IN THE beginning, the issue was sharp, clean. There was invaded South Korea to rescue from the evident danger of…
In The present conflict within the democratic world over the question of how best to meet Communist aggression in Asia, no single element has been so disturbing and puzzling as the position of India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a man who has won the respect of all democratic peoples by his calm courage in the face of injustice, and who yet has opposed UN action to apply sanctions against Communist China or even merely to label China as an aggressor. Is Nehru to be dismissed as an “appeaser”?—it is a more complex matter than that, says HERRYMON MAURER, who here analyzes Nehru’s present position in terms of his past history in Indian politics and his close association with Gandhi. Mr. Maurer is the author of a book on Gandhi, Great Soul (1948), and of a study of China, Japan, and Korea, The Collision of East and West, to be published in May by Henry Regnery. Mr. Maurer writes: “My own belief is in non-violence, and it is from that position that I presume to discuss, without intimate knowledge of Gandhi, the differences between him and Nehru, who after all knew Gandhi very intimately indeed.”
In the beginning, the issue was sharp, clean. There was invaded South Korea to rescue from the evident danger of Russian-prompted conquest, and there were frightened countries in Asia and Europe alike to reassure. The non-Communist world united with a certain grim enthusiasm to prove that aggression nowhere pays. And then events fell out monstrously. What was sharp became dull, what was clean became muddied. As the line of battle moved in one direction and then in the other, confusion of mind fragmented the unity of the nations themselves most fearful of aggression, provoked division of counsel in the United Nations, and led to acrimonious debates in the United States. Meanwhile, in the Korea that was to be rescued, towns and villages were obliterated, shops and farms overrun, and people by the million shot, starved, cast adrift.
The horrors of this war have called forth particular comment from Jawaharlal Nehru, a humane man who dislikes violence and who knows how bitter it is for a country that has little to lose much. As for the division of mind, he has become the symbol of it. Long the object of general admiration, he has suddenly become a center of political controversy, certain men of good will proclaiming that the way to peace and freedom is to be found underneath his perky Indian National Congress hat, and other men of good will insinuating that that particular hat is only a 1951 version of the 1938 umbrella.
In discussing the tilt of Nehru’s headgear and its very considerable bearing on the dilemma of how to meet aggression, it may be of value to consider the relation of moral judgments to the political situation. For the argument of 1951, no less than the argument of 1938, is an argument about morals, morals in the sense neither of a legalistic code of conduct nor of a philosophic framework of ideas, but in the sense of beliefs of persons or groups of persons as to what ought to be; categorical imperatives compounded of fears, hopes, secret yearnings, half-forgotten habits, convictions of good and ideas of evil, notions of expediency, and beliefs as to the nature of the universe. The importance of this compound is suggested by the very structure of the United Nations. Countries new or old, large or small, are expected to stand up and be counted; and the count at the Assembly is a one-nation one-vote procedure which, since it cannot measure armed strength, measures in effect the moral sense of a congress of nations, a measurement of no little importance to the foreign policies of such governments as are concerned with the psychological reactions of their people. Most persons, indeed, are not inclined to act in a particular political or military situation until arguments or events have provoked some compelling moral reason for it. In the absence of such moral consensus, perplexity spreads. The perplexity that was typified by Neville Chamberlain, a man much concerned with moral principle, albeit not in a manner of which Nehru approved at the time, is typified in a different situation and in a different manner by Nehru himself.
This is to say that the perplexity is typified by the foreign policy of the government of India. Nehru is in no sense the dictator of that policy, which, indeed, seems to correspond with the convictions of most educated Indians, but he is the architect of it. It is a policy noteworthy, first of all, for its consistency. Since August 15, 1947, when the new government of India came into being, its foreign policy has not varied at all. It consists of a basic moral premise and of three political propositions.
The moral premise is revulsion against war and a desire for the freedom of all peoples from imperialist slavery. The propositions are, first, action with other countries against aggression; second, a refusal to align India with one or another group of dominant world powers; third, a desire to give moral support to countries trying to throw off the remnants of colonialism, as for instance Indonesia. This moral support has taken, among other shapes, the form of recognition of the government of any country in Asia which the government of India believes to represent the wishes of the people of that country. India for this reason recognizes Communist China and for the same reason has not yet recognized any regime in Indo-China.
This position, in effect, means active participation in matters Asiatic and careful neutrality in matters European. Europe, for Nehru, is the particular locus of national hostility. The theme of the relatively peaceful East and the relatively bellicose West runs through his writing and still finds expression in his speeches. In March 1949 he said, “Unfortunately the whole outlook of Europe in the past one hundred years has been the outlook of countries possessing great power, afraid of one another, or desirous of extending that power. So that today Europe is much more tied up with power politics than Asia is at present.”
The policy of non-involvement with great powers, European powers, Nehru has defended spiritedly. In the fall of 1949 he said, “I am asked why India does not align herself with a particular nation or a group of nations, and told that because we have refrained from doing so, we are sitting on the fence. . . . But I should like to make it clear that the policy India has sought to pursue is not a negative and neutral policy. It is a positive and vital policy that flows from our struggle for freedom and from the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. How can . . . peace be preserved? Not by surrender to aggression, nor by compromising with evil or injustice, but also not by talking and preparing for war. Aggression has to be met, for that endangers peace. At the same time . . . the very process of marshaling the world into two hostile camps precipitates the conflict that it has sought to avoid.”
