I have really appreciated my ongoing discussion with Preston on the question of nonviolence and the Christian. Preston is engaging, funny, quick, and a pleasure to interact with. He is right that I have been busy and that is why this is a belated response. I do need to play a little catch up. I am responding to this here, and realize that I am one behind.
The first point to make is one that I made during our interactions at Q as well. The question of nonviolence and the question of militarism are two distinct questions. They are not the same thing at all. Whether lethal force is ever lawful and/or required and whether indiscriminate militarism is lawful are very different questions.
A man who believes in carpet bombing a thousand men in order to kill one guilty man is someone who of course agrees with me on the propriety of killing that one guilty man. That is what political theorists might call common ground. But I would agree with Preston on the 999 men. That’s common ground also.
Militarism is an idol. Nationalism is an idol. Overweening patriotism is an idol. So non-pacifists can be anti-war, but there is an important qualifier. It depends on the war. We do not know a priori whether it is lawful.
And so this distinction is why I think Preston’s move is actually a dodge. He says this:
“I want to point out up front that the stuff Doug and I keep discussing — violence in self defense — lives at the fringes of the main topic.”
That’s not quite right. Suppose Preston committed himself to another universal negative and said that “there is no gold in Alaska.” And suppose further that I went and found some. He cannot object and say that this particular gold that I found is peripheral to the main topic. If it is gold and if it is in Alaska, then what it actually would be is a counterexample demonstrating the falsity of the thesis, or perhaps a lesson in how not to commit yourself to universal negatives. It would not do to say that the gold I found doesn’t count because it was found “on the fringes of” Alaska. It was within fifty miles of the border, too close to Canada. No. If it is gold and if it is in Alaska, then the thesis must be modified.
If taking the life of another is ever lawful and/or required, then the position of universal nonviolence is simply false. I am more than prepared to join with Preston in a hearty condemnation of most violence. But is that the topic? I don’t think so.
Preston concludes with a (very funny) dialog, which begins this way:
NRA: Okay, so say a guy with a gun is breaking into your house trying to kill your family. What are you going to do?
Me: I’ll use nonviolence to stop him.
He writes the dialog in which he shows that the average gun-owning homeowner is not Annie Oakley. Read all the way through it — lotsa fun. But how hard do you think it would be for me to write a similar dialog with certain key reversals? In which I demonstrate that, during a midnight break-in, the average homeowner does not have the presence of Mother Teresa, the serenity of the Buddha, and the gravity of the burglar’s sainted mother?
Most people can’t shoot a gun out of a burglar’s hand. Sure. Neither can they make the burglar drop the gun by using a 2 am NPR voice.