The Morality of Boycott

The Morality of Boycott
Ages ago there was a priest of Baal who thought himself commissioned
by the god to kill all who did not bow the knee to him.
All men, terrified by the power and ferocity of the priest, bowed
down before the idol and pretended to be his servants; and the
few who refused, had to take refuge in hills and deserts. At last
a deliverer came and slew the priest and the world had rest. The
slayer was blamed by those who placed religion in quietude and
put passivity forward as the ideal ethics, but the world looked
on him as an incarnation of God.
* * * *
A certain class of minds shrink from aggressiveness as if it were a
sin. Their temperament forbids them to feel the delight of battle
and they look on what they cannot understand as something
monstrous and sinful. “Heal hate by love, drive out injustice by
justice, slay sin by righteousness” is their cry. Love is a sacred
name, but it is easier to speak of love than to love. The love
which drives out hate, is a divine quality of which only one man
in a thousand is capable. A saint full of love for all mankind
possesses it, a philanthropist consumed with the desire to heal
the miseries of the race possesses it, but the mass of mankind
do not and cannot rise to that height. Politics is concerned with
masses of mankind and not with individuals. To ask masses of
mankind to act as saints, to rise to the height of divine love
and practise it in relation to their adversaries or oppressors, is
to ignore human nature. It is to set a premium on injustice and
violence by paralysing the hand of the deliverer when raised to
strike. The Gita is the best answer to those who shrink from
battle as a sin and aggression as a lowering of morality.
* * * *
1118 Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908
A poet of sweetness and love who has done much to awaken
Bengal, has written deprecating the boycott as an act of hate.
The saintliness of spirit which he would see brought into politics
is the reflex of his own personality colouring the political ideals
of a sattwic race. But in reality the boycott is not an act of hate.
It is an act of self-defence, of aggression for the sake of selfpreservation.
To call it an act of hate is to say that a man who
is being slowly murdered, is not justified in striking out at his
murderer. To tell thatman that he must desist from using the first
effective weapon that comes to his hand because the blow would
be an act of hate, is precisely on a par with this deprecation of
boycott. Doubtless the self-defender is not precisely actuated by
feelings of holy sweetness towards his assailant, but to expect
so much from human nature is impracticable. Certain religions
demand it, but they have never been practised to the letter by
their followers.
* * * *
Hinduism recognizes human nature and makes no such impossible
demand. It sets one ideal for the saint, another for the
man of action, a third for the trader, a fourth for the serf. To
prescribe the same ideal for all is to bring about varnasankara,
the confusion of duties, and destroy society and the race. If we
are content to be serfs, then indeed boycott is a sin for us, not
because it is a violation of love, but because it is a violation of the
Sudra’s duty of obedience and contentment. Politics is the field of
the Kshatriya and the morality of the Kshatriya ought to govern
our political actions. To impose on politics the Brahminical duty
of saintly sufferance, is to preach varnasankara.
* * * *
Love has a place in politics, but it is the love for one’s country, for
one’s countrymen, for the glory, greatness and happiness of the
race, the divine ananda of self-immolation for one’s fellows, the
ecstasy of relieving their sufferings, the joy of seeing one’s blood
flow for country and freedom, the bliss of union in death with
The Morality of Boycott 1119
the fathers of the race. The feeling of almost physical delight
in the touch of the mother soil, of the winds that blow from
Indian seas, of the rivers that stream from Indian hills, in the
sight of Indian surroundings, Indian men, Indian women, Indian
children, in the hearing of Indian speech, music, poetry, in the
familiar sights, sounds, habits, dress, manners of our Indian life,
this is the physical root of that love. The pride in our past, the
pain of our present, the passion for the future are its trunk and
branches. Self-sacrifice, self-forgetfulness, great service and high
endurance for the country are its fruit. And the sapwhich keeps it
alive is the realisation of the Motherhood of God in the country,
the vision of the Mother, the knowledge of the Mother, the
perpetual contemplation, adoration and service of the Mother.
* * * *
Other love than this is foreign to the motives of political action.
Between nation and nation there is justice, partiality, chivalry,
duty but not love. All love is either individual, or for the self in
the race or for the self in mankind. It may exist between individuals
of different races, but the love of one race for another is a