When aggression in fact occurred in Korea, Nehru had to spell out his policy of non-compromise and non-involvement more exactly in a situation of greater urgency. In June 1950, when the invasion of South Korea seemed to call for limited police action against a North Korean army, India lent her moral weight to the United Nations declaration against aggression. But by October 16, when Chinese Communist intervention in Korea had become an actuality, Nehru was talking more in terms of non-involvement It was, he said, of “paramount importance to avoid world war.” He proposed that the war be avoided by UN recognition of the Chinese Communists, a matter of “stark reality.” He recalled India’s disapproval of the protection of Formosa by the American fleet and her informal counsel against the crossing of the Thirty-eighth Parallel by the UN. “The common features of Asia today,” he said, “are a reaction from the previous colonial regimes, a resurgent nationalism, agrarian movements, a desire to get rid of our economic backwardness, and a passionate desire for freedom.”
During the next two months Nehru moved from a position of moral advice to one of moral leadership. Although Chinese Communist forces pushed into Tibet and curtly brushed aside Indian protests, India herself proposed that the United Nations shelve Tibet’s complaint of aggressions, and she stated that a peaceful solution was likely to be produced. While the Chinese Communists were becoming more and more heavily involved in Korea and more and more denunciatory at Lake Success of “American aggression against China,” India took the lead in attempting to work out cease-fire formulas, and persisted despite Chinese Communist rebuffs. At length she pressed the UN to negotiate peace according to a Chinese Communist formula that would, in effect, have given Korea over to the Korean Communists, cut off Formosa not only from support but from supplies, and admitted the Peiping regime to the UN. Meanwhile Nehru sought to persuade other British Commonwealth prime ministers that recognition of the Chinese Communists by the UN was imperative, and insisted that naming them aggressors would mean the danger of world war. Nehru’s view did not, of course, prevail in the UN assembly, and the Chinese Communists were declared aggressors over strong Indian protest. At this point the Indian delegation, heretofore strong for conferences and consultations, declined further participation in efforts to arrange ceasefire talks.
It is evident that Nehru is convinced he is in no way compromising with evil. The man whom Gandhi often referred to as a son is no one to run away from evil; he has stood up to lathi blows, loss of wealth, and repeated imprisonment without personal complaint. Graduated from agitator against a government to first minister of its successor, he has lost none of his old concern for the right and the true. Here is a man of deep seriousness and good will, brilliant mind and great fluency, of remarkable energy, a man who has traveled much the same intellectual itinerary as prominent Western progressives, and who is unlike them chiefly in the fact that he has managed to remain himself and yet hold effective public office. It is not possible to doubt that Nehru’s position on Korea has been thought out very carefully in moral terms.
The moral position, however, seems to collide with political and military facts. The two general propositions that aggression must be discouraged and world war must be avoided are unassailable, but their application to the specific situation in Korea provokes nettlesome questions, not to say contradictions. Which is more important, avoiding war or discouraging aggression? Should only that aggression be discouraged which is too small to provoke the spreading of war? How is it possible to refuse to compromise with evil or injustice without aligning India with one dominant power against another? Can it be that only small powers commit aggression? Furthermore, how is aggression to be met if there is not preparation for war? One way would be the use of Gandhi’s direct-action non-violence, but Nehru has made no proposal that it be used in Korea. What else then remains but war and the preparation for it?
Nehru escapes from the dilemma thus posed by invoking proposition three: the dynamic of Asiatic nationalism, fretful at old colonial restraints, passionate for freedom, zealous for agrarian reform, anxious to throw off economic backwardness, and relatively innocent of power politics, According to this proposition, as soon as the Thirty-eighth Parallel was crossed by UN forces, “New China” was very naturally upset and saw herself threatened by the very powers which, because of their “reluctance and hesitation to accept the great changes that have come over Asia,” had not given her a seat at the UN. Thus the mistakes of the Western powers led to Chinese participation in the Korean war and continue to lead to the danger of world war.
This position can be upheld, of course, only if a very important factual proposition can be proved. It must be demonstrated that Chinese Communism, even though formally allied to Russian Communism, is not a part of it but rather an evidence of “resurgent nationalism,” “agrarian movements,” and “a passionate desire for freedom.” Unless this proposition be true, it is impossible to say that China shuns power politics as, say, India does; it is also impossible to say that the Chinese Communists have chosen to fight because of the old unequal treaties and the new zeal for nationalism. Indeed, if the proposition is not true, China becomes a victim of imperialism—of which Nehru is an avowed enemy—an imperialism emanating from Moscow.
Now the demonstration of Nehru’s third proposition is exceedingly difficult inasmuch as the arguments to prove it are negated by the statements of Chinese Communist leaders not only during the past year but during the past three decades, statements which have shifted in careful correspondence with the Russian Communist party’s line, and which have uniformly emphasized that all strength is owed and must be owed to the Soviet Union. In order to prove that “the fate of the world might well have been different” if China had been seated at Lake Success, Nehru will have to explain away these statements, along with a record of constant Russian preoccupation with determining the revolutionary strategy and tactics of the Chinese party, a continuing vigilance in maintaining a pure Stalinist orthodoxy in China, the giving of arms and supplies in Manchuria to the Chinese Red Army, the sending to China of large numbers of Russian advisors, and the imposition upon China of peculiarly Russian convictions about methods of jurisprudence, theories of genetics, the terminology of journalism, and the wording of the confessions of deviationists.
