The Enlightenment’s Unfinished Business: Adding Gandhian Values to Nation-Making

by William J. Jackson

19th century print of the Enlightenment, courtesy

Tadd Graham Fernée’s new book, Enlightenment and Violence: Modernity and Nation-Making, causes readers to consider some timely issues. I will begin by mentioning some of the issues it has caused me to mull over and explore, questions the book raises both directly and indirectly.

Chronologically, the European Enlightenement ran from 1650-1800. It was a period of remarkable advances in rationality, science and technology, and also a time of new social theories and revolutionary acts of violence ushering in the modern age. Typical dictionary definitions describe the Enlightenment as an eighteenth century movement of philosophical thought which explored the potential of the empirical method in science, questioned authority, and developed new political theories. While many people think of the Enlightenment as dead and gone, it is possible, and reasonable, to see it in another way. It can be seen as a time of blossoming advances which are still bearing fruit, of ongoing intellectual probes and experiments still giving birth to new sets of viewpoints and refinements which are capable of being informed by non-Europeans now, long after the chronological period of the original phase of the Enlightenment has passed.

What if we consider the Enlightenment not just as the period of thinkers such as Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Newton, the French Encyclopedists, et al., and an age of advances in mathematics and chemistry, and inventions modernizing people’s lives and lifestyles, but as a time also representing an outlook that flowered, and then kept growing? Can we, and should we, refocus our historical vision and see the Enlightenment heritage as a trend distinguished by a spirit of seeking new knowledge, and employing values capable of bettering lives, such as equality and people power participating in running nations? What do we gain by shifting our perspective?

If we see the Enlightenment as a movement not confined to France, England, and other European nations, but as a contagious legacy of human potential, able to bring new Enlightenment possibilities to “the New World” of America, and to ancient civilizations, such as India we gain a deeper perspective. If it is an ongoing outlook with the shared values of rationality and modernization (which means openness to change rather than merely following old formulas and authorities), and an outlook representing new hopes and ideals for progressive societies, then another question arises. What about early aspects of the Enlightenment’s flowering still entangled in past habits, not just improving the world but involving ventures of colonial exploitation and forced labor? We can see how those darker aspects required major adjustments to bring more freedom and equality to humanity as a whole. In that case, those who made useful major improvements to Enlightenment ideals after 1800, such as Gandhi, can be said to be taking part in an ongoing evolving outlook.

When asked to write about his life story, Gandhi refused because autobiography was not an Indian tradition. It’s a Western tradition, with a long history of examples such as St. Augustine, and Margery Kempe, and Ben Franklin. But, as Indian philosopher J. L. Mehta told me, in the Hindu worldview writing about one’s own life is rather egotistical, since all that is temporary is illusory, or maya. But upon reflection, Gandhi realized that writing about his journey could be an instructive, honest search for lessons, proceding along an experimental path, not an excerise in self-importance. So, there is a sort of Enlightenment spirit in Gandhi’s autobiography. That is seen in the title itself: Experiments with Truth. The narration of his experiences involves learning based not on inherited beliefs but on testing different options and finding the best solutions—by experimentation. His faith in improvement, questioning, trying out methods by trial and error, analyzing, figuring out solutions, has a modern science-influenced flavor. Seeking hopefully for answers with which to better peoples’ lives on several levels, Gandhi was involved in innovating, devising inventions of social policies to help people attain a better society where violence is not the rule, where might does not make right, and an individual’s proven merits, not just royal bloodlines, matter and make big differences.

In Gandhi’s contribution on the world stage, his practices involving nonviolence and reconciliation, the methods of activism used in his Satyagraha philosophy, he proved that there is a link “between politics based on the nonviolent ethic of reconciliation and the creation of modern democratic societies,” as Tadd Fernée points out. (1)

A better awareness of this is still needed, because it is so useful, and so lacking in some nation-making aspects of Enlightenment thought which are still playing out in our times.

Unfortunately, many today are not really familiar with either 18th century Enlightenment advances in thought about nation-making, nor with Gandhi’s long-term endeavors to find nonviolent ways to bring needed change in the 20th century. Without actually knowing what Gandhi tried, and experienced and accomplished, many despise the Gandhi they have caricatured in their minds. Fernée’s study thus serves a very useful purpose in showing Gandhi’s role in the context of various historical examples of nation-making.

