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A Borrowed Essay

It's quite to our shame that we allow the laws of an economy to govern availability of what might be important and vital, such laws becoming discriminatory especially when the author themselves are now dead, and it
can be imagined that the authors would have never had such discrimination in desire or in mind. This is from the essay which Thomas Merton introduces his collection of selected writings of Gandhi entitled
'Gandhi on Non-Violence.' I did a cursory search and Merton's text does not appear available, but for one who doesn't have access to the book, it may be worth a more comprehensive search for the complete text.
Both Gandhi and Merton were overtly religious men. Despite that, for my purposes in posting, I have deliberately avoided direct religious references, even while they may inferred and seem a detriment understanding both men's motivations. Such is the nature and life of both men, essentially religious. This is not complete by any means, and I have taken liberties with words or phrases to render them less specific and placed within single quotes. Others with less valiant reasons disparage these men, attempting to diminish their contribution. I might ask that they display, for our own judgement, any contribution that they may have made that might be so altruistically important. That diminishment says little of these men, and much of those who would do such. So be it. Meron's introductory essay is entitled 'Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant'.

..Contrary to what has been thought in recent centuries in the West, the spiritual or interior life is not an exclusively private affair. (In reality, the deepest and most authentic Western traditions are at one with those of the East on this point.) The spiritual life of one person is simply the life of all manifesting itself in him. While it is very necessary to emphasize the truth that as the person deepens his own thought in silence he enters into a deeper understanding of and communion with the spirit of his entire people (or his Church), it is also important to remember that as he becomes engaged in the crucial struggles of his people, in seeking justice and truth together with his brother, he tends to liberate the truth in himself by seeking true liberty to all. Thus Plato taught that "to philosophize and concern oneself with politics is one and the same thing, and wrestle with the sophist means at the same time to defend the city against tyranny."

So true was this that Socrates would not turn his back on the equivocation of his fellow citizens and their betrayal of truth, even when their hatred of reason meant his own death.

The "spiritual space" created by the Polis was still, in any event, the only place for the philosopher. True, in an imperfect city, a fully human life was not possible, and hence the perfect philosophical life was out of the question...Yet if he is not only silenced but even condemned unjustly to death, it remains his function as philosopher to teach the city truth by his death rather than fly into exile or withdraw into private life, since a purely private existence could not be fully "philosophical."

It was in the life of the Polis that the citizen manifested his deeds and his courage, above all his reason.

This does not mean that the classical idea allows no "space" for what is hidden or private. There is the economy of private life in the home. But this is not the proper sphere of man's activities as a being of logic, of courage, and of wisdom. It is in the public and political realm that he shares words and deeds, thus contributing his share of action and thought to the fabric of human affairs. Now, the public and political realm is that where issues are decided in a way worthy of free man: by persuasion and words, not by violence. Violence is essential wordless, and it can begin only where thought and rational communication have broken down. Any society which is geared for violent action is by that very fact systematically unreasonable and inarticulate. Thought is not encouraged, and the exchange of ideas is eschewed as filled with all manner of risk. Words are kept at a minimum, at least as far as their variety and content may be concerned, thought hey may pour over the armed multitude in cataracts: they are simply organized and inarticulate noise destined to arrest thought and release violence, inhibiting all desire to communicate with the enemy in any other way than by destructive impact.

Though there are at best only analogies between the Greek concept of the Polis and the entirely hierarchical structure of 'a' society, it is instructive to see how these basic ideas are illustrated in Gandhi 'and I might add all true heroes'. It cannot too often be repeated that with him 'them' non-violence was not simply marginal and quasi-fanatical indulgence of personal religious feeling. It belonged to the very nature of political life, and a society whose politics are habitually violent, inarticulate, and unreasonable is subpolitical and therefore subhuman society...

In any case Gandhi's public life was one of maximum exposure, and he kept it so. For him the public realm was not secular, it was sacred...

Gandhi therefore did not identify the "private" sphere with the "sacred" and did not cut himself off from public activity as "secular." Yet he did on the other hand look upon certain cultures and social structures as basically "secular" in the sense that their most fundamental preconceptions were irreligious (even though they might, on occasion, appeal to the support of religious cliches). Some of the characteristic and least understood elements in his non-violent mystique follow from this principle which implies a rejection of the basic idea of the affluent industrial society. A society that lives by organized greed or by systematic terrorism and oppression (they come to much the same thing in the end) will always tend to be violent because it is in a state of persistent disorder and moral confusion. The first principle of valid political action in such a society then becomes non-cooperation with its disorder, its injustices, and more particularly with its deep commitment to untruth. "It is not possible for a modern state based on force non-violently to resist forces of disorder, whether external or internal." Hence 'one cannot' seriously accept claims advanced by the basically violent society that hopes to preserve order and peace by the threat of maximum destruction and total hate. It is not possible for the truly non-violent man simply to ignore the inherent falsity and inner contradictions of a violent society. On the contrary, it is for him a human duty to confront the untruth in that society with his own witness in order that the falsity may become evident to everyone.

