principle or practice of not causing harm to others
(Redirected from Non-violent)
See also: Harmlessness, Ahimsa, Nonviolent resistance, and Pacifism

Nonviolence is the personal practice of not causing harm to one's self and others under every condition. It may come from the belief that hurting people, animals and/or the environment is unnecessary to achieve an outcome and it may refer to a general philosophy of abstention from violence. It may be based on moral, religious or spiritual principles, but also the reasons for it may be purely strategic or pragmatic.

By its very nature, non-violence cannot ‘seize’ power, nor can that be its goal. But non-violence can do more; it can effectively control and guide power without capturing the machinery of government. That is its beauty. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
The church says to the lion and the lamb, "Here, let me negotiate a truce," to which the lion replies, "Fine, after I finish my lunch." ~ Walter Wink

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  • When the world presents as a force field of violence, the task of nonviolence is to find ways of living and acting in that world such that violence is checked or ameliorated, or its direction turned, precisely at moments when it seems to saturate that world and offer no way out.
  • Nonviolence has now to be understood less as a moral position adopted by individuals in relation to a field of possible action than as a social and political practice undertaken in concert, culminating in a form of resistance to systemic forms of destruction coupled with a commitment to world building that honors global interdependency of the kind that embodies ideals of economic, social, and political freedom and equality.
  • Nonviolence does not necessarily emerge from a pacific or calm part of the soul. Very often it is an expression of rage, indignation, and aggression.
  • Nonviolent forms of resistance can and must be aggressively pursued. A practice of aggressive nonviolence is, therefore, not a contradiction in terms. Mahatma Gandhi insisted that satyagraha, or “soul force,” his name for a practice and politics of nonviolence, is a nonviolent force, one that consists at once of an “insistence on truth … that arms the votary with matchless power.” To understand this force or strength, there can be no simple reduction to physical strength. At the same time, “soul force” takes an embodied form. The practice of “going limp” before political power is, on the one hand, a passive posture, and is thought to belong to the tradition of passive resistance; at the same time, it is a deliberate way of exposing the body to police power, of entering the field of violence, and of exercising an adamant and embodied form of political agency. It requires suffering, yes, but for the purposes of transforming both oneself and social reality.
  • Nonviolence is an ideal that cannot always be fully honored in the practice. To the degree that those who practice nonviolent resistance put their body in the way of an external power, they make physical contact, presenting a force against force in the process. Nonviolence does not imply the absence of force or of aggression. It is, as it were, an ethical stylization of embodiment, replete with gestures and modes of non-action, ways of becoming an obstacle, of using the solidity of the body and its proprioceptive object field to block or derail a further exercise of violence.
  • There is no practice of nonviolence that does not negotiate fundamental ethical and political ambiguities, which means that “nonviolence” is not an absolute principle, but the name of an ongoing struggle.
  • Nonviolence is less a failure of action than a physical assertion of the claims of life, a living assertion, a claim that is made by speech, gesture, and action, through networks, encampments, and assemblies; all of these seek to recast the living as worthy of value, as potentially grievable, precisely under conditions in which they are either erased from view or cast into irreversible forms of precarity. When the precarious expose their living status to those powers that threaten their very lives, they engage a form of persistence that holds the potential to defeat one of the guiding aims of violent power—namely, to cast those on the margins as dispensable, to push them beyond the margins into the zone of non-being, to use Fanon’s phrase. When nonviolent movements work within the ideals of radical egalitarianism, it is the equal claim to a livable and grievable life that serves as a guiding social ideal, one that is fundamental to an ethics and politics of nonviolence that moves beyond the legacy of individualism. It opens up a new consideration of social freedom as defined in part by our constitutive interdependency. An egalitarian imaginary is required for such a struggle—one that reckons with the potential for destruction in every living bond. Violence against the other is, in this sense, violence against oneself, something that becomes clear when we recognize that violence assaults the living interdependency that is, or should be, our social world.