*                      *                      *

May I suggest in the starkest terms I can think of, that there are two voices at odds with each other today regarding who Gandhi was? One side says that Gandhi made a difference, and continues to make a difference, in working out the methods of nonviolence. Gandhi was great at innovating and organizing exercises of people power. This side believes in intelligence and creative wisdom, and asserts that ideas are the most powerful thing on earth. This side concludes that Gandhi’s legacy is needed as people of various regions of the world struggle to work out their destinies and determine their own course of governance.

The other side says Gandhi is passé, irrelevant in our brutal dog-eat-dog age of advanced weaponry. His “passive resistance,” they say, was too weak to work in an age of surprise terror attacks, nuclear weapons, drones and IEDs. This side believes that force, violence, bombs and bloodshed are the most powerful thing on earth. This faith is tantamount to saying that Gandhi and nonviolence have no place in the modern world, that only brute force, militarism and vested interests are important on the evolving world stage of international relations.

People following the resulting implications and applications of these two views on Gandhi and nonviolence arrive at two very different outcomes. Lived out in confrontations, insurgencies and the emergence of new states, the two plans of action attain two different outcomes. (What Gandhi’s philosophy may suggest in the face of extreme brutality such as a jihad waged by ISIL is not within the scope of this book review to discuss; suffice it to say that new ideas evolve in response to new challenges.)

As new generations think about the two ways of conceptualizing and planning change, they glance back at examples of revolutions past to plan new ways forward.

Therefore, exploring the important question—was the Enlightenment a permanent accomplishment of Europe alone, or an achievement with continuing activities—

Fernée’s new book, Enlightenment and Violence, is a much-needed source to consider, because much depends on our grasping what is at stake in these two ways of thinking.

Fernée’s book examines and usefully compares several examples of nation-making—including examples of methods of gaining independence in India, the Enlightenment-inspired attempt to modernize in Turkey, and the struggles for democracy in Iran. In this review of Enlightenment and Violence I am especially focusing on aspects relating to Gandhi’s work in India. Fernée examines the work of many great historians, philosophers and social critics—a massive undertaking— and concludes that the best of the Enlightenment deserves to be remembered and valued, and should continue to influence humanity’s political life as identifiably an Enlightenment process not limited to Europe, but ongoing and growing. Gandhi’s best contributions to this process too, arrived at through experiments with his own life and engagement with the social issues around him, deserve to be better known, and of continuing influence. In our time, which has it’s share of violence-darkened days, Gandhi’s contributions can shed light on the decision-making processes, and they are a remedy for bloodshed, the temptation to chose shortcuts of violence to bring change. They avoid the cyclical syndrome in which oppressed underdogs destroy the hated enemy ruler, then become brutal tyrants, themselves, oppressing the people through exploitation and corruption. Gandhi’s best contributions continue to teach lessons which humanity still needs.

These lessons are relevant to events today determining what kind of government and ethic the societies taking new shape will have. The Czech Velvet Revolution, and the Philippine examples offer lessons, and so do the Egyptian and Libyan Arab Spring examples. Learning from events which the last century or two have brought to world history should be useful in seeking to shape the future. The history of nation making in recent times is valuable, helping planners to know possibilities and outcomes more fully. We build on the best that time has revealed and taught us, or we go back to earlier ages and try to relive them all over again.

*                      *                      *

How does Fernée help us re-conceptualize the Enlightenment heritage regarding nation-making? He asserts that, “We cannot afford to imagine the Enlightenment heritage as an event that is behind us. The crisis of consciousness is global…” (2) Because the crisis, in which peoples are awakening and seeking to take their destinies into their own hands, is global, we need the lessons of a struggle in which a people gained freedom with philosophy and the methods which did not require the slaughter of opponents and smoothed a path for post-Independence reconciliation. Fernée explicates how the lessons are valuable to new struggles today, and asserts, “ . . . the Enlightenment heritage has grown because of the Gandhi-Nehru paradigm.” (3) Fernée’s study involves a nuanced and sophisticated interpretation of the Enlightenment, acknowledging its multiple centers, rather than a provincial view of the Enlightenment, narrow in the timebound and Eurocentric limited view, which he suggests is outmoded.

