On Satyagraha and Progress
Gandhi’s approach to civil disobedience, specifically of the non-violent sort, is called Satyagraha. This action differs considerably from other models we’ve seen proposed as possibilities for just protest. I believe much of the reason for the difference between, for example, Rawls’ construction and defense of civil disobedience and Gandhi’s notion of Satyagraha lies in understanding their conception of progress.
I think this difference can be seen in either thinker’s conception of the appropriate relationship between means and ends as a driving force in ones actions. Rawls would have us look at civil disobedience, in this case nonviolent action, as a means to the end of conversation. Communication. The actions would be means to the end of achieving a more just social cooperative scheme. In this conception of progress , the canon of action and law does not necessarily change but instead it takes into account, in a cumulative way the concerns that have been addressed. The machine is oiled and its parts continue running.
Gandhi’s call for Satyagraha however, deviates from this. Essential to this is the rejection of a ruling minority and instead a movement of the peasant class. This crucial factor coupled with a call to praxis is how the Satyagrahi differs from any civil naysayer we’ve seen before. It differs most notably in its rejection of total consumption with victory that many would measure progress toward their own goal by. The one who practices “soul force” undertakes a project that stems outside of the walls of a political arena in which one might meet their opponent. Instead, the community of those affected work to create their own benefit. It is in this constructive work that the battle can neither be won nor lost. Only courageously united.