thing foreign to nature.When, therefore, the boycott as declared
by the Indian race against the British is stigmatised for want of
love, the charge is bad psychology as well as bad morality. It is
interest warring against interest, and hatred is directed not really
against the race but against the adverse interest. If the British
exploitation were to cease tomorrow, the hatred against the
British race would disappear in a moment. A partial adhyaropa
makes the ignorant for the moment see in the exploiters and not
in the exploitation the receptacle of the hostile feeling. But like
all Maya it is an unreal and fleeting sentiment and is not shared
by those who think. Not hatred against foreigners, but antipathy
to the evils of foreign exploitation is the true root of boycott.
* * * *
If hatred is demoralising, it is also stimulating. The web of life
has been made a mingled strain of good and evil and God works
1120 Writings from Manuscripts 1907-1908
His ends through the evil as well as through the good. Let us
discharge our minds of hate, but let us not deprecate a great and
necessary movement because in the inevitable course of human
nature, it has engendered feelings of hostility and hatred. If hatred
came, it was necessary that it should come as a stimulus,
as a means of awakening. When tamas, inertia, torpor have
benumbed a nation, the strongest forms of rajas are necessary
to break the spell, and there is no form of rajas so strong as
hatred. Through rajas we rise to sattwa, and for the Indian
temperament, the transition does not take long. Already the
element of hatred is giving place to the clear conception of love
for the Mother as the spring of our political actions.
* * * *
Another question is the use of violence in the furtherance of
boycott. This is, in our view, purely a matter of policy and expediency.
An act of violence brings us into conflict with the law
and such a conflict may be inexpedient for a race circumstanced
like ours. But the moral question does not arise. The argument
that to use violence is to interfere with personal liberty involves
a singular misunderstanding of the very nature of politics. The
whole of politics is an interference with personal liberty. Law
is such an interference, Protection is such an interference, the
rule which makes the will of the majority prevail is such an
interference. The right to prevent such use of personal liberty
as will injure the interests of the race, is the fundamental law
of society. From this point of view the nation is only using its
primary right when it restrains the individual from buying or
selling foreign goods.
* * * *
It may be argued that peaceful compulsion is one thing and violent
compulsion another. Social boycott may be justifiable, but
not the burning or drowning of British goods. The lattermethod,
we reply, is illegal and therefore may be inexpedient, but it is
not morally unjustifiable. The morality of the Kshatriya justifies
The Morality of Boycott 1121
violence in times of war, and boycott is a war. Nobody blames
the Americans for throwing British tea into Boston harbour, nor
can anybody blame similar action in India on moral grounds. It
is reprehensible from the point of view of law, of social peace
and order, not of political morality. It has been eschewed by
us because it is unwise and carries the battle on to a ground
where we are comparatively weak, from a ground where we
are strong. Under other circumstances we might have followed
the American precedent, and if we had done so, historians and
moralists would have applauded, not censured.
* * * *
Justice and righteousness are the atmosphere of political morality,
but the justice and righteousness of the fighter, not of the
priest. Aggression is unjust only when unprovoked, violence
unrighteous when used wantonly or for unrighteous ends. It
is a barren philosophy which applies a mechanical rule to all
actions, or takes a word and tries to fit all human life into it.
The sword of the warrior is as necessary to the fulfilment of
justice and righteousness as the holiness of the saint. Ramdas is
not complete without Shivaji. To maintain justice and prevent
the strong from despoiling and the weak from being oppressed
is the function for which the Kshatriya was created. Therefore,
says Sri Krishna in the Mahabharat, God created battle and
armour, the sword, the bow and the dagger.
Mankind is of a less terrestrial mould than some would have
him to be. He has an element of the divine which the practical
politician ignores. The practical politician looks to the position
at the moment and imagines that he has taken everything into
consideration. He has indeed studied the surface and the immediate
surroundings, but he has missed what lies beyond material
vision. He has left out of account the divine, the incalculable in
man, that element which upsets the calculations of the schemer
and disconcerts the wisdom of the diplomat.

VOLUME 6 and 7


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