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 Thoughts from Roland F. Sennholz:

Reflections on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

January 20, 2014

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day, so I'd like to start off by offering a quote from the man himself:

"Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers."

Or, put another way, problems have solutions, but conflicts have only outcomes.

History has many examples of people who were “annihilated” rather than “converted,” sometimes even when they later turned out to be right. Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno, for example, were two supporters of the theory that the earth was not the center of the universe. Galilei was tried for heresy, forced to recant, and then spent the rest of his life under house arrest; the inquisition sentenced Bruno to death and burned him at the stake. Socrates, philosopher who questioned everything–including the local government–was sentenced to drink poison for “corrupting the youth.”

All of the above stories have something in common: the state (or some other organization acting through the state, like the church) using violence to remove dissent and “leave society in monologue.”

Let’s think about that for a moment. The state is the only institution we know of that is permitted to initiate violence without automatically being punished for doing so. But, it isn’t just permitted to initiate violence—it’s expected to. We expect to be taxed and regulated and defended. We expect the state to take someone’s property so a road can be built through it. The state exists to do violence.

Furthermore, the state’s only tool is violence. It imprisons or kills people if they take prohibited actions or don’t take required actions. It takes people’s money away to support itself or to build something it considers more important than whatever use those people had for their money. If a person tries to defend his or her property against such taking, he or she is imprisoned or killed. While the state may create, discover, or defend, its every action is rooted in immorality that “never brings permanent peace.”

Or, put another way, why does the label of “government” excuse an action from being considered immoral? If it is wrong for a man to take money from someone to feed his starving family, why is it right for a government to take money from someone to feed thousands of starving families? Is it because there are more starving families? No; if the families all worked together to steal enough money to provide for everyone, it would just be a bigger crime committed by thousands of criminals. Yet, when the man takes money from someone, it receives the label “stealing,” and when the government takes money from someone, the label is “taking” or “taxing.”

So, regardless of its ultimate outcome, every state action is immoral. Every time you say, “there should be a law,” you are wishing violence not only on those you want regulated, but also every person who will be taxed to provide revenue for that law. You are accepting the “lesser evil” of government action over the “greater evil” you see and want eliminated. Remember, though, that you’re taking the easy way out—you’re trying to “humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding.”

Think carefully next time you push for more laws, contact your local congressman, or vote. Is there a way to solve the problem without government intervention? Is there an option that involves no evil, rather than a lesser one? The non-violent option will be harder almost every time, but it will also be a step away from the “descending spiral ending in destruction for all.” I hope you agree when I say: it’s worth it.

Also, think carefully the next time you think about taxes. Are you using words and labels that excuse what is being done, or are you calling things what they really are? What percentage of money the government takes from you is for things you support, and how much of it is “theft” going to things you don’t support?

Whatever you may think of Martin Luther King, Jr., this is my challenge to all of you: can you make violence truly the last resort?

Roland F. Sennholz