The Influence of Western Liberal Ideas on Gandhi´s Philosophy

  • Dieter Conrad (Autor/in)

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The most well-known Western literary influences on Gandhi (Ruskin, Tolstoi etc.) could not be considered either liberal in the orthodox sense or "Western" in ideological commitment. Their common denominator would rather appear to be radical criticism of Western civilization. Gandhi, while profoundly stirred by this criticism, integrates it with a previously acquired mental framework of political liberalism. The latter element, for instance, accounts for his transformation of Tolstoi's individual ethical rigorism into a philosophy of political action. Gandhi's conscious involvement with liberal modes of thinking can be related to his legal studies and his political experience as a subject of the British Empire. An important part of this experience was the practice of free intellectual discussion and public debate particularly through the free press. Implied in the ensuing value commitment is a realization of the normative dualism between positive law (legality) and the law of conscience, encountered first in the form of British equity law but otherwise, in the broader sense, as morality. The dualism of legal and moral obligation is an integral part of the liberal political system ensuring an area of free moral responsibility in the quest for a decent life. Gandhi makes a principled and highly original use of the distinction; its radicalization is at the root of satyagrah.