Nonviolence is the practice of being harmless to self and others under every condition. It comes from the belief that hurting people, animals, or the environment is unnecessary to achieve an outcome and refers to a general philosophy of abstention from violence. This may be based on moral, religious, or spiritual principles, or it may be for purely strategic or pragmatic reasons.
Forms of nonviolence draw inspiration from both religious or ethical beliefs and political analysis. Religious or ethically based nonviolence is sometimes referred to as principled, philosophical, or ethical nonviolence, while nonviolence based on political analysis is often referred to as tactical, strategic, or pragmatic nonviolent action. Both of these dimensions may be present within the thinking of particular movements or individuals.
Nonviolence also has "active" or "activist" elements, in that believers generally accept the need for nonviolence as a means to achieve political and social change. Thus, for example, the nonviolence of Tolstoy and Gandhi is a philosophy and strategy for social change that rejects the use of violence, but at the same time sees nonviolent action (also called civil resistance) as an alternative to passive acceptance of oppression or armed struggle against it. In general, advocates of an activist philosophy of nonviolence use diverse methods in their campaigns for social change, including critical forms of education and persuasion, mass noncooperation, civil disobedience, nonviolent direct action, and social, political, cultural, and economic forms of intervention.
Nonviolence or Ahimsa is one of the cardinal virtues and an important tenet of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It is a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy. Therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. It has also been related to the notion that any violence has karmic consequences.
While ancient scholars of Hinduism pioneered and over time perfected the principles of Ahimsa, the concept reached an extraordinary status in the ethical philosophy of Jainism. According to Jain mythology, the first tirthankara, Rushabhdev, originated the idea of nonviolence over a million years ago. Historically, Parsvanatha, the twenty-third tirthankara of Jainism, advocated for and preached the concept of nonviolence in around the eighth century B.C.E. Mahavira, the twenty-fourth and last tirthankara, then further strengthened the idea in the sixth century B.C.E.
The idea of using nonviolent methods to achieve social and political change has been expressed in Western society over the past several hundred years: Étienne de La Boétie's Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (sixteenth century) and P.B. Shelley's The Masque of Anarchy (1819) contain arguments for resisting tyranny without using violence, while in 1838, William Lloyd Garrison helped found the New England Non-Resistance Society, a society devoted to achieving racial and gender equality through the rejection of all violent actions.
In modern times, nonviolent methods of action have become a powerful tool for social protest and revolutionary social and political change. For example, Mahatma Gandhi led a successful decades-long nonviolent struggle against British rule in India. Martin Luther King and James Bevel adopted Gandhi's nonviolent methods in their campaigns to win civil rights for African Americans. César Chávez led campaigns of nonviolence in the 1960s to protest the treatment of farm workers in California. The 1989 "Velvet Revolution" in Czechoslovakia that saw the overthrow of the Communist government is considered one of the most important of the largely nonviolent Revolutions of 1989.
Nonviolence has obtained a level of institutional recognition and endorsement at the global level. On November 10, 1998, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the first decade of the twenty-first century and the third millennium, the years 2001 to 2010, as the International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World].
For many, practicing nonviolence goes deeper than abstaining from violent behavior or words. It means overriding the impulse to be hateful and holding love for everyone, even those with whom one strongly disagrees. In this view, because violence is learned, it is necessary to unlearn violence by practicing love and compassion at every possible opportunity. For some, the commitment to nonviolence entails a belief in restorative or transformative justice and the abolition of the death penalty and other harsh punishments. This may involve the necessity of caring for those who are violent.
Nonviolence, for many, involves a respect and reverence for all sentient, and perhaps even non-sentient, beings. This might include the belief that all sentient beings share the basic right not to be treated as the property of others, the practice of not eating animal products or by-products (vegetarianism or veganism), spiritual practices of non-harm to all beings, and caring for the rights of all beings. Mohandas Gandhi, James Bevel, and other nonviolent proponents advocated vegetarianism as part of their nonviolent philosophy. Buddhists extend this respect for life to animals and plants, while Jains extend it to animals, plants, and even small organisms such as insects.
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term meaning "nonviolence" or "non-injury" (literally: the avoidance of himsa: violence). The principle of ahimsa is central to the religions of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, being a key precept in their ethical codes. It implies the total avoidance of harming of any kind of living creatures not only by deeds, but also by words and in thoughts.
