“My philosophy, if I can be said to have any, excludes the possibility of harm to one’s cause by outside agencies.”
–Gandhi (Harijan, July 25, 1936)
Whenever he talks about the full power of nonviolence, Gandhi is sure to tell us that the first observance we must acknowledge is, the cause must be just. Nonviolence in a cause that aims at some political gain or seeks to humiliate one’s opponents, or promotes any other forms of violence would not fit that clause. No “March for gun rights” or no actions, no matter how unarmed, to keep trans people from using whichever bathroom they feel they need, etc.
Nonviolence, when offered from the strength of conviction that comes from an unwillingness to degrade humanity or settle for short-lived benefits for the few, is what Kenneth Boulding called “integrative power” as distinct from threat or exchange powers. Integrative power is deployed when a person says, “Do what you must, and I will not flinch from my goal,” or as our friend David Hartsough said at a lunch-counter sit-in in Virginia, “Do what you think is best, and I will still try to love you.”
This is the kind of nonviolence Gandhi has in mind when he says it “excludes the possibility of harm to one’s cause by outside agencies.” He is talking about Truth-force itself, writ large. And his ultimate faith was in the existence of Truth–as what is good, what is right, and what is real; and he was assured that Truth would show its face eventually in any situation, and sooner if we approach it with nonviolence instead of covering it up further with more un-Truth or violence.
He makes this grand statement pretty late in his career, 1936. A little more than 10 years left of his earthly existence, and decades of practice under his dhoti (no belt to speak of). Keep in mind, we are learning from a master teacher here. He’s assumed you’ve already taken Gandhian Thought 101 before approaching this extremely challenging statement! The upshot? A cause that is just can only be harmed from within–by the actions of those who purport to be for it–because the entire universe of justice (that moral arc that King spoke of) is behind it. When a cause is backed by people who are not going to be moved by attempts to foil their efforts, who have a strategy in place, ready to shift and move in new directions when necessary, anything that tries to stop them only makes them stronger. Gandhi even added, even if you are left with only one person who has not lost that faith, Truth will prevail. It’s a beautiful, inspiring statement; let it sink in.
Experiment in Nonviolence:
How would you articulate his philosophy through a personal example or powerful story?