Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mark Kurlansky's 25 lessons on nonviolence

I am reading the book, “Nonviolence: 25 Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea,” (Random House) and I am finding it very interesting and challenging.

The author, Mark Kurlansky, writes the book in narrative form teaching the 25 lessons as he goes along. His work involves studying nonviolence in several religious and cultural traditions throughout history.

The final paragraph of the 1st chapter reads:
"Though most religions shun warfare, and hold nonviolence as the only moral route toward political change, religion and its language have been co-opted by the violent people who have been governing societies. If someone were to come along who would not compromise, a rebel who insisted on taking the only moral path, rejecting violence in all its forms, such a person would seem so menacing that he would be killed, and after his death he would be canonized or deified, because a saint is less dangerous than a rebel. This has happened numerous times, but the first prominent example was a Jew named Jesus."
Here are the 25 lessons that he poses through the book. Let me know what you think or if there are any that jump out at you as insightful.


  1. There is no proactive word for nonviolence.
  2. Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use them.
  3. Practitioners of nonviolence are seen as enemies of the state.
  4. Once a state takes over a religion, the religion loses its nonviolent teachings.
  5. A rebel can be defanged and co-opted by making him a saint after he is dead.
  6. Somewhere behind every war there are always a few founding lies.
  7. A propaganda machine promoting hatred always has a war waiting in the wings.
  8. People who go to war start to resemble their enemy.
  9. A conflict between a violent and a nonviolent force is a moral argument. If the violent side can provoke the nonviolent side into violence, the violent side has won.
  10. The problem lies not in the nature of man but in the nature of power.
  11. The longer a war lasts, the less popular it becomes.
  12. The state imagines it is impotent without a military because it cannot conceive of power without force.
  13. It is often not the largest but the best organized and the most articulate group that prevails.
  14. All debate momentarily ends with an “enforced silence” once the first shots are fired.
  15. A shooting war is not necessary to overthrow an established power but is used to consolidate the revolution itself.
  16. Violence does not resolve. It always leads to more violence.
  17. Warfare produces peace activists. A group of veterans is a likely place to find peace activists.
  18. People motivated by fear to not act well.
  19. While it is perfectly feasible to convince a people faced with brutal repression to rise up in a suicidal attack on their oppressor, it is almost impossible to convince them to meet deadly violence with nonviolence resistance.
  20. Wars do not have to be sold to the general public if they can be carried out by an all-volunteer professional military.
  21. Once you start the business of killing, you just get “deeper and deeper,” without limits.
  22. Violence always comes with a supposedly rational explanation-which is only dismissed as irrational if the violence fails.
  23. Violence is a virus that infects and takes over.
  24. The miracle is that despite all of society’s promotion of warfare, most soldiers find warfare to be a wrenching departure from their own moral values.
  25. The hard work of beginning a movement to end war has already been done.


Any thoughts??

4 comments:

Matthew J. Perkins said...

Interesting stuff Dan. I agree with perhaps most of Kurlansky's "points." Here are some that I found problematic:

"5. A rebel can be defanged and co-opted by making him a saint after he is dead."

I don't think this is necessarily true. When I read stories of the saints, they still seem to be a great challenge to the way things are normally done in our world. If anything I think sainthood preserves stories of a person's rebelliousness against the world-system. That's not to say that no one has ever been white-washed after their death to be used as a poster-child for a movement.

"10. The problem lies not in the nature of man but in the nature of power."

Disagree. If it weren't for a corrupt nature in man, "power" would never be used in an immoral way.

"12. The state imagines it is impotent without a military because it cannot conceive of power without force."

Although if point #10 is true, then even without a military, power will still be a problem because "the problem lies in the nature of power." Perhaps an internal inconsistency in Kurlansky's reasoning?

"16. Violence does not resolve. It always leads to more violence."

Yeah, that's why the second world war was never resolved into a peaceful Europe and just kept escalating to the point that it's at today....hey wait a minute..

"21. Once you start the business of killing, you just get “deeper and deeper,” without limits."

If this were true the human race would have gone extinct long ago.

dan said...

5. You’re right but I think he’s talking about taking a person who stands against something and turning him into a tool for the preservation of the system that he stood against.

He makes the point with Jesus. It can be argued that Jesus would be against genocide that comes with colonialism, against the oppression of minorities, and against power grabbing-but look at what Christians have done with him. Christians have oppressed blacks in the name of Jesus. Christians have committed genocide in the name of Jesus. Christians turned the Church into a power structure trying to control the world.

This is his point with #5.

10. I agree with you that there is a fundamental flaw in human beings…power. I think that this is the result of sin in our lives. So I think that the problem with humans is the nature of power.

He talks a bunch about Augustine, mostly concerning his just war theory, and does not seem to like him. Which I like.

12. I don’t think that it is natural to conceive of power without force. Regardless of how you look at it…force leads to violence.

16. WWII did not resolve peacefully. If I remember correctly there was about 50 years called the Cold War in which the violence continued in over 150 wars…Kurlansky argues that the Cold War did not end as a result of Regan…but as the result of nonviolent resistence behind the Wall.

21. Hmmmm…This point is made by the US attacking civilians and dropping the A-bomb on Japan.

Interesting comments and I agree with most of them. Many of your questions he talks about in the book and makes them within a context. I really liked what he had to say and thought most of his arguments, even if you don’t agree with them, were very solid!

chad said...

Dan,

Thanks for sharing this. I really think that it seems a good arguement has been made through this book. We should talk this over at fourth meal

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