germany or elsewhere so as not to fall a burden upon others. It would, I am sure, give you satisfaction to see how large numbers of refugees, who in Germany were used to wealth, comfort, culture, have without too much complaint and very often cheerfully buckled down to a new life in Palestine and elsewhere, many of them in the fields or in menial employment in the cities. It is in the matter of non-cooperation that I have a question of importance to put to you. A plan is being worked out between the Evian Refugee Committee and the German Government which appears to be nothing short of devilish. The details are not yet known. But it seems to amount to this: The German Government is to confiscate all German Jewish property and in exchange for increased foreign trade and foreign currency they will permit a limited number of Jews to leave Germany annually for the next several years. The scheme involves the sale of millions of pounds of debentures to be issued by a Refugee or Emigration Bank that is to be created. Whether Governments are to subscribe to these debentures, I do not know. But certainly the whole Jewish world will be called upon to do so. Here is the dilemma: If one does not subscribe, no Jews will be able to escape from this prison of torture called Germany. If one does subscribe one will be cooperating with that Government, and be dealing in Jewish flesh and blood in a most modern and up-to-date slave market. I see before me here in Jerusalem a child who is happy now that he is away from the torment there, and his brother, or parent, or grandparent. One of the oldest of Jewish sayings is: “Who saves a single soul in Israel is as if he had saved a whole world”. Not to save a living soul? And yet to cooperate with the powers of evil and darkness? Have you an answer? You touch upon a vital phase of the whole subject when you say that “if there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war. A discussion of the pros and cons of such a war is therefore outside my horizon and province.” But it is on “the pros and cons of such a war” that I would ask your guidance. The question gives me no rest, and I am sure there are many like myself. Like you I do not believe in any war. I have pledged myself never to take part in a war. I spoke up for pacifism in America during the world war alongside of many whose names are known to you. That war brought the “peace” of Versailles and the Hitlerism of today. But my pacifism, as I imagine the pacifism of many others, is passing through a pitiless crisis. I ask myself: Suppose America, England, France are dragged into a war with the Hitler bestiality, what am I to do and what am I to teach? This war may destroy a large part of the life of the youth of the world and force those who remain alive to lead the lives of savages. Yet I know I would pray with all my heart for the defeat of the Hitler inhumanity; and am I then to stand aside and let others do the fighting? During the last war I prayed for a peace without defeat or victory. The answer given by Romain Rolland in his little book Par la revolution la paix (1935), seems to be, that while he himself as an individual continues to refuse to bear arms, he will do everything he can to help his side (in this case, Russia) to win the war. That is hardly a satisfying answer. I ask myself how I might feel if I were not a Jew. Is the Hitler iniquity really as profound as I imagine? I recall that during the last war the arguments against Germany were much the same as these of today. I took no stock in those arguments then. Perhaps it is the torture of my own people that enrages me unduly? Yet it is my conviction that, being a Jew, my sense of outrage at injustice may, perhaps, be a bit more alive than the average and therefore more aware of the evils that the Hitler frenzy is bringing upon all mankind. The Jew, scattered as he is, is an outpost, bearing the brunt earlier of an action against mankind, and bearing it longest. For a dozen reasons he is a convenient scapegoat. I say this in order to make the point that if the Jew is thoroughly aroused about an evil such as the Hitler madness, his excitement and indignation are apt to be based not only on personal hurt but on a more or less authentic appraisal of the evil that must be met. If you will take the trouble of looking at the little pamphlet I am sending, Fellowship in War (1936), you will see that I have an ineradicable belief that no war whatsoever can be a righteous war. The war tomorrow for the “democracies” or for some other noble slogan will be just as unrighteous or as fatuous as was the “war to save democracy” yesterday. Moreover, to carry on the war the democracies will perforce become totalitarian. Not even a war against the ghastly Hitler savagery can be called righteous, for we all of us have sinned, conquerors and conquered alike, and it is because of our sins, because of our lack of generosity and the spirit of conciliation and renunciation, that the Hitler beast has been enabled to raise its head. Even on the pages of the Nuernberg Memorbuch we find the words “Because of our many sins” this and that massacre took place. There can be no war for something good. That is a contradiction in terms. The good is to be achieved through totally different means. But a war against something evil? If the Hitler cruelty launches a war against you, what would you do, what will you do? Can you refrain from making a choice? It is a choice of evils – a choice between the capitalisms, the imperialisms, the militarisms of the western democracies and between the Hitler religion. Can one hesitate as to which is the lesser of these two evils? Is not a choice therefore imperative? I am all too painfully conscious that I am beginning to admit that if Hitler hurls his war upon us we must resist. For us it would thus become, not a righteous war, nor, to use your term, a justifiable war, but a necessary war, not for something good, but, because no other choice is left us, against the greater evil. Or do you know of some other choice?   http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/MagnesGandhi.html

