The Philosophy of Non-Violence

by Roslyn Roberts 



The philosophy of non-violence stems back to the foundations of Christianity (Tolstoy 1894:13)

Conflict will always exist. It is a basic human right to be able to express disagreement and discern with others. In my view, to agree on everything would limit scope in thought and be unproductive.

It is impossible to believe that violence in response to violence can ever bring positive peace. The outcome of violent conflict may result in a winner and a loser, more commonly, two sides that lose a great deal. Though Gulf War ended over nine years ago, relations between the United States and Iraq still simmer.

The approach used to resolve conflict is either fight or flight. We choose to avoid the issues and walk away, sometimes returning when tempers and emotions are cooled to have constructive dialogue. Or we stand our ground and pull on our resources to make our point. The methods of the "fight" are varied. It can range from expressing our views and arriving at a satisfactory outcome, to verbal disputes to physical retaliation and even war.

We deal with conflict every day in our society. Thankfully, violence is in fact, much rarer than the media and television leads us to believe. When evaluating human beings in general, I feel we are predominantly peaceful beings.

The source of violence is generally fear. Fear is a result of ignorance, misinformation or being unprepared for future changes.

According to non-violence theory, power is not a characteristic owned by any individual, but rather a dynamic which is present in every relationship. This analysis allows us to see that every living person - even the most bitterly oppressed - does have some measure of power, if only the power to not co-operate in oppressive situations (McAllister 1982:10)

Non-violence is defined by Sharp as:

"A technique by which people who reject passivity and submission, and who see struggle as essential can wage their conflict without violence. Non-violent action is not an attempt to avoid or ignore conflict (Sharp 1973)

Different groups hold different philosophies regarding non-violence.

Gandhi's philosophy was to treat your enemy with love. To view your enemy with compassion meant viewing your enemy as another human being and also holding part of the truth. From personal experience, I find that disagreement with anger yields only closed ears. Expressions of differences with respect for what the other person is saying and acknowledging that they hold some parts of the truth, keeps their ears and minds open. It allows them to be more receptive to your thoughts and views and allows them to have an open mind and a greater concept from all perspectives.

Satyagraha, according to Gandhi, excludes the use of violence because no-one is capable of knowing the absolute truth. (Burrowes 1996:108) Gandhi also practiced the philosophy of ahimsa; non-violence, goodwill & active love and Tapsaya; self sacrifice or voluntary suffering - which is active (class notes)

Christianity and Violence

In my view it is impossible to imagine a God of Love as condoning violence. I feel that Christ's message was to simplify God's purpose which had been misconstrued for centuries, before and after. The 11th commandment "To love one another", in essence puts God's spirit into man rather than externally by rules or words. To practice this commandment as the primary rule would exclude violent reactions and responses.

Non-violent actions

Non-violent alternatives in conflict resolution:

A non-violent action can be successful by empowerment, conscientisation, development of a strong organisational network, training of activists, as a last resort all conventional methods of protest to be followed through first. Well-planned campaign alternative actions should be considered and planned ahead. (class notes)

One must be prepared and accepting of a number of alternative possibilities in the outcome of non-violent campaigns;


I believe that sin comes from us because we are human. Inside each of us our souls are from God and a part of God. Yes, we make mistakes, but that does not make us bad, that is simply our humanness and imperfection.

Do I believe in evil? Yes, but primarily in that evil gains its power from ignorance of the masses. Knowing this and opening our eyes to others "truths" can actually unite us and allow us to forgive, understand and recognise God's spirit in others and conquer evil. Knowing this is what allowed Gandhi to forgive himself and others for their mistakes, and judge himself first before judging others. (Angela)


Leigh Angela,   "Gandhi, living in peace"   accessed 27th June, 2000

Robert J. Burrowes, "The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense" 1996, State University of New York Press, p108

Class notes 6th June 2000

Class notes, (McAllister 1982:10)

Class notes, (Sharp 1973)

Leo Tolstoy, "The Kingdom of God is within You", 1894, Bison Books, p13