Gandhi for the Twenty-First Century [Book Review]

The Acorn 19 (2):75-99 (2019)
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In this author-meets-critics dialogue, Douglas Allen, author of argues that Gandhi-informed philosophies and practices, when creatively reformulated and applied, are essential for developing positions that are ethical, nonviolent, truthful, and sustainable, providing resources and hope for confronting our ‘Gandhi after 9/11’ crises. Critics Sanjay Lal and Karsten Struhl applaud Allen’s demonstration that Gandhi’s nonviolence is serious and broadly adaptable to the twenty-first century. Yet, Lal poses two philosophical challenges, arguing first that the nonviolent message of the Bhagavad Gita is perhaps more essential than Allen allows. Second, Lal raises difficulties involved in placing the needs of others first, especially in response to terrorism. Struhl wonders if the Gita is not more violent than Gandhi or Allen represent it to be. Struhl also questions whether relative claims are always resolved in the direction of Absolute Truth, as Gandhi and Allen assert. Finally, critic Struhl wonders how we can restrain institutions from escalating cycles of violence once we grant Gandhi-based exceptions that would allow violence to suppress terrorism. Against Lal’s objections, Allen defends a more open-ended reading of the Gita and agrees that our service to the needs of others cannot go so far as to embrace their terrorism. In response to Struhl, Allen agrees that there are indeed problems with a nonviolent reading of the Gita, but there are resources to support Gandhi’s view. Likewise, regarding relations between our limited truths and the Absolute, Allen grants that Struhl has identified real problems but that a final defense is possible, especially when we consider motivational factors. As for limiting cycles of violence, Allen argues that a Gandhi-informed use of violence implies considerations that limit its use.



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