Chapter 4 of Speak Truth To Power

Alternative to Violence

"I have embraced the non-violent . . . resistance technique in fighting for freedom because I am convinced it is the only legitimate and humane way . . ."[13]

-Chief ALBERT LUTHULI

The Method of Non-Violence

What is this non-violent method that we suggest offers new hope? Its simplest and most obvious statement is found in the religious literature of many faiths, most familiarly to Christians in the Sermon on the Mount. At its heart, it is the effort to maintain unity among men. It seeks to knit the break in the sense of community whose fracture is both a cause and a result of human conflict. It relies upon love rather than hate, and though it involves a willingness to accept rather than inflict suffering, it is neither passive nor cowardly. It offers a way of meeting evil without relying on the ability to cause pain to the human being through whom evil is expressed. It seeks to change the attitude of the opponent rather than to force his submission through violence. It is, in short, the practical effort to overcome evil with good.

Most Americans reject as impractical the suggestion that it might offer a creative way out of our present international crisis. Much as they wish to end the scourge of war, and as frequently as they have observed violence compounded by violence, they still cast aside as irrelevant the alternative which calls for renunciation of present methods in favor of the attempt to resolve conflict through the imaginative development of non-violence. "It's a nice idea," we are often told, "but it has no meaning in the brutal struggles of the present world. Men may dream of the day when nations will renounce violence, but in the meantime, international relations must be left to the realist."

They have been left to the "realist," and the results are written large and clear across the face of the world. The plain fact is that the "realists" have brought us to our greatest crisis. An arms race rages unchecked. Irrational hatred and massive retaliation are the established policies of great nations. Fear of atomic war grips the hearts of men, and paralyzes their intellect. Truly mankind stands at the edge of the precipice. Is the "realist" to be allowed to push us over? In his blind fury, is he now, like Samson, to pull the temple of civilization down upon himself and upon all men? Is it not time, while hope yet remains, to reconsider our easy rejection of the central perceptions of non-violence?

It appears to us tragic that even though the present violent method of resolving conflict is widely acknowledged to be bankrupt, so many of the most creative people of our time still direct their total energies to the preparation of weapons for war and the development of policies of intimidation. The urgent need for a new response is all but ignored. Even the pacifist has too often been satisfied to paint the horrors of war without facing frankly the problem of resisting evil. He has tended to shy away from the difficult task of making his religious belief relevant and applicable to the immediate problem with which men must deal. As a result he has failed to investigate seriously the non-violent approach, even though he has known of the success that both pacifists and non-pacifists alike have had in applying the method to ever widening areas of life. Indeed, one of the striking developments of the current century is the growth in understanding and application of non-violent insights.

In this chapter we want to survey some of these applications, and in the process to point up the essential characteristics of the non-violent method, leaving to a later chapter the specific applications of this approach to the present world scene. Our first purpose is to illustrate the wide and expanding area in which men have already accepted the perceptions of non-violence. Our second purpose it to show that in spite of the initial hostility with which society frequently greets revolutionary ideas, it has many times come eventually to accept them. Yesterday's madness has often become today's wisdom.

Quaker Experience

Each reader of this pamphlet could provide examples of the operation of non-violent insights in his own life. We begin with examples out of Quaker experience because we have found in past attempts to speak out on matters of concern that we speak best from that which we know best. Moreover, the reference to Quaker experience in the past three centuries will indicate one basis for our optimism about the practical nature o. seemingly impractical concepts.[14]

a. Treatment of prisoners. It was less than two centuries ago that Englishmen scoffed at the notion that if prisoners were to be reformed, they had to be treated with respect and accorded the same inalienable rights that belong to all men. Prisoners of any sort were offenders against society, and society was entitled to its revenge. Every realist knew that unless prison conditions were kept distasteful, and punishment made sufficiently cruel and severe, men could not be deterred from lawbreaking. Prisoners were housed in squalor and filth. All were crammed together-the sick with the well, the young with the old, murderer with debtor, guilty with innocent. Prisoners had to pay for their lodging and their food, and if they had no money, they starved. Kangaroo courts prevailed. Hanging was the penalty for more than 200 types of offenses. Misery and suffering inside prison walls were beyond human imagination.