It is argued further, although not by Nehru—who is after all the head of a government—that the record of past Sino-Soviet intimacy hides a current split, that Mao Tse-tung rather than Joseph V. Stalin is coming to power in Asia, and that the differences between them are pregnant with Titoism. To be sure, it is easy to play all manner of guessing games about what China is up to and what Russia is up to in Korea. Russia may be trying to weaken China by exhausting her in a war in Korea. Or China may be trying to weaken Russia by playing a leading role in the war. Or they may both be trying to weaken the UN. It is possible to speculate even more widely and wonder whether the Chinese cultural soil will in the long run fail to nourish Russian weeds, or whether the soil is so barren that for a long time it will nourish nothing but weeds. In the midst of such speculation, however, it is wise to remember that present facts alone are available for the framing of policy and that for the present the only tangible “evidence” adduced to prove a falling out of Chinese and Russian Communism is the participation of Chinese Communism in an aggression launched by Russian Communism. (It should also be remembered that Titoism is a condition that was brought about not by Tito but by Stalin, who undertook to purge Tito for being personally somewhat too successful a Stalinist.)
If facts get seriously in the way of Nehru’s position, what purpose does that position hope to serve? Clearly it does not aim to serve Russian Communism. Nehru is a determined foe of Communism at home and a determined advocate of as much democracy in political and economic life as it is possible at any moment to give India. His desire for freedom is indeed passionate; his concern with ridding India of industrial backwardness is indeed intense; and his India is indeed a new India. What then? Does Nehru want India to enjoy UN safeguards against aggression without the risk and effort of helping safeguard other countries? Does he simply want India to stay aloof from what he calls European power politics? There are close similarities between the foreign policies of new India and those of other new countries in the past, notably the United States in the 18th and early 19th centuries: keep quiet while the great powers squabble, give moral aid to peoples living under tyranny, proclaim the right of all peoples to self-determination.
Such a policy is obviously attractive to any country attacking urgent and bitter problems of poverty and starvation at home. Indeed there may be not a few Indians who support Nehru’s foreign policy from a conviction that it will provide India a respite for reconstruction. But to see in that conviction the roots of Nehru’s policy is to misread Nehru’s own intellectual history, and it is in terms of that history that his present views need to be seen. For Nehru’s mind is entirely awake to the difference between the 18th century and the 20th, and his voice has been one of the strongest that has been raised against aggression and against that compromise with aggression which is called appeasement. In the 1930’s he berated the English government, and to a lesser degree the French, for failure to put down aggression in Manchuria, for willingness to tolerate the growth of fascism, for the betrayal of Abyssinia, and for indirect aid to the Spanish fascists. He savagely condemned Chamberlain and his entire government for Munich.
Indeed, in reading Nehru’s writings one feels that they express not so much an Indian mind which appreciates the West as a Western mind which appreciates India. A nationalist revolutionary educated at Harrow and Cambridge, a traveler throughout the countries of Europe, an omnivorous reader, a man of practical political experience and also of serious and self-critical inward reflection, Nehru seems somehow to personify the man of reason and good will, the liberal who moved through the welter of ideas of the 20’s, the 30’s, and the 40’s, seeking valiantly the best life for the greatest number of people. His mind was questioning and open. Science, he felt, was the great hope for the better life; freedom was the avenue toward it: “a means to an end, that end being the raising of the people in question to higher levels and hence the general improvement of humanity.” There was in him a sense of the unknown and unknowable, but he pushed aside dogmas of religion, found a sense of life’s meaning in the mind and spirit of man, which has tried “to fathom the secrets of the universe and brought the vagaries of nature itself to its use,” and which has turned from superstition toward ethics and morals. He saw his task as bringing a message of scientific enlightenment to his own country in terms that she could embrace, and he developed a lively appreciation of her history and culture.
Politically he was socialist. “A study of Marx and Lenin,” he wrote in 1944, “produced a powerful effect on my mind and helped me see history and current affairs in a new light.” He saw men and nations acting in terms of their economic interests, became convinced that the basic aim of British rule was to make India produce raw materials and buy finished goods, and therefore to block all native industry. (He said once that the government of India was the shadow of the City of London.) Fascism he saw as the necessary consequence of the effort of owning classes to protect their vested interests. He became convinced of the need for an organized, planned economy to insure social and economic justice and promote greater freedom for the individual. He was attracted to large-scale government or cooperative projects. And yet he would not become a dogmatic socialist. In him theory was always tempered by a practical sense of the particular needs of his country; he shunned profitless theorizing and ideological in-fighting; he tried, indeed, to bring the Socialist members of the Indian National Congress closer to members of more conservative economic beliefs.
