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Nonviolence - Distinctions, The Historical Context, The Intellectual Context, Fields Of Nonviolence, The "vast Majority" Principle

violence conflict party virtue

Gandhian nonviolence (ahimsa) is an active civic virtue that habitually disposes individuals, social groups, and political authorities to resist violence through non-violent means and to resolve conflicts using peaceful methods. It recognizes violence as a fact and nonviolence as a norm of social life. Its normative character arises from the assumed natural sociability of human beings. Its focal point is the good of society, which includes the good of the individual as well. It is an active virtue, inasmuch as it imposes a twofold obligation on its adherents to resist violence in all its forms and to seek effective nonviolent means to resolve conflicts. To be nonviolent in the Gandhian sense, it is not enough to refrain from committing acts of violence; it is equally necessary to take positive steps to remove the causes of violence wherever they are found, whether in the political, social, economic, or religious arena.

In the Indian context, the organized practice of this virtue is called satyagraha. Coined by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948), this Gujarati term means "firmness in adhering to truth"—practical truth. The discovery of the truth underlying a conflict situation by the parties to the conflict is a distinguishing feature of satyagraha. The parties to a conflict are considered not so much adversaries as partners in search of a common end. There is no question of one party losing and the other party gaining. On the contrary, the goal is for both parties to make some moral advance for having engaged in a conflict.

Nonviolence may be practiced by individuals or by groups. In either case, it requires careful moral training and the use of appropriate techniques. Its practice may take several forms: noncooperation (if the offending party is the state), boycott (if the offending party is a business or corporation), strikes (in labor disputes), or protest marches, and so forth. Joan Bondurant's Conquest of Violence (1965) and Mark Juergensmeyer's Gandhi's Way (2002) give excellent accounts of the techniques that Gandhi used in the organized exercise of this virtue.

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