Gandhi is often presented as the modern example of how non-violence works.
Sometimes we are required to engage in violent acts in order to demonstrate our unwavering attachment to those rights our Creator has granted us. It is very often said that violence is never the answer. That of course is hog wash. To say that violence is sometimes the answer is not to say that violence is good or desirable. It is simply saying that sometimes it is the only way one can obtain a thing that is rightfully theirs.
In libertarian circles they speak reverently of the NAP which is shorthand for Non-Aggression Principle. This, for me, is a very good idea, and one of the things most desirable about libertarianism. I’ve heard various interpretations of just what it means by “aggression” with some using the term less literally. There are two of the standard definitions that get tossed about in these discussions and which are found on Google readily.
- hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another; readiness to attack or confront.
- More the action or an act of attacking without provocation.
I will state now that when I talk of NAP I always mean the latter. For me NAP means the “non-act of attacking without provocation principle” rather than the “non-violent behavior” meaning. That’s an important distinction. I’m not Gandhi. Well, even Gandhi wasn’t Gandhi. I mean that. There is a myth surrounding Gandhi which has grown, perhaps from the fantastically made and awarding winning 1982 movie about him staring Ben Kinglsey, or perhaps it is just what people saw as most outstanding about him. But Gandhi, though he preached non-violence whenever possible, was not against its use entirely.
“Nonviolence in its dynamic condition means conscious suffering. It does not means meek submission to the will of the evil-doer…I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence…” (Doctrine of the Sword, M. K. Gandhi, 1920)
He later recounts a conversation he had with his son. Gandhi was almost killed in 1908 in an assassination attempt. As you can imagine the thought of this must have weighed heavily on his son. His son asked him, “…whether he should have run away and seen [him] killed or whether he should have used his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended [his father]” Gandhi records his reply, “I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence.”
In another work he went on to say that when violence, “…is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission.” (Between Cowardice And Violence, M. K. Gandhi, n.d.)
Of course I’m not discounting his stance on non-violence. He did teach that it was incredibly brave to die, or rather to allow oneself to be killed, in one’s support of non-violence. But in the event that one was not willing or able to do this he advocated fighting. His stance was more religious than political. He called himself a Sanatani Hindu which is said to indicate an eternal Hindu. He never explained fully what he meant by this to the best of my knowledge but it seems to me that he meant to indicate it as both a signal of his devotion (clinging to his belief forever) and of the eternal nature of the cosmos. Like Gandhi, much myth exists in the western world concerning Hinduism and violence and like Gandhi the religion preaches non-violence when possible but also violence when necessary.
What about Christ? What about turn the other cheek?
Like Gandhi there can be no denying that Christ’s first choice was non-violence. He taught his followers to turn the other cheek. Here is the passage in question:
“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5: 39, KJV)
Certainly this implies if you get hit, don’t hit back, but rather take a “thank you sir may I have another” approach allowing a smack on the other cheek. Of course it doesn’t really address what to do when you run out of cheeks. Nor does it really address what to do if it’s someone else’s cheek being struck. Jesus didn’t say if you saw someone slap your mother that you let them slap your mother’s other cheek. It’s your cheek he was saying to turn.
If we continue on with reading the versus, which we should always do with scripture. Read on, don’t ever let a single verse stand on its own. Read what comes after and quite often read what comes before. In this case the before is much like the after and serves for Christians as the moment Christ let pass the law of Moses for a higher law, Christ’s law. What follows is this :
“And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?” (Matthew 5: 40-46, KJV)
What do all this? So, “that ye may be the children of your Father…” It’s a very good notion and one I aspire to. But I do not take it to mean that no violence can ever be done. Jesus didn’t believe that either of course because he did violence in his lifetime and taught he was to going be very violent in the future.
“And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:” He didn’t like this. “And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” (John 2:13-17, KJV)
For those of you who know the story well you realize I left out a key verse by skipping number 15. That verse explains what Jesus did about the problem facing his Father’s house.
“And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;”
He made a whip (scourge of small cords), drove out all the men and animals with it, and flipped over the tables, money surely flying in the air and crashing to the ground. Even for Christ, there was a moment where violence was the answer. But that was always going to be the case and he knew it. In a very real way his own life was predicated on the fact that it would end in his own violent death. But aside from that philosophical point he also told everyone how things were going to end. According to the bible everyone will have absolutely every chance possible to stop being wicked but in the end, those who refuse, will be destroyed, “burned as stubble” actually.
So when is violence the answer?
The quick answer is, “almost never”. In a world as violent as ours that seems like a dreamy and unrealistic answer. It is. I admit. But like Gandhi and Jesus I too feel that non-violence is preferred.
However, I’m guessing you want something more specific than that. So, for me, I believe that it is “in defense of rights.” What rights? That’s where it gets a little more complex. They aren’t all defined. Even our founding documents, when naming off the unalienable rights “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” preface that by pointing out that these three are just “among” the rights we are given by our creator and not the sum total of our rights. I imagine for the Founders that these three were made particular mention because they stand out as supreme.
