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Power in Philosophy (Two Arguments For Nonviolence Today)

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Item Code: NAR679
Author: Anna Alomes
Publisher: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, Dharamsala
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9789380359441
Pages: 312 (4 Color Illustrations)
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 280 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

In a world witnessing social transformation by nonviolent means on a scale never before seen, this book offers a challenge to philosophy to catch up and support these changes with the required foundations for sustaining peace in the 21st century and beyond.

By introducing the notion of 'fusion philosophy' joining together Western and non-Western ideasóa rich history and thousands of years of practical measures for exercising power without violence become accessible. Utilising experience-based research from H. H. the Dalai Lama's philosophy of nonviolence and the South African approach to social transformation post-apartheid under. Nelson Mandela, the building blocks are offered for the exercise of power through ethical means. Mahatma Gandhi's legacy of nonviolently changing the heart of the oppressor through an insistence on self-suffering, compassion, truth and non-harming makes sense of the current success stories unfolding in places like Tunisia and Egypt.

Despite current attempts to place an acceptable spin on 'just wars' and acts of revenge in response to-terrorism, this work shows how violence has a devastating impact on our mind and our world, cannot be legitimate and is morally wrong. The author persuasively argues that a nonviolent approach not only successfully demonstrates social change, and creates a more peaceful mind for ourselves and those around us, but is the only way to ensure the survival of our species. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, we no longer have the choice between violence and nonviolence...it is nonviolence or nonexistence.

This book offers hope for a compassionate future, issues a wake-up call to academia and provides a roadmap for change.

About the Author

Dr Anna Alomes is a British-born Australian philosopher who works for the promotion of compassion and the reduction of violence. As a founding member of the Global Gandhian Movement for Swaraj, she assisted with the facilitation of a 15-country forum on peace-building and reconciliation for countries in conflict.

She received the highest university award for her PhD and later became Director of the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) receiving the Vice Chancellor's Award for Outstanding Community Engagement. She led a community-based NGO, the World Institute for Nonviolence and Reconciliation. Her academic position involved ethics and harm-minimisation programs for police services, nursing and medical ethics, leadership programs and the Tibetan Exchange program. She now pursues selected peace-building and human rights projects from an independent base. Anna is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, London School of Economics.

Her work has involved coordinating with international leaders including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ven. Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Native American Elders working for global harmony and universal ethics.


The ancient Indian principle of ahimsa or non-violence that Mahatma Gandhi took up and made familiar throughout the world remains relevant today. This is clear if we examine whether or not violence has any value. From a strictly practical perspective, there may be occasions when violence indeed appears useful. It may seem that we can solve a problem quickly by force. Such success however, is often at the expense of the rights and welfare of others. As a result, even though one problem has been solved, the seed of another has been planted. The initial intention may be to use limited force, but once you have committed violence the consequences are unpredictable and inevitably lead to further violence. Generally speaking, therefore, violence is the wrong method in this modem era in which we are all increasingly interdependent.

Gandhi pointed out that if we are seriously interested in peace, it must be achieved through peaceful and non-violent means. This is why we must continue to explore, as this book seeks to do, the use of non-violence as a long-term measure to meet the threats we face and resolve the conflicts we encounter. The proper way of resolving differences is through dialogue, compromise and negotiation, through human understanding and humility. If your cause is supported by sound reasoning, there is nothing to be gained by a resort to violence.

Ultimately, what distinguishes violence from non-violence is motivation. If your motivation is negative, the action it produces is, in the deepest sense, violent, even though it may appear to be smooth and gentle. Conversely, if your motivation is sincere and positive, but the circumstances require you to take tough measures, essentially you will still be practising non-violence.

Human happiness is dependent on many factors. Our own successful or happy future is very much related to that of others. Therefore, helping others or having consideration for their rights and needs is actually not just a matter of responsibility, but involves our own happiness. This is why, when all is said and done, non-violence is the only approach to resolving human problems that can be guaranteed to result in genuine peace.