The Hindu scriptures contain mixed messages on the necessity and scope of nonviolence in human affairs. Some texts insist that ahimsa is the highest duty, while other texts make exceptions in the cases of war, hunting, ruling, law enforcement, and capital punishment.
Ahimsa as an ethical concept evolved in the Vedic texts. The oldest scripts, along with discussing ritual animal sacrifices, indirectly mention ahimsa, but do not emphasize it. Over time, the concept of ahimsa was increasingly refined and emphasized, ultimately becoming the highest virtue by the late Vedic era (about 500 B.C.E.).
The Mahabharata, one of the epics of Hinduism, has multiple mentions of the phrase Ahimsa Paramo Dharma (अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मः), which literally means: nonviolence is the highest moral virtue. For example, Mahaprasthanika Parva has the following verse emphasizes the cardinal importance of Ahimsa in Hinduism:
- अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मस तथाहिंसा परॊ दमः।
- अहिंसा परमं दानम अहिंसा परमस तपः।
- अहिंसा परमॊ यज्ञस तथाहिस्मा परं बलम।
- अहिंसा परमं मित्रम अहिंसा परमं सुखम।
- अहिंसा परमं सत्यम अहिंसा परमं शरुतम॥
The literal translation is as follows:
- Ahimsa is the highest virtue, Ahimsa is the highest self-control,
- Ahimsa is the greatest gift, Ahimsa is the best suffering,
- Ahimsa is the highest sacrifice, Ahimsa is the finest strength,
- Ahimsa is the greatest friend, Ahimsa is the greatest happiness,
- Ahimsa is the highest truth, and Ahimsa is the greatest teaching.
Some other examples where the phrase Ahimsa Paramo Dharma are discussed include Adi Parva, Vana Parva, and Anushasana Parva. The Bhagavad Gita discusses the doubts and questions about appropriate response when one faces systematic violence or war. These verses develop the concepts of lawful violence in self-defense and the theories of just war. However, there is no consensus on this interpretation. Gandhi, for example, considered this debate about nonviolence and lawful violence as a mere metaphor for the internal war within each human being, when he or she faces moral questions.
The classical texts of Hinduism devote numerous chapters to discussion of what people who practice the virtue of Ahimsa can and must do when they are faced with war, violent threat, or need to sentence someone convicted of a crime. These discussions have led to theories of just war, theories of reasonable self-defense, and theories of proportionate punishment. Arthashastra discusses, among other things, why and what constitutes proportionate response and punishment.
The precepts of Ahimsa in Hinduism require that war must be avoided if at all possible, with sincere and truthful dialogue. Force must be the last resort. If war becomes necessary, its cause must be just, its purpose virtuous, its objective to restrain the wicked, its aim peace, its method lawful. War can only be started and stopped by a legitimate authority. Weapons used must be proportionate to the opponent and the aim of war, not indiscriminate tools of destruction. All strategies and weapons used in the war must be to defeat the opponent, not designed to cause misery to them; for example, use of arrows is allowed, but use of arrows smeared with painful poison is not allowed. Warriors must use judgment in the battlefield. Cruelty to the opponent during war is forbidden. Wounded, unarmed opponent warriors must not be attacked or killed, they must be brought to safety and given medical treatment. Children, women and civilians must not be injured. While the war is in progress, sincere dialogue for peace must continue.
In matters of self-defense, different interpretations of ancient Hindu texts have been offered, such as that self-defense is appropriate, criminals are not protected by the rule of Ahimsa, and Hindu scriptures support the use of violence against an armed attacker. Ahimsa does not imply pacifism.
Some have concluded that Hindus have no misgivings about the death penalty. Their position is that evil-doers who deserve death should be killed, and that a king in particular is obliged to punish criminals and should not hesitate to kill them, even if they happen to be his own brothers and sons.
Across the texts of Hinduism, there is a profusion of ideas about the virtue of ahimsa when applied to non-human life, but without universal consensus.
This precept is not found in the oldest verses of Vedas, but increasingly becomes one of the central ideas between 500 B.C.E. and 400 C.E. In the oldest texts, numerous ritual sacrifices of animals, including cows and horses, are highlighted and hardly any mention is made of ahimsa in relation to non-human life. However, the ancient Hindu texts discourage wanton destruction of nature, including wild and cultivated plants. Hermits (sannyasins) were urged to live on a fruitarian diet so as to avoid the destruction of plants.