Friends and others insisted that kindness and a justice tempered with mercy would prove more effective than harsh and violent methods in treating the evildoer. Their religious faith insisted that all men, even prisoners, were children of God, and should be treated as such. Moreover, their own experience in prison supported their faith, for they had themselves been victims of the system, and they could testify that the popular notion of the deterring effect of brutality was false. Such ideas were greeted with derision, and Quakers were accused of wanting to coddle criminals, and of being soft toward evildoers. But they persisted. William Penn dared to replace revenge with reform in establishing the Pennsylvania Prison Code, and later Elizabeth Fry amazed the Corporation of London with her demonstration of the power of loving concern in the treatment of prisoners in the infamous Newgate Gaol.

These and many other practical demonstrations eventually led to revolutionary changes in the theory of penology, with reform and rehabilitation replacing punishment as the purpose of imprisonment. Unfortunately, in many prisons these concepts have been accepted only in theory, while in others officials are handicapped by public apathy and inadequate budgets, so that we still have far to go before enlightened penal practices become universal in the United States. Our failure to practice what we know to be valid, however, does not detract from the demonstration and practical acceptance of the insights of non-violence in a real and complex situation.

b. Treatment of the mentally ill. The history of mental care parallels closely the history of prison reform. Men had always thought that mental illness was evidence that the victim was possessed of devils which could only be exercised by mockery and brutality. The universal practice was, therefore, to beat and torture the victim. Here again, Quakers were among the first to think that the law of love was relevant and that kindness would have more practical results than harshness. They developed a concern to experiment with hospital care that replaced the usual chains and whips with loving attention, a peaceful atmosphere, and interesting work. The York, Retreat in England, established by Quakers, and the Bicêtre in France established by the non-Quaker Pinel, were founded on this revolutionary principle, and it was in these institutions that occupational therapy was born, and the first real attempts made to cure the mentally diseased. These ideas are now the accepted standard, and the intuitive insights of religious faith have been proved relevant to a real problem in a real world.

c. Slavery. Perhaps in no area has the faith of Quakers in the relevance of an essential non-violent insight been more thoroughly vindicated than in the area of slavery. The custom of holding men in bondage was deeply rooted in Eighteenth Century America, and the disapproval of a few pioneer Quakers found at first few sympathizers, even among Quakers themselves. Men and nations had an economic stake in slavery, and it was widely assumed that the Negro slave was but a savage in any event, happiest in a state of servitude and untroubled by the sensitivities of other men. Society could hardly tolerate the idea that master and slave were actually equals before God and should be equals among men. It was in 1671 that some Quakers in England began to insist that slaves must be freed, and in 1688 Germantown Friends, barely released from their struggle for religious freedom in Europe, observed, "There is a liberty of conscience here, which is right and reasonable, and there ought to be likewise liberty of the body."

More than a century was required to win over the Society of Friends itself to such a view, but once won, it became vigorous in its insistence that the social evil of slavery must be wiped away. Quakers became active in abolition societies and founded newspapers and magazines devoted to the principle of emancipation. Believing in Justice for oppressed and oppressor alike, they called not only for emancipation, but for the remuneration of the slave-holder for his losses, where hardship would be involved. This part of the Quaker program was ignored by the more impulsive men who finally took over the abolition movement in America and the consequences were tragic. Perhaps if justice to slave-holders had been realized, and pacific methods followed, the bitterness that erupted in civil war and endured for a century, might have been avoided.

In any event, men are now coming finally, and through suffering, to recognize that all men are equal in the sight of God, and that they deserve equality of opportunity and status. The view voiced in America by a Quaker Meeting in 1688 still goes forward, and society has moved a long and improbable way from the scorn with which it greeted that feeble protest to the enthusiastic response with which it welcomed the Supreme Court decision against school segregation in 1954. The lesson is now clear: religious insight has been proved relevant in a real situation; society is widening its acceptance and its application of the doctrine of human worth and dignity.