“The Enlightenment, however tacitly, is a heritage which profoundly shaped 20th century nation-making developments. It is a broadly discursive-practical, rather than specifically religious or cultural—heritage… (4) It has the living reality of a problem, or assemblage of problems, and not the singular inanimate reality of a stone—or the life-world terrain of meaning production rather than merely immutable natural law.” (5) It is a dynamic animated process evolving and growing.

The ways many modern people imagine the Enlightenment are outmoded and capable of significant deepening. Fernée’s work is informed by and buttressed by great thinkers of recent decades, demonstrating that we are discussing an ongoing process, not a fait accompli. He quotes them and refers to their con0tributions and gives useful information about them and their ideas in footnotes. Fernée avails himself of understanding of facets of the Enlightenment arrived at by Amartya Sen, Gaston Bachelard, Walter Benjamin, Dewey, Weber, Foucault, and many others.

Fernée notes that unlike the French, Russian, Chinese, and Cambodian Revolution—where hundreds of thousands and even millions of lives were taken in changes of power, “The Indian nation-making experience—while containing important minor currents grounded in sublimated authoritarian violence as means—ultimately saw the balance tilt to favour nonviolence and reconciliation.” (6) This was a great success, proof that all change does not come through violence and destruction. Negotiations, respect for the opponent, labor strikes, peaceful demonstrations, articulating the nature and details of injustices, suffering violence in instances of attacks by security police against demonstrators, submitting to arrest and jail, winning sympathy in the court of public opinion by remaining nonviolent even when beaten and insulted, these comprise parts of Gandhi’s powerful method.

Adding an insistence on nonviolence and reconciliation to the Enlightenment revolution repertoire was a major game changer. Appealing to the oppressor’s conscience is a kind of faith that brought Gandhi and India success, fortunately. It could have been otherwise—Fernée reminds us: “Had the British assassinated Gandhi, for example, it is possible that a Left-style violent revolution might have gained ascendancy by drawing mass support from out of the vacuum.” (7) But Gandhi’s philosophy and leadership, seeking to bring the best out of the Indian people and the colonial power, ultimately prevailed. His methods showed a way that others continue to learn from as part of modernity’s hopeful advance—such as in the revolutions in the Philippines and Tunisia. These methods are a needed value added, an alternative to the style of revolutions conducted with bombs and assassinations, hatred and revenge.

How does Fernée characterize the Enlightenment in a way that begins to encompass it’s multifaceted dynamics, in such a way as to allow for Gandhi to be a contributor to it? Fernée writes, “… the Enlightenment heritage represents adaptive coping with a shift in the ‘social center of gravity’ provoked by rapidly emerging secular scientific and technologically conditioned social forms.” (8)

Fernée argues that the Enlightenment is “Eurocentric only within the provincially imagined limits of a specific historical construction.” (9) There has been more of a free-flow of ideas among regions of the world than some people imagine. For example, Indian intellectuals in the colonial era before Gandhi’s time were already studying Enlightenment thinkers. When it comes to ideas, the borders of time and space are porous and easily passed through. Fernée observes that “The European Enlightenment was seminal in Indian intellectual developments, from the radicalized notion of civil society in Thomas Paine to Comte’s infallible methodology, as were Indian intellectual traditions in the Vedanta College and Brahmo Samaj.” (10)

Static views of the Enlightenment furnish inaccurate, limited understandings. Fernée, along with philosopher Gaston Bachelard, deconstructs the limited static view, which sees the Enlightenment as a fountainhead of values grounded only in European civilization then spread historically by way of a benevolent colonialism. He shows how a more accurate historical view is multi-centered, with a more wide-angle perspective of time in which modern ideas of democracy are seen developing in elements coming together from a variety of places and moments in the process, rather than imagining them as a single simultaneous thing. For example, some ideals of human rights, such as equality and tolerance, were encouraged by Chishti Sufi mystics and by Akbar, before the French or British ever went to India. And the ancient Hindu concept of the atman already contains a sense of equality. Fernée’s discussion is thick with the findings, concepts and critical thinking of some of the most respected historians, philosophers, economists and social critics. Fernée, along with Amartya Sen and others critiques insightfully the totalizing mode of imagining, indicating the reductionism involved in that kind of analysis, pointing out that when democracy is reduced to a legal basis in a kind of “institutional fundamentalism” and justice is reduced to merely an economic matter, too many important factors are left out of the picture.

