Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 1
MAHATMA GANDHI’S CRITIQUE OF WESTERN CIVILISATION
Professor and Head of Department, Political Science and
Director, Gandhian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies,
University of Jammu, Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, India.
Gandhi’s critique of Western civilisation is not a blindfolded exposition of a bias
of his own predilections. Otherwise, his ideas could not have become ever more relevant
even for the Western world today.1
Gandhi had said that the Western civilisation is a
“nine days wonder” and it is on the path of self destruction.2
As such, Gandhi’s relevance
is ever increasing and widening in scope not only for relatively poorer developing and
emerging populations but also the apparently developed countries of the comity of
nations and present-day globalising international civil society.
This subject of the Gandhian critique in this context needs more methodical and
deeper study in a proper structural format for the purpose of better understanding. This
study may therefore be divided into following contours:
3. Elements of Western Civilisation
4. Fundamentals of Gandhian Critique
5. Gandhi’s Views on Mechanisation
6. Gandhi’s View on Western Education
7. Some Other Aspects of Western Civilisation
The major objective of this write up is to understand the nature of modern
Western civilisation according to Gandhi. Another aspect is to grasp the meaning of
civilisation and its interconnections with media, IT, education and other areas of existing
life patterns such as globalisation etc. Therefore, keywords in this essay may be regarded
as civilisation, education, globalisation, civilisational domination and exploitation, just
world order and a cohesive order, right not might, civility of human behaviour.
Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 2
The Western civilisation is modern mechanised industrialising technologically
developed civilisation with primarily democratic and free capitalist globalising market
economy. Even India has largely adopted its main features such as its education, living
style, political and economic institutions of a parliamentary democracy and mixed and
capitalist economy alongwith continuous upward movement towards present-day
Mahatma Gandhi never wanted such a civilisation to be adopted in India of his
dreams. Yet he knew that his ideal dream would not be practicably realised by his own
country because India was not ripe for such a realisation and its realistic execution.3
Gandhi had therefore settled for the existing parliamentary democratic and economic
system in our country until the time when India ripens into a nation ready to adopt the
highest ideal of Gandhi in the form of an ideal society where the brute force of the State
would not be needed due to pervasive and universal permeation of the rule of truth and
nonviolence. For Gandhi that state is best which governs the least. Yet for Gandhi, all
large scale industries, if needed at all, must be nationalised for the benefit of the wider
3. ELEMENTS OF WESTERN CIVILISATION
Modern or Western civilisation is more dependent on its outward projections such
as its glamour, ostentatious ways, mechanisation, top heavy technology, “irreligion” and
“Satanic” nature, superficial standards of knowledge in terms of its external requirements
of automation, efficiency, education and use of modern information technology (IT)
along with globalising values and ethics of a civil society, good governance (?) and ever
widening canvass of dependence on Internet and Intranet.4
The main elements and features of this Western civilisation in the Gandhian
framework of philosophy are:
i. Western life style and clothing such as trousers, shirts, skirts, jeans, T-
shirts, shoes, tinned food, Internet, sleeping late night, rising late in the
morning, non-vegetarianism, regular use of alcohol and intoxications
Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 3
ii. Massive use of brute force of State diversely through modern media,
ever modernising conventional armaments like Drona of United States,
nuclear armaments and biological and chemical armaments as well as
spying via satellite communications.
iii. Technology and its recurring obsolescence in terms of ever new forms
of technology becoming obsolete almost daily. For example, a laptop
bought today will become obsolete and old fashioned within a years
time. Then even its essential technological parts will also not be
available from its company as well.
iv. In this sense also technology becomes ever enslaving and exploitative
for the common masses.
v. It is nearly impossible to ignore this technology in one’s daily life.
vi. Governments and nations and civil society start fully depending on the
modern Western technological networking beyond which there is no
respite. These networks can cause to make and unmake governments in
different countries of the world.
vii. Labour saving technology leading humanity to utmost comfort and least
possible of manual labour.
viii. More opportunities for increasing unemployment instead of ever more
employment for common masses in poorer and emerging nations.
ix. Concentration of wealth and capital in fewer hands.
x. Rising ecological threats as a result of Western technological
interference with Nature. For example, Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
from air conditioners and modern transportation systems leading to
recurring depletion of ozone layer resulting in increasing instances of
ultraviolet radiation and skin cancers. This is just one example. There
are, in effect, endless list of such instances in almost every area of
human life today.
xi. Western civilisation is such that one needs to be patient and it will be
self destroyed. It is like a Frankenstein.
Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 4
xii. It is leading to several dilemmas of development such as population
explosion and need for education and upliftment of the poor – what
should come first? Population control or development efforts?
xiii. There is very close relationship between Western civilisation and
modern technology. This technology is seldom for an individual. It is
always for massive consumption through influencing the minds and
psychology of the masses the world over.
xiv. Despite above mentioned elements of Western civilisation, it is still
believed that the current process of globalisation is permanent and
continuous for bringing about a new and just world order! Is it really
xv. Western civilisation is blind to larger human values vis-à-vis its need for
xvi. The Western civilisation is also leading to social and political
disruptions through its utter materialism and ever growing quest for
armaments and domination of other cultures and civilisations of the
4. FUNDAMENTALS OF GANDHIAN CRITIQUE
Cornerstones of the political philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi lie in the Panch
Yama of Patanjali’s Yogpardeep. The principles of truth, nonviolence, non-stealing, non-
possession and celibacy are the panch yama. It is on these five principles that entire
edifice of Gandhi’s social, political and economic philosophy is based with the central
theme of the place and role of the individual in every relevant sphere of life. From
beginning till the end, in all his writings, individual is the main concern.
It is this quest for an individual’s peaceful and just life that Gandhi has devoted
his philosophy of life to. Preserving and protecting an individual’s interests versus
modern Western mechanisation, industrialisation and technologicalisation is of grave
importance to Gandhi. Technology must be labour-involving instead of labour saving.
The Western civilisation is, on the other hand, primarily based on modern mechanical
and technology superconductors and chips and nanotechnology.
Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 5
In this technological world, an individual is loosing one’s identity and existence
by becoming a slave to such modern Western trends of development. This is not
acceptable to Gandhi although he appears to be ready to agree to certain dilutions in this
matter especially when he finds a number of modern Western contexts as a necessity for
India to pursue as a newly independent country and even otherwise in the international
market, economy and polity.5
Therefore, Gandhi is not an impractical person. Instead he is highly mundane and
down to earth “practical idealist”.
5. GANDHI’S VIEW ON MECHANISATION
When Gandhian philosophy is studied, one often comes across several
contradictions relating to various differing statements that Gandhi made from time to
time. Gandhi says that whenever such contradictions arise anent his views and
philosophy, it is better to believe in the later ones than the earlier opinions.6
As regards machinery and mechanisation, Gandhi says, “It is machinery that has
impoverished India.” He further says, “I cannot recall a single good point in connection
with machinery.” For him, “The workers in the mills … become slaves.”7
On the other hand, Gandhi also says, “Mechanisation is good when hands are too
few for the work intended to be accomplished. It is evil where there are more hands than
Gandhi further says, “The supreme consideration is man. The machine
should not tend to atrophy the limbs of man. For instance, I would make intelligent
exceptions. Take the case of Singer’s Sewing Machine. It is one of the few useful things
ever invented…” Replying to a question whether he was against all machinery, Gandhi
said, “How can I be when I know that even this human body is a most delicate piece of
machinery? The spinning wheel is a machine; a little toothpick is a machine. What I
object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such.”9
At another place, Gandhi has said that:
I entertain no fads in this regard [his avowed opposition to
machinery and capital intensive technology] All that I desire is that every
able-bodied citizen should be provided with gainful employment. If
electricity and even automatic energy could be used without…creating
unemployment, I will not raise my little finger against it…. If the
Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 6
Government could provide full employment to our people without the help
of Khadi hand-spinning and hand-weaving industries, I shall be prepared
to wind up my constructive programme in this regard.10
6. GANDHI’S VIEW ON WESTERN EDUCATION
In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi provides a vehement criticism of modern Western
civilisation, education and massive industrialisation. About education, especially Chapter
– XVIII entitled “Education”, he says:
What is the meaning of education? It simply means a knowledge of
letters. It is merely an instrument, and an instrument may be well used or
abused. The same instrument that may be used to cure a patient may be
used to take his life, and so may a knowledge of letters. We daily observe
that many men abuse it and very few make good use of it; and if this is a
correct statement, we have proved that more harm has been done by it than
The ordinary meaning of education is a knowledge of letters. To
teach boys reading, writing and arithmetic is called primary education. A
peasant earns his bread honestly. He has ordinary knowledge of the world.