  • Nonviolence is perhaps best described as a practice of resistance that becomes possible, if not mandatory, precisely at the moment when doing violence seems most justified and obvious. In this way, it can be understood as a practice that not only stops a violent act, or a violent process, but requires a form of sustained action, sometimes aggressively pursued. So, one suggestion I will make is that we can think of nonviolence not simply as the absence of violence, or as the act of refraining from committing violence, but as a sustained commitment, even a way of rerouting aggression for the purposes of affirming ideals of equality and freedom.
  • Nonviolence does not make sense without a commitment to equality. The reason why nonviolence requires a commitment to equality can best be understood by considering that in this world some lives are more clearly valued than others, and that this inequality implies that certain lives will be more tenaciously defended than others. If one opposes the violence done to human lives—or, indeed, to other living beings—this presumes that it is because those lives are valuable. Our opposition affirms those lives as valuable. If they were to be lost as a result of violence, that loss would be registered as a loss only because those lives were affirmed as having a living value, and that, in turn, means we regard those lives as worthy of grief.
  • If nonviolence is to make sense as an ethical and political position, it cannot simply repress aggression or do away with its reality; rather, nonviolence emerges as a meaningful concept precisely when destruction is most likely or seems most certain.
  • Nonviolence is not an absolute principle, but an open-ended struggle with violence and its countervailing forces.
  • The ethical stand of nonviolence has to be linked to a commitment to radical equality. And more specifically, the practice of nonviolence requires an opposition to biopolitical forms of racism and war logics that regularly distinguish lives worth safeguarding from those that are not—populations conceived as collateral damage, or as obstructions to policy and military aims.
  • The ethical and political practice of nonviolence can rely neither exclusively on the dyadic encounter, nor on the bolstering of a prohibition; it requires a political opposition to the biopolitical forms of racism and war logics that rely on phantasmagoric inversions that occlude the binding and interdependent character of the social bond. It requires, as well, an account of why, and under what conditions, the frameworks for understanding violence and nonviolence, or violence and self-defense, seem to invert into one another, causing confusion about how best to pin down those terms.
  • We must fight those who are committed to destruction, without replicating their destructiveness. Understanding how to fight in this way is the task and the bind of a nonviolent ethics and politics.
  • It is precisely because we can destroy that we are under an obligation to know why we ought not to do it, and to summon those countervailing powers that curb our destructive capacity. Nonviolence becomes an ethical obligation by which we are bound precisely because we are bound to one another; it may well be an obligation against which we rail, in which ambivalent swings of the psyche make themselves known, but the obligation to preserve the social bond can be resolved upon without precisely resolving that ambivalence. The obligation not to destroy each other emerges from, and reflects, the vexed social form of our lives, and it leads us to reconsider whether self-preservation is not linked to preserving the lives of others.
  • Dr. King’s policy was, if you are nonviolent, if you suffer, your opponent will see your suffering and will be moved to change his heart. That’s very good. He only made one fallacious assumption. In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.
  • Nonviolence begins with the insights that all life is sacred, that all human beings are children of the God of peace, and that as God’s children, we are under certain obligations. Of course, we should never hurt or kill another human being, wage war, build nuclear weapons, or sit idly by while millions of human beings starve to death each year. Nonviolence invites us, also, to reevaluate the way we treat animals in our society. While we resist violence, injustice, and war, and while we practice nonviolence, seek peace, and struggle for justice for the poor, we are also invited to break down the species barrier, extending our belief in Christian compassion to the animal kingdom by, among other things, adopting a vegetarian diet.
By anarchy I mean first an absolute rejection of violence. ~ Jacques Ellul
  • There are different forms of anarchy and different currents in it. I must, first say very simply what anarchy I have in view. By anarchy I mean first an absolute rejection of violence.
    • Jacques Ellul, in Anarchy and Christianity [Anarchie et Christianisme] (1988) as translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1991), p. 11
  • There is no principle worth the name if it is not wholly good. I swear by non-violence because I know that it alone conduces to the highest good of mankind, not merely in the next world, but in this also. I object to violence because, when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary, the evil it does is permanent.
