The Philosophy of Nonviolence and World Revolution Through World Law

Glen T. Martin

24 February 2005

The philosophy of nonviolence that has been developed through much of the twentieth century has made an indispensable contribution to all theories of legitimate revolutionary social change.  Neither Mahatma Gandhi nor most of the subsequent philosophers of nonviolent revolutionary social change repudiated all use of force.  Gandhi himself said that if one lacked the courage to fight injustice through nonviolent means, then one should pick up a gun. Worse than using a gun to fight injustice is cowardice: doing nothing, refusing to act: “I have been repeating over and over again that he who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honor by nonviolently facing death may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor” (1987, p. 144).

            What Gandhi advocates in this and similar passages is not violence “as a last resort” or a “slippery slope” that opens the door to militarized violence.  Rather, he is pointing out that nonviolence means an activation of the universal spirit of humanity that is within us all.  He affirms that nonviolence is the activation in us of true courage, honor, faithfulness, integrity, and loyalty to truth and justice.  It is not that the use of force is always is always prohibited, but rather that our selves and our institutions must be premised on clinging to gigantic Truth (on Satyagraha).  If we do this, then the use of force will nearly always be the minimum necessary to protect everyone involved.  It can be the actions of a civilian police force or individual self-defense, but it can never be militarized violence, which always intentionally seeks to harm a perceived “enemy.”

            Legitimate social change within truly democratic societies, of course, is always necessarily nonviolent.  Truly democratic societies institutionalize provisions (through numerous channels) for citizen participation: discussion, public debate, freedom of information, public demonstrations, referendums, election of officials, and both individual and collective forms of action.  Societies that are not truly democratic (all national governments today as is explained at length elsewhere in this volume) institutionalize empty forms of citizen participation as a propaganda mechanism for legitimating their power while in reality relegating decision-making to special power groups like corporations, the rich, the prominent, those with “security clearances,” etc.

            For Gandhi, genuine democracy also requires a tremendous reduction in the gap between rich and poor.  In this, he agrees with American philosopher John Dewey who argued that progress in democracy necessarily required a democratization of the sphere of economic decision making as well as the sphere of politics (see Martin, 2004).  The Earth Constitution is premised on both these aspects of genuine democracy, one that institutionalizes real provisions for citizen participation and nonviolent change and the other that creates a global economics of prosperity and removes the possibility of exploitation of the poor by the rich.

            We have seen that the Earth Constitution is premised on the moral foundations of the sovereignty of the people of Earth, universal human rights, the principle of unity in diversity, human equality, and the right of all to a freedom compatible with the equal freedom of everyone else. For this reason, establishing a genuine world democracy requires removing the institutional violence of economic scarcity, manipulation, and exploitation:  “That economics is untrue,” Gandhi writes, which ignores or disregards moral values.  The extension of the law of nonviolence in the domain of economics means nothing less than the introduction of moral values as a factor to be considered when regulating international commerce” (1972, p. 118).  This must be true on a global scale.  “Immediately as the spirit of exploitation is gone,” Gandhi asserts, “armaments will be felt as a positive unbearable burden.  Real disarmament cannot come unless the nations of the world cease to exploit one another” (1972, p. 112).

            All militarism under the world system, like all terrorism, derives from the same undemocratic root as was explained in the above article “The Roots of Terrorism in the Sovereign Nation-state and a Path to a Secure World Order.” Violence permeates nearly all the institutions of today’s world as I also argued at length in Chapter Three of Millennium Dawn (2005a). Most individual violence and private terrorist violence are consequences of and reactions to the pervasive institutionalized violence of modern nation-states.   For when genuine democracy does not exist (and it cannot exist without democratic world government), then the only alternative is to institutionalize violence: to use the police and the law to repress the poor, to protect the privileged, to institutionalize lying and deceit to the public, to militarize society with the bogus threat of implacable enemies everywhere, to imperialistically control the wealth-producing process in the world to the advantage of the already wealthy and powerful in the imperial centers of capital (Smith, 2003a).

