positions politics

Cocktails more lethal than Molotovs:
Freedom, Indestinacy, and Responsibility in Gandhi and Philosophy

Marguerite La Caze

As Divya Dwivedi observes, the pandemic “makes us responsible to everyone everywhere” (2020). But does the pandemic highlight what we did not want to know? Immanuel Kant wrote in 1795 that “Because a (narrower or wider) community widely prevails among the Earth’s peoples, a transgression of rights in one place in the world is felt everywhere; consequently, the idea of cosmopolitan right is not fantastic and exaggerated, but rather an amendment to the unwritten code of national and international rights, necessary to the public rights of humanity in general” (1983, 8: 36). Shaj Mohan’s and Dwivedi’s book, which considers Gandhi’s thought as a system, links to the possibility of a cosmopolitanism or world democracy that creates new freedoms as well as new responsibilities as we recognise the indestinacy of the world. In doing so, they argue that they are reading Gandhi by his own lights, as he claimed that “there is consistency running through my inconsistency” (Mohan and Dwivedi 2019, 201). This article responds to their call for anastasis or a new beginning that is not grounded in a concept of destiny nor nature explores Mohan and Dwivedi’s interpretation of Gandhi’s view of violence and resistance and then considers what our responsibility could involve given an alternative cosmopolitan conception of resistance.

Violence and resistance

An outline of Gandhi’s understanding of passive resistance can be found in “Hind Swaraj, or Indian Home Rule” (2007 [1909]). His sketch of a political programme then was something he held onto throughout his life (Mohan and Dwivedi 2019, 202). One of Gandhi’s central ideas is Satyagraha, which means standing firm in the truth. While the idea of Satyagraha may sound a little like Søren Kierkegaard’s “living in the truth”, Gandhi himself claimed Socrates as an inspiration as Kierkegaard did (Mohan and Dwivedi, 2019, 136), and Tridip Suhrud’s comments that “Gandhi had a unique capacity to take a “leap of faith’ to use Kierkegaard’s phrase” (2019), Mohan and Dwivedi explain an important difference between the two thinkers. They write: “Unlike Kierkegaard’s ‘knight of faith’, who appears to be nothing special in his bourgeois attires, Gandhi’s passive resister is a battlefield with his toothless grin and gasping speech” (Mohan and Dwivedi 2019, 136). Passive resistants stand out from the crowd wearing their rough handspun cloth khadi. Nevertheless, there are interconnections with Western thought, especially Socrates’ view that it is better to suffer harm than to do harm.

Gandhi argues for his view of violence and non-violence or Ahimsa by reflecting on the relation between means and ends: “The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree” (2007, 117). By this he implies that a resistance created through violence will breed further violence, and so resistance should have the same means as the ends it wants to achieve, presuming they are peaceful ends. Gandhi sums up his argument: “fair means alone can produce fair results, and that, at least in the majority of cases, if not indeed of all, the force of love and pity is infinitely greater than the force of arms. There is harm in the exercise of brute force, never in that of pity” (2007, 119).

However, Gandhi’s rejection of violence is not a rejection of force, I argue, and he makes it clear that if you make a demand, what he calls a “petition”, there are two kinds of force that can be used. One is the force of arms, which produces “evil results”; and the other is what Hannah Arendt would call the withdrawal of support (2003, 46) and that Gandhi describes as “love-force, soul-force, or, more popularly but less accurately, passive resistance. This force is indestructible” (2007, 120). This force is also called truth force, and Gandhi believes that it involves suffering and sacrifice, as one has to be willing to accept the penalty for not obeying laws, withholding support for a regime, or not co-operating. His thought is that one should be willing to suffer the consequences oneself for refusal to do something one thinks is wrong according to one’s conscience (2007, 122). The resister also has to “follow truth, and cultivate fearlessness” (2007, 125). Chastity and poverty are recommended (2007, 125) and all the senses are controlled in an ascetic existence or Brahmacharya (Mohan and Dwivedi 2019, 203). One of the aspects of this fearlessness is giving up the fear of death—one’s own and one’s loved ones (2019, 202, 204). He also calls the work of the passive resister learning the art of dying (2019, 197).

