Philosophy Of Nonviolence

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hese notes - which will stretch over several issues of [Nonviolence Web Upfront], and take the place of the usual Op Ed pieces - are an effort to summarize the basic philosophy of nonviolence.
(They might be the basis of a pamphlet when done; revised, condensed, etc.). We write and talk about nonviolence as if it were simply a technique. I believe it is much more, that it is a one-edged philosphy which cannot easily be used to defend or advance injustice, and which is of value only if tested in the real world. When I came into the pacifist movement in 1948 the concept of nonviolence as a method of change was new to the United States, the direct result of Gandhis teachings and actions in India. Historically nonviolence had been seen either as an expression of the Gospels, or as a variant on the stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. But neither the Christian nor the stoic teachings gave us a method to deal with injustice except through endurance. This was fine if I was the one suffering, but it did not provide a way to stop you from inflicting injustice on a third party. The Christian could choose to endure great injustice - but what of the non-Christian who had done nothing to merit the suffering, and sought relief from it? Particularly after World War II with the horror of the mass killing, there was a sense that pacifism alone - the refusal to kill - was not good enough. Communism offered one answer but, as expressed by Lenin and Trotsky, it was an answer in which the end justified the means and by 1945 it was clear that, at best, Communism was a lesser evil than Fascism. Into this vacuum, this historic place where we found ourselves confronted by the reality that men such as Hitler and Stalin existed, that the atom bomb was possibly a final step in human history, the pacifist movement embraced what we call today Nonviolence as opposed to the earlier word pacifism. And it was here that I entered the pacifist movement, as old ideas and new ones were explored and tested. It was one of the twists of history that when nonviolence did re-enter American life, it was returning home. Henry David Thoreaus essay on Civil Disobedience had been read by Tolstoy, Tolstoy had been read by Gandhi, and Gandhi had been read by Martin Luther King Jr. It was an ideology which had been around the world, affecting and being affected by all it encountered. In trying to understand the philosophy of nonviolence, it is important to keep in mind there is no living, vital philosphy which does not have holes in it. Let me give two examples. Marxism (and I am heavily indebted to Marx) has an inherent contradiction in that it argued history is on our side, socialism is inevitable, the result of contradictions which will lead to the collapse of capitalism. Fine, if socialism is inevitable, then why not sit back and wait for it? Why risk ones life - as so many courageous socialists and communists did - in a struggle, the end of which was already ...

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