Fernée explains that, “Democracy… is a human mode of imagining politics nonviolently.” (11) He notes that it “is not grounded in the unified or atemporal nature of the universe, or the Will of God (the transcendent).” (12) Therefore, he points out, “The Enlightenment—because of transcendental pretensions—has not always been democratic.” (13) This point is quite relevant in regard to the part Gandhi and his philosophy of Satyagraha played in history.

Fernée makes a valid argument when he builds his case “… for an Enlightenment ideal as based on a set of identifiable values committed to nonviolent conflict resolution rather than any single cognitive worldview, such as Marxist, claiming a new monopoly on truth.” (14) That is a different basis for thought and action, inspiring new strategies. Anyone can be an arson or a murderer, but such actions do not change a nation’s future for the better. They are easy, and they leave a stain.

To help a society improve its abilities to be independent and capable of self-rule requires the hard work of learning from the past, addressing current problems, and alleviating injustices. (A show of bravado and flippant insults, such as we see in the example of Gandhi’s critic Savarkar, who favored violence, does not really accomplish the needful. This is my example, not one found in Fernée’s book.) Gandhi’s nonviolent democratic vision of political emancipation did not pop up all at once from nowhere. Gandhi searched through the wisdom traditions and found teachings related to transforming situations without using terror or torture, seeking justice through fair dealing and practical solutions to ills which lead to actual progress. “The political work of Gandhi took up the mantle of democratic Enlightenment values—using a rich composite of Indian and non-Indian influences—and extended its practical applications on the everyday plane of nonviolent mass political mobilization, as a self-conscious practical alternative to a transformative politics of violence based on a professed monopoly of truth.” (15) Gandhi’s strategies were not inflexible enforcements of assertive ideology but responsive, based on specific situations, as his autobiography illustrates. (His life story also includes honest self-assessments of Gandhi’s own weaknesses and failures.) He learned as he went along, and treated his fellows and the world with the same regard as himself. (16)

Gandhi’s hard-earned principles and practical methods, which he gradually honed in real-life experiences, contributed to the ongoing cumulative heritage of the Enlightenment. They are not outdated, though of course they are not intended to be a “one-size-fits-all” scheme to be replicated everywhere on earth many years later as different peoples seek change and justice. By understanding some of the ways he was able to accomplish changes, people in later generations can get a sense of philosophical options that tend toward peaceful resolution, and explore possibilities in their own way, in their own situations.

Gandhi’s was a soulful approach to India’s problems, with conscience applied to political endeavors, as well as experiments in education, hygiene and cottage industries. Mutual improvement was the goal. In his view, the colonial power and the colonized land should both come out of the Indian independence struggle for the better, with no victim and vanquished, no vengeful murder of the loser in the struggle for power. There should be true reconciliation and amicable parting of the ways—that was Gandhi’s goal.

