I’d like to take just a minute to say something about the philosophy of nonviolence
because in our struggle this has been the most important undergirding philosophy.
And I still believe that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed
people in their struggle for freedom and human dignity. This method has a way of
disarming the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses, it weakens his morale. And
at the same time it works on his conscience and he just doesn’t know how to handle
it. If he doesn’t beat you wonderful. If he beats you, you develop the quiet courage
of accepting blows without retaliating. If he doesn’t put you in jail, wonderful.
Nobody with any sense loves to go to jail. But if he puts you in jail, you go in
that jail and transform it from a dungeon of shame to a haven of freedom and human
dignity. Even if he tries to kill you, you develop the inner conviction that there
are some things so dear, some things so eternally true, some things so precious that
they are worth dying for. And if a man has not discovered something that he will
die for, in a sense he is not fit to live. And the nonviolent discipline says that
there is power in this approach, precisely because it disarms the opponent and exposes
his moral defenses. It also says that it is possible to work for moral ends through
moral means. One of the great debates of history has been over the whole question
of ends and means, and there have been always, there have been those that argue that
the end justifies the means. This is where nonviolence would break within a system.
It argues that the end justifies the means recognizing that the end is pre-existent
in the means. The means represent the ideal in making and the end in process. And
in the long run of history, destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.
And along with this is the growing realization that it is possible to take a stand
against an unjust evil system without developing hatred and bitterness toward the
perpetrators of that unjust and evil system. And so when nonviolence is true in its
most genuine respect to its basic precepts, the love ethic has a place and a central
place. Now I always have to stop and explain what I mean when I talk about love and
this movement and in the nonviolent context because people raise a question all the
time. What do you mean when you say love those who are oppressing you and love those
who are exploiting you and those who are violently seeking to destroy you?
"If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, in a sense he is not
fit to live. And the nonviolent discipline says that there is power in this approach,
precisely because it disarms the opponent and exposes his moral defenses."
And certainly when I talk about love at this point I am not talking about emotional
bosh. I am not talking about some sentimental or even some affectionate emotion.
I am talking about something much deeper. It would be nonsense to urge oppressed
people to love their violent oppressors in an affectionate sense. Fortunately the
Greek language comes to our aid at this point. There are three words in the Greek
language for love. There is the word eros. Eros is a sort of aesthetic love. Plato
used to talk bout it a great deal in his dialogues, the yearning of the soul for the
realm of the divine. It has come to us to be a sort of romantic love, and so in this
sense we all know about eros. We have read about it in all of the beauties of literature.
We’ve experienced it in the sense that Edgar Allen Poe was talking about eros when
he talked about his beautiful Annabelle Lee with the love surrounded by the halo of
eternity. It a sense Shakespeare was talking about eros when he said love is not
love which alters when it alteration finds, bends with the remover to remove it is
an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken. It is a star to every
wondering bark. You know I can remember that because I used to quote it to my wife
when we were courting. That’s eros. Then the Greek language talks about philia,
which is another level of love. It is a kind of intimate affection between personal
friends. On this level you love because you are loved. You love the people that
you like. This is friendship. And then the Greek language comes out with another
word; it is the word agape. Now agape is more than romantic love. Agape is more
than friendship. Now agape is understanding creative redemptive goodwill for all
men. It is an overflowing love, which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would
say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. And when one rises to
love on this level, he is able to love the person who does the evil deed, while hating
the deed that the person does. And he is able to love those persons that he even
finds it difficult to like for he begins to look beneath the surface and he discovers
that that individual who may be brutal toward him and who may be prejudiced was taught
that way—was a child of his culture. At times his school taught him that way. At
times his church taught him that way. At times his family taught him that way. And
the thing to do is to change the structure and the evil system, so that he can grow
and develop as a mature individual devoid of prejudice. And this is the kind of understanding
goodwill that the nonviolent resister can follow if he is true to the love ethic.
And so he can rise to the point of being able to look into the face of his most violent
opponent and say in substance, do to us what you will and we will still love you.
We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.
We will meet your physical force with soul force. And do to us what you will, and
we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because
non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.
And so throw us in jail, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. Bomb
our homes and threaten our children and as difficult as it is, we will still love
you. Send your hooded perpetrators and violence into our communities at the midnight
hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead and
we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity
to suffer. And one day we will win our freedom but we will not only win freedom for
ourselves. We will so appeal to your heart and your conscience, that we will win
you in the process. And our victory will be a double victory. This is the meaning
of the nonviolent creed. This is the meaning of the nonviolent ethic.