Gandhi used power as the ability to act concert, in Arendt’s sense (1998, 207) and force in Walter Benjamin’s sense as a threat, for example to withhold labour (1996).1 For example, through the famous Salt March (1930) and by making their own salt, Indians put pressure on the British government to give up their salt tax (Gan 2018, 95-97; Mohan and Dwivedi 2019, 193). Mohan and Dwivedi see this protest as accepting the force and violence of the state. Gandhi also was willing to exert force by using his popularity as a threat. For example, when B. R. Ambedkar argued for a separate electorate for Dalits, which was granted by the British government, Gandhi went on hunger strike until Ambedkar gave up the idea and agreed to a weaker proposal of reserved seats in electorates where Dalits are not necessarily a majority (Roy 2019; Jyoti 2019). Arundhati Roy finds this, what she calls “blackmail”, inconsistent with Satyagraha but if it is interpreted as holding fast to the truth and the truth for Gandhi means that Dalits should not be independent in that way it could be consistent.2 Also he is the one suffering through his hunger strike, although of course it is others who would suffer the consequences of his actions.

In spite of Arendt’s understanding of the importance of power and non-cooperation with authoritarian regimes, she is sceptical about the wider applicability of Gandhi’s non-violent approach. In On Violence, she writes: “In a head-on clash between violence and power, the outcome is hardly in doubt. If Gandhi’s enormously powerful and successful strategy of nonviolent resistance had met with a different enemy—Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, even prewar Japan, instead of England—the outcome would not have been decolonization, but massacre and submission” (1970, 53).

Mohan and Dwivedi are also critical of Gandhi’s alignment of means and ends for different reasons. In his review of their book, Reghu Janardhanan writes that “If human beings lose or renounce the ability to be free to some extent with the exchange between means and ends there will be no progress or even survival” (2019). They see Gandhi’s harmonising of means and ends as based on a preconception of what is good through nature. Mohan and Dwivedi’s argument is that Gandhi’s thought is nihilistic and could lead to the end of humanity as seen, for example, in his acceptance of the holocaust and of the Atomic bombs unleashed on Japan (2019, 2, 89, 107, 176, 199, 207) .

In chapter eight, “Violence and Resistance”, they explain how Gandhi arrived at these conclusions. First, they state how for Gandhi “where there is truth there is non-violence and non-violence is never exterior to truth” (2019, 165). Resistance can include the actions of the opponents as they may inspire bystanders to intervene on behalf of the resisters. Furthermore, resistance can defuse the force of, for example, the colonial administration. Yet for Gandhi, resistance is not good in itself; only passive resistance is, in contrast to active or armed resistance. As Mohan and Dwivedi observe, passive resistance against the colonists is inspired by the law of nature or conformity with truth. They see this as functional isolation, or adhering to a single function. A contrast can be made with political movements that use a range of political strategies, some violent, like sabotage, some passive, like refusing to participate in local elections, some forceful, such as strikes, as for instance in the anti-Apartheid movement, which used multiple strategies.

Here Mohan and Dwivedi make the comment that provides my title. They show how Gandhi uses resistance in two senses: “as the opposition of men to one another, including the drawing of lines of demarcation by the passive resisters as the Western wind howls from close by—‘I have no manner of doubt that the victory of man lies in that resistance’, and as the non-opposition to the laws of nature, or irresistance to Truth. The deliberate mixing of these two meanings lets him make cocktails more lethal than Molotovs in politics” (2019, 171). Then resistance, as the holding out against something, can be divided into violent and non-violent. Mohan and Dwivedi examine Gandhi’s understanding of violence as becoming further away from truth (2019, 175). Violence is a turnng away from the simple, ascetic life, as is political resistance aimed at reform in a system, since it accepts the great violence of modern Western civilization.

Furthermore, Gandhi distinguished the violence of the brave, such as that in a battle of equals, and that of the cowardly, in a massacre of innocents. He saw in history a continuing progress of truth or nonviolence (2019, 176). Nevertheless, Mohan and Dwivedi articulate Gandhi’s view of violence as being everywhere in modern civilization, in trains, buses, and ocean liners, for example, so every day forces a series of choices between different kinds of violence. Ideally, he would avoid these choices by having no conflict between means and ends, an enclosing of existence they refer to as Calypsology, a process of theoretical immurement through denying the creativity of varying means and ends, uses of things and possible laws.

