Non-Violence Isn’t A Just Moral Imperative, It’s A Superior Strategy

Non-Violence Isn’t A Just Moral Imperative, It’s A Superior Strategy

Research shows that organized, non-violent civil resistance is twice as effective at enacting social change than violence, making turning the other check a strategic imperative, if not a moral one. 

By David Todd McCarty | Sunday, November 1, 2020

The best argument for peaceful civil resistance is not moral after all, but strategic. It’s not that it’s “the right thing to do” even if you believe that to be morally true. It’s that it’s statistically twice as effective. Non violent civil disruption works to change public opinion, while violent uprising gives authorities an excuse to crack down on opposition and effectively alienates the mainstream center.

While the instinct to be peaceful might be counterintuitive, the results are undeniable. We are angry. We want to lash out against the forces of evil. Why not retaliate with violence? Why not take an eye for an eye? Wouldn’t that be justice, poetic or otherwise?

There are three reasons why violence is an inferior strategy. One, it always escalates inefficiently  to the point of having to win by attrition. Two, it invites authoritarian crack downs and aides in their rationale for the necessity to do so. And three, it alienates the center mainstream which you will need if your intention is to turn public opinion against fascism.

It’s not really more complicated than that. You can get into it deeper, but the result is the same. Non-violence is a better, more effective strategy. 

What are the tools for non-violent, civil resistance?

There are protests of course, and they will be effective in drawing public awareness and possibly even participation, but they are not enough in and of themselves. You need strikes and slowdowns that can effect the economy. The real power in America is in a position to side with profit and if civil unrest has the potential for a real and lasting impact on the financial security of the wealthy, you will see a quick turnaround.

Unions in America are not as powerful as they once were, but they are still a force to be reckoned with. Already the major unions are preparing for rolling strikes, and shutdowns. Civil servants unable to strike can engage in all manner of disruptive slow downs. Boycotts and protests can further shut the economy down. Civil resistors will need to go into survival mode, participating in the economy only where absolutely necessary. No unnecessary purchases. Nothing beyond what is needed to get through the week. Shut the economy down. Let the right rally in their open bars and retail stores. Let them infect one another with the plague. Let them attempt to keep the economy going with a 50% drop in participation. It’s unsustainable. The economy will collapse. 

Economic failure is a much bigger threat to the status quo than armed insurrection could ever be. Non-violent, non-cooperation is a force they have no means to counter. There is no one to fight without making yourself look like the illegitimate aggressor. 

Photo by Corey Agopian on Unsplash

As John Lennon once said. “When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face – to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.”

We have a superior advantage and that is that they cannot sustain a moral position against democratic participation with violent oppression. The public opinion of grandparents and school children, soccer moms and accountants will not support the brutality necessary to contain a sustained, peaceful civil resistance. We simply do not have the tradition of authoritarianism in America that would lead enough of its citizens to accept the savagery it would take.

There is one serious misunderstanding with respect to non-violent civil resistance, in that it’s often misconstrued with passivity. Passive resistance is what you get when you cook pasta too long. It’s worthless and not worth doing. Protests that are neither disruptive or provocative are a waste of time and serve only to make the participants feels as if they are being active and persuasive. But you might as well meet up in private and whisper secrets to one another. 

Effective civil resistance is organized, persistent, disruptive and provocative. You don’t stand on the sidelines and yell at the parade going by, you stand in the middle of the street and block traffic. You can’t just get arrested everyday but if you’re not causing trouble you’re not doing it right. The sacrifices have to be bigger than giving up your comfortable afternoon off.

It would appear that while most Americans believe this to be an important election, most do not really anticipate a fundamental change in the country, regardless of the outcome. I have cautioned against needlessly overreacting, but I may have underestimated the relative lack of engagement on the part of the general public. Most Americans are not political junkies and are mostly just vaguely aware that we’re in a partisan cat fight. But for many it’s kinda like how Philadelphia Eagles fans don’t like the Dallas Cowboys fans. It’s not really a personal thing. You’re not going to fight your neighbor because he likes Dallas, you just might not invite him over to watch the game. It’s not life and death, it’s more like trash talking. 

But there is at least a small, vocal contingent more than willing to use violence and intimidation. The so-called Y’all Qaeda. Yesterday they tried to force a campaign bus carrying the Vice-Presidential Democratic nominee off the road in Texas, and today they shut down parts of the Garden State Parkway.

Meanwhile many liberals are preparing for an unarmed resistance to what amounts to an attempted coup d’état. I don’t think most Republicans are prepared to take up arms and attack their neighbors but I do think that most Democrats are preparing to shut the country down if Republican leadership tries to steal the election. 

As always the Republican game plan is to accuse Democrats of whatever they’re trying to do, which is their prophylactic to avoiding responsibility or blame for their transgressions. They’re already telling their followers that Democrats are trying to steal the election through voter fraud. It’s more gaslighting, but it’s been effective. If you live in the conservative bubble your input is limited to accusations without context. There is no independent thought. Only the party line. 

If America is to survive, we will need to be resolute in our desire for democracy to survive as well. Violent civil war will be a disaster, but so will a slower slip into autocratic theocracy. The slow drip into an abrupt decline is here. We must resist and we must do it en mass. 

It’s time to stand in the middle of the road.

Follow David Todd McCarty on Twitter @davidtmccarty and The Standard @capemaystandard


Democracy is fragile. We have reason to worry that this fall we may see an undemocratic power grab — a coup. We also know that the people can defend our democracy. Nonviolent mass protests have stopped coups in other places, and we may have to do the same in this country. Read More

Together, we choose democracy.

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