“…the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted…to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest.” (Thoreau 2)
The content of this quotation revolves around reflection on the phenomenon of power of the majority. Specifically, the author of this fragment argues that power ends up in the people’s hands – that is majority – not because of more correct views or mercy toward the minority. On the contrary, the reason for control is physical power, which certainly outweighs majority influence. This is an important philosophy since it reflects the balance of political authority, especially in revolutions or popular uprisings. Thus, in periods of conquest, the majority presses on with physical force or military power and eventually gains power, perhaps without truth or mercy.
“A Christian cannot fail to be free, because the attainment of the aim he sets before himself cannot be prevented or even hindered by any one or anything.” (Tolstoy 302)
The semantics of this fragment comes down to a philosophical definition of Christian purpose and its relationship to freedom. Thus, Lev Tolstoy was convinced that Christian freedom cannot be shaken – and thus, the believer will always be free – because nothing can hinder the attainment of their goal. In fact, it follows that the true Christian believer is indifferent to the fluctuations of the earthly world because their spiritual life has a clear purpose. It is not easy to overstate the significance of this quotation, for, in it, the author describes the phenomenon of religion. It is the linchpin, the backbone, and foundation of humans, which gives the believer strength and energy.
“The English have not taken India; we have given it to them. They are not in India because of their strength, but because we keep them.” (Gandhi 38-39)
This quotation takes a rhetorical approach to change the traditional historical paradigm of the British colonization of India. In particular, the author writes that the British conquest of Indian lands was not the personal merit of the empire but rather an indulgence of the local citizens. In other words, such a geopolitical achievement would not have been possible if Indians had been opposed to colonization. Therefore, this is an astonishing quote that reflects an alternative perspective on this historical phenomenon. The central core of the phrase describes the inner strength and rebelliousness of the Indians, combined with wisdom and cunning.
“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…We reap exactly as we sow.” (Gandhi, Hind Swaraj and Other Writings 79-91)
This fragment of text is classified as the category of philosophical reflection on the conceptual relationship between the means used and the ultimate purpose — the end — of their application. Gandhi compares the means to seed, and as it is known, it eventually sprouts into a tree. Hence, in this way, the author creates a cause-effect relationship between the two terms: the end becomes a natural extension of the means that have been used. Interpreting his words differently, the quotation can be perceived as the need for correspondence between the purpose of the activity and the tools used. Thus, such a phrase sheds light on the Indian’s philosophy and seems to contradict Machiavellian ideology that the end justifies the means.
“Satyagraha is literally holding on to Truth and it means, therefore, Truth-force. Truth is soul or spirit. It is, therefore, known as soul-force. It excludes the use of violence because man is not capable of knowing the absolute truth and, therefore, not competent to punish.” (Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance 3)
This utterance consistently describes in detail the central core of Satyagraha, the historical Indian philosophical movement advocating non-violent resistance to English colonization. Through several logical deductions, the author leads the reader to the idea that Satyagraha excludes violence since it represents absolute Truth, inaccessible to humanity. It follows from these words that the individual cannot comprehend the real Truth while alive and therefore has no right to judge anyone. This is a significant quote for historical-philosophical methodology because it allows people to delineate the conception of the social worldview of Gandhi’s followers in colonized India. In addition, one can see in these reflections the author’s sincere commitment to his words and belief that Satyagraha is an extraterrestrial, divine product.
“Before one can be fit for the practice of civil disobedience one must have rendered a willing and respectful obedience to the State laws.” (Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance 75)
This statement raises the important issue of civil disobedience in contemporary developed societies. It is clear from this quotation that the author recognizes and endorses the phenomenon but notes especially that disobedience, non-cooperation, and disobedience, classed as civil, are possible only when there is clear adherence to state Laws. Indeed, in the blind revolution, there is often anarchy and a lack of civility. M. Gandhi stresses that civil disobedience is not a violent insurrection since the obligatory criterion is adherence to the laws. In this sense, this quote perfectly describes the philosophy of India’s colonized communities.
“What is the meaning of non-cooperation in terms of the law of suffering? We must voluntarily put up with losses and inconveniences from withdrawing from a Government that is ruling against our will.” (Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance 114-115)
The central idea of this passage comes down to a description of the reason that underlies voluntary non-cooperation. It refers to the Indian peaceful protest against British colonization, in which defiance, disobedience, and non-cooperation were the main means of resistance. In the present quotation, Gandhi writes that the meaning of such refusal is the voluntary sacrifice of one’s interests and rights in order to make a public protest against a government that does not act on the will of the people. From the perspective of social relations theories, this is an important thought, pointing to the categories of social responsibility, justice, and non-violent war. Moreover, secondary for the quote, it raises such important issues as the illegitimacy of the current government and the self-consciousness of civil society seeking to resolve current issues in a non-violent manner.
