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Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism: Mohandas Gandhi Vs Martin Luther King Jr.

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This paper will examine the idea of social justice and the global moral theories used to achieve it. It will defend Mohandas Gandhi against Martin Luther King Jr. The reason why is because Gandhi uses cosmopolitan theory in a nonviolent way to fight for freedom and segregation on a national level, while King uses purified patriotism to end racism in the United States.

Martin Luther King Jr. adheres to the global moral theory of purified patriotism. Patriotism is the pride and support in one’s country which is what motivates a citizen to continue supporting their moral rights. Purified patriotism has slightly more detailed aspects of patriotism. This type of patriotism entails that King will promote his own country’s rights and beliefs rather than the universal rights and beliefs. Nussbaum describes it as “particularistic rather than universal” (Nussbaum, 79). From that, particularism is an approach taken where there is more support directed towards one’s own country than to the rest of the world, but that does not mean they do not support human rights for others. A strong foundation of human rights created in a country can link the patriotic and global citizen characteristics to one person. “Thus, purified patriotism melds naturally into a striving for global justice and an inclusive human love” (Nussbaum, 89). This is why it is significantly important that a country places a lot of meaning on their own human rights, so the citizens of the country turn out to be morally right. Purified patriotism can also act on a worldwide basis. If a patriot has a strong set of human rights within their country, they will advocate their beliefs on a global scale.

Mohandas Gandhi devoted his beliefs to the nonviolent global moral theory of cosmopolitanism. The core view of this theory is that one is first, a citizen of the world and secondarily a citizen to their country. This is seen as a more universal term rather than particularistic. “The idea of a world citizen…One should always behave so as to treat with equal respect the dignity of reason and moral choice in every human being” (Nussbaum, 308). Universalism means being a part of an equal community, which is the whole world, and where the same human rights are applied everywhere without any alteration. Humanity should be recognized anywhere it occurs because with this ideology all people belong to the same community with the same moral rights and beliefs. “The outward freedom…that we shall attain, will be only in exact proportion to the inward freedom” (‘National Independence Is Not Enough’, 165). Gandhi means that what is done within the homeland will be reflected within other countries around the world. A cosmopolitan view will aid the development of moral justice around the world and in one specific country because of its global perspective of inclusiveness and integration.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi were known for their powerful and effective leadership qualities and worth ethic when they directed their civil rights and independence movements. King fought to end racism specifically just in the United States because it violated all human rights that were stated in the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. King used the concept of nonviolence to strengthen his fight against racism. This included protests, he led, and speeches he gave. Gandhi fought in a similar way for Indian independence from the British and against racial segregation. He was known for his acts of civil disobedience against British rule. Some examples consist of sit-ins, marches, and strikes. Gandhi would show that the laws in the country were unjust by breaking them. He would be put in jail, but this was a significant portion relating to his acts of nonviolence.

King was inspired by Gandhi. He learned about him through his writing and was greatly drawn to his idea of nonviolence. Although they fought for their different ideas, they fought for them in similar ways, a technique known as civil disobedience. Gandhi’s first act of civil disobedience against the British was successful, “…I therefore had to disobey the British law because I was acting in obedience with the higher law” (Civil Disobedience, 123). However, Gandhi was not standing up for solely just India, but for the rest of the world. He was hoping to influence the rest of the world to follow in his footsteps, while Martin Luther King Jr. was just encouraging rights for his own country. Both the civil rights activists took different approaches when they fought for what they believed in whether they be particularistic or universal. It was the difference in the choice of global moral theories between purified patriotism and nonviolent cosmopolitanism. Despite the differences, in theories they all had the same basis. Gandhi and Kings theories were all rooted in a cosmopolitan morality.

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Martin Luther King Jr. is known for his continued resistance against the inhumane treatment of colored people. Because of his stand for specifically just the people of the United States, this marks him as being a patriot, since that is defined as someone who extremely supports the rights of the people closest to them. However, ‘The World House’ essay contradicts that: “We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’, in which we have to live together – black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu – a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace” (‘The World House’, 3).

The term ‘world house’ can be used to describe the struggle for human rights in the United States as well as the struggle that occurs in other countries. His main priority was to make others notice the problems the country was dealing with pertaining to racism. However, it is then mentioned that “he holds out a vision and promise for the future that should resonate in every human heart” (‘The World House’, 3). This means that King’s patriotic moral theory was stemmed with a cosmopolitan morality because his believes that his ‘world house’ perception should spread to every person in the world. However, it was not guaranteed that others around the globe would understand the morality he intended for.

Gandhi is notorious for his assistance with the Indian independence movement and his fight against racial segregation in South Africa. His first apparent goal for his movement was to gain freedom for India from Britain, but he was seeking more that many people were unaware of. He wanted to see his country along with other countries succeed in their fight for freedom. With his cosmopolitan global theory, Gandhi made great efforts to help other countries around the world. “I want the freedom of my country so other countries may learn something from my free country, so the resources of my country might be utilized for the benefit of mankind. Just as the cult of patriotism teaches us today…even so the country has to be free in order that it may die if necessary for the benefit of the world” (‘National Independence Is Not Enough’, 169-170).

Gandhi wanted to lead by example. He wanted to start in India to demonstrate to the other countries that were under control that it was possible for them to gain independence as well. Gandhi was convinced that in order to be a patriot a person would have to be thinking in a cosmopolitan way. This meant that when he was acting in the way that would release them strict governing of the British, he was relating it to a national level. “Through the deliverance of India, I seek to deliver the so-called weaker races of the earth from the crushing heels of Western exploitation” (‘National Independence Is Not Enough’, 164). He wanted to be able to be the guide for the other countries that were imperialized by dominant, superpower countries in Europe, to freedom. Gandhi was achieving social justice not just at the local level, but at the global level as well.

Gandhi’s theory of cosmopolitanism which was implemented on a patriotic level is the best way to achieve social justice. The reason it is the optimum way to obtain these moral rights is because it involves justice for all at every level. While he was focused on mainly the independence for India, he had the motivation to help all other countries be free as well. This is because of his cosmopolitan perspective taken with the implementation of patriotism. The intention of cosmopolitans is to be a citizen of the world first and then a citizen of their own country. Since Gandhi had this mindset, he was able to accomplish his goals. His theory was that in order to be a patriot, one must think in a cosmopolitan way. This method was successful because he was able to consider how his leadership in India could compare to the rest of the world. He had the mentality of saving his country from strict rule while also having the attitude that it must benefit other countries going through the same problem without a strong ruler like him.

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Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism: Mohandas Gandhi Vs Martin Luther King Jr. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism: Mohandas Gandhi Vs Martin Luther King Jr.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism: Mohandas Gandhi Vs Martin Luther King Jr. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism: Mohandas Gandhi Vs Martin Luther King Jr. [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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