On his recent trip to India, President Obama was lavish in his praise for Mahatma Gandhi. Obama maintained that Gandhi’s message of being “the change we seek in the world” was instrumental in inspiring his own journey from community organizer to President of the United States. “I might not be standing here today,” said the president, had it not been for the Great Soul’s influence.
Knowing, however, that Gandhi’s political philosophy included highly persuasive polemics against big government, the welfare state, foreign aid, affirmative action, identity politics, divisive rhetoric, and malice toward one’s opponents, it’s hard to imagine the president devoting much time as a student in quiet and humble contemplation with the great guru’s writings.Gandhi, for example, would have lasted about twenty seconds in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity “United” Church in Chicago. On the other hand, Barack Obama and his family dutifully attended Wright’s church for twenty years. Wright’s racially divisive theology of “liberation” would have constituted for Gandhi a direct assault on one of the main pillars of his own political philosophy: “liberation,” or swaraj.
While swaraj literally means “independence,” for Gandhi, the term was much more importantly associated with intense self-examination and self-mastery. True freedom, according to Gandhi, meant an inward journey of liberation from the kind of anger, fear, and hatred that served only to perpetuate cycles of domination and division in society.