More examples might be cited from Quaker history. The work of Lucretia Mott in the struggle for women's rights; the concern of the more conscientious Eighteenth Century Quaker iron-masters for protection of workers in an industrialized society; the well-known efforts of Penn for justice to the Indians-all these provide further examples of various insights of non-violence being turned to practical account. But enough has been said to suggest the basis for Quaker optimism regarding the practical relevance of these perceptions, and our faith in their ultimate acceptance by a reluctant society. We are, of course, aware that Quakers have failed to suggest the relevance of their non-violent philosophy in many areas of life. As with all men, the history of Friends has been a history of failure as well as a history of success. But we are convinced that our failures are due to our own unreadiness to live boldly by the faith we hold, rather than to any irrelevance or inadequacy of the faith itself. Conversely, we are confident from such limited success as we have achieved that the "impossible" ideal of a world community of men is, in fact, both relevant and possible.

The Meaning of Quaker Experience

Indeed, it is precisely this concept of a universal community that forms the common thread in all the examples we have cited. It was the refusal to break this unity, to see the prisoner, the insane man, the slave, the Indian as an "other" that made possible the fruitful use of the method of non-violence. The method itself builds community, because respect for all men and loving concern practically expressed tend to heal the breach that hatred and fear and indifference create. Moreover, it is just this sense of unity that is required to sustain the system of law and justice upon which the hope of peace rests. Should not a world drifting toward disaster because it has no sense of community explore with utmost earnestness a method for resolving conflict that builds community in its very operation?

Non-Violence and the Social Sciences

Up until the last fifty years, the high concept of human relations that expresses itself in the non-violent approach to conflict could only be sustained by intuitive faith or by pragmatic test. Scientific evidence was not available, and in the scientifically oriented Western civilization of the Nineteenth Century, this was an imposing barrier. With the opening of the Twentieth Century, however, the dynamics of human behavior became a field for intensive scientific research, and even though the field is still young and only partially explored, its initial findings may be recorded historically as one of the significant developments of the century. For the research of the social scientist is beginning to make explicit, and to establish by experiment, the validity of insights that were previously held only by faith. Today an increasing amount of research is focused on the problem of individual and group conflict, and non-violent insights are being established as valid for the successful treatment of specific situations. What are these insights, and what are the findings of social science with regard to them?

a. The oneness of man. An essential component of the non-violent philosophy, and indeed of most religious tradition, is the belief that in the sight of God, all men are one. Without this sense of oneness, real community is not possible. Anthropologists have now produced scientific evidence in support of the concept by establishing that man, wherever he is found, has essentially the same physical and mental make-up. Moreover, psychologists are suggesting that individuals from widely different societies, given like conditions, will respond in similar ways. Recent experimentation has established that in so simple and yet so basic a response as color preference, individuals from widely different cultures react alike. Even more important, the psychologist is discovering that in his response to other men, man is essentially one. Fears, provocations and pressures tend to produce a hateful response. Forgiveness, trust and gentleness tend to produce a loving response. This has long been a fundamental religious insight, central to the Christian ethic. What is significant here is that science, far from being in conflict with religion, is instead validating it through experimentation.

b. The sacredness of human personality. This is the religious perception from which springs the belief in the innate worth and dignity of every human being. It sustains also the insistence on loving treatment of all men that is a second element of the nonviolent philosophy. Here again, the psychologist and the psychiatrist lend scientific support in suggesting that antisocial behavior may be explained in terms of the warping of personality, the denial of personal dignity, and the crushing of human aspirations. Indeed, every psychiatric clinic provides evidence of the importance of this religious perception in the number of damaged personalities that must be treated as a result of its violation. A basic step toward cure lies in the ability of the therapist to communicate his sense of respect for the patient, for in this rests a fresh recognition of personality and begins the re-creation of the whole man. The new field of human relations in industry, although sometimes merely manipulative, has nevertheless arisen from the recognition that efficient operation requires that this concept of individual dignity and worth must somehow be kept alive even in the stultifying setting of modern industrial organization.

c. The creative nature of love. If belief in man's divine quality has been the foundation of much religious witness, faith in the positive power of love has been its dynamic. Indeed, the whole public case for the non-violent method of resolving conflict rests ultimately on demonstrating the power of love. Unless love proves itself by overcoming fear and vanquishing evil, it will be rejected, for men are bound to resist evil.