            World revolution through world law means founding genuine world democracy for the first time in history.  This necessarily entails not only activating citizen participation in governing but modifying global economics to one of truly universal prosperity.  “If the recognized leaders of mankind,” Gandhi writes, “who have control over the engines of destructions were wholly to renounce their use, with full knowledge of the implications, permanent peace can be obtained.  This is clearly impossible without the Great Powers of the Earth renouncing their imperialistic design.  This again seems impossible without great nations ceasing to believe in soul-destroying competition and to desire to multiply wants and, therefore, increase their material possessions” (1972, p. 111).

The “Great Powers” can only achieve this if they are federated within democratic world government and subject to demilitarization and an economic system that maintains their prosperity while also creating prosperity for everyone else on the planet.  In his address to the Third International Conference of Chief Justices of the World in Lucknow, India, 4 December 2002, Indian Gandhi scholar Sheshrao Chavan quoted the following 1942 statement by Gandhi:  “The future peace, security and ordered progress of the world demand a World Federation of free nations, and on no other basis, the problems of the modern world be solved.  Such a world federation will ensure the freedom of its constituent nations, the prevention of aggression and exploitation by one nation over another” (2002).

            Gandhi understood that a nonviolent world order is not only a spiritual commitment on the part of persons everywhere but must be institutionalized both politically and economically in the form of democratic world government and federated democratic government at all levels of governing.  “The entire social order has got to be reconstructed,” he says, “a society based on nonviolence cannot nurture any other ideal” (1972, p. 120).   “Democracy and violence can ill go together,” he writes, “it is a blasphemy to say that nonviolence can only be practiced by individuals and never by nations which are compound of individuals” (1972, p. 134).

            A reconstructed social order would necessarily be a genuine democracy, since it would have to be founded on truth, freedom of speech, inquiry, and press, rather than on manipulation of the public by dominant elites through deception and propaganda. Its democratic framework and its ways of dealing with law-breaking: with police practices, with due process procedures, with court practices, with sentencing, forms of punishment, and imprisonment would all cultivate the spirit of nonviolence in the population.  People would see for themselves that their rights were respected and that equality, freedom, and justice were promoted.  Such government would by no means eliminate conflict.  Rather, it would institutionalize nonviolent ways of dealing with conflict on all levels.   Nonviolence does not eliminate conflict, Gandhi asserts.  It eliminates the intention to harm ones opponent:

               To say or write a distasteful word is surely not violent especially when the speaker or writer believes it to be true.  The essence of violence is that there must be a violent intention behind a thought, word, or act, i.e., an intention to do harm to the opponent so-called.  False notions of propriety or fear of wounding susceptibilities often deter people from saying what they mean and ultimately land them on the shores of hypocrisy. But if nonviolence of thought is to be evolved in individuals or societies or nations, truth has to be told, however harsh or unpopular it may appear to be at the moment” (1972, p. 91)

            Can police be trained to arrest lawbreakers with the intention of using the minimum force necessary to secure the safety of themselves, the suspect, and any innocent bystanders?  Certainly.  In some European nations, police are already being trained in such methods of apprehension and arrest.  Conflict can be democratically institutionalized in a way that minimizes both violence but the tendency to violence in dissidents and lawbreakers.  American philosopher Robert Holmes suggests something similar:

            This doesn’t require changing human nature or transforming the world into a community of saints.  It does require recognizing that if we don’t cherish the human person, there is no point to the many other activities and strivings that consume our time; no point to saving the environment unless we value the beings that inhabit it; no virtue in self-sacrifice when at the expense of the lives and happiness of others.  It does require a massive commitment of time, energy, and moral and financial resources to exploring nonviolent ways of getting along in the world.

               The aim should not be to end conflict.  That would be utopian and might not even be desirable.  The aim should be to develop nondestructive ways of dealing with conflict.  Violence by its very nature cannot do that.  Nonviolence can.