 

gandhilaws

 

Here is what George Orwell thought of Gandhi and His Philosophical Musings.

Gandhi's critic.

Gandhi’s critic and ruling.

Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent, but the tests that have to be applied to them are not, of course, the same in all cases. In Gandhi’s case the questions on feels inclined to ask are: to what extent was Gandhi moved by vanity – by the consciousness of himself as a humble, naked old man, sitting on a praying mat and shaking empires by sheer spiritual power – and to what extent did he compromise his own principles by entering politics, which of their nature are inseparable from coercion and fraud? To give a definite answer one would have to study Gandhi’s acts and writings in immense detail, for his whole life was a sort of pilgrimage in which every act was significant. But this partial autobiography, which ends in the nineteen-twenties, is strong evidence in his favor, all the more because it covers what he would have called the unregenerate part of his life and reminds one that inside the saint, or near-saint, there was a very shrewd, able person who could, if he had chosen, have been a brilliant success as a lawyer, an administrator or perhaps even a businessman.

At about the time when the autobiography first appeared I remember reading its opening chapters in the ill-printed pages of some Indian newspaper. They made a good impression on me, which Gandhi himself at that time did not. The things that one associated with him – home-spun cloth, “soul forces” and vegetarianism – were unappealing, and his medievalist program was obviously not viable in a backward, starving, over-populated country. It was also apparent that the British were making use of him, or thought they were making use of him. Strictly speaking, as a Nationalist, he was an enemy, but since in every crisis he would exert himself to prevent violence – which, from the British point of view, meant preventing any effective action whatever – he could be regarded as “our man.” In private this was sometimes cynically admitted. The attitude of the Indian millionaires was similar. Gandhi called upon them to repent, and naturally they preferred him to the Socialists and Communists who, given the chance, would actually have taken their money away. How reliable such calculations are in the long run is doubtful; as Gandhi himself says, “in the end deceivers deceive only themselves”; but at any rate the gentleness with which he was nearly always handled was due partly to the feeling that he was useful. The British Conservatives only became really angry with him when, as in 1942, he was in effect turning his non-violence against a different conqueror.

But I could see even then that the British officials who spoke of him with a mixture of amusement and disapproval also genuinely liked and admired him, after a fashion. Nobody ever suggested that he was corrupt, or ambitious in any vulgar way, or that anything he did was actuated by fear or malice. In judging a man like Gandhi one seems instinctively to apply high standards, so that some of his virtues have passed almost unnoticed. For instance, it is clear even from the autobiography that his natural physical courage was quite outstanding: the manner of his death was a later illustration of this, for a public man who attached any value to his own skin would have been more adequately guarded. Again, he seems to have been quite free from that maniacal suspiciousness which, as E.M. Forster rightly says in A Passage to India, is the besetting Indian vice, as hypocrisy is the British vice. Although no doubt he was shrewd enough in detecting dishonesty, he seems wherever possible to have believed that other people were acting in good faith and had a better nature through which they could be approached. And though he came of a poor middle-class family, started life rather unfavorably, and was probably of unimpressive physical appearance, he was not afflicted by envy or by the feeling of inferiority. Color feeling when he first met it in its worst form in South Africa, seems rather to have astonished him. Even when he was fighting what was in effect a color war, he did not think of people in terms of race or status. The governor of a province, a cotton millionaire, a half-starved Dravidian coolie, a British private soldier were all equally human beings, to be approached in much the same way. It is noticeable that even in the worst possible circumstances, as in South Africa when he was making himself unpopular as the champion of the Indian community, he did not lack European friends.