Sometimes the idea of non-violence is taken to be the result of purely sentimental evasion of unpleasant reality. Foggy cliches about Oriental metaphysics leave complacent Westerners with the idea that for the East and as every knows, the Easterners are all "quietists" besides being enigmatic) nothing really exists anyway. All is illusion, and suffering itself is illusion. Non-violence becomes a way of "making violence stop" by sitting down in front of it and wishing it was not there. This, together with the refusal to eat meat or to kill ants, indeed even mosquitoes, is supposedly thought to create an aura of benevolence with may effectively inhibit the violence of an oppressor (who are in any case kind to dogs, etc.) but cannot be expected to work against others. So much for Western evaluations!
Gandhi knew the reality of hatred and untruth because he had felt them in his own flesh; indeed he succumbed to them when he was assassinated on January 30, 1948. Gandhi's non-violence was therefore not a sentimental evasion or denial of the reality of evil. It was a clear-sighted acceptance of the necessity to use the fore and the presence of evil as a fulcrum for good and for liberation.

All forms of necessity can contribute to man's freedom. There is material and economic need. There is spiritual need. The greatest of man's spiritual needs is the need to be delivered from evil and falsity that are in himself and in his society. Tyranny, which makes sagacious use of every human need and indeed artificially creates more of them in order to exploit them all to the limit, recognizes the importance of guilt. And modern tyrannies have all explicitly or implicitly in one way or another emphasized the irreversibility of evil in order to build their power upon it.
For instance, it is not unusual in all political life, whether totalitarian of democratic, to incriminate the political novice in order to test his mettle and make sure of his commitment. He must be willing to get his hands dirty, and if he is not willing he must be framed so that he will have a record that can, when necessary, be used against him. Then he will be a committed man. He will henceforth cooperate with acts which might have given him pause if were not himself marked with guilt. Who is he to complain of certain shady actions, certain discreet deals, certain white lies, when he knows what is in his own file at headquarters?
It is no accident that Hitler believed firmly in the unforgivableness of sin. This is fundamental to the whole mentality of Nazism, with its avidity for final solutions and its concern that all uncertainties be eliminated.

...A belief in the finality and irreversibility of evil implies a refusal to accept the precariousness and the risk that attend all finite good in this life. Indeed, the good that men do is always in the realm of the unnecessary and of the fluid, because the needs and sufferings of men, the sins and failures of me, are constant, and love triumphs, at least in this life, not by eliminating evil once for all but by resisting and overcoming it anew every day. The good is not assured once for all by one heroic act...
The "fabric" of society is not finished. It is always "in becoming." It is on the loom, and it is made up of constantly changing relationships. Non-violence takes account precisely of this dynamic and non-final state of all relationships among men, for non-violence seeks to change relationships that are evil into others that are good, or at least less bad.
Hence non-violence implies a kind of bravery far different from violence. In the use of force, on simplifies the situation assuming that the evil to be overcome is clear-cut, definite, and irreversible. Hence there remains but one thing: eliminate it. Any dialogue with the sinner, any question of irreversibility of his act, only means faltering and failure. Failure to eliminate evil in itself a defeat. Anything that even remotely risks such defeat is in itself capitulation to evil. The irreversibility of evil then reaches out to contaminate even the tolerant thought of the hesitant crusader who, momentarily, doubts the total evil of the enemy he is about to eliminate.
Such tolerance is already complicity and guilt, and must be eliminated in its turn. As soon as it is detected, it becomes irreversible.
Fortitude, then, equals fanaticism. It grows with unreason. Reasoning itself is by its very nature tinged with betrayal.
Conscience does indeed make cowards. It makes Judases. Conscience must be eliminated.
This is the familiar mental machinery of tyrannical oppression. By reducing necessities to simple and irreversible forms it simplifies existence, eliminating questions that then to embarrass minds and slacken the "progress" of the relentless and intolerant apparatus.

Forgive me 24.Nov.2013 12:19


There are some typos. This wasn't just scanned or copied and pasted.