A REVIEW OF MARK KURLANSKY’S 2006 BOOK BY THAT NAME
By Ned Netterville
seldom come across a book by an Earthling (voluntaryists and Austrian
economists are from Mars or Venus, depending on their gender) that sends
me to my feet pumping my fist like Tiger Woods when with talent and
force of will he sends a forty-foot put curling into the cup. But that’s
what I caught myself doing as I read Mark Kurlansky’s 2006 book,
Nonviolence, subtitled Twenty-Five Lessons from the History of
a Dangerous Idea. This is a must-read for anyone desiring world
or local peace but perplexed by how to achieve it.
The clarion-clear message of this narrowly
focused history of the use of violence versus nonviolence is that when
it comes to throwing off forcible oppression, nonviolent resistance
beats violence hands down. Yet so little is understood regarding its
effectiveness and accomplishments that there is no word in any language
for the opposite of violence beyond the negative, nonviolence. Kurlansky
shows that failure to understand that nonviolence is an efficacious
means and a potent force in the hands of peacemakers or the oppressed
is a serious mistake benefiting only warriors and tyrants. The author
points out, “it has always been treated as something profoundly dangerous”
by the rulers of states. His concise history traces the concept of nonviolence
among ancient people of various religions up to the recent past. He
deduces from his examination that “Though most religions shun warfare
and hold nonviolence as the only moral route towards political change,
religion and its language have been co-opted by the violent people who
have been governing societies."
Kurlansky distinguishes between pacifism and
nonviolence: “Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism
is harmless and therefore easier to accept than nonviolence, which is
dangerous... . Nonviolence, exactly like violence, is a means of persuasion,
a technique of political activism, a recipe for prevailing.” And,
I might add, nonviolence has a potent spiritual component that the initiators
of violence cannot comprehend and have no means to counter.
narrative points to the almighty state as the ultimate villain in causing
wars, although he doesn’t explicitly say so. He does say that when
church and state combine, both become depraved. Jesus was both a pacifist
and so dangerously nonviolent that the Roman Empire murdered him. His
early followers adopted his ways, but when the Christian church was
subsumed by the Roman Empire during Constantine’s reign, Christianity
betrayed the teaching of Jesus. Augustine concocted a theory to justify
war, and Christians have been warring ever since. Kurlansky refers to
its amalgamation with Rome as “a calamity from which the Church has
never recovered.” And he adds, “One of history’s greatest lessons
is that once the state embraces a religion, the nature of that religion
changes radically. It loses its nonviolent component and becomes a force
for war rather than peace.”
narrative illuminates twenty-five lessons from the history of nonviolence,
which he enumerates at the conclusion of the book, but there are certainly
others to be found therein by the discerning reader. Here are a few
of the enumerated lessons that have not already been mentioned:
---------Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually
---------Practitioners of nonviolence are seen as enemies of the state.
---------A propaganda machine promoting hatred always has a war waiting
in the wings.
---------People who go to war start to resemble their enemy.
---------A conflict between a violent and a nonviolent force is a moral
argument. If the violent can provoke the nonviolent into violence, the
violent side has won.
--------- The problem lies not in the nature of man but in the nature
---------The state imagines it is impotent without a military because
it cannot conceive of power without force.
---------All debate ends with an “enforced silence” once the first
shots are fired.
---------Violence never resolves. It always leads to more violence.
---------Once you start the business of killing, you just get deeper
and deeper without limits.
---------Violence always comes with a supposedly rational explanation.
---------Violence is a virus that infects and takes over.
---------The hard work of beginning a movement to end war has already
are a few other lessons extracted from Kurlansky’s work:
---------Government propaganda makes war out to be a holy crusade for
---------It is much easier to start a war than to stop it.
---------A war will never end wars; it always leads to the next one.
---------If one doesn’t stand up for what’s right, what’s wrong
will never change.
find only one flaw in Kurlansky’s brave book. He fails to notice the
obvious connection between the violent nature of the state, which causes
every war, and the predatory means by which the state obtains funds
that are vital to its wars and to its very existence. I am referring,
of course, to taxes, without which a state must whither and die. The
collection of taxes requires the initiation of force, or threat thereof,
against otherwise peaceful, harmless, innocent individuals. Force is
but another word for violence, and violence begets only its kind--more
violence. Directly and indirectly, then, taxes cause wars. No war has
ever been fought without taxes or an equivalent other form of state
Kurlansky writes that the hard work of beginning a movement to end war
has already been done, he wasn’t referring to his book, but to the
words and deeds of the practitioners of nonviolence, such as the Chinese
rebel, Mozi (470 - 390 B.C.), Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther
King (among the most famous). With the publication of his book, Nonviolence,
Kurlansky joins that illustrious group of workers who have shown us
the whys, the how's, and the ways of nonviolence.