FIGHTING WITH GANDHI: A Step-by-Step Strategy for Resolving Everyday Conflicts by Mark Juergensmeyer

FIGHTING WITH GANDHI: A Step-by-Step Strategy for Resolving Everyday Conflicts

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A crisply written, cogently argued little manual exploring the practical implications of satyagraha (""truth force""). Juergensmeyer (Religious Studies, Graduate Theological Union and U. of C., Berkeley) is a theologian/political-scientist who has lived in India and worked with Gandhi's disciple, Jayaprakash Narayan. The ""with"" in his title means primarily ""in the spirit of,"" but also occasionally ""against,"" in that Juergensmeyer takes up some dialectical objections to non-coercive opposition. He begins with a clear exposition of Gandhi's principles (not always so evident from the Mahatma's voluminous and chaotic writings): Welcome healthy confrontation, Be open-minded and self-critical, Find a ""harmonious alternative"" and hold on to it, Match means to end and use the end as means, Think of your opponent as a possible ally, etc. Juergensmeyer applies these guidelines to five concrete cases, ranging from the purely personal and relatively trivial (""Suzanne"" and ""Mike"" squabble because he's chronically late for dinner) to tragedy on the grand scale (the choices facing the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto). Juergensmeyer then presents Gandhi in imaginary and highly critical conversations with Marx, Freud, and Reinhold Niebuhr; and finally confronts Gandhi with a few apparent violations of his own code (e.g., recruiting Indian troops for the British near the end of WW I). Juergensmeyer shows that Gandhi's approach was essentially coherent and flexible (he declared violence preferable to degrading submission); but the whole thing seems to hinge on two large assumptions: 1) that most arguments are a matter of ""competing shades of grey,"" and 2) that human nature deserves the ""great faith"" Gandhi had in it. One is left with the Niebuhrian feeling that ahimsa (non-violent respect for all life) and tapsaya (acceptance of suffering) can be powerful tools in our private microcosms, but are sadly overmatched by the forces of institutionalized evil. An honest, thought-provoking study.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row