He was much impressed by the Soviet Union, but he did not like its use of violence, its power politics, its opportunism, its divergence from Marxist principles, its regimentation. Yet, he said, “perhaps the only way to real personal freedom was some such limitation in the social sphere.” He was “considerably upset” by the trials and purges in Russia in the 30’s, but at the same time, he reported, “the progress made in the Russian economy, the advancing standards of the people, the great advance in cultural matters, and many other things continued to impress me.” In September 1939 he wrote: “The Russo-German Pact came as a shock and a surprise to many. . . . There seemed to be too much over-reaching, cynicism, and opportunism about it. . . . There can be, and there is going to be, no real alliance between Hitler and Stalin. But both are willing enough to play at the game of power politics. Russia has suffered enough at the hands of England to resent it bitterly.” In 1944 he noted that Russia seemed to be following a policy of grouping dependent or semi-dependent neighbors around her, and hoped that Russia and the United States would cooperate for peace. His writings and speeches thereafter make few references to Russia: the head of a government can hardly afford to expose his views as a social historian. It certainly cannot be assumed that he approves of deliberate acts of Soviet expansionism, as in Poland, say, or Korea, but it may perhaps be assumed that his attention is not so sharply caught by less obvious methods of expansion, as for instance Russian expansion into China by way of a Chinese Communist party.
Nehru’s experience is the experience of a great many socialists, pacifists, and assorted progressives of the West, only the experience is somewhat more engagingly and literately put than theirs usually is. The essence of it is perhaps free-ranging thought and a tolerance so wide that it does not push toward extreme conclusions. The two convictions which Nehru did indeed push to an extreme were his revulsion against fascism and his whole-hearted espousal of Indian independence, both of which were attended with an entrenched distaste for British exploitation. But this evil, to Nehru’s mind a matter of economic arrangements, passed with the passing of the arrangements, so that Nehru now speaks not so much of the old imperialism as of the new Asia.
That is not to say that he speaks mutedly. Full of energy and earnestness, he is intense in his proposals for India’s betterment, he is intense in his propositions for world peace, he is intense in his pleas for understanding of the new Asia, he is intense in his hopes that violence and war will cease in Korea. In short, he is intense in good will and tolerance.
The question to ask, therefore, is why Nehru’s intensely moral position appears to be out of step with current facts. Facts and morals, to be sure, often collide. Indeed it is perhaps the function of morals to attempt to alter facts, at least such of them as are considered evil—aggression in Korea, for instance. Such attempts, however, have historically been made from either of two extreme positions that have certain characteristics in common. Neither of these positions requires intolerance toward the actual human beings who do evil. Both require intolerance toward the evil itself. Both consciously view evil from the vantage point of a standard of values. Both consciously take very great risks to eradicate evil. At this point, however, the two positions part company and attack evil in opposite ways. One of these ways has been sometimes praised and sometimes denounced as the wisdom of the world; the other has been proclaimed by saints and prophets as an eternal truth admitting no compromise.
Confronted with evil, a worldly morality chooses between evils, and risks or even employs a lesser evil to overcome a greater. Confronted with the twin horrors of aggression and of war, worldly morality is willing to risk the evil of the second to overcome the evil of the first. Abraham Lincoln may be taken as an unusually poignant personification of this morality: a man who hates violence and is grieved at the thought of fratricide accepts the evil of war because he is certain that the evil of a divided country is more hateful and more grievous. Such a morality does not, of course, mean a desperate and immediate plunge into battle. Worldly morality will temporize, even compromise, if necessary, with evil, but only in such a way as to gain strength (as in Civil War times the North temporized for some decades over the issue of slavery), never in such a way as to lose strength. Confronted by a Communism that has itself declared the rest of the world hostile to it, worldly morality searches for arms and allies and tries to build up such armed power that the evil of aggression may be curbed, if possible without war, but if necessary by war. To this sort of morality a trade of Korea and Formosa in exchange for an uncertain peace can be calculated to be no trade: such a bargain would mean not only the loss of Formosa as an anti-Communist symbol and as a base for 500,000 armed troops, but also a psychological blow to other countries who may be called upon to resist aggression. Better to be forced out of Korea while still fighting than to stand such a loss.
Nehru’s moral position clearly does not fall into this category. Nehru is not at all willing to risk general war or even to dicker and dally to gain time for better preparation to meet the risk. Nehru justifies his caution, which, one suspects, arises out of his distaste for violence, by arguing that the Chinese Communists are not so much militarily aggressive as diplomatically ill-used. And he sees danger, not opportunity, in outside aid to Formosa; to him such aid is old-fashioned meddling in the new Asia.
Where then do Nehru’s moral principles come from? Do they come from the other extreme: anti-worldly morality that will not use violence to put down violence? This morality has traditionally assumed two different aspects. One of them is expressed in Isaiah’s cry that the safety of Israel lay in ceasing to make leagues and in holding to quiet faith. This is essentially a method of fighting evil by a determined refusal to take any notice of it and by a willingness on the part of a people, a religious order, or even a small group of individuals, to live out the implications of their morality in their own lives, no matter what destruction and suffering a violent aggressor may bring upon them. This method has been used at one time or another by most of the higher religions.