Fortunately, there is no area where scientific evidence is accumulating so rapidly in support of religious perception as here. In discipline after discipline, science has discovered that love is the central factor in either creating or recovering healthy patterns of behavior. Relations between teacher and student, parent and child, employer and employee, doctor and patient, warden and prisoner, all these are undergoing reevaluation. Love has been discovered to facilitate learning more effectively than the rod. Harsh discipline is giving way to gentleness and respect for developing personality in relations between parent and child. Mutual confidence produces a more successful business than weapons of power and fear in the hands of either management or labor. The doctor and the psychiatrist are aware that their first aim, and their patient's first step toward recovery, is the establishment of a relationship of trust. The warden who is interested in reform knows that his first task is to establish an institution where feelings of hatred and resentment will not develop, for regression is directly related to the desire for revenge. In all of these human relationships, and in so many others where conflict may arise, the research of science and the results of experience attest to the creative power of love and to the destructive character of violence.

d. The necessity for self-examination. Still another insight inherent in every religious tradition and integral to the non-violent method is the importance of honest and candid self-examination whenever conflict arises. Unless each party to a dispute is prepared to search himself first to discover his own measure of responsibility, the chance of peaceful resolution will be diminished. This insight, too, is now finding scientific support, particularly in the field of psychiatry, where it has been established that effective work in any delicate human interrelationship necessitates beginning with one's self. All therapists and psychoanalysts must undergo for this reason a long period of intensive self-examination and training to aid them in understanding themselves. They must deal with their own insecurities. They must recognize the limits of their own insights, and face their own prejudices and delusions. In short, they must attempt first to hear themselves, if they are to be effective in hearing others.

There are other components of non-violence that need to be listed, and for which at least some measure of scientific support can be introduced. The doctrine of right means to achieve right ends has clearly been accorded major support by research and experiment in various fields for many years. Considerably less evidence is available to sustain the belief involving the voluntary acceptance of suffering, which is an important part of the non-violent philosophy. Even here, however, recent experience in the field of race relations has demonstrated the effectiveness of this kind of voluntary action as a means of focusing attention on an unjust situation and enlisting public concern for correction.

In any event, it is clear that practical experience and sound social theorizing have been leading men to accept and apply various nonviolent insights in a great and growing area of human relations. We are aware that not all social scientists will agree as to either the extent of these applications or the degree to which their effectiveness has been established by experiment and research. This is not the point. The point is that at a time when the world is relying more and more on violence to defend human values, there is widespread recognition that in most areas of human relationships, it Is a tragically inappropriate and fruitless method. It is a fact that under various names, more and more serious attention is being given by men of science to the study of non-violent approaches, and their research is providing independent confirmation of the basic religious insights underlying our Quaker experience recounted earlier in this chapter. Just how important this confirmation may be is suggested by recalling the lapse of time that historically has intervened between the introduction of an idea and its acceptance by society. Because in a hydrogen age there may not be time for time to work, it may be that the reinforcing impact of scientific research and historic experience will lead men to a more rapid examination of the seemingly impractical ideal of non-violence.

Non-Violence in International and Inter-cultural Conflicts

Despite the impressive support that can be cited to suggest the practical value of the non-violent method, however, the skeptic can still claim that it has operated largely within the framework of an ordered community. The data may provide evidence that non-violence is valid within a society, but it does not demonstrate that it is valid between societies. This is to a large extent true. The lack of contact between members of the international community, and the absence of any but a tenuous diplomatic framework within which international relations are conducted, create a different situation. There is, however, some historical precedent to provide evidence that non-violence can be applied practically under circumstances involving millions of people and carrying great international implications. We are aware that an analogy between these precedents and the present international conflict has severe limitations, but we believe there are still lessons and encouragement that can be drawn from them. Moreover, since international conflict arises from the same human causes as internal conflict, it is worth considering whether an approach which has been so widely and successfully applied in one sphere might not be applicable in a broader sphere.

The Pennsylvania Experiment

Mention has already been made of Quaker experience with the American Indian. Here was an example of two diverse cultures in deadly conflict. Each presented such a profound challenge to the other that most people ruled out the possibility of peaceful co-existence. Yet Quakers, establishing their colony in the midst of this hostile climate, succeeded in being friends with the Indian. How?