Gandhi’s propensity to extend the meaning of violence through domains of existence is parallel to trends in European philosophy, although the examples of handwriting and writing using a pencil as violent take on a different sense.3 In relation to politics, Gandhi takes non-cooperation in a non-violent way to be a duty (2019, 182). Mohan and Dwivedi define violence as the moralization of force, and see that Gandhi takes the notion of force to its limit, and “Non-violence begins with the practice of force under the awareness of the moral value which all forces are, just as we found that nature itself is value” (2019, 186). Thus, non-violent actions are those understood as valued forces. As I understand their argument, the ultimate conclusion of this way of thinking in Gandhi is “zero” or an absolute nihilism or stillness, perhaps closer to Diogenes the Cynic than Socrates. So in the next section I will consider Mohan and Dwivedi’s keys to an alternative to this life of zero.

A Cosmopolitan Concept of Resistance

Mohan and Dwivedi’s final chapter considers Gandhi’s overall project, which they sum up this way: “Gandhi sought to create a non-violent state for the Indian sub-continent and then for the whole world” (2019, 188). He was inspired by Indian village life as a model of non-violence and truth, although it was the village in his mind that really mattered (2019, 202). They see the model as one where means and ends coincide as everyone in the village knows their role and place and what is expected of them in their caste.

To some extent Mohan and Dwivedi’s views can be inferred from their criticisms of Gandhi. In that sense they advocate an acceptance of polynomia, or of the possibility of a variety of uses for one thing and a variety of things for one use. In political terms, that implies a variety of forms of protest and creation. I call Mohan and Dwivedi’s concept of resistance cosmopolitan since as Janardhanan writes, the book “frees philosophy from the geopolitical and ethnocentric divisions of East and West” (2019) and allows for the possibility of a world democracy. Their criticisms of the perpetuation of caste and forms of racism in Gandhi’s thought (2019, 189-90) shows their embrace of egalitarianism as well as intermixing between different ethnic and religious groups. Mohan and Dwivedi describe Gandhi’s aim thus: “Gandhi sought to build for mankind, using all the records of ‘civilization’, the perfect primitive society which will know speed—the enemy—well in advance” (2019, 196). Speed is anything that takes us away from nature, such as modern technology. In criticising this fear of speed, Mohan and Dwivedi leave open the questions of how we can use technology in different ways for the betterment of humanity. They also contrast speed with velocity, as a concern with the new directions we are heading in (2019, 206).

The idea of a new beginning, like Arendt’s concept of natality in politics, is important for them (1998, 9). This is what they call anastasis or a revolution based on an understanding of the elements of a political system. This is an overcoming of stasis: “We can call the act of thinking which overcomes semantic annihilations through the fecundities of homologies, the dexterities of polynomia, and the activations of analogies anastasis; anastasis originates from the analytic of crticalization itself”, a consideration of the limits and powers of things in the world (2019, 198). They advocate a polynomic approach that allow things to operate in different ways. Dwivedi refers to “the yet to be imagined possibilities of politics that would respond to the problems of everyone in the world” (2020). In contrast to the acceptance of suffering of Gandhi, their approach implies attempting to overcome suffering, and the risk that is inherent in such an attempt.

Mohan and Dwivedi oppose critics of Gandhi’s “critical nation”, who begins with set criteria, and their critique is as follows: “the process through which we gain an estimation of the potentials of a system, the limits of the potentials, the states of the internal milieu, and also the preparedness to develop new potential differences and responsiveness. Critique prescribes a new regimen for the system at the end of the assessment” (2019, 201). For them it is an adventure rather than a method. Societies can live on in many ways, through repetition and birth, and can bring about new social arrangements through anastasis. They oppose Gandhi’s anti-politics with a politics that involves people coming together through “negotiable comprehending laws and the promise to one another of the as yet unknown” (2019, 206), principles that for them comprise freedom, politically speaking. Furthermore, Mohan and Dwivedi find that politics always involves this fight for freedom.

