Gandhi and King: The Power of Nonviolent Resistance

By Michael J. Nojeim | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Violence and Nonviolence:
What's the Difference?

DEFINITIONAL DIFFICULTIES

At the risk of allowing you, the reader, to get bogged down in the quibbling over definitions and semantics, this chapter reviews only a few of the many definitions of nonviolence and violence. Although this exercise may confuse the reader about what is meant by these terms, well, that is precisely the point. There is no general agreement among advocates of violence or nonviolence on what these terms mean. Nevertheless, this chapter sheds light on these terms in order to facilitate a better understanding of the forthcoming chapters on Gandhi and King. Keep in mind the major theme of this section: it is very difficult to separate completely "violent" from "nonviolent" action.

Note some generalizations that will be made here. First, when reference is made to advocates of nonviolence, this refers to individuals and groups who choose nonviolence as a matter of principle—either by religious commitment and training or by some form of secular conviction. For instance, the Quaker religion, found mostly in the United States, is based on nonviolent precepts, as is the Jain religion, which is found mostly in India. But not all Quakers, Jains, and other advocates of nonviolence will necessarily agree with the way nonviolence is conceptualized here. In addition, there are secular (nonreligious) groups and individuals who advocate nonviolence out of moral convictions that are not necessarily based on religious doctrines. For example, nonviolent struggles in

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