09 Mar

Beginning a conversation about nonviolent resistance.

Posted By Politybooks

Todd-May headFor many years I was involved in nonviolent political campaigns.  I organized and participated in the anti-apartheid movement, the movement for Palestinian rights, solidarity movements with those in Central America, as well as labor,anti-racist, and gay rights movements.  Throughout these movements, there was a fairly consistent commitment to nonviolence.  This does not mean that the movements with which we were in solidarity were always nonviolent.  Rather, it was that we saw nonviolence as the proper method for conducting our solidarity.

Alongside my work with these campaigns, my philosophical ideas were developing,particularly with regard to politics and more particularly with regard to a type of nonviolent anarchism.  If I were to continue along this path–which I did–eventually I would have to ask myself about the philosophical character of nonviolence.

Nonviolent Resistance is my attempt to do that.  It asks what makes a movement, a campaign, or even an action a nonviolent one, at least in the political sense.  It looks at various dynamics of nonviolence, seeking to understand their nonviolent character.  Finally, it grounds nonviolence in what I believe are its two founding values:  dignity and equality. Throughout, I appeal to particular nonviolent movements, from the famous Indian Independence and American Civil Rights Movements to more contemporary campaigns like Occupy, Tahrir Square, the Estonian Singing Revolution, and the anti-Marcos campaign in the Philippines. 

I don’t know yet the extent to what extent I have offered an adequate philosophical grasp of nonviolence.  When I began my research, I was surprised to find that there is little in the way of sustained philosophical reflection on political nonviolence.  This is in contrast to the recent explosion of sociological, historical, and political literature on nonviolence.  My hope is that I have at least begun a conversation on the philosophy of the form of political resistance that, after all, is perhaps the best hope in confronting much of what is most egregious in the contemporary world.

Todd May is class of 1941, memorial professor of philosophy at Clemson University and author of Nonviolent Resistance: A Philosophical Introduction, published in February 2015.