The Metaphysics of Violence: Comparative Reflections on the Thought of René Girard and Mahatma Gandhi by: Edward J. Alam

Document Type : Original Article


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.