He knows fairly well how he should behave towards his parents, his wife,
his children and his fellow villagers. He understands and observes the
rules of morality. But he cannot write his own name. What do you propose
to do by giving him a knowledge of letters? Will you add an inch to his
happiness? Do you wish to make him discontented with his cottage or his
tot? And even if you want to do that, he will not need such an education.
Carried away by the flood of western thought we came to the conclusion,
without weighing pros and cons, that we should give this kind of
education to the people.
Now let us take higher education. I have learned Geography,
Astronomy, Algebra, Geometry, etc. What of that? In what way have I
benefited myself or those around me? Why have I learned these things?
…Huxley has thus defined education:
Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 7
That man I think has had a liberal education who
has been so trained in youth that his body is the ready
servant of his will and does with case and pleasure all the
work that as a mechanism it is capable of, whose intellect is
a clear, cold, logic engine with all its parts of equal strength
and in smooth working order ... whose mind is stored with
a knowledge of the fundamental truths of nature.... whose
passions are trained to conic to heel by a vigorous will, the
servant of a tender conscience ... who has learnt to hate all
vileness and to respect others as himself. Such a one and no
other, I conceive, has had a liberal education, for he is in
harmony with nature. He will make the best of her and she
If this is true education, I must emphatically say that the sciences I
have enumerated above I have never been able to use for controlling my
senses. Therefore, whether you take elementary education or higher
education, it is not required for the main thing. It does not make men of us.
It does not enable us to do our duty.
Moreover, I have not run down a knowledge of letters in all
circumstances. All I have now shown is that we must not make of it a
fetish… In its place it can be of use and it has its place when we have
brought our senses under subjection and put our ethics on a firm
foundation. And then, if we feel inclined to receive that education, we may
make good use of it. As an ornament it is likely to sit well on us. It now
follows that it is not necessary to make this education compulsory. Our
ancient school system is enough. Character-building has the first place in
it and that is primary education. A building erected on that foundation will
And it is worthy of note that the systems which the Europeans have
discarded are the systems in vogue among us. Their learned men
continually make changes. We ignorantly adhere to their cast-off systems.
Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 8
They are trying each division to improve its own status. Wales is a small
portion of England. Great efforts are being made to revive a knowledge of
Welsh among Welshmen. The English Chancellor, Mr. Lloyd George is
taking a leading part in the movement to make Welsh children speak
Welsh. And what is our condition? We write to each other in faulty
English, and from this even our M.A.s are not free; our best thoughts are
expressed in English., the proceedings of our Congress are conducted in
English; our best newspapers are printed in English. If this state of things
continues for a long time, posterity will - it is my firm opinion - condemn,
and curse us.
Is it not a painful thing that, if I want to go to a court of justice, I
must employ the English language as a medium and that when I become a
barrister. I may not speak my mother tongue and that someone else should
have to translate to me from my own language? Is not this absolutely
absurd? Is it not a sign of slavery? Am I to blame the English for it or
myself'? It is we, the English-knowing Indians that have enslaved India.
The curse of the nation will rest not upon the English but upon us.
