Gandhi No 2: A Deeper Dive into Truth and Non-Violence in Politics

Last week, I introduced the political thought of Gandhi, the Indian activist, statesman, and political figure. As mentioned, Gandhi was not a systematic political philosopher, but he was a philosophically and religiously motivated political actor. In fact, he resisted writing anything philosophical or religious not based upon his own actual experience. [1] Nevertheless, Gandhi was both thoughtful and spiritual in his approach to political action, which makes his views important.

At the basis of Gandhi’s thought is his theory of “Satyagraha” which is often translated “Truth Force” or “Soul Force.” [2] For Gandhi, truth has a spiritual reality and is identified with God (“God is Truth”), a God which can only be known by love, that is by a kind of sacrificial compassion that is similar to what Christians denote as “Agape Love” or “Self-giving Love” or “Cruciform Love”. This kind of love implies a relational approach to political life that is peaceful, focused on truth as opposed to power or success, and willing to sacrifice for the cause of justice. “Truth/Soul/Love Force” was Gandhi’s, basic tool in achieving Indian independence through nonviolent social action.

This week focuses on specific elements of Gandhi’s methodology in hopes that it might flesh out some of the implications of the “Politics of Love. The foundations for any “Gandhian” peaceful social action include:

  1. The action must be founded on a kind of truth that includes operational morality and justice. The means used must accord with the universe as it is (Truth), including morals, equity, ideals of justice, and the principle of nonviolence that Gandhi viewed as fundamental to the universe.
  2. The issue requiring action must be such that the action taken is warranted by the nature of the cause, such as racial equality, freedom from oppression, and the like. Truth/Soul/Love Force cannot be used to justify selfish or self-centered motives.
  3. The activist must have purified his or her own heart from any kind of violence and hatred, that undermine the value and power of Truth/Soul/Love Force.
  4. The activists involved must be willing to suffer physically, mentally or morally in the conflict, showing unconditional love to opponents. (The principle of “non-violence” will be the subject of the next blog.)

The Common Good and Truth Force

What kind of issues justify a Gandhian approach to political life? Here it is necessary to introduce yet another principle that guided Gandhi: the notion of “Sarvodaya”, which connotes something like what Western thought calls, “the Common Good.”  [3] The common good implies a society in which the values of justice, equality, order, peace are achieved or in the process of achievement in a non-violent way.

This leads to the question as to what kind of society would actually serve the common good. As used by Gandhi, Sarvodaya implies that all labor is honorable and deserves its fair reward, which Gandhi felt meant some form of income equality. Because all reality is both interconnected and fundamentally spiritual, the gain of one person is the gain of all and the loss of one person is the loss of all. In such a world, there must be service to the poor and sacrifice for the benefit of the poor. Thus, Gandhi says,

I cannot imagine anything nobler or more national than that for, say, one hour in the day, we should all do the labour that the poor must do, and thus identify ourselves with them and through them with all mankind. I cannot imagine better worship of God than that, in His name, I should labour for the poor even as they do. [4]

Gandhi was, of course, aware of what we might call “the Secular Power of the State,” that is the achievement of a stable and fair social order by the use of force and violence. In Gandhi’s mind, however, the use of violence cannot achieve this kind of social order, only a society characterized by reason (the search for Truth), dialogue (respect for all opinions), societal cooperation (the ability to compromise), and the welfare of all members of society, including the poorest and least powerful, can possibly achieve the kind of “Common Good” that results in true social peace. Thus, the kind of political and military power that colonial powers used to dominate Indian society were bound to fail and ultimately fall under the pressure of “Truth/Soul/Love Force.” I think Gandhi would have agreed with some of the critique of Augustine of the Roman Empire and by analogy of the modern secular state: the reliance on power and force ultimately destroys their possible legitimacy in some ultimate way, whatever their temporary hold on power might be.