It is interesting to explore the idea that Gandhi was driven by moral ideals of his own Indian culture while growing up, and also stimulated, energized and empowered by the ongoing spirit of the Enlightenment—it’s methods of thinking, it’s forward looking progressive trends, new possibilities unfolding. Fernée enumerates the four ways Gandhi was in continuity with the core of French revolutionary inheritance. The first involves “a new concept of legitimacy based on the provisional nature of political institutions, and rejecting the transcendental value linked to the sanction of antiquity.” Simply because a practice is old, such as the authority of monarchy or caste, does not mean it is right, or worthy of forever being the determining factor of a social order. The second involves the logical consequence in the recognition of immanent values in political action—for example, a populace has the right to compel justice from the ruler. Possessing power does not give a leader a free pass to do what he likes, in contradiction to the will of the populace. The third involves “legitimization of conscience as a force of political judgement, and eventual action, or the principle of human autonomy in relation to tradition and history.” The fourth is the fact that “Gandhi shared in common with the French revolutionary tradition the conviction that ‘political emancipation, means the rise of mass consciousness.’” (17) The “rise of mass consciousness” presumably means a consensus of a large population seeking a better life. A new awareness of the people, who before were not so active in considering and deciding social issues and policies, figuring out how to go about determining their own governance, instead of being ruled from on high with little say. The citizens, with the ideal of self-reliance, a virtue spoken of highly by the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, take some responsibility for the welfare of their own land and people. It is a high ideal of democracy. Citizens who have won the right to self-rule (swaraj) have many issues to deal with and responsibilities to own up to and care for.

Why were Gandhi’s additions to the achievements of the Enlightenment so significant? It’s not that Gandhi merely subscribed to a Eurocentric 18th century period philosophy. (In fact, some, such as Bertrand Russell, see the Enlightenment as having begun in antiquity.) Gandhi’s life and accomplishments can be seen as one more advance of humanity’s potential to evolve beyond knee-jerk revenge with endless cycles of escalation and reprisals as the inevitable fate of mankind. Gandhi personally didn’t divide his knowledge or sources of learning into East and West. When criticized for having been “Westernized,” he responded, “My opinions should be considered as they are, irrespective of whether they are derived from the East or West.” (18) Of course it is true that in the Vedas, Hinduism’s oldest scriptures, there is already a famous line, “Let good thoughts come to us from every side.” Fernée comments, “It follows that in his view neither India nor the West were constituted of a fixed essence.” (19) Gandhi was a practical person with a holistic outlook who identified with the whole of humanity.

It’s significant that people actually share the earth and a common human heritage—cultures have influenced each other for millennia, and various parts of the world are intertwined and mutually indebted. We share not only rationality, which is a power capable of great feats, including major advances in science and technology, but also the capability of developing a vital rationale for nonviolence. (In all the major religions there are teachings and examples regarding avoiding bloodshed, and peace-making.) Gandhi naturally imbibed a wisdom of conscience, a drive for fairness, compassion, justice through practical work through valuable lessons he learned from childhood until the day he died. Satyagraha, Gandhi’s philosophy, is a way of thought and life, which he gradually developed over a lifetime. The soulful values he sought out and was attracted to were the touchstones of his sensibility. He found guidance and inspiration in various examples, teachings and people of character whose standards kept him honest. His mother’s ideals and strenuous practices, the Jain monks whose lives were models of austerity and ahimsa, the moral drama he saw repeatedly as a youth, telling the tale of Harischandra, the king who was true to his duty, and true to his vow—these were influential elements. Other sources such as the Bhagavad Gita, Buddhist philosophy, the Sermon on the Mount, and scriptural teachings of other traditions regarding peace and nonviolence were also inspirations to him. He was a big fan of wisdom and a friendly sharer with people he admired, from whatever era or ethnicity they called home.

Gandhi was at home in diversity, and left behind narrow-mindedness even before he broke with his caste. He learned the power of taking a vow of truth (satyavrata) from his mother’s example—this ancient Hindu practice is a powerful act of commitment, will power and self-sacrifice, reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson’s call to start the American Revolution with a period of prayer and fasting, to help participants find a spirit of dedication within through avoiding distractions in the crucial time of beginning a sacred undertaking.

