While it is easy to hold humanitarian greats like Mahatma Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in high esteem for their contributions to the development of a more moral society for their intelligence, courage, dedication and resolve, the question, “is non-violent resistance the best method to illicit change” can still be debated.

Some would say that a person who will not fight back is a coward. That is not always the case, as great men like Ghandi and King proved time and time again.
Sometimes it takes more courage to resist without fighting back in the face of injustice than it does to take up violence in your own defense, or even in defense of a cause.

This is because self-sacrifice is one of the most noble and courageous acts.

Another good example of non-violent resistance is Hank Aaron, one of the first black professional baseball players. It’s likely there were many times he would have been justified in lashing out violently against those who persecuted him. However, through his miraculous courage, patience and restraint, he helped opened the door for African American equality, not only in sports, but throughout all walks of life. If Hank Aaron had responded in kind, it is unlikely any progress would have been made.

One must have tremendous respect for a person who can take a blow, whether physical or emotional and have the courage and facility to respond in kind, but refuse to. Whether this is always the best way to deal with the situation or not can be debated, but that person’s courage, inner-strength and moral fortitude cannot.

Still, to heighten the debate, we’ve seen non-violent resistance affect change in society, however, should the society be too corrupted, one has to wonder if such tactics would succeed. For example, most of the Jews in Nazi Germany did not resist and most of them were exterminated. It is doubtful that Ghandi or King’s heroic approach would have succeeded in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. It seems that society had been too corrupted and such an approach likely would have simply ended in an unheralded death for Ghandi and/or King at the hands of their persecutors.

This is to say that in a civilized country where society is in order, non-violent resistance is a valid and preferred way to enact change.

However, there may be situations under more dire consequences in which a force bent on negative action cannot be altered without a show of equal force. In such moments, though it may seem counterintuitive, a negative force may only be countered by an equally or more destructive negative force. The defeat of
Hitler and Nazi Germany through violent retaliation and war would be a good example of this.
Sometimes an unstoppable force will need to meet an immovable object. In a credible functioning society this can be done through non-violent resistance, but in the failure of a moral societal structure, that immovable object must come in the form of an equal or superior force.

Unfortunately, the arms race is a sad reminder of what this type of thinking can lead to. 

Likewise, when not in the presence of societal law-enforcement, physical power may be needed in order to combat the physical aggression of those who would use their power in an immoral or unwarranted manner and to maintain the general good and lasting peace. The use of such power is licensed to those who must protect themselves or others against the immoral use of unwarranted violence, force or oppression.

Violent action against others, if not made in self-defense, the defense of others, or for the preservation of true moral virtue, is itself unwarranted and immoral. 

By: Evan Marquisee
October 2, 2014

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