Gandhi and the Hazards of Action


Across the 20th century, a whole range of Marxist, existentialist, progressive, anarchist, and anti-colonial thinkers and activists wrestled with the legitimacy and efficacy of new forms of mass political action – such as the boycott, the general strike, as well as revolutionary violence.  At the same time, theorists of action – such as Weber and Arendt – worried about the tragic, fragile, and unmasterable character of political action.  This lecture will place Gandhi’s conception of nonviolent action within this broader global debate on the dilemmas of mass political action and suggest how satyagraha was meant to mitigate and resolve some of the inherent hazards of political contestation and action.

With Discussant Samera Esmeir, Associate Professor of  Rhetoric, UC Berkeley, Department of Rhetoric

Karuna Mantena is Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and co-director of the International Conference for the Study of Political Thought (CSPT).  She holds a BSc(Econ) in International Relations from the London School of Economics (1995), an MA in Ideology and Discourse Analysis from the University of Essex (1996), and a PhD in Government from Harvard University (2004).  Karuna specializes in political theory with research interests in the history of political thought, the theory and history of empire, South Asian intellectual history, and postcolonial democracy.  She is the author of Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism (2010), which analyzed the transformation of nineteenth-century British imperial ideology.  She has recently published articles on Gandhi’s political realism, the nonviolence of Martin Luther King, and the theory and practice of nonviolence in the 20th century, and is currently finishing a book on Gandhi and the politics of nonviolence, tentatively titled, Gandhi’s Realism: Means and Ends in Politics.


Sponsored by the Department of Rhetoric. Co-sponsored by the Institute for South Asia Studies and the Travers Department of Political Science .