Peace as a Strategy for Peace: One Hundred Years

Gandhi-ji in South Africa Gandhi-ji in London

It is a tragic marker of our age that 11 September 2006 is better remembered as the five year anniversary of the al Qaeda terror attacks on the United States than as the centenary of satyagraha, the principle of non-violent civil disobedience first enunciated by Gandhi-ji during civil rights protests in South Africa, and later applied to the Indian Independence movement.

It remains a simple, elegant principle: the best strategy for creating peace is peace, the way to abrogate violence is by abrogating violence.

Our world is in vicious, brutal upheaval. The two dominant political strategies – religious fundamentalism and American neoconservatism – both advocate the use of aggression to remake the world to their liking; and we are left scarred, bereaved, and frightened. Narcissism and violence have never been clear pathways to compassion and liberty; but we do not seem near to breaking the cycle of malevolence.

One hundred years later, it is time that philosophers and historians re-examine satyagraha, assessing both its tactical advantages and its strategic vulnerabilities, to suggest the shrewdest and most efficacious methods for reinjecting non-violence into the contemporary political landscape. In the twentieth century, we saw several profound examples of non-violent civil resistance serving as a self-reflexive agent of social justice and political change. It is not a moment too soon to learn the lessons of this experience and figure out how to apply them to our troubled new century.

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