Nonviolence and non violence

Jun 21, 2012News

For some time, I try to pay attention to the word nonviolence in journalistic and academic writings.  In most cases, with the automatic translation software, that aren’t interested in Gandhi and Capitini’s works, the word is separated into two parts: non violence. Other times, to mitigate the caesura, it becomes non-violence.

This orthographic exercise, that  it could be considered useless, shows an existing problem: even today the concept of nonviolence,  the thought and  practice of nonviolence are unknown.  There is a big confusion among nonviolence, pacifism and passive resistance: a method of action becomes violence abstention. The nonviolent people (or pacifists, it’ s the same now) are designed like beautiful souls, unable to see the world that is full of aggressions, conflicts and so on; they are described like sure people that place flowers into the rifle barrels.

I can try to clarify introducing a Gandhi’s phrase : «Rather than going away, it’s better to shoot », but he wrote : «Rather than shooting, it’s better to look for more efficient and moral ways ». So, it’s a good explanation about nonviolence term: it isn’t an attempt to deny but it’s a strength to overcome the violence, through ethics and effectiveness of the quality results. In the 50s, Danilo Dolci will define his work against mafia and nepotistic system: « Continuation of  Resistance, without shooting».

The nonviolent activist, as who wants to carry a rifle to protect people freedom, want to change a status quo, that they considered unacceptable through antithetical methods. It isn’t an easy way. «A man », said Gandhi « can’t carry out nonviolence and to be a coward at the same time. Nonviolence requires the biggest courage »[1].

Noncollaboration (only one word) has an important role in the practice of nonviolence. « The noncollaboration », explains Capitini « can also be done as regards to other people or other authority, institution, law, but in this case we talk about civil disobedience»[2]. The noncollaboration isn’t the choice to do nothing: it’s the choice to solve directly through the problem causes and who makes this choice is aware of consequences. «To me, nonviolence», Gandhi explains  « must be interpreted not like a negative expression, but like a positive expression of love, the will to do good also from who does evil. It doesn’t mean that we must help people who commit evil actions, but through the love we have to hold out against this kind of people; also if this could cause physical damage. So, if my son conducts a immoral life, I can’t help him to persist in this way; my love requires that I stop providing for him; also if it may lead to death. If he regrets, I have to allow him. This is the same moral of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The noncollaboration isn’t a passive method, it’s extremely active, more active of physical resistance and violence »[3]. The noncollaboration, that requires clear behaviour, emphasizes the concept of personal responsibility.

The nonviolence stresses the relationship between means and goals. The end doesn’t justify the means.  Inappropriate means can de facto refuse the reaching goal. «We can put off till tomorrow the unemployed that is looking for a job, because his sons are starving to death. Revolution and now », Danilo Dolci writes in The outlaws in Partinico (1955). «The means of the revolution is essential. The way to do the revolution is essential. If we shed blood, life doesn’t begin». It couldn’t be a way of determinism. «The nonviolence», says Capitini « is based on an open and experimental method, because we know specific events of a situation »[4]. And Gandhi: «The straight line conducted is not comparable with Euclid’s straight line. It’s like a beautiful tree, in which every leaves are different. Also if all the leaves belong to the same tree, there isn’t a geometrical uniformity. However, we know that the seed, the branch and the leaves are only one thing. We know, also, that any geometric shape can’t compete with a beautiful flowering tree »[5]. Gandhi’ words seem to be a prelude of a world view inspired by “complexity science”.

A different problem arises from the consideration that the languages that we use are products of violent cultures[6]. In some subjects, like in marketing, we can find war terms ( for example, expansion strategy and target) and also in educational environment: class derives from classis latin word, that is motor pool; to learn is in signare, to mark a person. Talking about nonviolence using violent words is a paradox.

Aldo Capitini writes the word nonviolence without a hyphen like an instrument for combating, like Gandhi and his words ahimsa[7] and Satyagraha, that means “insistence on truth” [8]. Capitini, will prefer the use of nonviolent action instead of nonviolence term. Indeed, in 1964, he founded the review “Nonviolent action”.

All the biographies of the nonviolent people in the XX century- Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dolci, Aung San Suu Kyi and Gino Strada with Emergency or the NGO Greenpeace or Amnesty International – are characterized by the way to do thing in a certain way instead of not to do.

Danilo Dolci’s life is little know. Dolci doesn’t suggest a sort of  appeasement of the consciences: he tried to bring out the conflicts and to act against them. Dolci «thinks that Gandhi should be integrated in a better socialism, technique and science. [9]. The instruments for combating nonviolence were the fast, the “strike in reverse”, the public manifestations, thegroup maieuticapproach, the antimafia mobilization, the diffusion of  the cooperative structure, the use of the available instrument to give voice to the silent people ( the creation of  the illegal Radio Libera).  The results of human events are always subjective and arguable; it’s an alternation between victory and defeat. Some realizations are unquestionable: the dam on the Jato River  changed the life of millions of Sicilian people not only in a economic way.

The last century was full of totalitarism, internment camp, atomic death, and unsuccessful revolutions.  For this reason nonviolence continues to say something.

Giuseppe Barone

Bibliographic Referencing

I give further information for who wants to  deepen the arguments.

If you know more details on Gandhi’s thought, you can read the Theory and practice of non-violence (Einaudi, Torino 1973), that includes a relevant selection of political writings during 1919-1948 and selected readings from the Autobiography. The introduction of this book is written by Giuliano Pontara, who is an Italian expert of nonviolence.  The editor Sonda publishes ethical- political writings of Gandhi. The translation and the selection of this essayist is based on  the critical edition of the Collected Works, published between 1960 and 1988.  In 1995 it was published the first volume by  Raghavan Iyer: Civilization, politics and religion. For the later 2 volumes, that complete the work, we know only the titles: Truth and nonviolence and Nonviolent Resistance and social transformation. The voice of the truth (Newton Compton, Roma 1991) is an interesting anthology that include selected speeches pronounced between 1916 and 1948.

