“The Tradition of Nonviolence is Inseparable from Power”
(This is the first of 5 short selections from an interview with Waging Nonviolence co-founder Nathan Schneider.)
At times I’ve encountered people who are drawn to talk of nonviolence but anxious about talk of power. Perhaps they equate power with violence. I tend to think this anxiety is most of all the result of not wanting to acknowledge the way in which they themselves benefit from coercive power being wielded over others — especially if they’re relatively affluent. (People who lack sufficient power to survive know very well that their lack of power is itself violence.) But the tradition of nonviolence is inseparable from power. That’s why Gandhi called nonviolence “soul force.” The difference between soul force and military force, however, is in how that power is organized. Does one’s power stem from one’s ability to silence dissent and suppress those who experience injustice? Or does it stem from ordinary people withdrawing their consent from the institutions that allow injustice to flourish? Those are two very different kinds of power. One of them we need, and the other doesn’t deserve to exist.
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 TheRowBoat.com.