Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview
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an ethic in conformity with a conception of reality that has gone beyond common sense and has become, if only within narrow limits, a critical conception.

However, in the most recent developments of the philosophy of praxis the exploration and refinement of the concept of the unity of theory and practice is still only at an early stage. There still remain residues of mechanicism, since people speak about theory as a "complement" or an "accessory" of practice, or as the handmaid of practice. It would seem right for this question too to be considered historically, as an aspect of the political question of the intellectuals. Critical self-consciousness means, historically and politically, the creation of an élite of intellectuals. A human mass does not "distinguish" itself, does not become independent in its own right without, in the widest sense, organising itself; and there is no organisation without intellectuals, that is without organisers and leaders, in other words, without the theoretical aspect of the theory-practice nexus being distinguished concretely by the existence of a group of people "specialised" in conceptual and philosophical elaboration of ideas. But the process of creating intellectuals is long, difficult, full of contradictions, advances and retreats, dispersals and regroupings, in which the loyalty of the masses is often sorely tried.❖

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi ( 1869-1948) was born in India to comfortable circumstances. He married Kasturbai when both were twelve years old. After high school in India, Gandhi studied law in London. In 1893, he moved to South Africa, where he encountered the colonizing and racist attitudes against which he would struggle. While practicing before the court, he was known as one of the "coolie barristers." A formative experience was his being forcibly removed from a train, at night, for refusing to abandon first-class accommodations. According to his Autobiography, he said then, while sitting alone in the cold railroad waiting room, "I began to think of my duty." Thus began his commitment to nonviolence (ahimsa). To counter the notion of passivity in nonviolent resistance, he used the ideal of satyagraha, in which truth and love are considered the sources of forceful resistance to violence (himsa). Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, the year after the British conceded India's independence. No internal force was stronger than Gandhi's satyagraha in the decolonizing of his country.

"Nonviolent Force: A Spiritual Dilemma", though written in 1927, refers to Gandhi's South African period during the Boer War ( 1899-1902), in which he had sided with the British Empire. The passage indicates Gandhi's realization that nonviolence must contend with the structural sources of violence. Mr. Polak (one of Gandhi's European friends) was disturbed by Gandhi's role on the British side. The theoretical subtlety of his reply suggests why Gandhi's satyagraha had such an influence in the early stages of the American civil rights movement.

Nonviolent Force: A Spiritual Dilemma

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi ( 1927)

As soon as the news reached South Africa that I along with other Indians had offered my services in the war, I received two cables. One of these was from Mr Polak who questioned the consistency of my action with my profession of ahimsa.


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Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings
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