[SPECIAL INTERVIEWS WITH SCHOLARS ― (3) Glenn Paige on nonviolence]The philosophy of ‘non-ki

Home > Opinion > Columns

print dictionary print

[SPECIAL INTERVIEWS WITH SCHOLARS ― (3) Glenn Paige on nonviolence]The philosophy of ‘non-ki

The following is the third in a series of interviews with scholars on major issues of the 21st century. The inverviews were arranged by the JoongAng Ilbo in collaboration with the Global Academy for Neo-Rennaissance at Kyung Hee University. The series includes topics on biological science, strategies for the future, nonviolence, environmental ethics, the rise of Northeast Asia and future politics. - Ed.

Glenn Paige is regarded by political scientists as a high authority on the political theory of nonviolence. After serving as a tenured professor at Princeton University, he moved to the University of Hawaii in 1967 and lectured on political leadership. He published To Nonviolent Political Science: From Seasons of Violence in 1993, and his new book, Nonkilling Global Political Science, which was published in 2002, had worldwide reverberations. It has been translated into 24 languages (the Korean version is set to appear soon). He has also been on an international lecture tour for several years now.
It’s been 21 years since I last met Mr. Paige. In 1984, I took his course, “Nonviolent Alternatives,” as a doctoral student at the University of Hawaii. He began the class with the question, “Is a nonviolent society possible?”
He argued that most existing modern political theorists, from Machiavelli to Weber, accepted violence as inevitable. His argument was very provocative: He asserted that Plato’s inclusion of the military class in his ideal state of “The Republic” was due to a lack of imagination. He also criticized liberalism and socialism for not questioning violence, both in theory and in practice. One memory that has stayed with me in particular was when he had all of the students go outside with him to pick up litter as a practice of nonviolence.
Upon meeting him again, I asked my old teacher some questions regarding the current issues facing South Korea. “Right now in Korea, the conservative and progressive camps are debating whether to dismantle a statue of General McArthur in Incheon. What do you think?”
He had heard of the issue.
“Yes, of course, all soldiers are killers by profession. But does that mean that we should tear apart all war monuments? No. It is better to keep them as monuments to remind humanity that we have failed in non-killing. Instead of destroying them, why not erect beside them statues of heroes and heroines who opposed killing?
“General McArthur was a model soldier. He commanded the Incheon Landing Operation successfully during the Korean War and wanted to go ahead and invade mainland China. But a few years later, in 1955, he became very peaceful and spoke out against war, saying, ‘The next great advance of civilization cannot take place until war is abolished. The leaders are the laggards... We must have new thoughts, new ideas, new concepts... We must break out from the straight-jacket of the past.’ You can engrave this speech on his statue as a lesson about learning from the violence of the past. I think that would be more important.”
I had expected a more radical answer from him, given his passion for nonviolence, so this response felt like a slap in the face. But then I remembered that he always stressed the importance of the “creative potential” of political leaders.
At the same time, I felt reassured that his political theory of nonviolence was not a negative approach to violence and its reality, but rather a constructive one to help realize and expand the nonviolent potential and possibility of human beings. Because he emphasizes the importance of developing and spreading nonviolent leadership academically and politically, I asked him a more theoretical question: On what grounds do you think a nonviolent society is possible?
His reply was simple: Until now, we have thought that violence was human nature. We lived in a culture that promotes this assumption and justifies it. As a result, what we have now is a cruel civilization with war, oppression, and killing.
“To achieve a truly ‘postmodern’ human civilization, we must realize that we have been living in a violent and violence-accepting civilization and try to construct a nonviolent one,” he said. “I argue that human beings are nonviolent and can build a nonviolent society on the following three grounds:
“Firstly, it is a historically and empirically proven fact that most people do not kill other human beings. Women, who make up half of the population, have rarely engaged in warfare as killers, and only a small number of men actually kill in military combat. A military expert noted that one of the major tasks of military training is to help soldiers overcome their deep-rooted resistance to killing, and this flips the assumption that humans are born killers.
“Second, all religions in the world share the values of respect for life and condemnation of killing. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all share the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Jainism and Hinduism likewise share a commandment that states, ‘Nonviolence is the highest law with regard to life.’ Also, the first precept of Buddhism is, ‘Prohibit killing.’ Sociologist Max Weber believed that one’s religious belief in non-killing could not go hand in hand with a political order to kill people.
“Lastly, the proposition that humans are born killers because of their innate animal instincts is scientifically incorrect. Many experiments have shown that even cats can get along with mice, their natural prey, if trained to do so.”
Mr. Paige said that his political theory of nonviolence is not simply an assertion, but was supported both by methodology and by theoretical explorations and examinations from various fields.
“There have been innumerable cases of nonviolent political struggles in the world since the 1970s, including those in South Africa, Myanmar, and Czechoslovakia. Unlike the violent political revolutions of the past, such as the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution and the Cultural Revolution in China, these struggles were nonviolent.”
“As of 2005,” he added, “86 countries have discontinued the use of capital punishment. In Argentina, Brazil and Israel, capital punishment for ordinary crimes was abandoned long ago, with exceptions in cases of emergencies and war.”
On the wall of his office are North and South Korean flags; under them, the slogan “No More Killing.” I asked why he prefers the word “non-killing” rather than “nonviolence.”
“The concept of ‘non-killing’ is more real and more concrete than that of ‘nonviolence’ or peace. Also, non-killing is easier to measure than nonviolence. Casualties can be counted precisely.”
Mr. Paige asked, “If we are sure that human beings are nonviolent, is there any a reason for us, regardless of occupation, not to educate and train people in the world to strengthen their nonviolent potential?” I couldn’t help but think that Koreans, given our constant exposure to the threat of violence, are in a better position to shift our own values towards nonviolence and non-killing.


by Chung Yoon-jae

The interviewer is a professor of political theory at the Academy of Korean Studies. He received a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Hawaii. He has published a number of books, including “Political Leadership and Korean Democracy” and “Toward the Tasari Community ― A Critical Biography of Minse An Chae-hong.”

More in Columns

A cautionary tale

A government in disarray

China’s thin skin

The Korean War from China’s view

Who’s laughing now?

Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)

What’s Popular Now