Hindu scriptures dated to between the fifth century and first century B.C.E., in discussing human diet, initially suggest kosher meat may be eaten, suggesting that only meat obtained through ritual sacrifice can be eaten. This evolved into the belief that one should eat no meat because it hurts animals, with verses describing the noble life as one that lives on flowers, roots, and fruits alone.
Later Hindu texts declare Ahimsa one of the primary virtues, and that killing or harming any life to be against dharma (moral life). Finally, the discussion in the Upanishads and the Hindu epics shifts to whether a human being can ever live his or her life without harming animal and plant life in some way; which and when plants or animal meat may be eaten, whether violence against animals causes human beings to become less compassionate, and if and how one may exert least harm to non-human life consistent with ahimsa, given the constraints of life and human needs.
Many of the arguments proposed in favor of nonviolence to animals refer to the bliss one feels, the rewards it entails before or after death, the danger and harm it prevents, as well as to the karmic consequences of violence. For example, Tirukkuṛaḷ, written between 200 B.C.E. and 400 C.E., says that Ahimsa applies to all life forms. It dedicates several chapters to the virtue of ahimsa, namely, moral vegetarianism, non-harming, and non-killing, respectively.
In Jainism, the understanding and implementation of Ahimsā is more radical, scrupulous, and comprehensive than in any other religion. The statement ahimsā paramo dharmaḥ is often found inscribed on the walls of the Jain temples. Killing any living being out of passion is considered hiṃsā (to injure) and abstaining from such an act is ahimsā (noninjury). Like in Hinduism, the aim is to prevent the accumulation of harmful karma.
Mahatma Gandhi expressed the view:
No religion in the world has explained the principle of Ahimsa so deeply and systematically as is discussed with its applicability in every human life in Jainism. As and when the benevolent principle of Ahimsa or non-violence will be ascribed for practice by the people of the world to achieve their end of life in this world and beyond. Jainism is sure to have the uppermost status and Lord Mahavira is sure to be respected as the greatest authority on Ahimsa.
The vow of ahimsā is considered the foremost among the five vows of Jainism. Other vows like truth (Satya) are meant for safeguarding the vow of ahimsā. In the practice of Ahimsa, the requirements are less strict for the lay persons (sravakas) who have undertaken anuvrata (Smaller Vows) than for the Jain monastics who are bound by the Mahavrata "Great Vows."
The Jain concept of Ahimsa is characterized by several aspects. Theoretically, all life forms are said to deserve full protection from all kinds of injury, but Jains recognize a hierarchy of life. Mobile beings are given higher protection than immobile ones. Among mobile beings, they distinguish between one-sensed, two-sensed, three-sensed, four-sensed, and five-sensed ones; a one-sensed animal having touch as its only sensory modality. The more senses a being has, the more care they receive.
Jains do not make any exception for ritual sacrifice and professional warrior-hunters. Killing of animals for food is absolutely ruled out. Jains also make considerable efforts not to injure plants in everyday life as far as possible. Though they admit that plants must be destroyed for the sake of food, they accept such violence only inasmuch as it is indispensable for human survival, and there are special instructions for preventing unnecessary violence against plants. Jains go out of their way so as not to hurt even small insects and other minuscule animals. Some Jains abstain from farming because it inevitably entails unintentional killing or injuring of many small animals, such as worms and insects, but agriculture is not forbidden in general and there are Jain farmers.
The traditional Buddhist understanding of nonviolence is not as rigid as the Jain one. In Buddhist texts Ahimsa (or its Pāli cognate avihiṃsā) is part of the Five Precepts (Pañcasīla), the first of which is to abstain from killing. This precept of Ahimsa is applicable to both the Buddhist layperson and the monk community.