Even before coming to America, William Penn wrote the Indians concerning his colony, "I desire to enjoy it with your consent, that we may always live together as neighbors and friends," and he promised to "live justly, peaceably, and friendly" with them. On reaching America, unlike most other colonists, Penn paid the Indians for the land before, not after, the settlers had moved in. Instead of looking upon the Indians as savage or inferior, he studied their habits, their likes and dislikes, and admonished the commissioner who carried his first letter to "be grave. They love not to be smiled on."

Against the "prayerful and considered advice" of earlier colonists who insisted that the Indian was "filled with treacheries," Penn and his followers went unarmed. The Pennsylvanians and the Indians visited one another's houses and wigwams. There are records of white children being lost in the woods and returned by Indians, and of Quaker families in the country leaving their children with Indian neighbors while they went to Yearly Meeting in Philadelphia. For seventy years, while sporadic wars and frightful massacres occurred to both North and South, Penn's people and the Red Man lived in peace and mutual security.

As Pennsylvania welcomed other persecuted people who did not believe in "coddling Indians," the policy of trust and friendship gradually changed. During the French and Indian War of 1755 there were border raids and scalping parties. When, in 1756, the Pennsylvania Council, no longer under Quaker control, declared war on the Indians, Friends withdrew from the provincial government for two reasons: they did not believe in war; they still believed in their policy of non-violence based on respect and justice for the Indians. But they did not give up their friendship and concern for the Indians. Instead, they opposed the war, refused to pay taxes for its support, and formed the "Friendly Association for Gaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures." In 1758, at the cost of five thousand pounds, voluntarily subscribed, the Association achieved its end, and peace was restored.

Here was a seventy-year international demonstration that the way of love and non-violence is the way to peace. Quakers discovered that the response of the savage was precisely the same as the response of the Englishman: when loved, he returned love; when trusted, he proved worthy of the trust; when he was deceived, he became deceitful; and when he was hated, he was hateful.

But all this was in a different age under different conditions. There are two more recent applications of non-violence in international struggles that are perhaps more significant for the Twentieth Century. The first is the Indian independence movement, and the second, the struggle against racism in South Africa.

Non-Violent Revolution in India

Never in history has there been such a revolution as that which produced an independent India. The Indians were freed; yet there was neither victor nor vanquished. England and India were in conflict for thirty years; yet the English and the Indians remained friends. On the very day of triumph, with Britain relinquishing the richest prizes of its empire, and India finally rid of its master, the two leaders, Mountbatten and Nehru, stood arm in arm on the same platform. There could hardly be a more stirring and glorious scene to a world grown sick of violence and hatred.

One factor above all others was responsible-the non-violent philosophy and program of Mahatma Gandhi. None more passionately wanted freedom than Gandhi; yet he ordered his followers not to harm "one hair of one head of one Englishman." It mattered not that the English met his campaign in the same way that those who have power have always done. Violence, imprisonment, and death were inflicted on the Indians, but when they yielded to the temptation to retaliate in kind, Gandhi suspended the whole struggle. His aim was to change the hearts of the British, not defeat them, and his concern was more for freedom of the spirit than for political independence. Indians could be given independence, but they had to free themselves.

He was certain that before this could really happen, they would have to root out their own injustice, and he therefore fought untouchability, and religious intolerance, and economic exploitation as vigorously as he fought the British. His was a war against the evil in man, but not against men as evil. This was one key to Gandhi's strength. But there was also another: he knew how to organize ordinary men and to direct their energies against established institutionalized evils. Thus non-violence was for Gandhi both a way of life and a technique. The secret of his power lay in his knowledge that both were necessary, just as the measure of his genius was his ability to integrate them.

South African Campaign of Non-Violence

Even more recently, the creative non-violent method of meeting evil has been at the center of the campaign against the unjust racial laws of the South African government. Indeed, it is this struggle which provides at least a partial answer to those who argue that Gandhi's non-violence could only have been successful against the "civilized" British, and that it could not hope to prevail against the brutality of a more ruthless opponent. In South Africa the non-European faces a higher degree of brutality and a more developed system of oppression than was the case in India, however keenly many Indians may have suffered under the lash of British power. Yet even in this more difficult situation, the colored peoples of South Africa organized and carried out a non-violent program of resistance aimed at changing the hearts of their opponents.