6.1 Nai Taleem or Basic Education
Another feature of Gandhian philosophy of education concerns Gandhi’s stress on
his New or Basic Education in 3Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic along with the
principle of learning and earning through regular practice including extra-curricular
activities for children, adolescents, youth and adults alike. Gandhi’s experiments in his
Tolstoy Farm -- at Phoenix in South Africa in 1904 - 1913 -- are replete with this feature
of basic education involving daily manual work and vocational training also.11
manual work; learning and earning; extra curricular activities; reading, writing and
arithmetic; vocational training; and character building are to be given top priority. The
essence of this philosophy of education rests in self-sufficiency, confidence and character
building of an individual and the nation alike. One must begin from the smallest unit of
Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 9
6.2 Constructive Programme
Another significant facet of Gandhian philosophy of education is seen in his
Constructive Programme and also in his magnum opus, namely, Hind Swaraj or Indian
Home Rule. In his Constructive Programme, Gandhi lays focus on discipline of a civil
disobedient nonviolent soldier, communal unity, removal of untouchability, training for
promotion of khadi and other village industries, village sanitation, adult education,
women as equal partners, economic equality, patriotism, prohibition, bravery and
This constructive programme has to be put in its right Gandhian perspective of
local, regional, national, international and global contexts.
6.3 Eleven Vows
Gandhi points out eleven vows as absolutely necessary rudiments for proper
education in ethical values, imbibing Indian culture, personality development and
character building. He has taken up these so-called eleven commandments from
Patanjali’s ancient work Yogapradeepta. These eleven vows are satya (truth), ahimsa
(nonviolence), asteya (non-stealing), aparigraha (non-possession), brahmcharya
(selfcontrol, self-discipline and celibacy), sharirshrama (bread-labour), aswada (palate
control), sarvtra bhayavarjana (fearlessness and bravery), sarva dharma samantva
(equality of all religions), swadeshi (using locally available resources and produced
goods), sparsha bhavana (removal of untouchability). The first five vows, among these
eleven, are also known as the panchyama of Patanjali.
7. SOME OTHER ASPECTS OF WESTERN CIVILISATION
Gandhi is very critical of the immoralities inherent in the Western civilisation
such as utter materialistic thinking and behaviour leading to braking of families and
socially ostracised old aged persons. There are so many other aspects and dimensions of
modern Westernised behaviour and tendencies in this world of ‘knowledge bloom’ and
Internautian culture of a ‘free world’.
Such Western civilisation is moving towards complete doom and destruction of
social cohesiveness and order. Even ethical standards are becoming more commercial and
technological than personal and social in nature. New money churning educational and
other professions – finance, management and information technology – are emerging
Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 10
with their own ethics of the corporate world. Where does the individual stand in this
world of the web of Aridnae’s Thread?
In addition, the modern Western modes of transportation spreading all over the
world are also becoming carriers of ever new type of diseases and viruses like immune
deficiency syndrome etc. How really inhuman civilisation is the widespread Western
civilisation today? Yet, its comfort and glamour attract us and we remain stuck in its web.
Main perspectives of Gandhi’s critique of the Western civilisation have been
discussed here. The focus of this essay is primarily on what Gandhi has to say in this
matter. This is the major frame of reference in this research paper.
However, the Gandhian type of Indian civilisation is possible in the twenty-first
century only when individuals and nations alike keep away from absolute personal
aggrandizement of political and economic power in the interest of public welfare oriented
political will, proper intention and societal commitment. In the interest of mere human
survival, one has to end certain practices and start anew with what Mahatma Gandhi has
suggested in his Hind Swaraj. Ethical principles and character building provide the real
bases to every human action – on individual, national and international planes. The
direction of not only the Indian education but also global education system has to be set
right through root and branch transformation. What if materialism of the West and
spiritualism of the East meet! Otherwise there cannot be any respite from the continued
onslaught of the Western civilisation all over the world.
The Western civilisation revolves around materialism and massive consumerist
culture through multimedia, information technology, modern education, globalised
networking and liberal market economy with international corporate norms and
functioning. Gandhi calls this civilisation as immoral and merely a “nine days wonder”.
Western civilisation itself has now started realising its limitations and inherent follies
while Gandhi had predicted and analysed them about a hundred years ago.