Nehru has had no actual experience of this method; his experience lies with a method which attempts to deal frontally and energetically with evil without using evil as a weapon. This method has also been used at times by various of the higher religions, but it is particularly associated with the direct-action non-violence taught and practiced by Gandhi. Essentially it means taking suffering upon oneself instead of causing suffering to one’s opponent. It rests on the conviction that all men of all races and nations have in them the same truth, however differently they express it, and that in the long run (not necessarily in the short run) this truth will respond to the suffering of a man or of a group of men who refuse to inflict hurt on others. “It does not mean,” said Gandhi, “meek submission to the will of the evil-doer, but it means the putting one’s soul against the will of the tyrant.” In practice, Gandhian non-violence developed strategies, tactics, and even an army-like chain of organization and command. It countered aggression with large armies of weaponless men and women who marched with calm and even smiling determination against an enemy prepared to shoot, beat, and trample upon them.
If any one thing was responsible for Indian independence it was this direct-action non-violence. Nehru played an important and courageous role during the twenty-five-odd years it was practiced, and the impress of it is definitely upon him. Thus in 1949 he said, “We opposed [one of the greatest of world powers] in a particular way, and in a large measure succeeded in that way, and I have no doubt that if worst comes to the worst—and in a military sense we cannot meet these great powers—it is far better for us to fight in our own way than submit to them and lose all the ideals we have.” But in the same year he also said: “Protecting oneself unfortunately means relying on the armed forces and the like, and so we build up, where necessity arises, our defense apparatus. We cannot take the risk of not doing so, although Mahatma Gandhi would have taken that risk, no doubt, and I dare not say that he would have been wrong. . . . But we are small folk and dare not take that risk.”
Whenever, in fact, Nehru speculated about the relationship of means and ends he finished with questions rather than answers. He saw the possibility of “the wrong means distorting and sometimes even destroying the end in view. But the right means,” he noted also, “might well be beyond the capacity of infirm and selfish human nature. What was one to do? Not to act was a confession of failure and a submission to evil; to act meant often enough a compromise with some form of that evil, with all the untoward consequences that such compromises result in.”
As A specific technique in a specific situation—a conquered India in which there were no weapons—Nehru approved, non-violence and even felt a strong emotional attachment to it. Nehru was close to Gandhi, he admired him, loved him; he has written perhaps the most moving and graphic descriptions of him. But he was not a follower of Gandhi. When Gandhi said, “If India takes up the doctrine of the sword, she may gain momentary victory,” Nehru wrote. “We were moved by these arguments, but for us and for the National Congress as a whole the non-violent method was not, and could not be, a religion or an unchallengeable creed or dogma. It could only be a policy and a method promising certain results, and by those results it would have to be finally judged.” This sounds like the statement of a man who understands worldly morality. Unlike Gandhi, he is fighting not so much against evil wherever it turns up as against the specific evil of colonialism, and he is willing to use whatever weapons give the best results against that evil. He is thinking about these results, not about the truth that lives in each man. “Gandhi,” Nehru complained, “is always thinking of personal salvation and sin, while most of us have society’s welfare uppermost in our minds.” It is not surprising that the government of which Nehru became prime minister has devoted half its budget to military preparations, that it has invaded the principality of Hyderabad, and that it has used arms to protect its interests in Kashmir. It is symbolic also that that government did not hesitate to hang the assassin of the man who believed that violence should never be repaid with violence.
But at the same time Nehru was deeply affected by Gandhi. “Step by step he convinced us of the rightness of the action, and we went with him, although we did not accept his philosophy. . . . Gandhi always knew India far better than we did, and a man who could command such tremendous devotion must have something that corresponded to the needs and aspirations of the masses.” Nehru not only took part in nonviolent action, he even curbed the scale of his living and his tastes in food. Once after he had become prime minister a crowd of Hindus was demonstrating in front of the house where Gandhi was fasting for Hindu Moslem unity. Nehru was just entering the house when he heard the cry, “Let Gandhi die.” Moved instinctively to non-violent protest, he ran after the crowd, shouting, “How dare you say that? Kill me first! Kill me first!”
The concern of a worldly morality is to have enough force, violent force, to overcome the concrete evil that threatens it. The concern of an anti-worldly morality, whether it disdains evil or battles against it, is to have no violence whatsoever. Isaiah’s denunciation of leagues and his upholding of quiet faith did not mean that there should be 50 per cent more faith and 50 per cent less alliance with Egypt. The middle ground is the dangerous ground; it provides neither enough force nor enough faith. But it is on this sort of middle ground that Nehru appears to be standing. He seems to be trying to be 50 per cent Gandhi and 50 per cent something else.
To understand this mixture, it is necessary to examine more closely the areas of disagreement with Gandhi into which Nehru’s intellectual position took him. Indeed, the profound drama of Gandhi’s life—a nonviolent struggle against evil which ended in Hindu-Moslem violence and in the establishment of the Indian National Congress as the chief force in a government of an ordinary violent sort—was closely tied up with Nehru. Nehru and the generation of intellectuals of which he is the symbol were shocked by Gandhi’s idea that the Congress should act as a non-violent check upon any government that would be in India. He was taken aback by Gandhi’s suggestion that agrarian reform could be carried out very simply by the farmers’ non-violent appropriation of the landlords’ land. He was impatient at times with Gandhi’s concern for causes other than independence; at the time of Gandhi’s first fast for the untouchables, Nehru wrote, “ . .: would not the larger issues fade into the background?”
