Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Tug of War Over Non-Violence

To defend George Smith against the continuing accusations that he somehow turned into a mystic or Gandhi-cultist, Issue 6 includes a portion of a letter written by George to Carl as they were forming the organization.

But this letter does much more than that, at least for me.

First of all, I can see that there was discussion and debate on whether they should put strategies down in writing. This letter even mentions platforms and planks so at some point they were discussing such matters.

When reading this excerpt, I noticed that Carl and George disagree on whether the Voluntaryist insight means the rejection of all violent acts. In this letter George makes a good case for not putting nonviolence forth as a necessary Voluntaryist strategy and he gives several reasons why:
1. To include a definite concept of strategy as part of our organizational structure will discourage investigation into other alternatives. It will appear as if we have finalized this issue, which we have not.

2. 1 remain uncomfortable with nonviolent strategy (i.e., nonviolent in the broad sense, e.g., a Gandhian theory). There are important insights here, certainly, but they have not been fully adapted (to my satisfaction) to libertarian ends. In other words, more work remains in this area.

3. To include nonviolence will "turn-off" many libertarians who tend to regard Gandhianism, etc. as somewhat cranky (as does Murray, for example). We want to attract all the anti-political libertarians, whatever their views of strategy, or however well formed they may be. We should cast as wide a net as possible.
George just wanted nonviolence to be one of the many strategies that would be investigated rather than being something that defines Voluntaryism.

He goes on to talk about self-defense as a legitimate moral act, not only against aggression, but also as a possible strategy to get the state to back down. The point for him is not to advocate it, but merely to acknowledge it as a valid strategy.

The one problem with using self-defense that he mentions that I think is worth noting is that it could get twisted up with those who aren’t really so much wanting to defend individual liberty as they are simply wanting to establish another government.

I think that is a big danger and I know I always get uncomfortable when I hear people talking about “taking up arms” against the state or whatever because it seems like that will always just end in another form of government, one that was ultimately created through violent means.

From the first time I found The Voluntaryist, I very much related to Carl’s favorite quote, "If one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself," and if we can move towards freedom peacefully, then it seems to me that’s when we will be much more likely to actually keep it.

One more thing I discovered after reading this letter and seeing this disagreement is that The Voluntaryist Statement of Purpose is different now than it is in the current issues I’ve been reading. The difference comes in the first line. Here’s the first line in the current Issue:
The Voluntaryists are libertarians who have organized to promote non-political strategies to achieve a free society.
And here’s what that line says in the present day:
Voluntaryists are advocates of non-political, non-violent strategies to achieve a free society.
I don’t know what this may mean as far as George Smith’s and perhaps others’ continued participation, but I guess I will find out as I keep reading and learning.


Anonymous said...

I understand your concern with taking up arms. That's how the U.S. was founded. The Declaration of Independence stated a very good case for rebelling against the King and did so using libertarian rhetoric, but once the fighting was over the same sort of power hungry control freaks soon started a new government, not at all based on the principles set forth in the Declaration. Jefferson suggested the need for rebellion or revolution every 2o years or so to keep liberty alive. It can be done. Look at Afghanistan. No one has been able to enforce a centralized government there. People organize along clan/family lines and have their own rules, etc and do not allow themselves to be ruled. They didn't allow it with the British nearly 200 years ago or with the Soviets or the the Amerikans. If only Amerikans loved freedom enough to be ungovernable. It's a matter of changing memes, not politics.

Ned Netterville said...

Debbie and Carl, I'm sure it was a typo that had you say Carl’s favorite phrase [is] “the end justifies the means.” You left out "does not." In fact one of Carl's favorite phrases, borrowed from Gandhi is "take care of the means you employ and the end will take care of itself."

The article in The Voluntaryist #6 by Ken Knudsen on the issue of nonviolence is truly a gem. But let me offer another twist to it. Knudsen wrote:

"The best that can be said for violence is that it may, in rare circumstances, be used as an expedient to save us from extinction. But the individualist's rejection of violence (except in cases of self-defense) is not due to any lofty pacifist principles; it's a matter of pure
pragmatism: we realize that violence just simply does not work."

I want to take issue with those rare circumstances where only vilence can save us from extinction, and that it should be avoided except in cases of self defense.

I call as my first and only witness, Jesus of Nazareth. He was, in my opinion, wise beyond all others I know, and when he advised "turn the other cheek," and "love your enemies, pray for your persecutors," he was not offering advice that would lead to suicide or extinction. Rather quite the opposite. He was showing us the most pragmatic, expedient way of surviving, thriving and achieving incomparable benefits, including ellusive joy. However, only by putting his seemingly suicidal, amazing, confounding advice into practice does one realize the results.

By loving one's enemies and praying for one's persecutors, one in due course finds that one has no enemies, that persecution has ceased. Renouncing violence even in self defense is the most efficacious means of self defense there is. Don't believe it? Try it.

Debbie H. said...

Ned, thanks for pointing out my editing error, I have now fixed it. I really liked Knudsen's article too, which will the the topic of the next post.