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Buddhist-Christian Studies 20 (2000) 265-267

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Book Review

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. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. xi + 245 pp.

At first glance, this title might seem a bit over the edge: how could an author intelligently juxtapose such diverse thinkers as an ecological scientist, two advocates of human rights, and an ancient religious founder? For the most part, the author succeeds in demonstrating that the twenty-first century requires a definition of community that includes environmental, social, and spiritual concerns. In a format particularly [End Page 265] helpful for undergraduate teaching, he carefully rehearses at the end of each section three central questions: how does this thinker contribute to our understanding of community? Does his approach lead to the diminishment of violence? Does it facilitate peace?

For the first quarter of the book, Herman explores various aspects of community. Drawing from Erich Fromm, Socrates, and Aldous Huxley, he demonstrates that out of enlightened self-interest, all people seek peace for themselves. He is careful to point out, however, that the Socratic virtues of wisdom, courage, self-control, and justice, which arise from within, are far superior to the uniformity of the World State as described in Huxley's Brave New World, which leaves nothing uncontrolled by the external authorities. Both lead to nonviolence and peace, but the World State can fall prey to what Fromm terms cultural insanity.

Supplementing his discussion of Aldo Leopold with references to the work of Rachel Carson and J. Baird Callicott, Herman emphasizes that ideas of community peace must be informed by holistic structures of nature, particularly as articulated in Leopold's Sand County Almanac. However, he also warns that if the welfare of the biotic community takes precedence over all other concerns, then society could fall into a state of ecofascism.

Herman's chapter on Mahatma Gandhi ably summarizes the life and works of this great political reformer, with particular focus on his formative years in South Africa. Influenced by John Ruskin and Leo Tolstoy, Gandhi developed the concept of the "Ashramic community," a means of collective, intentional living designed to effect social change. After describing the Phoenix Settlement (1904, Johannesburg), the Sabarmati Ashram (1915, Ahmedabad), and Sevagram Ashram (1933, Wardha), Herman presents a fifteen-page play script based on the Asian travel diaries of Professor George P. Conger, chair of philosophy at the University of Minnesota from 1937-1953. Conger spent two months at Gandhi's ashram in Wardha, India, in 1933, and in the play called "Salt," his students take up issues including the ill treatment of Jews in Germany, the definition of nonviolence, and emphasized, as does Gandhi, the necessity for self-transformation to achieve personal and community peace.

Martin Luther King Jr. inspired by the example of Mahatma Gandhi, employed nonviolent techniques to bring about the many successes of the American Civil Rights Movement. Herman provides a brief biography of Martin Luther King Jr., quotes several of his pivotal sermons, and emphasizes the notion of beloved community as critical to King's thinking. He writes that "in King's interpretation of agape, it is your being loved that gives you value; and it is your selflessly loving others that gives them value and makes the beloved community possible" (p. 138). According to King, fear and racial discrimination prevent one from entering into the beloved community. By changing laws, and, more importantly, changing the hearts of individual people, a more peaceful community can be built.

The least successful chapter of this book discusses Gautama Buddha and the "karmic community." Rather than focusing directly on Buddhist theories of Karma, Herman engages in a long discussion of the Bhagavad Gita, an important Hindu text, as a foil to explain Buddhist theories...