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Mahatma's Great Words Need Understanding of Context

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
February 2013
Mahatma's Great Words Need Understanding of Context SATYALOGUE
with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

In light of all the flotsam and jetsam floating around the liberal media after the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, perhaps the following argument from Mr. Gandhi will put to rest the handwringing over the so-called easy access to guns in America:

“Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.”

This quote from The Story of My Experiments with Truth definitively articulates the need for a free people to have access to arms. In the country’s grief over the death of innocent children, let us not hastily do away with our Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Dear Friend,

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” (Second Amendment to the United States Constitution)

While quotes are deployed in Satyalogue to make sense of the world we live in, they must not be taken out of context.

The key to any text is interpretation. As with the U.S. Constitution (or the Bible or the Gita), so with Gandhiji’s writing: one can be an “originalist,” faithfully adopting immutable ideas as they were originally understood by the author; or one can be a “contextualist,” loyally adapting guiding principles to modern dilemmas by comparing and contrasting historical and contemporary contexts. The conservative mindset will seek original continuity from the past; the liberal mindset will encourage contextual change for the future.

Although Satyalogue attempts a balance of the past, the present, and the future, America’s out-of-control access to guns leaves little room for moderation. Let us not use (misuse?) words from the past to justify an unjustifiable situation. In commenting upon the “Act depriving a whole nation of arms,” Gandhiji was demanding peaceful self-governance, not violent self-defense; he was insisting that if Indians were to be recruited into serving British World War II interests, Indians should have been allowed to serve their own interests of self-rule.

Similarly, the framers of the American Constitution argued that a militia, enabled by people suitably armed, was necessary for the “security of a free State.” Somehow, this understanding has become a misunderstanding that distorts the obligation to serve the state into a right to purchase guns. Great words must be carried forward into a civilized future. Nearly all countries with written constitutions have adopted the following concepts that were originally quite American: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to vote, and right of assembly. Indeed, it is fair to infer that Gandhiji would have been proud to have his own concept of swaraj be part of this canon of liberty. As for the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” very few nations have followed America’s folly in affording its citizens this constitutional right (wrong!).

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj_oza@hotmail.com.]


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