The Metaphysics of Violence: Comparative Reflections on the Thought of René Girard and Mahatma Gandhi

  • This is not an essay on the acts of violence, but on violence per se. The purpose is to expose violence for what it is in its essence, so as to renounce it, and thus make room for genuine peace. It is widely acknowledged that violence is the very opposite of peace, and thus obviously threatens it, but most discussions of violence remain at the level of acts of violence and rarely attempt to probe the essence lying beneath its outward manifestations. The same could be said of peace. This is understandable, as both concepts entail highly enigmatic subtleties that are difficult to pin down, and therefore require the work of arduous metaphysical analysis. Nonetheless, such work must be carried out, for if discussions of violence do not attempt to probe the inner depths of what it is in itself, we are apt to end up defining certain activities as non-violent, when in fact they are simply different forms of violence, masquerading as non-violence. This may lead to the further identification of peace with these deceptive definitions of non-violence, which ultimately amounts to calling violence peace, as, for instance, when so-called non-violent demonstrators, short of inflicting bodily harm upon the other, are nonetheless filled with passionate hatred, with no intention of transforming the other. To adequately understand that non-violence is not automatically to be equated with peace, it is first necessary to get at the core of what violence really is. René Girard and Mahatma Gandhi are two exemplary contemporary thinkers, coming from dissimilar academic, cultural, and religious backgrounds, who do explore the metaphysics of violence profoundly, and whose conclusions are stunningly commensurate. Though their approaches are quite different, they both conclude that violence is an invisible, ambiguously transcendent, disordered force that feeds upon itself by parasitically taking advantage of the whole range of immoral human desire. To renounce it is nothing short of renouncing all evil and immorality through a hyper-conscious decision to strive daily to know the truth and to do the good, precisely by loving the beautiful—the very place where the good and true meet—and that one sacred space where violence dares not show its hideous face.
واژگان کلیدی
Metaphysics of violence, Peace, René Girard, Mahatma Gandhi, Mythological and religious traditions

منابع و مآخذ مقاله

M. K. Gandhi (1927) An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments With Truth (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House) 420.

M. K. Gandhi (2001) The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India) 100 volumes. Volume 97, 454.

I am paraphrasing R. K. Narayan’s summary of the Bhagavad-Gita in his The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978) 147-148.

Echos of this are found in Meister Eckhart’s spirituality. In a sermon on the spiritual birth of the soul, he writes: “A man cannot attain to this birth except by withdrawing his sense from all things. And that requires a mighty effort to drive back the powers of the soul and inhibit their functioning. This must be done with force, without force it cannot be done. As Christ said: ‘The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force’ (Matt. 11:12).’”

Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma, 279. This particular quote, and the two that immediately follow here, were brought to my attention by K. Ramakrishna Rao, chairman of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, this past summer (July, 2008) when he presented his paper, “Colors Of Violence: A Psycho-Social analysis and a Gandhian Perspective” at the World Congress of Philosophy in Seoul, South Korea. I hereby acknowledge the substantial influence of his research upon mine while working on the present paper.

See K. Ramakrishna Rao’s above mentioned paper soon to be published in the International Proceedings of the World Congress of Philosophy

Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma, 453 (Emphasis in italics is mine).

Narayan, The Mahabharata, 148.


“I learned from Hussein how to achieve victory while being oppressed.” “My faith is that the progress of Islam does not depend on the use of the sword by its believers, but the result of the supreme sacrifice of Hussain, the great saint.” See Accessed on June, 2016.

Gandhi The Collected Works of Mahatma, 249.

See René Girard (2001) I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, tr. James G. Williams (New York: Orbis Books) 15.

For a precise summary of Girard’s thought see the ‘Foreword’ by James G. Williams in Girard I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.

Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, 15.

See the Foreword by James G. Williams in I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. xii.

Ibid., xvi—xvii.

Leo D. Lefebure (2000) Revelation, the Religions, and Violence (New York: Orbis Books) 16. Lefebure also provides evidence in this work (p.30-31) which suggests that the biblical story of Joseph has antecedents going back centuries before Israel in the Egyptian Tale of the Two Brothers.

I follow closely here the insightful and objective criticisms raised by Lefebure, Ibid., 20-23.

James G. Williams in I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. xii.

Lefebure, Revelation, Revelation, the Religions, and Violence, 150.

Ibid., 151.

See Muhammad-Reza Fakhr-Rohani (2007) Ashura: Poems in English (Karbala: Imam al-Husain’s Sacred Sanctuary) 35-36.

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