Gandhi and Group Conflict: An Exploration of Satyagraha.
Part I: Gandhi’s Experiments

by Arne Naess

Gandhi: Merely a Man

We find two diametrically opposed views of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s moral stature. One states that, ethically speaking, he was nearly perfect. Albert Einstein said of him, for instance, that generations to come would scarcely believe that such a man actually walked this earth, and in a collection of essays that appeared under the title Gandhi Memorial Peace Number (Roy 1949), a large number of eminent persons accord Gandhi the highest of praise as a moral being.

We must also ask ourselves, however, what exactly is the nature of Gandhi’s contribution and what is the basis for the tremendous esteem and adulation in which he has been held. For with regard to his own moral achievement, we find a second opinion that is, perhaps, as near the truth as the first: the opinion that Gandhi was often mistaken and that it would be wrong to take him unreservedly as a moral example for everyone.

The best-known representative of this latter and more modest view happens to be Gandhi himself. “I claim no infallibility. I am conscious of having made Himalayan blunders . . .” (quoted in Pyarelal 1932: 133; also in Prabhu and Rao 1967: 9). There are other people also who firmly accept that he fell short of his own very high aims. The best collection of Gandhi’s teaching, The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, compiled by Ramachandra K.  Prabhu and U. R. Rao (1946, revised and enlarged in 1967), opens with two chapters in which Gandhi speaks of his own personal imperfection, his mistakes, their painful consequences, and his unrequited desire for support.

Read all of this article: Part I: Gandhi’s Experiments

A NOTE ON THE TEXT: This is Part One of 4 parts comprising the volume Gandhi and Group Conflict: an Exploration of Satyagraha, a Theoretical Background. The first edition was: Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1974. However, it is currently available, in a somewhat revised and edited version, as Volume 5 of the 10 volume Selected Works of Arne Naess, published by Springer Verlag.  We use here the Springer version as it corrects some grammar from the original, (Norwegian) English language version and is more readable. We are grateful to Springer Verlag and to Mrs. Arne Naess for permission. Copyright © 2012 Mrs. Arne Naess/Estate of Arne Naess. We are also grateful to Alan Drengson for his assistance.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1912-2009) was one of the foremost environmental thinkers of the 20th century, and is often referred to as “the father of deep ecology”. He was critical of environmentalists who did not seek to address the institutional causes of environmental degradation, or seek to change them. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) made a deep impact on him. And in the late 1960s he undertook a thorough study of Gandhi’s theory of nonviolent active resistance.  In satyagraha Naess found the answer to his quest for a strategy to address the ecological crisis: Gandhian nonviolent active resistance could be synthesized with deep ecology. This Gandhian side of Naess’s thinking is acknowledged but not well enough known. He was a major interpreter and theoretician of Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent active resistance, on a par with, if not subtler than, either Joan Bondurant or Krishnalal Shridharani. In this work, his reinterpretation of the meaning of Gandhian strategy remains one of the most trenchant discussions of Gandhian philosophy thus far written.

Naess’s philosophical work was in the area of linguistic analysis, applying mathematical set theory to the problem of interpreting language and statements we make to each other. Every statement can have several interpretations, or sets and subsets. How do we evaluate these? He was also concerned about creating a new language for his environmental thinking, coining the term ecosophy, from the Greek words for environment and wisdom, to describe his belief that every living being, whether plant, animal, or person, has the right to live and blossom,the right to self-realization.

WEB REFERENCES: A useful critical appreciation has been written by David Orton of the Springer 10 volume set. The article serves as a useful guide also to the contents of the volumes.

The main site for articles on ecosophy, is Trumpeter. The Journal of Ecosophy.

Alan Drengson is one of the main interpreters of Arne Naess, and an executor of the Naess estate. His beautiful and useful ecostery foundation website is well worth visiting.

“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