               As Gandhi demonstrated, rather than approaching conflict with a view to trying to prevail at any cost, it’s possible to approach it with a view to trying to see that the truth prevail – trying to see that the best solution emerge, whether or not it be one to which you were predisposed at the outset.  People can learn this.  They can be trained in techniques to implement it.  They can incorporate it in their institutions.  (1990, p. 139)

            Given the truth that nonviolence can be institutionalized to minimize the use of force in human relations, what will the nonviolent democratic world government look like?   How will its police behave?  How will it deal with terrorism, killers, or violent dissidents?   The Constitution for the Federation of Earth provides the framework for a nonviolent world order.  We have seen that this framework requires both genuine democracy and general economic prosperity with an end to economic exploitation.  Under Article 10, “The Enforcement System,” it declares the following concerning enforcement by the World Police force:

               (1) The enforcement of world law and world legislation shall apply directly to individuals, and individuals shall be held responsible for compliance with world law and world legislation regardless of whether the individuals are acting in their own capacity or as agents or officials of governments at any level or of the institutions of governments, or as agents or officials of corporations, organizations, associations or groups of any kind.

(2) When world law or world legislation or decisions of the world courts are violated, the Enforcement System shall operate to identify and apprehend the individuals responsible for violations.

(3) Any enforcement action shall not violate the civil and human rights guaranteed under this World Constitution.

(4) The enforcement of world law and world legislation shall be carried out in the context of a non‑military world federation wherein all member nations shall disarm as a condition for joining and benefitting from the world federation, subject to Article X VII, Sec. C‑8 and D‑6. The Federation of Earth and World Government under this World Constitution shall neither keep nor use weapons of mass destruction.

(5) Those agents of the enforcement system whose function shall be to apprehend and bring to court violators of world law and world legislation shall be equipped only with such weapons as are appropriate for the apprehension of the individuals responsible for violations.

(6) The enforcement of world law and world legislation under this World Constitution shall be conceived and developed primarily as the processes of effective design and administration of world law and world legislation to serve the welfare of all people on Earth, with equity and justice for all, in which the resources of Earth and the funds and the credits of the World Government are used only to serve peaceful human needs, and none used for weapons of mass destruction or for war making capabilities.

            This set of six principles defines the framework for the operation of the World Police and the possession of weapons.  No legitimate government or democracy requires a military apparatus, since all democratic legislation applies to individuals, not governments, institutions, or corporations.  Militaries are organized for mass destruction of some perceived “enemy” and his life-support systems.  However, the agents of democratic world government “shall be equipped only with such weapons as are appropriate for the apprehension of the individuals responsible for violations.” 

            Since a constitution is a framework, not a body of specific laws, the question of what weapons allowed the World Police is left to the World Parliament to decide.  However, they must be only those necessary to apprehend individuals.  All tanks, warships, warplanes, bombs, missiles, etc., are necessarily excluded since they are military weapons, not those necessary to apprehend individuals using a minimum of force while protecting the rights and safety of all concerned.

            It is very important to distinguish between the role of civilian police and the role of military force.   Military force is inherently undemocratic, since it is only necessary to secure an illusory protection or to enforce a system of imperial exploitation in a profoundly undemocratic world order.  Its very existence destroys democracy and freedom both within and without individual nation-states.  This is why the world government cannot be militarized, not some utopian idea that human beings will be without conflict or without requiring the occasional use of force.  No democracy can be militarized and remain a democracy.  That is why no nation claiming to be a democracy today is legitimate.  Democracy within nations can only be realized when democratic world government has dealt with the global problems such as militarism that are beyond the scope of all nation-states (Almand and Martin, 2005c)

            Civilian police, on the other hand (the only kind of police allowed under the Constitution) are accountable to the citizens for their behavior, their obedience to the law, their use of force, and their job security.  We already have a measure of this in many cities that require a civilian review board to monitor police behavior.  Civilian police are normally mandated to use (and can be trained to use) the minimum force necessary to apprehend individuals suspected of crimes.  They are required to respect the rights of all citizens and, as the slogan says, to “protect and serve.”  A nonviolent set of governmental institutions would insist that police are highly trained and educated in the proper function of a civilian police force, which is the antithesis of all military force.  A civilian police force within a genuine democracy is mandated to use the minimum necessary force, and to make every effort to use nonlethal force.

