Does Liberal Democracy Require a Gandhian Approach to Religion? [Book Review]

The Acorn 19 (2):101-129 (2019)
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In this author-meets-critics dialogue, Sanjay Lal, author of, argues that Gandhian values of nonviolence raise aspirations of liberal democracy to a higher level. Since Gandhian values of nonviolence are closely associated with religious values, liberal democracy should make public commitments to religions on a non-sectarian basis, except for unreasonable religions. Critic Jeff Shawn Jose agrees that Gandhian values can strengthen liberal democracy. However, Jose finds a contradiction in Lal’s proposal that a liberal state should support reasonable religions only. A more consistent Gandhian approach would focus on everyday interactions between citizens and groups rather than state-directed preferences. Critic Douglas Allen also welcomes Lal’s project that brings Gandhian philosophy into relation with liberal democratic theory; however, he argues that universalizing the Absolute Truth of genuine religion is more complicated than Lal acknowledges. D. Allen argues for a Gandhian approach of relative truths, which cannot be evaluated apart from contingency or context, and he offers autobiographical evidence in support of his critical suspicion of genuine religion. Critic Michael Allen argues that Lal’s metaphysical approach to public justification violates a central commitment of political liberalism not to take sides on any metaphysical basis. M. Allen argues that democratic socialism is closer to Gandhi’s approach than is liberalism. Lal responds to critics by arguing that Gandhi’s evaluation of unreasonable religions depends upon an assessment of violence, which is not as problematic as critics charge, either from a Gandhian perspective or a liberal one. Furthermore, by excluding unreasonable or violent religions from state promotion, Lal argues that he is not advocating state suppression. Finally, Lal argues that Gandhian or Kingian metaphysics are worthy of support by liberal, democratic states seeking to educate individuals regarding peaceful unity in diversity.



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