It was difficult to be in sympathy with Gandhi’s lack of concern with long-range political and economic planning, difficult to share his near-anarchistic ideas of a political and economic life centered around small village communities. Believing that the right government and the right environment would take care of the people’s needs and solve social ills, Nehru could not understand Gandhi’s preoccupation with the battle of good and evil in the individual human being. Educated in a liberal tradition which considered evil simply a consequence of social misarrangements, Nehru could not attach himself to any morality that treated energetically the problem of deep-rooted evil except in relation to the specific evils of European imperialism and fascism. At the same time, his tolerant, liberal optimism and his somewhat sanguine beliefs in the capacity of science and social organizations to cure the problems of mankind turned him away from morality of the worldly sort and inclined him to be at least half tolerant of Gandhi. And no intellectual beliefs could shield him from the magnetism of Gandhi’s being. He spent much of his life working beside a man of whom he said, “ . . . often the unknown stared at us through his eyes.” Nehru could not believe in non-violence as a policy for a free India, but he could at least believe with great earnestness in no more than a very little violence. Thus Nehru and the intellectuals like him fell into the confused middle ground that lies between two distinct moralities that can respect each other but cannot mix. The misfortune of Nehru’s position is that he has tried to mix them. In his proposals for a moral settlement of the warfare in Korea he has tried not only to mix them, but to sell the mixture to the world.
Gandhi offered no mixture. He was engaged, after all, in a personal battle against evil of any sort and in a group battle against it whenever enough persons understood nonviolence and were trained in its practice. In him there was no neutrality, no middle ground. “Between violence and cowardly flight,” he said, “I can only prefer violence to cowardice. I can no more preach non-violence to a coward than I can tempt a blind man to enjoy healthy scenes. . . . A rabbit that runs away from the bull terrier is not particularly non-violent.” He said also, “I can and I do hate evil wherever it exists. I hate the system of government that the British people have set up in India. I hate the domineering manner of Englishmen as a class in India. I hate the ruthless exploitation of India even as I hate from the bottom of my heart the hideous system of untouchability for which millions of Hindus have made themselves responsible.” He was no less aroused than Nehru by the Munich agreement—he called it “peace without honor”—and he considered Nazism an evil to be fought—non-violently, of course.
When World War II came, he said, “[Hitler] contemptuously rejected the way of peace and persuasion and chose that of the sword. Hence my sympathy for the cause of the Allies. But my sympathy must not be interpreted to mean endorsement in any shape or form of the doctrine of the sword for the defense of even proved right.” And in 1942, when the Japanese were pressing upon India, he said that he was willing to sacrifice the lives of half the people of India in non-violent resistance. This is the language of genuine moral extremism. It is not entirely unlike the language of the moral extremism that lies on the other side of morality’s middle ground, the chief difference being that Gandhi, who believed the evil of war lay in killing and not in being killed, was convinced that killing would lead only to further killing while being killed would give hope in the long run of stopping killing altogether.
Gandhi did not anticipate specific moral issues; he reacted to them as they appeared, and he never insisted that his opinions on any emergent issue would be infallible. To speculate, therefore, about what he would have said about aggression in Korea is difficult. Clearly, of course, his opinions would have centered around the morality of non-violence. Clearly they would have had an inner consistency: aggression was always aggression to him, whether it was the act of a single person or of an entire nation; certainly he would have found it hard to believe that aggression that was inexcusable on the part of small North Korea was excusable on the part of big Communist China. Probably he would have insisted on the wisdom of negotiation; and just as probably he would have insisted against fundamental compromise with aggression. He emphasized again and again that it was best to counter evil with non-violence, not so good to counter it with violence, but worst of all to run away from it—to compromise with it, to be neutral toward it.
It is not pleasant to suggest that neutrality describes the position of Jawaharlal Nehru, no man to run away from personal danger. And yet his position leaves him no alternative but a running away—an intellectual running away from facts. A person who can put his trust neither in the violence of the worldly morality nor in the non-violence of the anti-worldly is defenseless. Such a neutral has only two avenues of retreat in the face of evil; he can insist that the evil is not his concern, or he can insist that the supposed evil does not exist In his comments on Korea, Nehru in effect insists that the evil of Chinese Communist aggression indeed does not exist
In attempting to stand on a non-existent moral ground between the two extremes of worldly morality and anti-worldly morality, Nehru typifies intellectuals not only in India but in the West. Nehru’s confusion is their confusion. A very great deal of what is called pacifism or tolerance or good will among Western liberals consists of a refusal to identify evil and therefore to take a moral stand against it. To such liberals, Nehru’s policy seems indeed the great and right way toward peace. But while such a policy may indeed be of a certain limited use at times when the ebb and flow of political and military fortunes stirs panic and prompts the use of more violence than the objective situation requires, it nonetheless remains a policy that confuses peace with passivity toward evil.