The Ahimsa precept is not a commandment and transgressions did not invite religious sanctions for laypersons, but its power is in the Buddhist belief in karmic consequences and their impact in the afterlife during rebirth. Killing, in Buddhist belief, could lead to rebirth in the hellish realm, and for a longer time in more severe conditions if the murder victim was a monk. Saving animals from slaughter for meat is believed to be a way to acquire merit for better rebirth. These moral precepts have been voluntarily self-enforced in lay Buddhist culture through the associated belief in karma and rebirth. The Buddhist texts not only recommend Ahimsa, but suggest avoiding trading goods that contribute to or are a result of violence:
These five trades, O monks, should not be taken up by a lay follower: trading with weapons, trading in living beings, trading in meat, trading in intoxicants, trading in poison.
Unlike lay Buddhists, transgressions by monks do invite sanctions. Full expulsion of a monk from sangha follows instances of killing, just like any other serious offense against the monastic nikaya code of conduct.
Violent ways of punishing criminals and prisoners of war are not explicitly condemned in Buddhism, but peaceful ways of conflict resolution and punishment with the least amount of injury are encouraged.
While the early texts condemn killing in the strongest terms, and portray the ideal king as a pacifist, such a king is nonetheless flanked by an army. It seems that the Buddha's teaching on nonviolence was not interpreted or put into practice in an uncompromisingly pacifist or anti-military-service way by early Buddhists. The early texts assume war to be a fact of life, and well-skilled warriors are viewed as necessary for defensive warfare. In Pali texts, injunctions to abstain from violence and involvement with military affairs are directed at members of the sangha; later Mahayana texts, which often generalize monastic norms to laity, require this of lay people as well.
The early texts do not contain just-war ideology as such. Some argue that a sutta in the Gamani Samyuttam rules out all military service. In this passage, a soldier asks the Buddha if it is true that, as he has been told, soldiers slain in battle are reborn in a heavenly realm. The Buddha reluctantly replies that if he is killed in battle while his mind is seized with the intention to kill, he will undergo an unpleasant rebirth. In the early texts, a person's mental state at the time of death is generally viewed as having a great impact on the next birth.
Some Buddhists point to other early texts as justifying defensive war. In the Kosala Samyutta, King Pasenadi, a righteous king favored by the Buddha, learns of an impending attack on his kingdom. He arms himself in defense, and leads his army into battle to protect his kingdom from attack. He lost this battle but won the war. King Pasenadi eventually defeated King Ajatasattu and captured him alive. He thought that, although this King of Magadha had transgressed against his kingdom, he had not transgressed against him personally, and Ajatasattu was still his nephew. He released Ajatasattu and did not harm him. Upon his return, the Buddha said that Pasenadi "is a friend of virtue, acquainted with virtue, intimate with virtue," while the opposite is said of the aggressor, King Ajatasattu.
According to Theravada commentaries, there are five requisite factors that must all be fulfilled for an act to be both an act of killing and to be karmically negative. These are: (1) the presence of a living being, human or animal; (2) the knowledge that the being is a living being; (3) the intent to kill; (4) the act of killing by some means; and (5) the resulting death. Some Buddhists have argued on this basis that the act of killing is complicated, and its ethicization is predicated upon intent. In defensive postures, for example, the primary intention of a soldier is not to kill, but to defend against aggression, and the act of killing in that situation would have minimal negative karmic repercussions.
The fundamental concept of pragmatic (tactical or strategic) nonviolent action is to effect social change by mobilizing "people-power while at the same time limiting and restricting the ability of opponents to suppress the movement with violence and money-power."
Social change is to be achieved through symbolic protests, civil disobedience, economic or political noncooperation, satyagraha, or other methods, while being nonviolent. This type of action highlights the desires of an individual or group that something needs to change to improve the current condition of the resisting person or group.
Advocates of nonviolent action believe cooperation and consent are the roots of civil or political power: all regimes, including bureaucratic institutions, financial institutions, and the armed segments of society (such as the military and police) depend on compliance from citizens. On a national level, the strategy of nonviolent action seeks to undermine the power of rulers by encouraging people to withdraw their consent and cooperation.
In modern industrial democracies, nonviolent action has been used extensively by political sectors lacking mainstream political power, such as labor, peace, environment, and women's movements. Examples of such movements are the non-cooperation campaign for Indian independence led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and the People Power Revolution in the Philippines. In addition to Gandhi, major nonviolent resistance advocates include Henry David Thoreau, Te Whiti o Rongomai, Tohu Kākahi, Leo Tolstoy, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Jr, Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, James Bevel, Václav Havel, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Wałęsa, Gene Sharp, and Nelson Mandela.
