• Manfred B. Steger


In their pursuit of political goals, adherents of a philosophy of nonviolence face significant constraints on their choice of means to turn their ideals into reality. As illustrated throughout this book, this problem is particularly relevant for advocates of nonviolence such as Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948), for whom the notion of ahimsa (not harming, nonviolence) represents not merely a political tactic or a prudent means toward an end, but a moral way of life grounded in a metaphysical-religious view about the nature of reality. Reading Indian traditions of nonviolence through a lens colored by his Western education, Gandhi considered ahimsa a mode of being and action consistent with a deeper ontological “truth” that points to the unity of all beings. Adding a Christian-Tolstoyian notion of “active love” to his understanding of nonviolence, Gandhi departed significantly from orthodox Hindu interpretations: “Belief in nonviolence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advance of love/’3 Consequently, he identified two basic expressions of nonviolence: “In its negative form, it [nonviolence] means not injuring any living being, whether by body or mind. I may not therefore hurt the person of a wrong-doer, or bear any ill will to him and so cause him mental suffering. … In its positive form, ahimsa means the largest love, the greatest charity.”4


Moral Vision Civil Disobedience Political Idea National Liberation Mental Suffering 
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© Manfred B. Steger 2000

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  • Manfred B. Steger

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