Written in short lengths for newspaper serialization, the autobiography is not a literary masterpiece, but it is the more impressive because of the commonplaceness of much of its material. It is well to be reminded that Gandhi started out with the normal ambitions of a young Indian student and only adopted his extremist opinions by degrees and, in some cases, rather unwillingly. There was a time, it is interesting to learn, when he wore a top hat, took dancing lessons, studied French and Latin, went up the Eiffel Tower and even tried to learn the violin – all this was the idea of assimilating European civilization as thoroughly as possible. He was not one of those saints who are marked out by their phenomenal piety from childhood onwards, nor one of the other kind who forsake the world after sensational debaucheries. He makes full confession of the misdeeds of his youth, but in fact there is not much to confess. As a front piece to the book there is a photograph of Gandhi’s possessions at the time of his death. The whole outfit could be purchased for about 5 pounds***, and Gandhi’s sins, at least his fleshly sins, would make the same sort of appearance if placed all in one heap. A few cigarettes, a few mouthfuls of meat, a few annas pilfered in childhood from the maidservant, two visits to a brothel (on each occasion he got away without “doing anything”), one narrowly escaped lapse with his landlady in Plymouth, one outburst of temper – that is about the whole collection. Almost from childhood onwards he had a deep earnestness, an attitude ethical rather than religious, but, until he was about thirty, no very definite sense of direction. His first entry into anything describable as public life was made by way of vegetarianism. Underneath his less ordinary qualities one feels all the time the solid middle-class businessmen who were his ancestors. One feels that even after he had abandoned personal ambition he must have been a resourceful, energetic lawyer and a hard-headed political organizer, careful in keeping down expenses, an adroit handler of committees and an indefatigable chaser of subscriptions. His character was an extraordinarily mixed one, but there was almost nothing in it that you can put your finger on and call bad, and I believe that even Gandhi’s worst enemies would admit that he was an interesting and unusual man who enriched the world simply by being alive . Whether he was also a lovable man, and whether his teachings can have much for those who do not accept the religious beliefs on which they are founded, I have never felt fully certain.

Of late years it has been the fashion to talk about Gandhi as though he were not only sympathetic to the Western Left-wing movement, but were integrally part of it. Anarchists and pacifists, in particular, have claimed him for their own, noticing only that he was opposed to centralism and State violence and ignoring the other-worldly, anti-humanist tendency of his doctrines. But one should, I think, realize that Gandhi’s teachings cannot be squared with the belief that Man is the measure of all things and that our job is to make life worth living on this earth, which is the only earth we have. They make sense only on the assumption that God exists and that the world of solid objects is an illusion to be escaped from. It is worth considering the disciplines which Gandhi imposed on himself and which – though he might not insist on every one of his followers observing every detail – he considered indispensable if one wanted to serve either God or humanity. First of all, no meat-eating, and if possible no animal food in any form. (Gandhi himself, for the sake of his health, had to compromise on milk, but seems to have felt this to be a backsliding.) No alcohol or tobacco, and no spices or condiments even of a vegetable kind, since food should be taken not for its own sake but solely in order to preserve one’s strength. Secondly, if possible, no sexual intercourse. If sexual intercourse must happen, then it should be for the sole purpose of begetting children and presumably at long intervals. Gandhi himself, in his middle thirties, took the vow of brahmacharya, which means not only complete chastity but the elimination of sexual desire. This condition, it seems, is difficult to attain without a special diet and frequent fasting. One of the dangers of milk-drinking is that it is apt to arouse sexual desire. And finally – this is the cardinal point – for the seeker after goodness there must be no close friendships and no exclusive loves whatever.