Not mentioned there is the right of property. Yet it is very clear that for the Founders it was understood that a right to property was implied by the existence of other rights. One cannot have life without owning food, one cannot have liberty without owning the means to defend that liberty, one cannot pursue happiness without owning whichever objects instill happiness in them. The right to own and dispose of property is implied. The Founders fully understood that all rights are intertwined with property rights.
“A right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to satisfy these wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the similar rights of other sensible beings.” – Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson understood that very basic truth. If one needs to live and can only do so by eating and being protected from the elements then one has a right to the means of that survival and that means comes in the form of property.
Of course we also know that taxation without representation was one of the major factors in spurring the American Revolution. As was the housing of soldiers in citizens homes. If a man’s home was his castle then he had a right to use that property in a manner according to his own desires. If he didn’t want to lend a bed to a soldier, he shouldn’t have to. Since most did not, that became a sore spot.
“The moment that idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the Laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. Property must be sacred or liberty cannot exist.” – John Adams
There are dozens of quotes from Founding Fathers on this subject. More than enough for any thinking person to realize the importance and existence of the right to property. Granted, it is not an absolute right and the Constitution permits conditions under which property can be taken from an individual. These are by nature few and specific.
That is why socialism and communism are completely and eternally incompatible with human rights!
This is why state laws regarding the protection of property are clear about what actions can be taken in that protection. Such laws generally allow force to be used to protect property up to but not including deadly force. You can point a gun at a car thief in most states, but not shoot him but you could smack him in the leg with a baseball bat (theoretically of course, check your local laws before smacking away at anyone).
Life is generally considered the prime right. Though liberty is sometimes argued as such. The reason for this is because most people feel taking life in the name of liberty is justified when there is no other alternative. There are countless examples of this, big and small. The American Revolution, of course, is a big example, as is the American Civil War. A small example is someone who is held hostage or kidnapped. If they cannot escape and have the chance to stick a shiv into their kidnapper to get out, that is considered reasonable by society.
The right to life is generally now thought of as something only anti-abortionists talk about. But many who are “right to lifers” are such because of their belief in this unalienable right. Though those on the other side like to try to paint the baby the same as a kidnapper, holding the mother hostage and thus giving her the right to kill it, this is of course just sophistry as it is well-known her ordeal will end in nine months anyway and is almost always a situation of her own making rather than one forced on her. There are some cases, of course, where the mother has been raped and it is not her doing at all. Though her argument is stronger it is not enough. The unwanted ordeal will end and our society provides a way that she and baby can go their separate ways both quite alive. This is why many people who are otherwise opposed to abortion feel it should be legal when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. I personally know of people who decided to risk it and have the child. The mother very nearly did die and it was only the grace of the All Mighty that save her. Even the doctor said so. But if the mother isn’t going to die, then why should the baby? The point there is that life is a supreme right.
It’s a hard and slippery road this discussion of liberty!
Let us be clear, violence is frightening and extreme. Which means this is where the idea, the notion, that violence does actually solve some problems becomes dangerous. It’s been said that violence solves nothing, that no idea is good if it requires violence to enforce it and I’m sure you have heard the oft quoted, “You cannot simultaneously prepare for peace and war” quote which is attributed to Albert Einstein. You don’t have to be an Einstein to know that isn’t correct. Preparation for war is not mutually exclusive with peace and many ideas, such as liberty, the right for life, etc. are worth enforcing with violence as evinced by the American Revolution. Even if people don’t accept the fact that violence is sometimes the answer it does not really matter because at some time or the other they will be faced with the evidence of it for themselves.
The questions we must all ask are: which rights are worth fighting for? What level of violence are we willing to go to? And when? That last one is very important and perhaps the most difficult one to answer of all. Put yourself in the shoes, not of the Founding Fathers, but of the ordinary Colonial American who, perhaps, is working a small farm or running a bakery in a city where soldiers in red coats roam the streets. At what point is enough, enough for you? At what point will some modern American see their 10-year-old daughter groped by TSA and declare that enough is enough?
That’s the trick, the answer isn’t the same for everyone. That one man may look out his bakery window at the Red Coats and seethes inside with anger but do nothing because he is one man with everything to lose.
If we are to be wise enough to prevent the next dictator from rising to power and robbing men of their liberty we must ask ourselves just how we plan on preventing it. It is revisited truth that the dictator cannot be talked out of his quest for power and dominion over other men. There is only one method that will serve – violence. If we are not wise enough then that same violence will be turned to evil doing. You can be sure this will be by those who claim to be for the people and against fascism. Because, that’s what they always seem to say. They love democracy you see. Why else would they talk so much about democratic socialism?
Of course only a fool would think I am recommending violence or promoting it as an answer to modern problems.
More to the point, I’m doing the opposite. If our government, meaning the men and women in it, understand (while democracy still functions) that violence solves problems then perhaps they will hesitate to back the American people into a corner from which they can only escape via the 2nd amendment.