The openness and eagerness to learn is in itself is a great factor in the life of an original thinker like Gandhi. A fearful man shuts down and defends with desperation all that he fears losing. A person such as Gandhi, knowing he needs to find answers, is out on a quest, and welcomes new and useful ideas from various quarters. Just as the 17th -18th century was a period of Enlightenment thinkers making breakthroughs by more precisely detecting, identifying, and measuring aspects of the world around them—such as in chemical analyses, and using coal gas for more efficient lighting at night, so too, Gandhi’s mental abilities were open to finding new ways to solve problems. The Enlightenment featured an effervescence of fresh ideas, new hopes of accomplishments, pursuits for the betterment of humanity. Gandhi’s nimble mind learned cumulatively. He was not a literalist in reading religious ideas, or a materialist gathering wealth for himself. His years in England and South Africa taught him that he could advance, and that cultures are not necessarily static. He had an open-ended attitude, and an expansive and fluid mind, so he could feel for, and look empathetically through the eyes of, many different people. He had long-range concerns, he was not satisfied by shortcuts, and he gave of himself for the good of others. Maybe, ultimately, that is what we mean by “wisdom.” Gathering wisdom on uplift of the downtrodden and conflict resolution from wherever these ideas could be found, Gandhi absorbed them, experimented, applying them to solving the dilemmas and crises he faced as a leader of his fellow citizens. In this way he made unique contributions to the ongoing modern age and enlarged the repertoire of human potentials for healthy nations with more justice for their citizens.

As Fernée notes, Gandhi’s ability to seek the Truth hinged on his adherence to the pledge of nonviolence. It is very evident that nonviolence is a mysterious force in Gandhi’s philosophy. It is not just a negative—refraining from hurting others, but it is also a postive force, an invisible power with effects in one’s life, and in the world around one. “There being no ideal or universal blueprint, social conflicts may only be confronted in the complexity of the everyday world where they are lived. Once violence is introduced, the outcome becomes the random consequence of brute force. He thus argued that ‘there is no way to find truth except the way of nonviolence.” (20)

Gandhi worked out responses to some of the ills and conundrums of his day, and the era we live in requires more of this kind of remediation, thus, knowing what Gandhi accomplished, and how, is very valuable to us. The Gandhian experience, if seen as “past as prologue” to the future, is a practical method, a courageous stance far advanced beyond crude extremist jihad of the literal kind which conquers and destroys others in the name of God, using bloodshed to force one’s will on enemies who resist change.

That is why Gandhi is irreplaceable and not irrelevant, despite the continued practice of revenge-seeking and bloodlust used by some nations and some organizations to show domination and demonstrate power through terror. That is why he is not just one more outdated politician whose time was over the moment he died. If we look at the historical evidence, the long term accomplishments, and shortcomings of governments which murdered and destroyed to gain power, not using Gandhi’s methods of renouncing violence, we see the obvious. The mass murders of revolutions—in Stalin’s Russia, Cambodia, et al.,—with millions dead, and great suffering, did not create enduringly successful societies. Violence-tainted attainments of a new regime seem to carry the seeds of their own decay.

Fernée points out that, “Significantly, in all Enlightenment movements prior to Gandhi, the problems of means and violence were overlooked—it was tacitly broached by natural rights theory and Locke in promoting tolerance and secular ideals but never became the focus of reflection… it remained…scattered components lacking self-conscious assembly. Meanwhile, violence as a legitimate means was frequently taken for granted and sometimes affirmed in the name of larger metaphysical ideas and ends. Violence… served to imaginatively justify colonial or imperial aggression. The Enlightenment heritage was linked to massive violence.” (21) The implication of this is a harsh truth we need to face. “The Enlightenment finished by negating itself in political practice through the wedding of violence to certitude.” (22) This is not to say that all Europeans before and during the Enlightenment were only intent on using violence in political struggles. (23)

This reliance on violence was a bad habit. Ever-recurring patterns of revolutionary movements making regime changes could not let go of this addiction. Gandhi alone made nonviolence the one non-negotiable element in his work, and that insistence on the social level of the struggle for independence brought an advancement of civilization. Gandhi, who brought modesty to all his activities, also uniquely focused on this addiction, asking if human beings could find ways to achieve freedom without killing each other.

*                      *                      *

Fernée ‘s book, Enlightenment and Violence is like a lens which refocuses in new light distinct aspects of India’s Gandhian experiments and accomplishments for human potential at large, showing this is not merely a dusty tale from a time gone by, no matter how many people are currently ignorant of the “great step for mankind” which Gandhi made. (The moonshot was powerful and interesting, but did it help oppressed people around the world?) Fernée analyzes with helpful nuance the essential factors of the new contributions Gandhi and his contemporary Indians made to the Enlightenment repertoire of nation-making.