Close friendships, Gandhi says, are dangerous, because “friends react on one another” and through loyalty to a friend one can be led into wrong-doing. This is unquestionably true. Moreover, if one is to love God, or to love humanity as a whole, one cannot give one’s preference to any individual person. This again is true, and it marks the point at which the humanistic and the religious attitude cease to be reconcilable. To an ordinary human being, love means nothing if it does not mean loving some people more than others. The autobiography leaves it uncertain whether Gandhi behaved in an inconsiderate way to his wife and children, but at any rate it makes clear that on three occasions he was willing to let his wife or a child die rather than administer the animal food prescribed by the doctor. It is true that the threatened death never actually occurred, and also that Gandhi – with, one gathers, a good deal of moral pressure in the opposite direction – always gave the patient the choice of staying alive at the price of committing a sin: still, if the decision had been solely his own, he would have forbidden the animal food, whatever the risks might be. There must, he says, be some limit to what we will do in order to remain alive, and the limit is well on this side of chicken broth. This attitude is perhaps a noble one, but, in the sense which – I think – most people would give to the word, it is inhuman. The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other human individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid. There is an obvious retort to this, but one should be wary about making it. In this yogi-ridden age, it is too readily assumed that “non-attachment” is not only better than a full acceptance of earthly life, but that the ordinary man only rejects it because it is too difficult: in other words, that the average human being is a failed saint. It is doubtful whether this is true. Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings. If one could follow it to its psychological roots, one would, I believe, find that the main motive for “non-attachment” is a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work. But it is not necessary here to argue whether the other-worldly or the humanistic ideal is “higher”. The point is that they are incompatible. One must choose between God and Man, and all “radicals” and “progressives,” from the mildest Liberal to the most extreme Anarchist, have in effect chosen Man.

However, Gandhi’s pacifism can be separated to some extent from his other teachings. Its motive was religious, but he claimed also for it that it was a definitive technique, a method, capable of producing desired political results. Gandhi’s attitude was not that of most Western pacifists. Satyagraha, first evolved in South Africa, was a sort of non-violent warfare, a way of defeating the enemy without hurting him and without feeling or arousing hatred. It entailed such things as civil disobedience, strikes, lying down in front of railway trains, enduring police charges without running away and without hitting back, and the like. Gandhi objected to “passive resistance” as a translation of Satyagraha: in Gujarati, it seems, the word means “firmness in the truth.” In his early days Gandhi served as a stretcher-bearer on the British side in the Boer War, and he was prepared to do the same again in the war of 1914-18. Even after he had completely abjured violence he was honest enough to see that in war it is usually necessary to take sides. He did not – indeed, since his whole political life centered round a struggle for national independence, he could not – take the sterile and dishonest line of pretending that in every war both sides are exactly the same and it makes no difference who wins. Nor did he, like most Western pacifists, specialize in avoiding awkward questions. In relation to the late war, one question that every pacifist had a clear obligation to answer was: “What about the Jews? Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?” I must say that I have never heard, from any Western pacifist, an honest answer to this question, though I have heard plenty of evasions, usually of the “you’re another” type. But it so happens that Gandhi was asked a somewhat similar question in 1938 and that his answer is on record in Mr. Louis Fischer’s Gandhi and Stalin. According to Mr. Fischer, Gandhi’s view was that the German Jews ought to commit collective suicide, which “would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler’s violence.” After the war he justified himself: the Jews had been killed anyway, and might as well have died significantly. One has the impression that this attitude staggered even so warm an admirer as Mr. Fischer, but Gandhi was merely being honest. If you are not prepared to take life, you must often be prepared for lives to be lost in some other way. When, in 1942, he urged non-violent resistance against a Japanese invasion, he was ready to admit that it might cost several million deaths.  At the same time there is reason to think that Gandhi, who after all was born in 1869, did not understand the nature of totalitarianism and saw everything in terms of his own struggle against the British government. The important point here is not so much that the British treated him forbearingly as that he was always able to command publicity. As can be seen from the phrase quoted above, he believed in “arousing the world,” which is only possible if the world gets a chance to hear what you are doing. It is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. Without a free press and the right of assembly, it is impossible not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being, or even to make your intentions known to your adversary. Is there a Gandhi in Russia at this moment? And if there is, what is he accomplishing? The Russian masses could only practise civil disobedience if the same idea happened to occur to all of them simultaneously, and even then, to judge by the history of the Ukraine famine, it would make no difference. But let it be granted that non-violent resistance can be effective against one’s own government, or against an occupying power: even so, how does one put it into practise internationally? Gandhi’s various conflicting statements on the late war seem to show that he felt the difficulty of this. Applied to foreign politics, pacifism either stops being pacifist or becomes appeasement. Moreover the assumption, which served Gandhi so well in dealing with individuals, that all human beings are more or less approachable and will respond to a generous gesture, needs to be seriously questioned. It is not necessarily true, for example, when you are dealing with lunatics. Then the question becomes: Who is sane? Was Hitler sane? And is it not possible for one whole culture to be insane by the standards of another? And, so far as one can gauge the feelings of whole nations, is there any apparent connection between a generous deed and a friendly response? Is gratitude a factor in international politics?  These and kindred questions need discussion, and need it urgently, in the few years left to us before somebody presses the button and the rockets begin to fly. It seems doubtful whether civilization can stand another major war, and it is at least thinkable that the way out lies through non-violence. It is Gandhi’s virtue that he would have been ready to give honest consideration to the kind of question that I have raised above; and, indeed, he probably did discuss most of these questions somewhere or other in his innumerable newspaper articles. One feels of him that there was much he did not understand, but not that there was anything that he was frightened of saying or thinking. I have never been able to feel much liking for Gandhi, but I do not feel sure that as a political thinker he was wrong in the main, nor do I believe that his life was a failure. It is curious that when he was assassinated, many of his warmest admirers exclaimed sorrowfully that he had lived just long enough to see his life work in ruins, because India was engaged in a civil war which had always been foreseen as one of the byproducts of the transfer of power. But it was not in trying to smooth down Hindu-Moslem rivalry that Gandhi had spent his life. His main political objective, the peaceful ending of British rule, had after all been attained. As usual the relevant facts cut across one another. On the other hand, the British did get out of India without fighting, and event which very few observers indeed would have predicted until about a year before it happened. On the other hand, this was done by a Labour government, and it is certain that a Conservative government, especially a government headed by Churchill, would have acted differently. But if, by 1945, there had grown up in Britain a large body of opinion sympathetic to Indian independence, how far was this due to Gandhi’s personal influence? And if, as may happen, India and Britain finally settle down into a decent and friendly relationship, will this be partly because Gandhi, by keeping up his struggle obstinately and without hatred, disinfected the political air? That one even thinks of asking such questions indicates his stature. One may feel, as I do, a sort of aesthetic distaste for Gandhi, one may reject the claims of sainthood made on his behalf (he never made any such claim himself, by the way), one may also reject sainthood as an ideal and therefore feel that Gandhi’s basic aims were anti-human and reactionary: but regarded simply as a politician, and compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!

Women in Satyagraha.

Women in Satyagraha.

Children of Krakow, Poland.

Capture Our Worlds.

Capture Our Worlds.

Children, Krakow, Poland, German Occupation.

Children of Krakow, Poland under German occupation.

Ancient Jerusalem. Made New Now.

Ancient Jerusalem. Made New Now.

LETTER FROM JUDAH L. MAGNES TO GANDHI, FEBRUARY 26, 1939 “Faith of the votary of ahimsa (nonviolence) is lacking”

German Jews of the thirteenth century. From He...

German Jews of the thirteenth century. From Herrad von Landsperg, Luftgarten. Published in the 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, now in the public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Dear Mr. Gandhi,

 

What you have said recently about the Jews is the one statement I have yet seen which needs to be grappled with fundamentally. Your statement is a challenge, particularly to those of us who have imagined ourselves your disciples.

 

I am sure you must be right in asserting that the Jews of Germany can offer Satyagraha to the “godless fury of their dehumanised oppressors”. But how and when? You do not give the answer. You may say that you are not sufficiently acquainted with the German persecution to outline the practical technique of Satyagraha for use by the German Jews. But one of the great things about you and your doctrine has been that you have always emphasised the chance of practical success if Satyagraha be offered. Yet to the German Jews you have not given the practical advice which only your unique experience could offer, and I wonder if it is helpful merely in general terms to call upon the Jews of Germany to offer Satyagraha. I have heard that many a Jew of Germany has asked himself how and when Satyagraha must be offered, without finding the answer. Conditions in Germany are radically different from those that have prevailed in South Africa and in India. Those of us who are outside Germany must, I submit, think through most carefully the advice we proffer the unfortunates who are caught in the claws of the Hitler beast , among other things.

 

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