Parallels and Contradictions Between Gandhi and Locke

After our discussions regarding Gandhi’s nonviolence campaigns against the British government, I began to consider the parallels between Gandhi’s beliefs and those of John Locke. Like Locke, Gandhi believed in the people’s right to freedom in terms of their possession, property, and will. Locke considered this right an unspoken contract between the people and their government. While the British did not obey such a contract with the Indian people, Gandhi nonetheless believed that the Indian’s had a natural right to such freedom. According to Locke, “to understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.” Locke here explains the rights of the government and of the people. The government, according to Locke, must protect people’s freedom. This is exactly what Gandhi was fighting for: freedom in India in terms of property, will, and basic human rights. Also similarly to Locke, Gandhi believed in racial equality- the idea that the government must treat everyone, regardless of race or class, equally. Everyone is subject to equal laws and rights in society. Locke shared such an ideal: “A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.” Similarly to Locke’s ideals on racial equality that were new during his time, considering the fact that the Enlightenment birthed racism by supporting it scientifically, Gandhi’s nonviolence campaign developed shortly after the violent Russian Revolution, providing a nuanced method of changing society.

Although Gandhi and Locke’s ideas share many parallels, there views on violence significantly contradict one another. Gandhi emphasized nonviolent protest for freedom and equal treatment, regardless of the fact that Britain was violating the Locke-Gandhi ideal of the government protecting its people’s freedom and possessions. Locke, however, believed in attaining such rights through violent means: “and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion; because such men are not under the ties of the commonlaw of reason, have no other rule, but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as beasts of prey, those dangerous and noxious creatures, that will be sure to destroy him whenever he falls into their power.” Locke here explains that one must destroy another who attempts to take away his rights to freedom. It is therefore probable that Lock would encourage violent protest against the British government, considering that the government is violating their contract with the people: protecting their freedom and possessions.


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