A Requirement For Freedom: Reconciliation
Greater peace is one of the greater blessings of nonviolence. As we have seen in previous articles, studies comparing violent and nonviolent resistance movements found that nonviolent movements are far more likely to usher in less oppressive political institutions and are much less likely to devolve into conflict than violent revolutions. Violent revolutions typically end in a regime that is at least as equally oppressive as the one before it, which in turn inspires further civil war to overthrow the new regime. The cycle of chaos and violence only ends when mass murder has reached a scale where all contenders for power but one haven’t just been defeated, they’ve been exterminated. By all measures, nonviolent resistance is far more likely to unite people in common purposes, build stronger communities, and result in freer institutions and more peaceful nations.
But even these studies were done within the confines of the Statist mentality, comparing and contrasting more brutal statist (“state-ist”) systems with less, measuring lesser evils against greater evils. By understanding the poison of the State and its true purposes, we can take the power of nonviolence farther. We do not merely have to settle for the lesser evil with the most tolerable oligarchs. We can move beyond the passions that justify the State altogether and achieve the Beloved Community, a society where liberty and prosperity are maximized for all people.
The first step along that path is to understand and value reconciliation.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45)
When you eliminate the State you eliminate the centralizing and dominating force of society. In its stead you allow people to naturally gravitate towards the systems and methods that best benefit them. Because there is no longer a State to set everyone fighting over who gets to control the single system everyone must follow, much of the social discord and violence that exists in society dissipates. Instead of the disparate groups of people fighting over who controls the various organs of the State to ensure and enforce their ideas upon everyone else, people create the differing systems that they believe will best serve their needs and promote them to the world by their success (or warn the world away by their failures). Once the system of control disappears, the anger and hatred generated by the attempt to manipulate and control people against their will disappears. Without the State, exploitation is impossible.
The result is greater social harmony for all of society and that allows for the next great possibility- reconciliation. We begin to see others not as evil and our enemies but as people who themselves have been victimized by the poison of evil ideas. In the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“The nonviolent resister must often express protest through noncooperation and boycotts, but the resister realizes that these are not ends in themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.
…It is evil that the nonviolent resister seeks to defeat, not the persons victimized by evil. If she is opposing racial injustice, the nonviolent resister has the vision to see that the basic tension is not between races. As I like to say to the people in Montgomery: ‘tension in this city is not between white people and Negro people. The tension is, at bottom, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. And, if there is a victory, it will be a victory not merely for fifty thousand Negroes, but a victory for justice and the forces of light. We are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be injust.” (Nonviolence and Racial Justice)
The ultimate outcome of violence is bitterness and hatred that continues to divide people for decades and centuries to come. Violence justifies prejudices and builds hatred between peoples, creating harsh and seemingly permanent dividing lines of culture and law that only further to develop greater distrust and violence.
The outcome of building a nonviolent society is reconciliation and love. We begin to see how others are not themselves evil. Rather they are victims of evil which has corrupted their minds, blinded their eyes, and twisted their actions. Evil beliefs have infected their minds and indoctrinated them into lies. Our goal becomes not to destroy them, but to love them and save them, and in saving them to heal the scars and wounds of society, to bind up broken hearts, and to build a better society.
As the American religious leader Joseph Smith taught:
“Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin, as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind.
…The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more are we disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls – we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. My talk is intended for all this society; if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another.” (History of the Church, 5:23-24)
As we love our enemies, pray for them, serve them, help them, hope for them, and forgive them, we will discover something that will seem magical- we will no longer have enemies. People respond to hatred with more hate but love and service wears away at that rock of hatred like a river carving away bedrock to get to the sea. We no longer have enemies, but brothers and sisters in need of saving. And without enemies, war is impossible.