It would be nice if one could talk about Gandhi and his life and work with a simplicity similar to Gandhi’s. He was the original “leave no citizen behind” advocate. Ordinary people, including women and children, because of the nonviolence pledge, played a large part in India’s Independence movement—“there were many more women in positions of importance than in the Russian and Chinese revolutionary movements put together.” (24) Gandhi aimed his communications at ordinary people, speaking in such a way that the average person, and even the illiterate, could understand and digest his message. Fernée has a strong ability to convey the nuances of large-scale political and historical canvases. Scholars have forged a vocabulary to think about, analyze, criticize experiments in politics, including structures of governing, attempts to form better-functioning societies. This necessitates a specialized language using terms employed by philosophers, analysts of societies, and critics of culture, and economists and historians—therefore, parts of this study assume knowledge of a short-hand vocabulary enabling more nuance. Terms such as “region of density”; “discursive-practical”; “valorization of the fragment”; “everydayness”; “public gaze”, and “the life-world terrain of meaning-production” might require a glossary, because they are well known to some scholars, but not to all readers interested in this topic. Great, complex concepts condensed into phrases are very useful, but need to be unpacked when first used.

Fernée chooses well great scholars’ characterizations and conclusions about Gandhi’s life and philosophy. Perhaps a few more direct quotes from Gandhi’s writings would bring a sense of Gandhi’s own ways of expression to the book. He gives Gandhi the credit due for accomplishing the betterment of people’s lives—his study explains why Gandhi now more than ever deserves full legitimacy on the world stage, a status different from leaders who used violence to gain their results. The last words in his book are, “the Enlightenment heritage has grown because of the Gandhi-Nehru paradigm.” (25) Gandhi has an enduring place in world history, not an isolated one confined to Indian events, and not relegated to a static time period in the past. His time is now.


(1) Tadd Graham Fernée, Enlightenment and Violence: Modernity and Nation-Making, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2014, p. 269. (Below, I abbreviate this title as EV.)

(2) Fernée, EV, p. 363.

(3) EV, p. 363.

(4) Here, presumably, the word “discursive” means both expansive and fluent, as well as philosophical views arrived at by argument or reasoning, not intuition.

(5) EV, p. xv.

(6) EV, p. xxii.

(7) EV, p. xxiv.

(8) EV, p. xxvii. Fernée adds that Foucault wrote that the Enlightenment is “a permanent critique of ourselves,” meaning, I think, an ongoing set of principles useful for self-reflection, which brings together “elements of social transformation, types of political institution, forms of knowledge, projects of rationalization of knowledge and practices [and] technological mutations.” Citing Foucault Reader, p. 43.

(9) EV, p. xxvii.

(10) EV, p. li.

(11) EV, p. xlvi.

(12) EV, Ibid.

(13) EV, Ibid.

(14) EV, p. xxxiii.

(15) EV, p. xxxix.

(16) EV, p. 315.

(17) EV, pp. 155-6.

(18) EV, p. 158, citing Gandhi’s Collected Works, 32,43.

(19) EV, p. 158.

(20) EV, p. 192.

(21) EV, p. 358.

(22) EV, p. 82.

(23) Background references help contextualize nonviolent themes within the sweep of history. For example, in mentioning those in the past who tended to have values in harmony with Gandhi’s, Fernée mentions that Nicholas of Cusa was a proponent of reconciliation grounded in one’s own sense of intellectual modesty; Grotius, founder of modern natural right theory, rejected the idea that “might makes right”; Spinoza developed a conflict-resolution ethic of reconciliation; and Gerard Winstanley of the Diggers was a proponent of nonviolence. EV, pp. 71-2, 74, 75, etc.

(24) EV, p. 185.

(25) EV, p. 363. Of course Fernée is not alone in advocating an enlarged and deepened understanding of the Enlightenment. H. F. May, A. Owen Aldridge, Franco Venturi and other scholars in their own ways, expanded our knowledge of this. EV, p. 360.

EDITOR’S NOTE: William J. Jackson is our Literary Editor and a frequent contributor to this site. Please consult his author’s page for further biographical and bibliographical information.

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi