Principled Nonviolence

Principled nonviolence is not merely a strategy nor the recourse of the weak, it is a positive force that does not manifest its full potential until it is adopted on principle. Often its practitioners feel that it expresses something fundamental about human nature, and who they wish to become as individuals.  (See strategic nonviolence.)

To adopt principled nonviolence is not a quick and easy decision one can make through logic but a slow, perhaps lifetime endeavor. Nonetheless, we focus on principled nonviolence because we think it has the potential for creating permanent, long-term change.  Ultimately it can rebuild many of our institutions on a more humane and sustainable foundation. In the long run nonviolence is, as Gandhi said, an “experiment with truth.” We have all to experiment with nonviolence in the way that seems best to us, because in the end the world will need all our experiences to arrive at a new order based on nonviolence.

Probably the most important lesson to learn from Gandhi is that nonviolence is a positive force. It is a way to alter violent situations and influence others by persuasion rather than coercion, and a way to resolve differences so that all parties grow in the process as human beings and become more open to each other.

What differentiates a principled nonviolence campaign from a power struggle is the recognition that “the ends don’t justify the means” and that the path to change is a mutual learning process. Gandhi explained that, “Means are ends in the making.”  By this he meant that the kind of means we use – violent or nonviolent, secret or transparent, democratic or authoritarian, deceitful or truthful – are already building the foundations for the change we desire.  While some say means are simply ways to an end, Gandhi said, they are everything. In the case of a revolutionary struggle, for example, he held that “violent revolution will bring violent swaraj [independence].” Nobel Prize-winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel was just as emphatic when he said, Nonviolent action implants, by anticipation within the very process of change itself, the values to which it will ultimately lead … it does not sow peace by means of war.”