Nonviolence — The 2003 Update
Will the United States continue to choose imperialism over being a republic?
July 27, 2003
The days when humanity can hope to save itself from force with force are over. None of the structures of violence — not the balance of power, not the balance of terror, not empire — can any longer rescue the world from the use of violence, which has now grown apocalyptic.
Force can lead only to more force, not to peace. Only a turn to structures of cooperative power can offer hope.
To choose that path, the United States would — as a first order of business — have to choose the American republic over the American empire.
And then, on the basis of the principles that underlie the republic, it would have to join with other nations to build cooperative structures as a basis for peace.
For Americans, the choice is at once between two Americas — and between two futures for the international order.
In an imperial America, power would be concentrated in the hands of the president, and checks and balances would be at an end.
Civil liberties would be weakened — or lost. Military spending would crowd out social spending. The gap between rich and poor would be likely to increase.
Electoral politics, to the extent that they still mattered, would be increasingly dominated by money, above all corporate money, whose influence would trump the people's interests.
The social, economic and ecological agenda of the country and the world would be increasingly neglected.
On the other hand, in a republican America dedicated to the creation of a cooperative world, the immense concentration of power in the executive would be broken up.
Power would be divided again among the three branches, which would resume their responsibility of checking and balancing one another — as the U.S. Constitution provides.
Civil liberties would remain intact or be strengthened. Money would be driven out of politics — and the will of the people would be heard again.
Politics and the will of the power of the people would revive. The social, economic and ecological agendas of the country — and the world — would become the chief concern of the government.
Which path the United States will choose is likely to be decided in a protracted, arduous political struggle in the years ahead. Its outcome cannot be predicted.
For the time being, the United States has chosen the coercive, imperial path — but that decision can be reversed.
Of course, no American decision alone can secure peace in the world. It is the essence of the task that many nations must cooperate in it.
If they do, however, they will find that 20th century history has presented them — together with all its violence — an abundance of materials to work with.
There are grounds for optimism in the restricted but real sense.
If the will to turn away from force and toward cooperation were to develop, history has provided more extensive and solid foundations for accomplishment than have ever existed before.
For the anatomy of cooperative power has been transformed by the events of the past century as fully as that of coercive power.
Fifty-eight years after Hiroshima, the world has to decide whether to continue on the path of cataclysmic violence charted in the 20th century and now resumed in the 21st — or whether to embark on a new, cooperative political path.
It is a decision composed of innumerable smaller decisions guided by a common theme, which is weaning politics off violence.
Some of the needful decisions are already clear. Others will present themselves along the way.
In our age of sustained democratic revolution, the power that governments inspire through fear remains under constant challenge by the power that flows from people's freedom to act in behalf of their interests and beliefs.
Whether one calls this power cooperative power or something else, it has — with the steady widening and deepening of the democratic spirit — over and over bent great powers to its will.
Its point of origin is the heart and mind of each ordinary person.
It can flare up suddenly and mightily, but gutter out with equal speed — unless it is channeled and controlled by acts of restraint.
It is generated by social work as well as political activity. In the absence of popular participation, it simply disappears.
Its chief instrument is direct action, both non-cooperative and constructive, but it is also the wellspring of the people's will in democratic nations.
It is not an all-purpose "means" with which any "end" can be pursued. It cannot be "projected," for its strength declines in proportion to its distance from its source. It is a local plant, rooted in home soil.
It is therefore mighty on the defensive, feeble on the offensive and toxic to territorial empires, all of which, in our time, have died. Ultimately, cooperative power stands in the way of any future imperial scheme, American or other.
Excerpte from The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People, by Jonathan Schell. Copyright © Jonathan Schell. Reprinted by arrangement with Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.
Visiting Professor at the New School Jonathan Schell now teaches at Wesleyan University and the New School and is the Harold Willens Peace Fellow at The Nation Institute. Mr. Schell was a writer and editor at the New Yorker between 1967 and 1987 and — and Deputy Editor for 1987-88. He has received several awards […]