That should ever be our goal. It is not enough to triumph in any single struggle. History is full of examples of how one war leads to another which leads to another which leads to an endless chain of hardship, human suffering, and death. The 20th century alone is evidence of this: the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 led to World War I which led to World War II which led to the Cold War (Korea, Vietnam, the Soviet-Afghan War, the Iran-Iraq War, etc.), which led to the War on Terror, and ever downward, ad infinitum.
In contrast to this spiral of violence, when you open society and fill it with service and love, then war itself becomes a thing of the past. And not just international wars, but the domestic war against society that we call “law enforcement.” There would be no legions of militarized police enforcing the will of distant political elites through terror and violence, murdering innocent people, brutalizing millions, and oppressing hundreds of millions. Building a better society means letting go of our obsession for “pure justice” and embracing reconciliation. Instead of punishing, we seek to restore and reunite. Instead of hatred, distrust, greed, and violence, we respond with love, mercy, and forgiveness, which in turn creates reconciliation and unity not just between the offender and offended, but between each one of us in all of society.
Jurist Marshall McConkie explained the need for mercy excellently:
“As a prosecutor, I would know what justice and sentencing demanded and then I would read the background of the defendant, and I would get sick. I couldn’t bear the thought of doing justice, when justice would bring further harm. Justice in and of itself is straightforward—make right what you made wrong. Receive the punishment that you deserve. You know, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Let’s balance the scales and move forward. But Tevye wasn’t kidding that the end result of that type of justice is a bunch of blind and toothless people.
I hate justice.
I hate justice because balanced scales don’t always result in fixed situations—very often justice makes two sides broken instead of one. The scales are balanced, but they aren’t balanced in peace, they are balanced in pain. Blood cries out for blood, and justice without mercy, without forgiveness results in a world soaked in blood and drowning in “justice”.
I’ve seen justice without love—it balances scales and it equalizes pain. I’ve seen justice with mercy, and it ennobles, lifts, and balances justice’s scales with a healing balm in the flow of its gentleness. To paraphrase Shakespeare, mercy blesses both the extender and the receiver of it. Mercy is godly, and it allows us to function more like Him. In a world where true justice is impossible—can you be truly just without omniscience?—mercy allows for others that which we would beg for ourselves. Mercy allows for mistakes, for growth, and for progress. It does not demand suffering, but it does make room for healing.
… Justice is essential to make society work, to ensure equal treatment, to give us all a steady footing and starting point. A society without justice is horrifying, a nightmare.
But to have justice with no mercy, whether for those whom you love, those whom you hate, for those who live or those who are dead, is to unleash a sword that can only be matched with another sword. Blind and toothless.”
That doesn’t mean disagreement becomes a thing of the past. That doesn’t mean people won’t do things to us that are wrong. That doesn’t mean we will not deserve and gain restitution for offenses against our rights. What it does mean is that society will be so open that if you disagree with another you will have no reason to fight him or her over it, after all there will be no State regulation that forces you to follow only the path it has decided you should walk. You will be able to go and follow your vision to either fruition or failure. In either case you will not be embittered at others because you had your opportunity, and that is all that can be asked for in a world where success cannot be guaranteed because humans are not omnipotent.
When your rights have been violated you will be able to use nonviolence to gain restitution in ways that builds up instead of tears down. I know many find such a thing impossible because we have been so indoctrinated by the State into thinking that we need violence, that we need the government, to ensure our rights are protected. But, let me ask you this: What happens to the thief when an entire society boycotts him, refusing to associate with or to sell him anything until he has made restitution? No job, no home, no car no gas, no heating, no plumbing, no food, no water? Do you doubt that restitution would be quickly made and that others would see that cooperation is a far better option?
Instead of trying to take everything we can, hurting each other as much as we have been hurt, and imprisoning men and women in cages of concrete of stone and steel, making correction and healing impossible, we must turn towards healing suffering, binding up the hearts of the wounded, helping the blind to see and those who have erred to change, mending the broken, and creating peace. Reconciliation is the only hope we have for a future of liberty and prosperity.