Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action

By Dennis Dalton | Go to book overview

PREFACE

If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is
inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted,
inspired by the vision of humanity evolving
toward a world of peace and harmony. We
may ignore him at our own risk.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

(New York: New Market Press, 1983), p. 71.

This book is dedicated to my students because its interpretations emerged from teaching experiences during the last four decades in South Asia, Britain, and America. A year after the book's publication, I went to Nepal as a Fulbright scholar and used it as a text in a political theory course at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, the very place where I had begun teaching in 1960. Students then and there, as always and elsewhere, taught me Gandhi's many meanings. This feedback continued when I returned to my classes in New York. From these exchanges, two aspects of Gandhi's originality appeared that I initially missed or understated, so I take this opportunity to discuss them here.

First, from 1904, a decade after he had arrived in South Africa, Gandhi said he discovered the sanctity or dignity of manual labor, insisting that all those in his community value working with their hands. He relates in his Autobiography how reading John Ruskin's Unto This Last inspired a conviction “that a life of labor, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living,” that heretofore “this idea had never occurred to me” (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, 39: 239). Whatever Ruskin's initial influence, Gandhi developed this conception of work for his own purposes, to reinforce a growing egal

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