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“Nonviolence is the Only Means of Struggle Worthy of a Better World”

(This is the last of 5 short selections from an interview with Waging Nonviolence co-founder Nathan Schneider. You can read the first installment of the interview series here, here and here.) Nathan will be the featured guest for BPF’s monthly phone call this Sunday October 27th.)

Why should people take nonviolent approaches seriously? What is to be gained?  What are some of the benefits you’ve personally experienced from nurturing and participating in avowedly nonviolent movements? Are there any limitations that deserve mention?

One could start by saying, perhaps, that nonviolence is the only means of struggle worthy of a better world. I believe this is true; if we were to achieve utopia in my lifetime, it’s through nonviolence that I’d want to tell my children we got there. But then one can also speak of evidence. The historical record shows that popular nonviolent movements are significantly more likely to result in more democratic outcomes than movements driven by military force. They are also more likely to succeed in their aims. The only trouble is that, because our societies put so much wealth and energy into training people for violent conflict, and so little into the discipline and skills needed for nonviolent conflict, nonviolent struggle is slow, and hard. It takes patience, and it lacks the perverse satisfaction of wiping those who might have an honest disagreement with you off the map. But if we put half the resources we currently put into organized violence into disciplined nonviolent organizing, the benefit would be enormous.

Nathan Schneider is a co-founder and editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, both published in 2013 by University of California Press, are Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse and God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet. He has written about religion, reason and violence for publications including The Nation, The New York Times, Harper’s, Commonweal, Religion Dispatches, AlterNet and others. Visit his website at

Image from Minneapolis artist/activist Ricardo Levins Morales. Please visit his website to learn more about his work.

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Comments (2)

  • Jeff

    Perhaps we should instead say that nonviolence is the only means of struggle worthy of the best of all possible worlds.

    I have trouble dismissing as “unworthy” all movements in which forceful resistance has been employed against oppression. People who fought in and benefitted from these might disagree that their outcomes were inevitably less successful or democratic than those of nonviolent conflicts. Abundant historical examples can be cited for both sides of this argument.

    Categorical statements about how to create a utopian society can stimulate interesting theoretical discussions and help us define our own ethical standards for moving forward but don’t always provide a useful guide for engaging in existing global politics. It’s one thing to personally forswear violence but quite another to condemn any liberation struggle that has practiced it to defend an indigenous population against overwhelming state terror.

    I have to admit I’ve also had a little difficulty seeing how this debate about nonviolence is germane to developed Western countries such as the United States and Canada, where few if any serious activists are calling for armed rebellion as a means of advancing our goals and the only popular mayhem we’re likely to see will be spontaneous property damage, usually provoked by police attacks. After puzzling through Mr. Schneider’s appeals to “soul force” and warnings to avoid the “perverse satisfaction of wiping those who might have an honest disagreement with you off the map,” I realize that he’s been talking to the ruling class all along, not progressive movements who are in no position to contemplate militant action in the foreseeable future. And in that case, more power to you, Nathan. Let’s convince those unreasonable fellows to stop tear-gassing, rubber-bullet-shooting, and impoverishing us!

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