Civility and Politicized Love in Gandhi
Gandhi followed Tolstoy both in his understanding of religion as a carrier of universal truths and in his advocacy of a politicized conception of love for our enemies, a conception of love which he belied could be found in the Baghavad Gita, with its admiration for the opponent and its reluctance to harm. But here we may wonder about just how viable this appeal was and just how much Gandhi was relying upon a thinly reworked version of Christian agape. I want to suggest that while there was a clear Christian influence, Gandhi’s understanding of love also had a significant innovative dimension. Whereas Tolstoy based his overtly Christian ‘law of love’ upon no expectation of reciprocal response, Gandhi believed that the heart of the protestor which addressed the conscience of the oppressor in a spirit of love and truth would unavoidably be answered. It was Gandhi who began to shift our understanding of civil disobedience in the direction of a communicative account which has in recent decades become the dominant paradigm. Yet at the same time there was a doubling of Gandhi’s discourse, a backing up of his claims about a quasi-communicative love with a much less demanding appeal to a concept of civility variously represented as action which expressed an underlying state of virtuous character and, more minimally, as action in compliance with important civil norms. I want to suggest that, as a guide to rethinking a contemporary account of civil disobedience in the aftermath of the communicative paradigm, it is the latter which is Gandhi’s key legacy.