“Most people do not understand the complicated machinery of the Government. They do not realize that every citizen silently but nonetheless certainly sustains the Government of the day in ways of which he has no knowledge. Every citizen renders himself responsible of every act of government.” (Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance 123)
This fragment of text raises the important issue of the active involvement of individuals in civil society and the approval of government decisions. Mahatma Gandhi examines state-human relations through an alternative paradigm and points out that each individual is responsible for government decisions every day. This, according to the author, happens unnoticed, unconsciously, but nevertheless, passive approval, ignoring, or silencing become tools in the hands of the ruling elite. It is not easy to overstate the significance of this expression: in a few sentences, Gandhi gives civil significance to all members of society without exception. From the perspective of political sociology, this quote can be seen as a counterargument to the debate about the conscious — or even unconscious — apoliticality of individuals.
“I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence…But I believe that non-violence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more mainly than punishment.” (Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance 132-133)
This statement leads the reader to the connection between several philosophical concepts from Gandhi’s perspective: cowardice, violence, non-violence, forgiveness, and punishment. Compiling them together, the author concludes that non-violence is an absolute priority over violence, which in turn is more important than cowardice, with forgiveness requiring far more courage than punishment. As a summary of the utterance, it is appropriate to classify this fragment as an overview of Gandhi’s non-violent worldview, for which violence is an undesirable form of struggle. It is clear from these words that for the Indian social activist, the noble human is one who is able to come to forgiveness instead of punishment, willing to show courage and wisdom to choose non-violence over violence.
“Many think that non-violence is not an active force. My experience…shows that nonviolence can be an intensely active force. It is my purpose to set in motion that force as well against the organized violent force of the British rule as the unorganized violent force of the growing party of violence.” (Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance 226)
Semantically, this statement resembles a conclusion supported by the author’s personal convictions of M. Gandhi. In his words, the man is describing the fallacy of social judgments in which non-violence is perceived as a form of inactive or even passive resistance against the current government. Thus, developing this thought from the reader’s perspective, it is possible to assume that Gandhi is justifying his philosophy of life in the eyes of supporters of the idea of physical violence. However, this saying is a fundamental principle, a promise that the Indian enshrines as his political activity’s mission. It follows that the purpose of this passage was to inform followers and supporters of the methods by which Gandhi was prepared to wage an anti-British war and what they should expect.
“Violent disobedience deals with men who can be replaced. It leaves the evil itself untouched and often accentuates it.” (Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance 238)
This highly stylized statement, which may appear simple and short at first glance, in fact, describes the senseless nature of any violent disobedience to protest against the authorities in power. In the fleeting urge to resist the prevailing circumstances, the individual is capable of violent disobedience to authority, which, according to Gandhi, is of no public benefit. Real evil, which has its formal realization through the executors of power, will not be destroyed by violence. Hence, there is no point in a one-time protest, which in itself cannot cause global change. Instead, words can be seen as an effort to create a general, non-violent movement that would have the serious potential not only to change figures in the political arena but also to change the structure of power qualitatively.
What Gandhi means by swaraj and why he considers satyagraha the best way to attain it
In the art of fighting for independence — whether it be interpersonal conflicts or entire anti-government campaigns — there are a large number of viewpoints as to which defense and attack strategy is the most effective. While some ideologues may regard the stance of the active physical reprisals, brutality, and military coup d’état as the most useful means of revolution, the Indian social activist known worldwide for his philosophy, Mahatma Gandhi, regarded non-violent methods of struggle as the most productive.
More specifically, Gandhi’s philosophy was to appeal to the conscience and reasonableness of his opponent through consistent and wise decisions, thereby making them a friend rather than an enemy. This idea underlies the worldview of an entire generation of Indians who lived through the era of colonization of their homeland by the forces of the British Empire.
Gandhi’s position cannot fail to impress with its reasonableness, civility, and wisdom, defining the relationship between the disaffected community and the government. Thus, Gandhi built a unified system of his views around Swaraj, the Indian term for the lack of centralized power for the benefit of public representation. In such a philosophy, it is not difficult to find deep democratic values that are fair to the modern world: the power of the people, legitimacy, and the public. It is true that the fundamental difference between Swaraj and democracy is the structure of state power. In other words, Gandhi’s position implied complete decentralization and the division of the whole community into separate social units, governed by the majority’s power. Thus, Swaraj urged Indians to self-governance, to voluntarily refuse to follow outsider and even inhumane decisions in order to achieve the public goal.
At the same time, according to Gandhi, passive apoliticism, apathy, silencing problems, or ignoring them plays into the hands of the current government. For the end, people are inclined every day either to approve the actions of the ruling class — for example, by showing no social responsibility — or to actively oppose them: there is no third option. It is obvious that such views were at odds with the ideology of the current government, especially in an era of powerful, imperialist metamorphosis.
Although the paramount solution that seems effective for the practical implementation of Swaraj refers the reader to a violent overthrow of power, Gandhi specifically noted that the mission of his political activism was to preserve non-violence and justice. There is no doubt that the choice of radical, impulsive measures can lead to quick results: in fact, world history knows many cases of rapid military coups and thus of urgent obtaining of the desired power.
Nevertheless, according to Gandhi, such an approach, ultimately, will require great sacrifice and will cause negative social consequences. Gandhi did not wish for such an outcome, and therefore, his philosophy of social action was to choose Satyagraha as his point of reference. It is worth clarifying that in contrast to brute force, Satyagraha, whose foundation lies in the art of overruling a political opponent, employs the subtle mental vibrations of the human mind.
