- Community, Violence, and Peace: Aldo Leopold, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gautama the Buddha in the Twenty-first Century
Community, Violence and Peace: Aldo Leopold, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gautama the Buddha in the Twenty-first Century, by A. L. Herman, explores the concept of community and the belief that it can resolve the problems of violence and insufficient peace in the twenty-first century. A. L. Herman examines four visions of community exemplified in the works of two Western thinkers, Aldo Leopold and Martin Luther King, Jr., and two Eastern thinkers, Gandhi [End Page 425] and Gautama the Buddha. The author approaches these thinkers with three questions: first, what kind of sharing is constitutive of a community? Second, how does one belong to a community? And third, can the problems of peace and violence in the twenty-first century be solved through the path of community?
Chapter 1 begins by presenting the key premises of the arguments for community as an antidote to violence and as a harbinger of peace. Using Socrates' defense in the Apology, Herman puts forth two versions of the community argument. First, no one would intentionally do violence to oneself; one's self is shaped by one's community, and no one would intentionally do violence to one's community (p. 45). The second version, called the "community peace argument," proceeds from the premise that everyone would intentionally do peace to themselves, and since one's self is shaped by one's community, everyone would intentionally do peace to one's community (p. 46). The author claims that the second premise, which assumes a close relationship between oneself and the community, is borne out in all four of the thinkers just mentioned. But what is a community? How do individuals come to recognize themselves as belonging to a community?
Chapter 2 focuses on the eco-mystic Aldo Leopold's notions of a "biotic community" and the "land ethic." The "biotic community" extends the boundaries of community to include soils, plants, and animals. Viewing the land as not simply a "resource" but a "fountain of energy" flowing through a "web of interdependent parts," Leopold calls for a "responsible and respectful use" that preserves the "integrity, stability and beauty" of the environment. This "land ethic" is predicated on an "ecological conscience," by which Leopold means the "extension of the social conscience from people to land" (p. 64). Such an ecological conscientiousness does not require supernatural grace or the aid of a divine savior; it evolves from an "intellectual intuition" and "self-transformation" whereby the individual comes to recognize his or her close relationship to the biotic community (p. 65). While giving a sympathetic account of Leopold's "land ethic," Herman points to some crucial theoretical problems. First, the inclusion of "trees, ponds, and wildlife" within the "biotic community" gives rise to "outrageous rights"; second, Leopold does not specify the criteria for distinguishing between "responsible use" and exploitation; and third, the emphasis on the "integrity and stability" of the biotic community threatens to subordinate "human rights" to a larger whole.
Chapter 3 turns to Gandhi's experiments in an "ashramic community" beginning with the Phoenix Farm and ending with the Sevagram Ashram. Attempting a synthesis of John Ruskin's ideas and Hindu ideas, Gandhi built "ashrams" or communal retreats wherein members shared common meals, manual labor, and a set of moral and spiritual practices such as nonviolence, celibacy, and nonpossession. Far from being mere retreats from the world, these ashrams were centers from which Gandhi conducted the Indian struggle for independence. In the process of fusing spirituality and politics, Gandhi evolved the technique of Satyāgraha or nonviolent resistance toward unjust laws and customs. Herman explores the limits and possibilities of Satyāgraha through an imaginary lecture/personal recollection by Professor George P. Conger, who had visited Gandhi at Sevagram. After reassuring his students that [End Page 426] this "stuff...