            The Constitution leaves it open for the World Parliament, after democratic dialogue and debate, to legislate what weapons are acceptable for the World Police.  But it makes sense that these weapons would be more and more nonlethal as technology in nonlethal weaponry advances.  Stun guns, propelled body nets, non-lethal darts, and other technology of nonlethal weaponry yet to be developed will likely become the stock and trade of the World Police.  A civilian police force within a framework of real democratic justice, respect for individual rights, and freedom will be mandated to continually examine how it can accomplish its mission of effectively apprehending criminals while at the same time continually maximizing the safety of themselves, those apprehended, and innocent bystanders.  Very high quality training and education will necessarily supplement whatever weapons are authorized by the World Parliament.

            The Constitution leaves it open for the World Parliament to legislate what weapons are acceptable for private individuals. A Constitution is not a blueprint.  Many decisions must be made through the democratic processes set up by the Constitution.   However, the Provisional World Parliament has already passed provisional world laws in this regard specifying that individuals may posses only those weapons also permitted to the World Police. Provisional world laws are not binding on the real World Parliament once it has been activated.  They only serve as guidelines and suggestions.  This decision of the Provisional Parliament was controversial and by no means unanimous, yet it appears consistent with the Constitution’s founding premise of the dignity and inviolable rights of every individual on Earth, including the right to self-defense.  We saw above that Gandhi affirmed even the use of force in defense of ones self and loved ones if a person lacked the courage to do this nonviolently.

            The Provisional World Parliament has followed the Constitution closely by outlawing the design, development, sale, transportation, or possession of all weapons of war for individuals, groups, corporations, governments, and even the world government.  So we may be assured that weapons of war will be illegal everywhere on Earth once the real World Parliament is activated.  If the real World Parliament sees fit to follow the Provisional World Parliament in allowing individuals the same weapons as it allows the World Police, this may serve as an incentive for the World Police to develop ever-more and better nonlethal forms of apprehension and arrest and to progressively eliminate lethal weapons. Article 12 of the Constitution gives each citizens the following rights:

  Safety of person from arbitrary or unreasonable arrest, detention, exile, search or seizure; requirement of warrants for searches and arrests.  Prohibition against physical or psychological duress or torture during any period of investigation, arrest, detention or imprisonment, and against cruel or unusual punishment. Right of habeas corpus; no ex‑post‑facto laws; no double jeopardy; right to refuse self‑incrimination or the incrimination of another.  Prohibition against private armies and paramilitary organizations as being threats to the common peace and safety.  Safety of property from arbitrary seizure; protection against exercise of the power of eminent domain without reasonable compensation.  Right of privacy of person, family and association; prohibition against surveillance as a means of political control.

            The security, safety, and freedom of citizens is clearly a primary focus of the Constitution. And, given what we have seen in this essay, it should be clear that the Earth Federation will be nonviolent regardless of whatever stun-guns, handguns, pepper spray canisters, or rifles citizens are allowed to possess. If people feel they need to possess these items, they will do so.  But given the framework of a deeply nonviolent society that is built by the Constitution, it is unlikely that many will feel this need.  The law could easily maximize their freedoms in this regard, without the fear that there would be many people using such weapons to break the law or do violence.

            For as Gandhi made clear, if we create real democracy on Earth, and real economic justice and prosperity on Earth, we will have institutionalized nonviolence. With today’s system of militarized “sovereign” nation-states and vast disparities between extreme wealth and extreme poverty, we have pervasive institutionalized violence.  This violence requires the military to enforce its global system of injustice and exploitation.  But if we ratify the Constitution for the Federation of Earth and create world institutions premised on the dignity, freedom, and equality of every person on Earth, we will eliminate the need not only for the military but also for most personal or terrorist violence. And what is even more fundamental, we will have laid the groundwork for a transformation of the human spirit.