According to Gandhi, recourse to advice is far more effective than the choice of punishment. Developing this concept into a formed idea, the thinker paid particular attention to the tools of Satyagraha: civil disobedience, non-violence, and the willingness to cooperate. Thus, Indians did not necessarily have to engage in active physical development between belligerent parties, but daily protest could be a much more effective measure. Satyagraha encourages the human courage that is critically necessary to endure the pain and suffering caused by both the lack of social goods and the attitude of power. In this regard, Satyagraha must be seen as a functioning weapon of the strongest of spirits who have managed to transcend to higher stages of spiritual organization.
In conclusion, Mahatma Gandhi’s social philosophy was built around the principle of humanity and ethical behavior even toward the enemy. The man did not welcome harshness and malice but emphasized that Satyagraha was a powerful tool in the hands of the revolutionary.
Certainly, in this context, one cannot fail to recall that similar ideas are not uncommon in the philosophy of the world: it is enough to mention the worldview of Jesus Christ or Buddha Samyaksaṃbodhi. Thus, Gandhi sincerely believed in the ability of human consciousness to change, and therefore, he called for an impact on the spiritual level of life rather than the external and physical one. Thus, the historical development of the Indian state might have taken an alternative, just, and humane path if the Swaraj movement had received more public recognition. Though it is certainly a mistake to ignore the powerful social contribution Mahatma Gandhi made to the country.
In today’s world, when mass protests and social discontent are becoming increasingly popular events, it is especially important to discuss the strategies that protesters use to publicly express their indignation at the reforms of the current government. First of all, it should be recalled that the Constitutions of most countries of the world recognize that it is legal to actively express one’s civic opinion through pickets, protests, and rallies. Consequently, there is nothing illegal about such forms of civic engagement, but often peaceful protest takes on the hues of a violent, ferocious event. In his fundamental works, Gandhi wrote about the importance of respecting the Laws when protesting and disobeying the authorities.
Central to his ideology Gandhi considered the principle of non-violence and the demonstration of humanity toward even their worst enemies. Whereas the use of physical violence, threats, and aggression are the most readily available strategies for waging the political struggle, the appeal to the profoundly human categories of conscience, prudence, and ethics is not within everyone’s reach. Therefore, this philosophy addresses the moral and ethical aspects of life rather than the military and strategic. This is precisely what Gandhi calls for: deliberate, wise decisions in critically difficult situations. This is especially evident when considering the idea of non-violent civil disobedience, which is generally illegal.
Therefore, first of all, it is worth determining that in the traditional system of domestic relations, the ruling elite creates the laws and reforms that structure the life of society. Although in most cases, the driving force behind such reforms is the desire to create more comfortable living conditions, in some situations, the authorities may sign completely inhumane, unconstitutional, and corrupt laws. This is mainly noticeable when colonizing foreign territories and, consequently, imposing an ideology alien to the local population. The idea of civil disobedience promoted by Gandhi comes down to actively protesting against unjust laws, thereby expressing their civic position.
These should not be violent or aggressive countermeasures but rather daily, consistent steps designed to change the structure of power. Hence, the ultimate purpose of such disobedience is to force the government to make concessions, and so this system of interaction with the government must be classified as effective and useful. Disobedience to inhumane laws and rules, workers’ strikes, and public opposition to the ideology of the authorities are illustrative examples of such disobedience. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to understand that this form of protest is still considered illegal or relatively illegal and requires law enforcement oversight.
Consequently, Gandhi convinced his followers that any protest must be civil, which means that it must be based on the rule of Law and the legitimacy of the Constitution. It follows that in order for a protest to be called civil, it must lack elements of violence. Recognizing the basic framework of state laws as absolutes — namely, those that fit the local social and political culture — protesters must not turn peaceful action into episodes of violence against law enforcement officers. Otherwise, the public expression of the civic position will be transformed into aggression, senseless brutality, and animal fighting. Consequently, according to Gandhi’s philosophy, the protest must remain civil, and protesters must remain polite. Only in this case the maximum positive effect of state-society relations becomes possible.
To summarize mentioned above, it should be emphasized that in the modern world, the tendency to intensify mass uprisings against the actions of the authorities in the regions is becoming more noticeable. Social discontent reaches record high levels, and therefore protest is no longer controllable. M. Gandhi viewed peaceful protest from the perspective of the protesting members of society and especially emphasized that the central criteria for such protest must be the rule of law, justice, and social responsibility.
Although protesters have every right to this format of expression, often such forms of civil complaint take on the characteristics of a violent, ferocious event. In order to avoid unnecessary sacrifice and to maintain public order, M. Gandhi urged the abandonment of animal instincts and the pursuit of intelligent, deliberate solutions.
Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. Hind Swaraj and Other Writings. Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. Non-Violent Resistance. Courier Corporation, 2012.
Thoreau, Henry David. Thoreau: Political Writings. Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Tolstoy, Leo. The Kingdom of God is Within You. William Heinemann, 1894.