Conclusion

The future of politics or its indestinacy for Mohan and Dwivedi is unknown and contingent, unpredictable, rather than predetermined and that is how it should be conceptualised to formulate a resistance to suffering, unlike in Gandhi’s philosophy, which retained a sense of determinism and of fatalism. Mohan and Dwivedi allow for and embrace the possibility of genuine change, as they argue that things can be used in different ways and constructed into different things (2019, 78). Our responsibility then is to alleviate suffering, and to experiment with different ways of doing that, of creating new laws, using objects in different ways. We may be afraid of death for ourselves and others, and in Mohan and Dwivedi’s terms, our cosmopolitan task is not to learn the art of dying, but to learn the art of living, in all its variety, its speed and velocity, its diversity of cultures, and new directions.

 

References

Arendt, Hannah. 2003. Responsibility and Judgment. New York: Schocken.

Arendt, Hannah. 1998 [1958]. The Human Condition. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Arendt, Hannah. 1970. On Violence. San Diego: Harcourt Brace. Force and Violence.

Benjamin, Walter. 1996. “Critique of Violence.” Selected Writings, Vol.1. Eds. Marcus Bullock and Michael Jennings. Cambridge: Belknap, 236-252.

Dwivedi, Divya. 2020. “A Flight Indestinate.” European Journal of Psychoanalysis. 5th May. https://www.journal-psychoanalysis.eu/a-flight-indestinate-divya-dwivedi/ Accessed 2nd December 2020.

Gan, Barry L. 2018. “The Gandhi-King Tradition and Satyagraha.” The Routledge Handbook of Pacifism and Nonviolence. Ed. Andrew Fiala. London: Routledge, 101.

Gandhi, Mohandas K. 2007. “Hind Swaraj, or Indian Home Rule.” Violence: A Reader. Ed. Bruce B. Lawrence and Aisha Karim. Durham: Duke University Press. 111-26.

Janardhanan, Reghu. 2019. “Book Review: Gandhi as Chrysalis for a New Philosophy.” The Wire. 14th April. https://thewire.in/books/gandhi-and-philosophy-book-review Accessed 2 December 2020.

Jyoti, Dhrubo. 2019. “Gandhi, Ambedkar and the 1932 Poona Pact.” The Hindustan Times. 1 October. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/gandhi-ambedkar-and-the-1932-poona-pact/story-5WuyrphB8OwtRp5lC9XQGP.html Accessed 18 December 2020.

Kant, Immanuel. 1983. Perpetual Peace and Other Essays. Trans. Ted Humphrey. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Mohan, Shaj, and Dwivedi, Divya. 2019. Gandhi and Philosophy: On Theological Anti-Politics, London: Bloomsbury.

Murphy, Ann V. 2012. Violence and the Philosophical Imaginary. New York: State University of New York Press.

Roy, Arundhati. 2019. “How Gandhi Made Ambedkar a Villain in his Fight to be the Real Representative of Dalits.” The Print. 22 May. https://theprint.in/pageturner/excerpt/how-gandhi-made-ambedkar-a-villain-in-his-fight-to-be-the-real-representative-of-dalits/237642/ Accessed 18 December 2020.

Suhrud, Tridip. 2019. “Gandhi and Philosophy: On Theological Anti-Politics Review: Leap of Faith.” The Hindu. 17th August. https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/gandhi-and-philosophy-on-theological-anti-politics-review-leap-of-faith/article29118506.ece Accessed 2nd December 2020

Marguerite La Caze is an Australian philosopher and Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Queensland. She is an Australian Research Fellow and a former Chair of the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy. La Caze is known for her research on feminist philosophy and aesthetics.

  1. Mohan and Dwivedi see Gandhi and Benjamin as disagreeing about using violent means to oppose a legal order (2019, 183), although in their view Benjamin’s distinctions are close to Gandhi’s (2019, 192); however, if we take Benjamin’s idea as force, Gandhi was willing to use force. They also compare Gandhi’s condemnation of all implements with Arendt’s view that we can distinguish between good and bad implements (2019, 185).
  2. However, it appears to be inconsistent with Gandhi’s claim that “the man who uses coercion is guilty of deliberate violence. Coercion is inhuman” (Mohan and Dwivedi, 2019, 180).
  3. See Murphy (2012) for an analysis of violence in the imaginary of continental philosophy.