Aldo Capitini’s editorial work is very troubled. For this reason, we have a poor diffusion of his writings. But  Il messaggio di Aldo Capitini, by Giovanni Cacioppo (Lacaita, Manduria 1977), is a good anthology, where we can find critical essays. The editor Protagon has published the first two volumes of Opera omnia by Capitini: Scritti sulla nonviolenza, by Luisa Schippa (1992) and Scritti filosofici e religiosi, by Mario Martini (1994). A book that provides a clear and essential view of satyagrahi’s method of action is Le tecniche della nonviolenza (Libreria Feltrinelli, Milano 1967; nuova ed.: Linea d’ombra, Milano 1989). In cammino per la pace (Einaudi, Torino 1962) include documents about the first gear Perugia-Assisi, promoted by Capitini. During  this event Italo Calvino and Norberto Bobbio participated. Another introduction of  philosopher’s life and thought is Aldo Capitini by Fabrizio Truini (Cultura della Pace, San Domenico di Fiesole 1989).

In Danilo Dolci nonviolence’s consideration is only one of the current subjects in his thought: educational action, thegroup maieuticapproach, the critic of Modernity, the communication, the homogenization of contemporary societies. I try to indicate three books: Inventare il futuro (terza edizione accresciuta, Laterza, Bari 1972), Nessi fra esperienza etica e politica (Lacaita, Manduria 1993), La struttura maieutica e l’evolverci (La Nuova Italia, Scandicci 1996). The most current monograph available in Italian language is Danilo Dolci educatore. Un nuovo modo di pensare e di essere nell’era atomica by Antonino Mangano (Cultura della Pace, San Domenico di Fiesole 1992). A deeper work  about Dolci is my essay La forza della nonviolenza. Bibliografia e profilo biografico di Danilo Dolci (Dante & Descartes, Napoli 2000).

La forza di amare, by SEI, Torino 1967 (the translation Strength to Love, 1963 is by Ernesto Balducci) represents a summary of Martin Luther King’s thought. It’s available  I have a dream also in italian language. L’autobiografia del profeta dell’uguaglianza, Mondadori, Milano 2000 (l’edizione statunitense è del 1998).

Aung San Suu Kyi, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, wroteLibera dalla paura  (Sperling & Kupfer, Milano 1996; ed. or.: Freedom from Fear, University of California, 1991).

An essential document about the nonviolence Italian history is the letter by Lorenzo Milani to the Military Chaplains of Tuscany , in which they have defined the conscientious objection like «irrelevant to Christian commandment to love and like a cowardly act ». The Prior’s answer is included in L’obbedienza non è più una virtù e gli altri scritti pubblici, by Carlo Galeotti (Stampa Alternativa, Viterbo 1998).

I recommend Pappagalli verdiby Gino Strada,  Feltrinelli. Cronache di un chirurgo di guerra (1999) e Buskashì. Viaggio dentro la guerra (2002). The website of Emergency is, tel.

“Nonviolent action”, founded in 1964 by Aldo Capitini, continues even today his publications (the editorial staff is in Verona, in via Spagna 8; e-mail: The review, edited by Nonviolent Movement, is a fundamental learning and information tool on the nonviolent debate in Italy and all over the world.  In Verona there is the “Nonviolent Home” (tel. 045.800.98.03). In this structure we can find a library and a newspaper or periodical library.  It provides training course and meeting.

The Gandhi Centre in Pisa has published some biannual volumes Satyagraha (largo Duca d’Aosta 11, Pisa; e-mail:, to promote the study of “ nonviolence like an experimental method of a conflict science”.

The last recommendation is for internet users. It’s possible to subscribe for free to the periodic “The nonviolence on course” , by Peppe Sini (the editing is in the  “Centre for peace research”; via S. Barbara 9/E 01100 Viterbo; tel. 0761.353.532; e-mail: The newsletter is designed to update on the principal initiatives organized in Italy by groups, cultural league, associations. It also presents article and reflection on nonviolent and education subject for peace.

[1]  “The Modern Review”, 1916;  in M.K. Gandhi, The Voice of Truth, Navajivan Trust, Ahmedabad 1968; trad. it.: La voce della verità, Newton Compton, Roma 1991.

[2]  Le tecniche della nonviolenza, Libreria Feltrinelli, Milano 1967.

[3] “Young India”, 25 agosto 1920; italian translation in M.K. Gandhi, Teoria e pratica della non-violenza, Einaudi, Torino 1973.

[4]  Le tecniche della nonviolenza, cit.

[5] “Young India”, 14 agosto 1924; after in The Voice of Truth, cit.

[6] Roland Barthes would have said that language and society are fascist. Lezione inaugurale at Collège de France in appendix to Sade, Fourier, Loyola, Einaudi, Torino 2001.

[7] Translated as  “nonviolence”, the correct translation would be “ intent not to damage”.  Gandhi doesn’t coin this word: ahimsa is an important tenet of some Indian religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism) . Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi strongly believed in this principle.Avoidance of verbal and physical violence is also a part of this principle, although ahimsa recognizes self-defense when necessary, as a sign of a strong spirit. For further informations please read Heinrich Zimmer, Philosophies of India, Bollingen Foundation, New York 1951 (trad. it.: Filosofie e religioni dell’India, Mondadori, Milano 2001).

[8] Satya also means “head toward the truth”; agraha means “acceptance”, “coherence”.

[9]  Aldo Capitini, Rivoluzione aperta, Parenti, Milano 1956