Martin Luther King on Love

The Metropolitan Opera is currently performing Philip Glass’ Grand Opera “Satyagraha“, which depicts Mahandas Gandhi’s work for civil rights in  South Africa during the the early Twentieth Century.   During that time, Gandhi developed and employed “Satyagraha” (Sanskrit for “Truth Force”) to help oppressed minorities through acts of civil disobedience.

In his autobiography, Martin Luther King observed:

Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance. I was particularly moved by his Salt March to the Sea and his numerous fasts. The whole concept of Satyagraha (Satya is truth which equals love, and agraha is force; Satyagraha, therefore, means truth force or love force) was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. … It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking.


In the Glass heroic opera, MLK is depicted as one of the three ideal spirits (along with Tolstoy and Tagore) looking down upon the action.

It’s a pity that the Occupy Movement seems to emulate Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals rather than the noble protest and dissent of Satyagraha.

About dcbarroco

DCBarroco: The surreal musings of a "party animal" living Between the Beltways, whose favorite contact sport may be politics, but who also has interests that are not poll driven, who thinks beyond the next spin cycle and who will caucus with diverse special interest groups.

Posted on November 19, 2011, in Aphorisms, Art, Faith, History, Law, News, Pensee, Politics, Video and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. it didn’t work in South Africa

    • @mymatejoechip: But Satyagraha did work quite well in the American Civil Rights movement as well as the falling of the Iron Curtain. It established the paradigm for non-violent protest to change systems.

  2. the Soviet Union collapsed economically, in part due to the arms race, and things aren’t working out particularly well there at the moment. Didn’t work in Northern Ireland either when they tried to emulate the american civil rights movement and the British army shot them. I wish it did.

    • @mychipmatejoe: Thank you for the thoughtful exchange.

      Earlier you claimed that peaceful civil resistence did not work in South Africa. History indicates otherwise. Gandhi’s work in South Africa was sparked by laws demanding registrations in India. While the Transvaal government was initially successful in imposing the controversial law, but Gandi’s Satyagraha movement of civil disobedience had thousands of Indians filling the jails over seven years and public outcry eventually caused the South African government to compromise. That is success.

      While I agree that Soviet Domination in Middle Europe was preciptated by bankruptcy in the arms race, the manner in which the regimes fell, particularly in Poland and East Germany, embodied non-violent civil disobedience. Certainly Solidarity did suffer a serious setback when Jaruzelski imposed martial law in 1981, non-violent political change based on higher moral principles (in Solidarity’s case Catholic social teaching) triumphed. As for East Germany, the Peaceful Revolution was civil resistance in 1989. DDR leader Erik Honicker issued a shoot to kill order to the military and the Stasi tried to infiltrate the opposition, still crowds shouted “We are the People”. These peaceful acts of civil resistence. This led to the fall of the Berlin Wall paving the way to reunfication with a free West Germany.

      As for Ulster, when the Irish Republican ARMY was a prominent part of the Easter Rebellion of 1916, it’s a hard sell to portray it as being dedicated to non-violence as it applied to Northern Ireland. My cursory knowledge of the Easter Rebellion of 1916 in what is now the Republic of Ireland gives the impression that it was more of a military movement than a widespread example of civil resistance. The ongoing struggle in Northern Ireland to break from the UK during the 1970s and 1980s has more of a resonance of violent “freedom fighters” who were cajoled into acceding to the Good Friday Accords of 1998 which was an agreement by the British and Irish governments, rather than a reaction to widespread waves of peaceful civil disobedience. However there may be more to the story.

      These peaceful civil resistence movements do not guarantee initial success but there have been prominent examples where it worked. To blithely dismiss principled civil disobedience condemns political paradigm shifts to being a might makes right and a bloody mess.

  3. There is a lot more to Northern Ireland than the IRA. There was a direct attempt to emulate the american civil rights movement in the late 60s, with freedom marches and peaceful demonstrations, which were met with Catholic areas being burned out and thousands made homeless, which led to the resurgence of the IRA, which in fact had to play a lot of “catch-up”. I’m not condemning, I’m observing.

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