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Gandhi’s Realism: Means and Ends in Politics: Symposium & Lecture

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The keynote lecture takes place from 11.30 to 1pm, during the symposium

A lecture and symposium by Balzan Skinner Fellow 2013-14 Karuna Mantena.

Confirmed Symposium speakers: Professor Mrinalini Sinha (University of Michigan) Professor David Hardiman (University of Warwick) Professor John Dunn (University of Cambridge) Professor David Runciman (University of Cambridge)


Gandhian nonviolence is often misconstrued as a static moral injunction against violence or simply a condemnation of violent resistance. Gandhi himself is portrayed as a saintly idealist, pacifist, or purveyor of conviction politics – a moral critic of politics, speaking from standpoint of conscience and truth. I aim to show why this view of Gandhi and Gandhian politics is misleading. Against the saint-as-politician, or the moral man of conscience, I pursue Gandhi’s political thinking from the vantage point of Gandhi the political actor and innovator who vividly understood that politics is closely bound to the possibility of violence. This was the core of Gandhi’s realism – a view of politics as shaped by endemic tendencies towards conflict, domination, and violence coupled with an account of how nonviolent political action can constrain and mitigate these same tendencies to effect progressive change.

When ends are pursued without sufficient attention to the practical means necessary to enact them, for Gandhi, it gives free reign to the negative entailments of politics: to forms of incitation and indignation, resentment and hostility that dehumanize political opponents; and to psychological temptations towards violence and attendant forms of moral erosion. This lecture explores Gandhi’s understanding of the negative passions and egoistic dispositions that both enable and are enabled by the dynamics of political contestation. I consider Gandhi’s account of the moral psychology of violence alongside the analyses of Max Weber and Reinhold Niebuhr – thinkers particularly significant for the development of realism in the twentieth century. I aim to show how Gandhi’s political thought bridged developments in both Indian and Western intellectual traditions and political repertoires to produce a novel synthesis and provocation.

This talk is part of the CRASSH series.

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