Class / Politics / Race

Liberals Fall Short: Violence and Nonviolence

I could probably go on for ages about the pitfalls of liberalism. But I’m a simple gal who likes neat numbers, so instead this will be a three-part series on how liberals fail and contradict themselves in many aspects. If you identify as liberal, perhaps you won’t want to anymore. Or perhaps you will at least be more willing to criticize liberalism.

Part 2 of this series: Liberalism as a Supremacist Identity

Part 3 of this series: System Failure

Advocating for Nonviolence

kids putting flowers in riot police guns

“Symbolic” protests

Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Most liberals I know would describe themselves as pacifists. The way that we see non-violence is often paired with images of sit-ins, and marches, and civil disobedience. And then right after we see those images, we talk about the great impact of the Civil Rights Movement or the Indian Independence Movement. Except wait, what?

police brutality

Okay yeah, sometimes violence is necessary, like if these protestors get too excited being all nonviolent, the police might have to take them down a notch…you know, with force. We associate successful nonviolent demonstrations with the Civil Rights Movement, but what we don’t contextualize is that nonviolent demonstrations in history involved the great odds that violence will occur from those with power.

A crucial part of nonviolent protest involves watching brutalization of people in a way that shows an oppressor’s true colors. It’s the inevitable violence that moves witnesses to action. Say whaaat? Contradictions aside, my apologies if I’m not metal enough to put up with that. Liberals often emphasize the importance of nonviolence and tsk tsk those who don’t agree, dismissing them as radical and militant. In fact, many who are skeptical of nonviolence are at a greater risk of being hurt. If you are a proponent of nonviolence, you better think long and hard about the likelihood of setting up your own people to be victims of violence.

“Nonviolence is an inherently privileged position in the modern context. Besides the fact that the typical pacifist is quite clearly white and middle class, pacifism as an ideology comes from a privileged context. It ignores that violence is already here; that violence is an unavoidable, structurally integral part of the current social hierarchy; and that it is people of color who are most affected by that violence. Pacifism assumes that white people who grew up in the suburbs with all their basic needs met can counsel oppressed people, many of whom are people of color, to suffer patiently under an inconceivably greater violence, until such time as the Great White Father is swayed by the movement’s demands or pacifists achieve that legendary ‘critical mass.’” -Peter Gelderloos, Why Nonviolence Protects the State

Malcolm X, a name that brings out discomfort in liberals, as well as a critic of nonviolent protest, said “I believe it’s a crime for anyone being brutalized to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself.” Add this upon the fact that the Civil Rights Movement was nowhere near a nonviolent movement (most would argue that it has been extensively whitewashed), and one cannot say which method was most effective. We can only say which method is conveniently forgotten in history.

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail

Participating in Violence

Liberals often endorse nonviolence while indirectly participating in violence. One way is through our participation as consumers, but I will talk about that in another post. The other obvious is voting. Many liberals in the country enthusiastically voted for our current president, under the assumption that he would end the war, close Guantanamo, impose government transparency, and advocate for women, among many other promises.

While I can’t blame anyone for making political decisions based off lies, Liberals continue to support our president despite the fact that his continuation of the drone strikes have led to over 2,400 deaths in Pakistan and Yemen, attacks on a number of civilians and children that Amnesty International says could amount to war crimes. This also includes certain ‘double-tap’ strikes where the military targets an area, and then strikes it again when people come to help the wounded.


On the subject of drones Obama was overheard saying to an aide, “I’m really good at killing people.” (Fact checking indicates this is correct; Obama is really good at killing people.) So it is in this way that liberals continue to nonviolently vote for a violent and imperialistic world leader, and continue to support our president with the same enthusiasm because they associate it with supporting their “team.”

But where we often refuse to acknowledge others’ suffering when we are responsible for it, in other instances, liberals advocate for violent intervention in other countries where they see suffering elsewhere, to perhaps end this suffering. Liberals often plead for intervention in these cases, often in a paternalistic or savior-like way. Some examples include Invisible Children, North Korea, or Syria where people earnestly believe that US involvement will do more to end violence than exacerbate it.

But liberals also often take misinformed action with charitable intention, when in fact, their interference continues to harm. A classic example of this is voluntourism, where the paternal and savior attitudes take on an individual role, and generally don’t do anything to help anyone. I suppose when the violence is indirect, it allows us a cushion. We feel less responsible, even as we preach the importance of nonviolent means of action. But it takes extreme justification and mental gymnastics for these two things not to cause some cognitive dissonance.


2 thoughts on “Liberals Fall Short: Violence and Nonviolence

  1. Pingback: Liberals Fall Short: Liberalism as a Supremacist Identity | Be Young & Shut Up

  2. Pingback: Bill Maher’s Islamophobia is 9/11 Deja Vu | Be Young & Shut Up

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