Of primary significance in nonviolent action is the understanding that just means are the most likely to lead to just ends. Proponents of nonviolence reason that the actions taken in the present inevitably re-shape the social order in like form. They would argue, for instance, that it is fundamentally irrational to use violence to achieve a peaceful society. For instance, Gandhi wrote in 1908 that "The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree." Martin Luther King, Jr., a student of Gandhian nonviolent resistance, concurred with this tenet in his letter from the Birmingham jail, concluding that "nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek."
The term "nonviolence" is often wrongly equated with passivity and pacifism, but this is incorrect. Nonviolence refers specifically to the absence of violence and is the choice to do no harm or the least harm, while passivity is the choice to do nothing. Martin Luther King, Jr. explained that nonviolence is an active weapon:
Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.
Respect or love for opponents also has a pragmatic justification, in that the technique of separating the deeds from the doers allows for the possibility of the doers changing their behavior, and perhaps their beliefs. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, "Nonviolent resistance... avoids not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he also refuses to hate him."
Finally, the notion of Satya, or Truth, is central to the Gandhian conception of nonviolence. Gandhi saw Truth as something that is multifaceted and unable to be grasped in its entirety by any one individual. All carry pieces of the Truth, he believed, but all need the pieces of others’ truths in order to pursue the greater Truth. This led him to believe in the inherent worth of dialogue with opponents, in order to understand motivations.
Nonviolent action generally comprises three categories: Acts of Protest and Persuasion, Noncooperation, and Nonviolent Intervention.
Nonviolent acts of protest and persuasion are symbolic actions performed by a group of people to show their support or disapproval of something. The goal of this kind of action is to bring public awareness to an issue, persuade or influence a particular group of people, or to facilitate future nonviolent action. The message can be directed toward the public, opponents, or people affected by the issue. Methods of protest and persuasion include speeches, public communications, petitions, symbolic acts, art, processions (marches), and other public assemblies.
Noncooperation involves the purposeful withholding of cooperation or the unwillingness to initiate in cooperation with an opponent. The goal of noncooperation is to halt or hinder an industry, political system, or economic process. Methods of noncooperation include labor strikes, economic boycotts, civil disobedience, tax refusal, and general disobedience.
Compared with protest and noncooperation, nonviolent intervention is a more direct method of nonviolent action. Nonviolent intervention can be used defensively—for example to maintain an institution or independent initiative—or offensively-for example, to drastically forward a nonviolent struggle into the opponent's territory. Intervention is often more immediate and effective than the other two methods, but is also harder to maintain and more taxing to the participants involved. Tactics must be carefully chosen, taking into account political and cultural circumstances, and form part of a larger plan or strategy. Methods of nonviolent intervention include occupations (sit-ins), blockades, and fasting (hunger strikes), among others.
Another powerful tactic of nonviolent intervention invokes public scrutiny of the oppressors as a result of the resisters remaining nonviolent in the face of violent repression. If the military or police attempt to repress nonviolent resisters violently, the power to act shifts from the hands of the oppressors to those of the resisters. If the resisters are persistent, the military or police will be forced to accept the fact that they no longer have any power over the resisters. Often, the willingness of the resisters to suffer has a profound effect on the mind and emotions of the oppressor, leaving them unable to commit such a violent act again.
A nonviolent revolution is a revolution using mostly campaigns with civil resistance, including various forms of nonviolent protest, to bring about the departure of governments seen as entrenched and authoritarian. Such an approach has been advocated by various individuals (such as Barbara Deming, Danilo Dolci, and Devere Allen) and party groups (for instance, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, Pacifist Socialist Party, or War Resisters League).
Generally a nonviolent revolution is characterized by simultaneous advocacy of democracy, human rights, and national independence in the country concerned. One theory of democracy is that its main purpose is to allow peaceful revolutions. The idea is that majorities voting in elections approximate the result of a coup. In 1962, John F. Kennedy famously said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
The beginnings of the nonviolence movement lie in the satyagraha philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, who guided the people of India to independence from Britain. Despite the violence of the Partition of India following independence, and numerous revolutionary uprisings which were not under Gandhi's control, India's independence was achieved through legal processes after a period of national resistance rather than through a military revolution.
