Radical nonviolence can undermine power and authority by withdrawing the approval, moral support, and cooperation of those who have been dealt an injustice. It derives its strength from the energy buildup and very real power of powerlessness.
Not unlike virtually every other political leader throughout history who has ever led his nation into war, President Barack Obama frames the war on terrorism as one in which we have only two choices. Either take the war to the enemy in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing the terrorists in their own backyard, or risk being killed by them here at home.
Kill or be killed. Those are our only options. We are the children of light, the source of all that is good. They are the children of darkness, the source of all evil. Since only we deserve to live, they are obliged to die. We call this “just war.”
The last eight articles which French writer Albert Camus wrote for the Resistance newspaper Combat in Paris in November 1946 all bore a common title “Neither Victims nor Executioners.” In these articles Camus challenged the assumption of war mongers like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Lyndon B. Johnson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Woodrow Wilson, and Abraham Lincoln, that in international conflicts we have no other choice than to be either a victim or an executioner. Camus argued vigorously that such a choice is no choice at all. We always have another choice: it is to refuse the choice of being either victim or murderer. We can opt for the politics of nonviolence.
The Politics of Nonviolence
Human killing is an act of nihilism. Violence begets more violence, not the other way around. By whose authority other than the law of the jungle do those who kill or sanction killing set themselves up as prosecutor, judge and executioner?
War is the ultimate form of having—owning, possessing, controlling, manipulating, and killing. Just as active participation in the death of a human being is an expression of life’s meaninglessness, so too is the passive approval of state-sponsored executions, wars, and military combat. Wars and executions in the name of the state occur when our sense of community gives way to our pagan lust for revenge—a lust firmly grounded in nihilism. Might doesn’t make right.
In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech Barack Obama said, “War is justified when certain conditions are met.” The concept of a just war is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as a just war. There has never been a just war and there never will be.
Wars are always about money, power, wealth, size, and greed. Wars are fought not to achieve social justice, but to serve the interests of political elites pretending to be patriots, who demonize their alleged enemies so as to manipulate their minions into sacrificing their lives for false ideals. Those who fight in wars are either conscripted to do so or duped into doing so by people of the lie.
Nations which amass military might always find a way to use it. The risk of war increases in direct proportion to the military power of the state. Wars cover up a plethora of political and economic problems by deflecting public attention away from the real issues.
Make love not war—share power and reduce tension.
Nonviolence is a proactive approach to conflict resolution that goes straight to the heart and soul of power relationships and demands strength, courage, and discipline, not just idle pacifism. It can undermine power and authority by withdrawing the approval, moral support, and cooperation of those who have been dealt an injustice. Radical nonviolence derives its strength from the energy buildup and very real power of powerlessness. It must be thoroughly grounded in the will to win. It involves repeated confrontation, bobbing and weaving, engagement, and eventually complex negotiations.
Nonviolent rebellion involves denunciation, disengagement, demystification, and defiance. It provides us with the faith to create meaning out of meaninglessness, the energy to connect with those from whom we are separated, the power to surmount powerlessness, and the courage to confront death.
Thomas H. Naylor
December 15, 2009