Richard Gregg (social philosopher)

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Richard Bartlett Gregg (1885–1974) was an American social philosopher said to be "the first American to develop a substantial theory of nonviolent resistance" based on the teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi, and so influenced the thinking of Martin Luther King Jr.,[1] Aldous Huxley,[2] civil-rights theorist Bayard Rustin,[3] the pacifist and socialist reformer Jessie Wallace Hughan,[4] and the Peace Pledge Union.[5]

Life and work[edit]

Law & labor relations[edit]

After graduating from Harvard Law in 1911, Gregg worked at several law firms in Boston. In 1916 he was employed in labor management by a private firm in Chicago. From 1917 to 1921 in Washington, D.C., at the NWLB, Gregg became the 'examiner in charge' for the Bethlehem Steel strike, publishing a 1919 law article. He then obtained a position at the Railway Department Employees Union. It involved traveling in support of its 400,000 workers during a time of strikes and labor disputes. These seven years in industrial relations he described as "investigation, conciliation, arbitration, publicity and statistical work for trade unions."[6] The Union eventually was forced to capitulate.[7]

Gandhi's Satyagraha[edit]

Disillusioned, he worked as a farmhand and took courses in agriculture at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He wrote to Mohandas K. Gandhi who was then in jail. C. F. Andrews replied, inviting him to stay at the Sabarmati Ashram.

He sailed to India on January 1, 1925 for the study of Indian culture and to seek out Gandhi.[3] First he lived at the ashram with Gandhi's family and his many followers (itinerant and permanent, many who were already well-known, or became so). He engaged in farming and spinning in local villages. Gandhi's spinning wheel later became an icon of the Swadeshi movement. Absorbing and integrating the nonviolent philosophy, Gregg became able to spread its teachings. He then taught on various subjects connected with Gandhi's activism, e.g., for three years the school run by Samuel Evans Stokes of Simla. Gregg corresponded with African-American leader W. E. B. Du Bois.[8] After about four years in India, he returned to Boston. The next year he married. Drawing on his learning and experience with Gandhi's Satyagraha, he published pamphlets, essays, books.[9] One of his titles later helped transmit Gandhi's inspiration to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ecology and farming[edit]

In the 1940s Gregg became involved in ecology and organic farming. He then worked eight years at the innovative farms in New England owned by Helen Nearing and Scott Nearing.[10] In 1954 his first wife died, following a long illness. He remarried. In India from 1956 to 1958, he taught ecology and economics at Gandhigram Rural University in Tamil Nadu (near Madurai), a school associated with G. Ramachandran whom Gregg had met in 1925 at Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram.[11]

Martin Luther King, Jr.[edit]

Also in 1956 Gregg began correspondence with Dr. King, which was during the Montgomery bus boycott.[12] About the book The Power of Non-Violence King wrote to Gregg, "I don't know when I have read anything... that has given the idea of non-violence a more realistic and depthful interpretation."[13] Gregg was "thrilled by the revival of Gandhi's method in Montgomery."[14] For King's 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom Gregg provided some Gandhi background. He also aided King with scheduling and contacts when he and his wife visited in India in 1959.[15] Gregg also took part in "nonviolent training sessions" for Black civil rights workers.[16] King after the bus boycott listed his top five books: Gandhi's autobiography, Fischer's biography of Gandhi, Thoreau on "civil disobedience", Rauschenbusch on the social gospel, and Gregg.[17]


His most widely-known book, The Power of Non-Violence (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott 1934), was a presentation of Gandhi's teachings addressed to the western reader. He revised it for a 2d ed. in 1944, and again for a 3d ed. in 1959 with a 'Foreword' by Martin Luther King, Jr.[18]

His other writings referencing Gandhi include The Economics of Khaddar (1928), The Psychology and Strategy of Gandhi's Non-violent Resistance (1930), Gandhiji's Satyagraha (1930).[19] In a 1939 pamphlet, Pacifist Program in Time of War, Threatened War or Fascism, he discussed a program for how American pacifists could use non-violence to oppose war and fascism in the United States.[20]

An influential 1936 essay, "Simplified Living", his philosophical espousal of its need and benefit, was originally published in an Indian journal.[21] He coined the term "voluntary simplicity". A Preparation for Science (1928) was aimed to prepare primary school teachers in rural India, to instruct village children helped by use of locally available materials.[22]

Gregg authored A Compass for Civilization (Ahmedabad: Navajivan 1956), which was published under several titles.[23]


  1. ^ Ansbro, John J. (1982). Martin Luther King, Jr: The Making of a Mind. Orbis Books. pp. 146-7, 149.
  2. ^ Huxley, Aldous and Baker, Robert S. (ed.) (2002). Complete Essays, 1936–1938. Volume 4. I.R. Dee. pp. 240, 248. See also the reference to Gregg's The Power of Non-Violence in Huxley's Ends and Means (1937).
  3. ^ a b Kosek, Joseph Kip (March 2005). "Richard Gregg, Mohandas Gandhi, and the Strategy of Nonviolence". The Journal of American History. 91 (4): 1318–1348. doi:10.2307/3660175. JSTOR 3660175.
  4. ^ Bennett, Scott H. Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915–1963, Syracuse University Press, 2003, p. 47.
  5. ^ Ceadel, Martin (1980). Pacifism in Britain, 1914–1945: The Defining of a Faith. Clarendon Press. pp. 250-257; PPU differs (p. 256).
  6. ^ Preface to The Power of Non-Violence (Philadelphia: Lippincott 1934).
  7. ^ Tully, "Chronology" pp. x-xi, "Editor's introduction" p. xxii, in Gregg, The Power of Nonviolence (Cambridge University 2018), edited by James Tully.
  8. ^ Sudarshan Kapur, Raising up a Prophet (Boston: Beacon 1992), p.47 (Gregg & Du Bois).
  9. ^ Tully (2018), pp. xi-xii, xvii-xx, xxxi-xxxiii.
  10. ^ Kosek, Joseph Kip. (2009) Acts of Conscience: Christian Nonviolence and Modern American Democracy, Columbia University Press. pp. 224.
  11. ^ Tully (2018), pp. x1i-xiv.
  12. ^ Cf., Gregg, The Power of Nonviolence (1959, 2018), pp. 41-47 (Montgomery bus boycott).
  13. ^ Letter of King to Gregg, May 1, 1956, in Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., v.3, pp. 244-245. Quoted in Kosek (2009), Acts, p.224 (298,n78).
  14. ^ Kosek (2009) Acts, p.224 (quote).
  15. ^ Tully (2018), pp. xiv-xv, xxviii, xxxii.
  16. ^ Kosek (2009) Acts, p. 224 (King's trip), 229 (training; ten books).
  17. ^ Kosek (March 2005), "Richard Gregg", p.1318 (the five books).
  18. ^ Tully (2018), The Power of Non-Violence: analysis (xxi-xxvii), available in five languages (xvii).
  19. ^ Tully (2018), author of 66 works (xvii), Gregg bibliography (xvii-xx).
  20. ^ Snodgrass, Mary Ellen (2015). Civil Disobedience: An Encyclopedic History of Dissidence in the United States. Routledge. pp. 81–2. ISBN 9781317474418.
  21. ^ Visva-Bharati Quarterly, August 1936.
  22. ^ Kosek (March 2005), "Richard Gregg", p. 1324.
  23. ^ Tully (2018): The Self beyond Yourself (Lippincott), Spirit through Body (Boston), Self-Transcendence (Victor Gollancz).

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]