In some cases a campaign of civil resistance with a revolutionary purpose may be able to bring about the defeat of a dictatorial regime only if it obtains a degree of support from the armed forces, or at least their benevolent neutrality. In fact, some have argued that a nonviolent revolution would require fraternization with military forces, like in the relatively nonviolent Portuguese Carnation Revolution.
Gene Sharp has documented and described over 198 different methods of nonviolent action that nonviolent revolutionaries might use in struggle. He argues that no government or institution can rule without the consent of the governed or oppressed as that is the source of nonviolent power.
George Lakey laid out a five-stage strategy for nonviolent revolution.
In the 1970s and 1980s, intellectuals in the Soviet Union and other Communist states, and in some other countries, began to focus on civil resistance as the most promising means of opposing entrenched authoritarian regimes. The use of various forms of unofficial exchange of information, including by samizdat, expanded. Two major revolutions during the 1980s strongly influenced political movements that followed. The first was the 1986 People Power Revolution, in the Philippines from which the term 'people power' came to be widely used, especially in Hispanic and Asian nations.
Three years later, the Revolutions of 1989 that ousted communist regimes in the Eastern Bloc reinforced the concept, beginning with the victory of Solidarity in that year's Polish legislative elections. The Revolutions of 1989 (with the notable exception of the notoriously bloody Romanian Revolution) provided the template for the so-called color revolutions in mainly post-communist states, which tended to use a color or flower as a symbol, somewhat in the manner of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.
In December 1989, inspired by the anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Europe, the Mongolian Democratic Union (MDU) organized popular street protests and hunger strikes against the communist regime. In 1990, dissidents in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic started civil resistance against the government, but were initially crushed by Red Army in the Black January massacre.
Twenty-first century nonviolent revolutions include the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which took place in the immediate aftermath of the run-off vote of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election, which was claimed to be marred by massive corruption, voter intimidation and electoral fraud. The resulting series of protests and political events included acts of civil disobedience, sit-ins, and general strikes. These nationwide protests succeeded and the results of the original run-off were annulled, with a revote ordered by Ukraine's Supreme Court.
Ernesto Che Guevara, Leon Trotsky, Frantz Fanon, and Subhas Chandra Bose were fervent critics of nonviolence, arguing variously that nonviolence and pacifism are an attempt to impose the morals of the bourgeoisie upon the proletariat, that violence is a necessary accompaniment to revolutionary change, or that the right to self-defense is fundamental. Malcolm X clashed with civil rights leaders over the issue of nonviolence, arguing that violence should not be ruled out if no option remained: "I believe it's a crime for anyone being brutalized to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself."
The concept of nonviolence is a false ideal. It presupposes the existence of compassion and a sense of justice on the part of one's adversary. When this adversary has everything to lose and nothing to gain by exercising justice and compassion, his reaction can only be negative.
George Orwell argued that the nonviolent resistance strategy of Gandhi could be effective in countries with "a free press and the right of assembly," which make it possible "not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being, or even to make your intentions known to your adversary." However, he was skeptical of Gandhi's approach being effective in the opposite sort of circumstances.
Reinhold Niebuhr similarly affirmed Gandhi's approach while criticizing certain aspects: "The advantage of non-violence as a method of expressing moral goodwill lies in the fact that it protects the agent against the resentments which violent conflict always creates in both parties to a conflict, and that it proves this freedom of resentment and ill-will to the contending party in the dispute by enduring more suffering than it causes." However, Niebuhr also noted that "The differences between violent and non-violent methods of coercion and resistance are not so absolute that it would be possible to regard violence as a morally impossible instrument of social change."
Anarchist Peter Gelderloos has criticized nonviolence as being ineffective, racist, statist, patriarchal, tactically and strategically inferior to militant activism, and deluded. He claims that traditional histories whitewash the impact of nonviolence, ignoring the involvement of militants in such movements as the Indian independence movement and the Civil Rights Movement and falsely showing Gandhi and King as being their respective movement's most successful activists. He further argues that nonviolence is generally advocated by privileged white people who expect "oppressed people, many of whom are people of color, to suffer patiently under an inconceivably greater violence, until such time as the Great White Father is swayed by the movement's demands or the pacifists achieve that legendary 'critical mass.'"
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