The Order of a Just Society

In addition, to Truth/Soul/Love Force having implications for the use of secular power, it also has implications for the ordering of society.  Gandhi’s notion of the Common Good or welfare of a just society also had implications for the ordering of society that are similar to suggestions previously made in this blog. His views are organic, placing emphasis on small units, political, economic, and social. It is strengthening their vitality that societies can find this Common Good or “Sarodaya” for which they long. For Gandhi this implies several concrete attributes of a society that serves the general welfare of its citizens:

  1. The smallest units of society, including social, economic and political units, are to be nurtured in an organic way.
  2. Individual success or achievement cannot be achieved without attention to the common good, for society is an relational organism not simply a grouping of independent units, human, economic, or political.
  3. Economic units should include some significant form of ownership by labor in economic units and the freedom to work and earn a livelihood for all. [5]


The kind of society that Christians seek is unquestionably “Gandhian” in some significant sense. His vision is of a society made up of a harmonious ordering of individuals, families, economic units (large and particularly small), religious and social organizations, political parties, all striving in a non-violent and rational way to achieve a state of Common Good. Gandhi was not, however, naive. He understood that the achievement of such a society was only partially possible under the conditions of modern life. He understood the value of slow, measured change as opposed to violent revolution. It is to the value and character of Gandhian non-violence that I will turn next week.

Like the physicist David Bohm, who also studied Indian philosophy, Gandhi believes that meaning and fundamental morals are embedded in an “implicate” or “implied” order, which included the unbroken wholeness of the order of the universe in some general way. [6] This implicate order is a hidden, “enfolded order” which includes “the all-encompassing background to our experience: physical, psychological, and spiritual.” Gandhi’s notion of the gradual unfolding of Truth (God) and Non-Violence in his consciousness is based upon a similar view that there is a spiritual reality that transcends material reality, and which we can provisionally understand by means of study. [7] Finally, Gandhi was an idealist, but not an idealist of the impatient revolutionary kind, though his ideas are revolutionary. He understood that his ideal of the perfect society was not achievable during his own lifetime and was content to work for the increase in social justice during the term of his life, unfortunately cut short.

Copyright 2022, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] This blog is heavily dependent upon the work of Tarun Gogoi, in his “Social-Political Philosophy of M. K. Gandhi: an Analysis” found at (downloaded August 13, 2022). For those who are interested, the entire site of the Mahatma is filled with useful articles, quotations, and ideas of Gandhi. See, It is at the point of Gandhi’s lack of interest in speculation that qualifies his ideas as empirical and pragmatic as opposed to speculative.

[2] The term “Satyagraha” is a Hindu term not easily translated into English, for it connotes a truth that is a spiritual reality as opposed to simply a truth that comports with reality. Satyagraha is a kind of reality and reality making truth, similar in some ways to idea sitting behind John 1 in the Christian New Testament. In the following, I speak of the term using the awkward phrase, “Truth/Soul/Love Force.”

[3] “Sarvodaya is a Sanskrit term which, as used by Gandhi, generally means “universal uplift” or “progress of all”. Sarvodaya includes the notion that the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.

[4] Quotation found at (Downloaded, August 16, 2022).

[5] Gandhi was not a classic socialist, and I think that he would have approved of worker and consumer owned cooperatives, mixed ownership, significant ownership by employee stock plans and any strategy that creates better economic and social justice for labor. The importance of this notion will be dealt with in a later blog.

[6] See generally, David Bohm, Wholeness and Implicate Order (London and New York, NY: Routledge, 1980), 163-182. And Diane Elgin, :The Living Universe: A Living Systems Paradigm for Viewing Big History” at (Downloaded August 16, 2022) and “The Bohm Krishnamurti Project: Exploring the Legacy of David Bohm and Jiddu Krishnamurit “ at (downloaded, August 16, 2022)/

[7] Irene J. Dabrowski “David Bohm’s Theory of the Implicate Order: Implications for Holistic Thought Processes” ISSUES IN INTEGRATVE STUDIES No. 13, pp. 1-23 (1995).