  • By its very nature, non-violence cannot ‘seize’ power, nor can that be its goal. But non-violence can do more; it can effectively control and guide power without capturing the machinery of government. That is its beauty.
  • Time and again, people struggling not for some token reform but for complete liberation — the reclamation of control over our own lives and the power to negotiate our own relationships with the people and world around us — will find that nonviolence does not work, that we face a self-perpetuating power structure that is immune to appeals to conscience and strong enough to plow over the disobedient and uncooperative.
  • Put quite plainly, nonviolence ensures a state monopoly on violence. States survive by assuming the role of the sole legitimate purveyor of violent force within their territory. Any struggle against oppression necessitates a conflict with the state.
  • Permitting nonviolent protest improves the image of the state. Whether they mean to or not, nonviolent dissidents play the role of a loyal opposition in a performance that dramatizes dissent and creates the illusion that democratic government is not elitist or authoritarian. Pacifists paint the state as benign by giving authority the chance to tolerate a criticism that does not actually threaten its continued operation.
  • Instead of raising a fist, pacifists raise their index and middle fingers to form a V. That V stands for victory and is the symbol of patriots exulting in the peace that follows a triumphant war. In the final analysis, the peace that pacifists defend is that of the vanquishing army, the unopposed state that has conquered all resistance and monopolized violence to such an extent that violence need no longer be visible.
  • Pacifism simply does not resonate in people’s everyday realities, unless those people live in some extravagant bubble of tranquility from which all forms of civilization’s pandemic reactive violence have been pushed out by the systemic and less visible violence of police and military forces.
  • Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
  • There are thousands of people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence — against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people. And I think the time has come for us to consider, in the light of our experiences at this day at home, whether the methods which we have applied so far are adequate.
  • A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a point, one can only fight fire with fire.
  • Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force may sometimes be necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
  • Most anarchists believe the coming change can only come through a revolution, because the possessing class will not allow a peaceful change to take place; still we are willing to work for peace at any price, except at the price of liberty.
  • You want to be nonviolent? That is good and noble. I think…I think I do, too. But I want you to understand what you’re asking of the people who take this necessary stance against white supremacy, the people who go to look evil in the face. You’re asking them to be beaten with brass knuckles, with bats, with fists. To be pounded into the ground, stomped on, and smashed. You’re asking them to bleed on the pavement and the grass. Some of them are going to die. And you’re asking them to do that without defending themselves.
  • Non-violence is backed by the theory of soul-force in which suffering is courted in the hope of ultimately winning over the opponent. But what happens when such an attempt fails to achieve the object? It is here that soul-force has to be combined with physical force so as not to remain at the mercy of a tyrannical and ruthless enemy.
    • Bhagat Singh, as quoted in The Sikh Review, Vol. 55 (2007), p. 173
  • We who advocate peace are becoming an irrelevance when we speak peace. The government speaks rubber bullets, live bullets, tear gas, police dogs, detention, and death.
    • Desmond Tutu, as quoted in Sunday Times Magazine (8 June 1986)
  • According to Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence, the end is inherent in the means. If we’re hateful to each other now, we’re not going to be able to all come together in some kumbaya effort once the nominee is chosen. Anger weakens us. We can practice respectful disagreement now.
  • Most Christians desire nonviolence, yes; but they are not talking about a nonviolent struggle for justice. They mean simply the absence of conflict. ... The church says to the lion and the lamb, "Here, let me negotiate a truce," to which the lion replies, "Fine, after I finish my lunch."
    • Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (2003), p. 4
  • Historically, revolutions are bloody. Oh, yes, they are. They haven't never had a bloodless revolution, or a nonviolent revolution. That don't happen even in Hollywood. You don't have a revolution in which you love your enemy, and you don't have a revolution in which you are begging the system of exploitation to integrate you into it. Revolutions overturn systems. Revolutions destroy systems.
    • Malcolm X, speech at the Congress for Racial Equality (1964)
  • Concerning non-violence: it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.
  • There is nothing in our book, the Qur'an, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone lays a hand on you, send him to the cemetery.
    • Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements (1965)

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