Saturday, May 21, 2011

#141 / Havel And Gandhi

The May 2, 2011 edition of The New Yorker reviewed some recent books on Gandhi. At least part of the review can be read online.

I was particularly impressed by a statement by Vaclav Havel, quoted in the review. It comes from his essay called Politics and Conscience:

In politics, good and evil, categories of the natural world and therefore obsolete remnants of the past, lose all absolute meaning: the sole method of politics is quantifiable success. Power is a priori innocent because it does not grow from a world in which words like guilt and innocence retain their meaning.

Havel is said by the reviewer to believe that "a genuine, profound and lasting change for the better ... can no longer result from the victory of any particular traditional conception." Instead, it would have to "derive from human existence, from the fundamental reconstitution of the position of people in the world, their relationships to themselves and each other, and to the universe."

That is, indeed, a "tall order," as the reviewer observes, but this kind of conjoined transformation of the human world and the persons who inhabit it is exactly what Gandhi offered up as both the means and end of our politics. I would only add that if a "fundamental reconstitution of the position of people in the world" is to occur, that will necessarily be based on an understanding of our right relationship to the world of Nature, which is hardly an "obsolete remnant of the past." In fact, the natural world has always been, and remains, the ultimate foundation for the world that we ourselves have created, and that we must recreate, as we recreate ourselves.

As the technologies of our current world rend to shreds the natural world which supports all life, it is ever more clear that the time has arrived for the kind of radical politics that Gandhi embodied.

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