This initial Campaign for Defiance of Unjust Laws lasted for about six months. In its course thousands were arrested and scores beaten. More than nine thousand men and women were imprisoned for their deliberate violation of apartheid legislation. Finally, the government passed a series of stringent laws separating the leadership from the people and imposing such extreme punishment for assembling that the campaign was suspended until the people could be better trained in the discipline of non-violence.

The results of initial effort in terms of modifying the position of the ruling Nationalist Party have been slight, and this increases the danger of impatient and violent elements seizing control of the African National Congress. However, the results in other directions have been more than even the most optimistic supporters predicted.

For the first time, all the non-European groups in South Africa were brought together into a cooperative, determined unit, where they had previously been divided and torn by frictions. Their campaign was carried on openly, and they found new poise and dignity in the act of accepting suffering without retaliation. Finally, non-violence opened up cooperation between non-Europeans and Europeans in a way that would have been impossible under conditions of violence. The actual participation of several white men had a profound Impacts for it served to raise the struggle from one between black and white to one between justice and injustice. A political result was the emergence for the first time of a party that stands for integration.

The whole spirit of this South African effort is best reflected in the words of Chief Luthull in accepting the presidency of the African National Congress: "I have joined my people in the new spirit that moves them today . . . Laws that tend to debase the God-given force of human personality ... must be relentlessly opposed. I have embraced the non-violent . . . resistance technique in fighting for freedom because I am convinced it is the only legitimate and humane way that can be used by people denied, as we are, effective constitutional means to further [their] aspirations. The wisdom or foolishness of this decision I place in the hands of the Almighty. What the future has in store for me I do not know. It might be ridicule, imprisonment, concentration camp, flogging, banishment-even death. I only pray the Almighty to strengthen my resolve so that none of these grim possibilities may deter me from striving to [make] our beloved country, the Union of South Africa, a true democracy and a true union.... It is inevitable that in working for freedom some individuals and some families must take the lead and suffer: the road to freedom is via the Cross."

We ask the reader to compare this attitude with that which has been taken by other Africans in Kenya, who are faced with the same kind of exploitative evil. There men have taken the traditional way of resistance, and as a result acts of arson, murder and terrorism have catapulted the word Mau Mau into world headlines. The British in their turn have in large measure reacted as men do who are afraid: they have acted as if the truth were not true. The just demands of the people are forgotten in a wave of repression. Even the moderate among the native leaders have been imprisoned. The death penalty has been liberally imposed, and scores have been hanged or shot.

Europeans carry guns even to church. Mau Mau has succeeded in focusing attention on the problems of the Kenya African, and won promises of basic reform, but the country remains in a state of virtual war, with deepening fear and hatred dividing white and black. There could, indeed, hardly be a more striking contrast In men's method of resisting injustice than that which exists between Kenya and South Africa today. In Kenya, they fall back on the age-old weapons of ruthless power, unrestrained violence, hatred; in South Africa, there are at least stirrings of a new approach with new weapons-non-cooperation, non-violence, love. If our goal is a community of men living in justice and peace, which of these methods is more hopeful?

Need for a New Dimension

We find, therefore, in both South Africa and India evidence of the practical nature of the non-violent approach to major contemporary conflicts involving millions of people. Such evidence, added to that which has already been accumulated historically and through scientific research, convinces us that more serious study needs to be given to the whole idea. We are well aware that many cogent and important questions can be raised in respect to our observations, particularly in regard to the application of the non-violent method in international conflicts. This is just our point. More able minds need to be put to work exploring what non-violence could mean internationally. It has been explored in so many other areas of life, and found so valid that it surely merits attention in this most difficult and urgent problem of all.

A new dimension must be added to the discussion of world conflict, the dimension of non-violence. We believe it offers new hope. We know it is relevant.


Russell Nelson
Last modified: Tue Oct 3 15:15:08 EDT 2006