From the standpoint of a person living a life at the start of the Twenty First Century, there is something deeply puzzling about the body of knowledge on power which insists on necessary connections to violence. Some would say that living in possibly the most violent of times there is nothing surprising or puzzling about this at all (today's media shows the Western world celebrating the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, yesterday's media showed Islamists celebrating the assassination of Western troops) and yet, this era has also produced a number of examples which defy this picture of power and violence. Something extraordinary occurred, and continues to occur in the lives of two particular groups of people (Tibetans in Exile and South Africans post-Apartheid) which provides compelling evidence for, even insists on the urgent need for a new metaphysics of power based on nonviolence.

WJM Mackenzie in Power, Violence, Decision (1975) offers an almost apologetic acceptance of the realities of everyday individual and group violence, setting up the distinction between "what is technically possible and what is politically possible". To spell this out precisely, Mackenzie wants us to be practical. The assumption is that we can theorise all we like about power in other than violent terns; but it will do nothing to move us forward in the area of practical application: Quite simply, power through violence appears to work in the all important realm of political practice. In response to this, I will offer two examples to illustrate the compatibility of power and nonviolence which provide a transition from the realm of the technically or theoretically possible to the realm of practical application: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa represents a very plausible approach to managing political change. This example demonstrates nonviolent power with a convincing political result. Power is also exercised when individuals confront past atrocities (survivors and perpetrators of violence) and replace retributive justice with acknowledgment and reconciliation. To complement this, the philosophy and practice of the exiled Tibetan community not only reflects a desire and sense of duty to adhere to nonviolence in the face of violent oppression, but provides a contemporary example of Satyagraha (truth insistence). It will be argued that the struggle of this group (in total comprising over a hundred and forty thousand Tibetan refugees) while lacking the firm political results of the post-apartheid South African example, can still be seen as an effective example of a quest for power through nonviolence for the following reason:

We will argue for the claim that both violent action and nonviolent action is representational, and in this sense, the nonviolent action of the Tibetans in exile represents something important. Moreover, when theorists argue for necessary connections between power and violence (and, as it will be shown, this is the view which has informed the philosophical landscape) they are failing to notice this important feature of public action. In contrast, we are offered a package of accounts that is descriptive. By using examples like coercion, force, control and influence we are shown how power can be exercised through violence and told that any alternative viewpoint would move outside of a realistic conception of power and operate in the fantastic realm of an idealised standpoint where "nothing short of the City of God would suffice." (Airaksinen 1988:13) The objection to this position (held totally, or in part) by, de Jouvenel (1945), Lukes (1974), Mackenzie (1975), Wrong (1979), Mann (1986), Morriss (1987) and Ball (1995) is motivated by three particular conclusions:

An act of violence is more than just an action, it is also representational and what it represents is falsity or error. There are three senses, I will argue, in which this is true:

a The agent fails to recognise what violence entails (in committing a violent act against another, s/he fails to recognise that this action denies personal agency to the other).

b The agent denies the victim personal agency, and doesn't care what the denial entails.

c The agent acts violently (again, denying personal agency) and makes an attempt at justification and hence is involved in a performative contradiction.

In addition, it will be argued that violent action is always morally wrong. It is in fact illegitimate and unjustifiable. We will see that such actions re-inscribe illicit power structures and in addition involve the claim that implicit or explicit violent actions are normal (the horrific interrogation technique of `waterboarding' is apparently not torture, nor a gross violation of human rights, but merely "the way we get information around here" ó the opinions of former President George W. Bush on 'normal' procedures at Guantanamo Bay military detention centre. This interrogation technique was later declared to be illegal torture by the Obama administration). Many theorists writing on power have failed to recognise that violent actions are representational, and consequently, failed to ask what it is they represent. The second consideration which motivates the rejoinder to those who argue that power can only be exercised through violence, can be formulated in the following way: nonviolence represents a more morally acceptable category of action because what it represents is true. It does so in two senses: it represents the truth about "the way things are" (by confronting violence and asking for the oppressor to surrender their wrong views) and the truth of "how things ought to be" (nonviolent action demonstrates compassion, an understanding of interdependence, and how persons ought to be treated based on a number of inalienable rights).

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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