This is not to say that the West should promptly engage itself in a wholesale extirpation of the evil of Stalinist Communism, whether by methods violent or non-violent; in many cases evil is most effectively extirpated, as Gandhi clearly understood, by those whom it most intimately affects; it may be, for instance, that the Russian people are the only people who can root out the social evil within their own country. It is rather to say that men both of the East and of the West need to remain alert to the evil—and to the suffering—with which history brings them intimately in touch. The danger is insensitivity to evil and suffering, and this insensitivity has been widespread. In the last analysis it may well be that Easterners like Nehru fail to be alert to current evil because Westerners like ourselves have failed to be alert to the evils and to the suffering that have been and to some extent still are being visited upon the countries of the East.
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The Middle Ground Where Nehru Stands:Neither Enough Force Nor Enough Faith
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A Trump of their own.
There were many arguments for opposing Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency, but the retort usually boiled down to a single glib sentence: “But he fights.”
Donald Trump could accuse John McCain of bringing dishonor upon the country and George W. Bush of being complicit in the September 11th attacks. He could make racist or misogynistic comments and even call Republican primary voters “stupid”; none of it mattered. “We right-thinking people have tried dignity,” read one typical example of this period’s pro-Trump apologia. “And the results were always the same.”
If you can get over the moral bankruptcy and selective memory inherent in this posture, it has its own compelling logic. Driving an eighteen-wheel truck through the standards of decorum that govern political discourse is certainly liberating. If there is no threshold at which the means discredit the ends, then everything is permitted. That kind of freedom has bipartisan appeal.
Democrats who once lamented the death of decency at Trump’s hands were apparently only troubled by their party’s disparity in this new rhetorical arms race. The opposition party seems perfectly happy to see standards torn down so long as their side is doing the demolition.
This week, with passions surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court reaching a crescendo, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono demonstrated that Democrats, too, are easily seduced by emotionally gratifying partisan outbursts. “They’ve extended a finger,” Hirono said of how Judiciary Committee Republicans have behaved toward Dr. Christine Blasey Ford since she was revealed as the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct as a minor. “That’s how I look at it.”
That’s an odd way to characterize the committee chairman’s offers to allow Dr. Blasey Ford the opportunity to have her story told before Congress in whatever setting she felt most comfortable. Those offers ranged from a public hearing to a private hearing to a staff interview, either publicly or behind closed doors, to even arranging for staffers to interview her at her home in California. Hirono was not similarly enraged by the fact that it was her fellow Democrats who violated Blasey Ford’s confidentiality and leaked her name to the press, forcing her to go public. But the appeal of pugnacity for its own sake isn’t rooted in consistency.
Hirono went on to demonstrate her churlish bona fides in the manner that most satisfies voters who find that kind of unthinking animus compelling: rank bigotry.
“Guess who’s perpetuating all these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country,” Hirono continued. “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing.” The antagonistic generalization of an entire demographic group designed to exacerbate a sense of grievance among members of another demographic group is condemnable when it’s Trump doing the generalizing and exacerbating. In Hirono’s case, it occasioned a glamorous profile piece in the Washington Post.
Hirono was feted for achieving “hero” status on the left and for channeling “the anger of the party’s base.” Her style was described as “blunt” amid an exploration of her political maturation and background as the U.S. Senate’s only immigrant. “I’ve been fighting these fights for a—I was going to say f-ing long time,” Hirono told the Post. The senator added that, despite a lack of evidence or testimony from the accuser, she believes Blasey Ford’s account of the assault over Kavanaugh’s denials and previewed her intention to “make more attention-grabbing comments” soon. Presumably, those remarks will be more “attention-grabbing” than even rank misandry.
This is a perfect encapsulation of the appeal of the fighter. It isn’t what the fight achieves but the reaction it inspires that has the most allure. But those who confuse being provocative with being effective risk falling into a trap. Trump’s defenders did not mourn the standards of decency through which Trump punched a massive hole, but the alt-right and their noxious fellow travelers also came out of that breach. The left, too, has its share of violent, aggressively mendacious, and anti-intellectual elements. They’ve already taken advantage of reduced barriers to entry into legitimate national politics. Lowering them further only benefits charlatans, hucksters, and the maladjusted.
What’s more, the “fire in the belly,” as Hillary Clinton’s former press secretary Brian Fallon euphemistically describes Hirono’s chauvinistic agitation, is frequently counterproductive. Her comments channel the liberal id, but they don’t make Republicans more willing to compromise. What Donald Trump’s supporters call “telling it like it is” is often just being a jerk. No other Republican but Trump would have callously called into question Blasey Ford’s accounting of events, for example. Indeed, even the most reckless of Republicans have avoided questioning Blasey Ford’s recollection, but not Trump. He just says what’s in his gut, but his gut has made the Republican mission of confirming Kavanaugh to the Court before the start of its new term on October 1 that much more difficult. The number of times that Trump’s loose talk prevented Republicans from advancing the ball should give pause to those who believe power is the only factor that matters.
It’s unlikely that these appeals will reach those for whom provocation for provocation’s sake is a virtue. “But he fights” is not an argument. It’s a sentiment. Hirono’s bluster might not advance Democratic prospects, but it makes Brian Fallon feel like Democrats share his anxieties. And, for some, that’s all that matters. That tells you a lot about where the Democratic Party is today, and where the country will be in 2020.
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A lesson from Finland.
High-ranking politicians are entitled to freedom of speech and conscience. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but it often is, especially in European countries where the range of acceptable views is narrow–and narrowing. Just ask Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who spent the summer fighting off an investigation into his participation at an anti-abortion vigil in Canada. On Friday, Soini survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament over the issue.
“In general, I’m worried that Christianity is being squeezed,” he told me in a phone interview Friday, hours after his colleagues voted 100 to 60 to allow him to keep his post. “There is a tendency to squeeze Christianity out of the public square.”
Soini had long been associated with the anti-immigration, Euroskeptic Finns Party, though last year he defected and formed a new conservative group, known as Blue Reform. Before coming to power, Soini could sometimes be heard railing against “market liberals” and “NATO hawks.” But when I interviewed him in Helsinki in 2015, soon after he was appointed foreign minister, he told me his country wouldn’t hesitate to join NATO if Russian aggression continued to escalate. He’s also a vociferous supporter of Israel.
Through all the shifts of ideology and fortune, one point has remained fixed in his worldview: Soini is a devout Catholic, having converted from Lutheranism as a young man in the 1980s, and he firmly believes in the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. “I have been in politics for many years,” he said. “Everyone knows my pro-life stance.” The trouble is that “many people want me to have my views only in private.”
Hence his ordeal of the past few months. It all began in May when Soini was in Ottawa for a meeting of the Arctic Council, of which Finland is a member. At the church he attended for Mass, he spotted a flyer for an anti-abortion vigil, to be held the following evening. He attended the vigil as a private citizen: “I wasn’t performing as a minister but in my personal capacity. This happened in my spare time.”
A colleague posted a photo of the event on his private Twitter page, however, which is how local media in Finland got wind of his presence at the rally. The complaints soon poured into the office of the chancellor of justice, who supervises the legal conduct of government ministers. A four-month investigation followed. Soini didn’t break any laws, the chancellor concluded, but he should have been more circumspect when abroad, even in his spare time.
Soini wasn’t entirely oblivious to the fact that he was treading on sensitive ground. A top diplomat can never quite operate like a private citizen, much as a private citizen can’t act like a diplomat (someone tell John Kerry). Still, does anyone imagine that Soini would land in such hot water if he had attended a vigil for action on climate change? Or one in favor of abortion rights?
“No, no, no. I wouldn’t say so … The Finnish official line is that I should be careful because abortion is legal in Finland and Canada.” So the outrage is issue-specific and, to be precise, worldview-specific. In Nordic countries, especially, the political culture is consensus-based to a fault, and the consensus is that the outcome of the 1960s sexual revolution will never be up for debate. Next door in Sweden, midwives are blacklisted from the profession for espousing anti-abortion views. Ditto for Norwegian doctors who refuse to dispense IUDs and abortifacients on conscience grounds.
The consensus expects ministers to bring their views into line or keep their mouths shut. “This is of course clearly politics,” Soini told me. “I think I have freedom of conscience. I haven’t done anything wrong. This is me practicing my religion.” And the free exercise of religion means having the right to espouse the moral teachings of one’s faith—or it means nothing.
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Banality and evil.
A week ago, I wondered what was going on in Sunspot, New Mexico. The FBI had swept into this mountain-top solar observatory, complete with Black Hawk helicopters, evacuated everyone, and closed the place down with no explanation whatever. Local police were politely told to butt out. It was like the first scene in a 1950’s Hollywood sci-fi movie, probably starring Walter Pidgeon.
Well, now we know, at least according to the New York Post.
If you’re hoping for little green men saying, “Take me to your leader,” you’re in for a disappointment. It seems the observatory head had discovered a laptop with child pornography on it that belonged to the janitor. The janitor then made veiled threats and in came the Black Hawks.
In sum, an all-too-earthly explanation with a little law-enforcement overkill thrown in.
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The demands of the politicized life.
John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, has been the subject of withering criticism of late, but I’m grateful to him. Yes, he shouldn’t have refused to write a recommendation for a student merely because the semester abroad program she was applying to was in Israel. But at least he exposed what the boycott movement is about, aspects of which I suspect some of its blither endorsers are unaware.
We are routinely told, as we were by the American Studies Association, that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When the American Studies Association boycott of Israel was announced, over two hundred college presidents or provosts properly and publicly rejected it. But even they might not have imagined that the boycott was more than a symbolic gesture. Thanks to Professor Cheney-Lippold, they now know that it involves actions that disserve their students. Yes, Cheney-Lippold now says he was mistaken when he wrote that “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel.” But he is hardly a lone wolf in hyper-politicized disciplines like American Studies, Asian-American Studies, and Women’s Studies, whose professional associations have taken stands in favor of boycotting Israel. Administrators looking at bids to expand such programs should take note of their admirably open opposition to the exchange of ideas.
Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights, freedom and to prevent violations of international law.” Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney- Lippold could have found out by Googling. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces (NIF) in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent resistance but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.
That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an International Day with the “new generation of Palestinians” then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis–all civilians–dead.
The boycott movement, in other words, can sign on to a solidarity movement that includes the targeting of civilians for death, but cannot sign letters of recommendation for their own undergraduates if those undergraduates seek to learn in Israel. That tells us all we need to know about the boycott movement. It was nice of Cheney-Lippold to tell us.