Just look at the visionary nature of Gandhi’s understanding of the national and
global affairs not only in his own time but also much beyond of what anyone else can see
Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 11
The fundamental pillars of a civilisation reside in its character building, moral
strength, cultural diversity, equality among its citizens, least power to the State,
decentralisation of political and economic power, suitable education, near full
employment, social security and balanced development and education system. One
civilisation must not impose its nature and salient features upon other civilisations
through domination and exploitation. A civilisation must be nonviolent. Without
nonviolence, by definition, a civilisation cannot be called as such. Civility is a must for
any civilisation and it must not be borne on sleeves only. It must be truly human.
Anurag Gangal, Gandhi’s Critique of Western Civilisation 12
References and Notes
S. C. Gangal and Anurag Gangal, Contemporary Global Problems: A Gandhian Perspective, Vinod
Publishers, Jammu, 1995, pp. 2-3, 2-28.
M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, Twentieth
reprint, 2008, p. 33.
Ibid, pp. 25-36.
Ibid, p. 33; Anurag Gangal, Contemporary Issues: Gandhian Relevance, Pothi Publishers, Hyderabad,
2010, pp. 50-60. V. A. Patil and D. Gopal, Politics of Globalisation, (Authors Press, Delhi: 2002), pp. 01 –
11. “The term ‘globalisation’ was first coined in the 1980s, but the concept stretches back decades, and
even centuries, if you count the trading empires by Spain, Portugal, Britain and Holland. The resolve of
Western states to build and strengthen international ties in the aftermath of World War II laid the
groundwork for today’s globalisation. It has brought diminishing national borders and the fusing of
individual national markets. The fall of protectionist barriers has stimulated free movement of capital and
paved the way for companies to set up several bases around the world. …. Supporters of globalisation say it
has promoted information exchange, led to greater understanding of other cultures and allowed democracy
to triumph over autocracy. Critics say that even in developed world, not everyone has been a winner. The
freedoms granted by globalisation are leading to increased insecurity in workplace….. Many see
globalisation as a primarily economic phenomenon, involving the increasing interaction, or integration, of
national economic systems through the growth in international trade, investment and capital flows…, one
can also point to rapid increase in cross-border social, cultural and technological exchange as part of the
phenomenon of globalisation. The sociologist, Anthony Giddens, defines globalisation as a decoupling of
space and time, emphasising … instantaneous communication, knowledge and culture … shared around the
world simultaneously.” See pp 01 – 02. World Trade Organisation (WTO), International Monetary Fund
(IMF), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development IBRD) or World Bank, United Nations
(UN) and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) etcetera are a few major
international organisations regulating the process of globalisation. Mahatma Gandhi places an individual at
a prime spot in the social, political and economic setup in society. There is a widespread misconception
that Gandhi stresses “de-emphasis of individual self in pursuit of higher goals.” David P. Brash and
Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Sage, California: 2002), p. 05. Individual’s self-knowledge
is the highest goal and the best instrument to bring inner, national and global peace and development for
Gandhi. G. N. Dhawan, The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi (Navajivan, Ahmedabad: 1957),
Chapters 03 – 07 and pp. 312 – 351.
M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, Twentieth
reprint, 2008, pp. 25-38. Harijan, 16 November 1939. Ram K. Vepa, New Technology: A Gandhian
Concept, New Delhi, 1975, p. 70. M. K. Gandhi, From Yervada Mandir, Navajivan, Ahmedabad, 1933, pp.
Harijan, 29.04.1933, p.2. Hind Swaraj, Ibid, p. 4.
Hind Swaraj, Ibid, pp. 80-84.
Op. cit. n. 5.
M. K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, Twentieth
reprint, 2008, pp. 7-9.
Ram K. Vepa, Op. cit. n. 5.
Gandhi, An Autobiography or The Story of my Experiments with Truth, Part – III, Chapter – V; Part – IV,
Chapters – XIX – XXIII and XXXII; Harijan, 18 September 1937.