Is the Policy of Non-violence of Mohandas K. Gandhi a Unique Phenomenon, or Is It of Universal Significance?

  • Egbert Jahn


Gandhi’s political actions and ideas, which were successful in many ways, have already inspired numerous civil rights and national independence movements worldwide, particularly in liberal-democratic states and in states with a certain degree of constitutionality. Non-violent policies are based on the assumption that law abidance and concepts of justice that promote human dignity and essential equality among all people can be mobilised both in a society that has hitherto been passive and to a certain extent also among political opponents, through a dogged commitment to action against injustice and a willingness to suffer in order to achieve a humanisation of social living conditions and the political order.

Since the existing law and the concepts of justice vary widely in time and space, there are numerous elements of Gandhi’s ideas and actions that cannot be applied to non-violent policies in other countries and in other times, such as specific Hindu religious practices and social norms (such as the principle of reincarnation, recognition of the main castes, special protection for cows, conventions with regard to forms of communication). However, the basic principles of non-violent social behaviour and Gandhi’s policies have universal significance and will probably continue to do so in the future, particularly in liberal democracies and in dictatorships that are losing their legitimacy in the eyes of an increasing proportion of the population, who are suffering from injustice. The dangers that arise from a growing escalation of violence and the means of force employed by many states that to an increasing degree cannot be overcome by violence, appear to be causing social-political movements to increasingly tend to seek non-violent strategies to overcome inhumane living conditions that are becoming unbearable. For them, the study of Gandhi’s experiences and ideas remains an essential source of inspiration for their own actions, which are based on self-determination and also self-control.

The core element of Gandhi’s way of life is an awareness of one’s responsibility not only for one’s actions, but also of one’s failure to put up resistance against injustice in one’s own environment, which varies widely in its scope depending on one’s potential social impact. Non-cooperation is the primary legal means of non-violent action. Civil disobedience is a stage of escalation of non-violent policies that requires extremely careful preparation and a consideration of the risks for the common good that it entails. It is implemented against laws that are largely perceived not only individually, but also among the population, as being unjust, which also contradicts the constitutional law that now applies everywhere, as well as international law.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Egbert Jahn
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MannheimMannheimGermany

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