Civil Disobedience But Not Violence

Civil Disobedience But Not Violence

Civil disobedience should pose no problem for the antiwar movement. The problem is insurrectionary violence (and the attempt to create a climate for insurrectionary violence) masquerading as civil disobedience. Those who hold the mask but do not in fact accept the morality or politics of insurrectionary violence make the most serious mistake and bear the heaviest responsibility for activity that is damaging the antiwar movement. I mean men, for example, as valuable as Dwight Macdonald and Paul Goodman, who are rightly committed to civil disobedience but make common cause with those committed to insurreactionary violence on the latter’s terms, thus robbing civil disobedience of its moral force and desired practical effect.

When clearly distinguished from and opposed to insurrectionary violence, civil disobedience poses no threat to the antiwar movement or to a democratic polity. Far from a threat, it is a requisite of democratic government. It is one necessary form of action if we are to keep such a government true to the values and procedures it proclaims.

Insurrectionary violence, even as fantasy, can deeply damage this country. It can deliver it into the hands of a repressive military nationalist Right (or into a violent contest for power between mutually antidemocratic forces). Insurrectionary violence limits and weakens the antiwar movement by robbing it of its moral foundations and the confidence of its fellow citizens.