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Working Toward the Devotional Ideal: Gandhi on the Non-Idial Status of Liberal Institutions and Values

Gandhi’s relationship to liberal political philosophy has recently become a source of controversy. On the one hand, advocates for a virtue-based reformed liberal interpretation of Gandhi are inattentive to the devotional aspects of his political thought. On the other hand, advocates for a Tolstoyan and Hindu devotional interpretation are equally inattentive to those aspects of his political thought embracing liberal institutions and values. However, I re-interpret the devotional Gandhi’s relationship to liberalism in light of a distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory. This re-interpretation acknowledges Gandhi’s profound disagreement with liberal ideals of justice in both domestic and international politics. Nevertheless, it also acknowledges his acceptance of liberal institutions in non-ideally facilitating progress toward his devotional ideal of enlightened anarchism by which humanity’s spiritual progress renders the lawful uses of state violence unnecessary.

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