Why Non-violence?



Non-violence is rejection of the use of violence or the threat of violence either to achieve political objectives, or to force others to accept one’s beliefs or acquiesce to one’s desires.  There is a difference between practicing non-violence and totally rejecting the use of violence in all circumstances (generally called “pacifism” or “total pacifism”).  One can be a practitioner of non-violence and still be open to the use of force and violence in self-defense, whereas total pacifists oppose the use of force or violence even to defend one’s self.


Two forms of non-violent protest are widely used: non-cooperation and civil disobedience.  For two important reasons, non-cooperation is usually tried before civil disobedience.  First, in the early stages of group activism it is generally easier to mobilize people and bind them into a unified body by using non-cooperation methods.  Second, skipping non-cooperation and relying immediately on civil disobedience sometimes results in considerable public antagonism being instantly aimed at the activists.


Although non-cooperation is generally tried before civil disobedience, civil disobedience is a powerful tool which historically has been successful in achieving political objectives when non-cooperation could not achieve them.


With respect to obtaining political objectives, the value of non-violence lies both in what it can do and what it doesn’t do.



What non-violent activism can do


  1. Non-violent action allows us to withdraw consent from governmental authorities.  Withdrawal of consent gets immediate attention of the authorities and ruling class since it is well recognized that the exercise of governmental authority requires consent of the governed.  Withdrawing consent is done, first, to get the attention of authorities and others, and second, to get others to think logically and to change their view.


  1. Non-violence attracts more people to work for a cause than violence does since it is less destructive to life, property, and the social fabric.  Objectives are far more likely to be achieved by large numbers of non-violent activists than by a few violent ones.


  1. Non-violent political action results in large numbers of citizens giving thought to the political issue under contention rather than to the means being used to advocate change.


  1. Non-violent action gains respect for activists, all the more so when authorities respond to non-violent actions with violence.  Even some of the authorities are likely to gain sympathy for non-violent activists when violence is used against them.


  1. Non-violence allows police and other authorities to listen better because they will not be in fear of being physically harmed.  Thus the authorities will be more likely to be persuaded by logical arguments.


  1. Non-violence keeps groups tightly formed and focused on the political objective, whereas uses and threats of violence tend to divide and demoralize a group.  Members of a group are likely to differ on the appropriateness of different levels of violence or threats recommended by participants.


  1. A clearly stated rejection of violent action protects activists from having public sympathy for them undermined by government provocateurs who are frequently the most vocal advocates for violence.


  1. The exclusive use of non-violent methods promotes peace, civility, and the rule of reason over emotion after a power shift has occurred or a political objective achieved.



What non-violent activism doesn't do


  1. Non-violent activism does not attempt merely to grab power away from authorities.


  1. Non-violence activism does not destroy public sympathy.


  1. Non-violent activism does not reinforce public anger and prejudice against activists.


  1. Non-violence does not invite police infiltration and harassment.


  1. Non-violence does not easily provide police with excuses to arrest, detain, beat, or even kill activists.


  1. Non-violent activism does not give the state excuses to enact oppressive laws to limit dissent.


  1. Non-violent political action does not drive away bystanders whom activists want to win over since the bystanders will not feel threatened by the activists.


  1. Non-violent actions do not roil up peoples emotions to the point where, after an objective is achieved, peace is impossible.