Kucinich and the Politics of Nonviolence

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Thursday night’s Democratic presidential candidates’ debate (yes,
I watched it – masochism, I guess), Rep. Dennis Kucinich suddenly
declared himself a libertarian.

No, he didn’t use the L-word. But he announced his plan, should
he be elected, to create a “Department of Peace” to bring about
a “transformation of our society” by “making non-violence an organizing

See, all along I’d been misinterpreting him. Kucinich’s campaign
gives a fairly thorough rundown of the programs he’d
like to enact. These include “massive public works to rebuild our
cities, our water systems, our public transportation systems, our
schools, our parks, our public energy systems,” “ample free television
time for candidates,” “break-up of the media monopolies,” a “regulatory
structure which puts a ceiling on drug company profits,” restrictions
on political advertising, a Federal
charter of corporate responsibility
, and a “financial commitment
to providing healthy drinking water to all the world’s people.”
He also wants to “strengthen and enforce air and water regulation,”
“empower farmers in the marketplace by providing incentives to join
a collective bargaining unit,” and “bring suit in federal court
if an agribusiness doesn’t bargain in good faith.” He is particularly
insistent that “All water shall be considered to be forever in the
public domain” (an interesting proposal, given that every human
being is 70% water).

Now all this time I’ve been unfair to the man. I’d been assuming
that he wanted to use the coercive power of the State to
do all these things. So naturally I’d taken him to be an advocate
of massive increases of violence in society – since laws
are, after all, backed up by governmental force. Now it turns out,
however, that Kucinich is a man committed to nonviolence, a man
who wants to make nonviolence an “organizing principle” of our society.
But just as the State represents violence as an organizing principle
of society, so the free market represents nonviolence – mutual
consent – as an organizing principle of society. If Kucinich is
the enthusiast for nonviolence that he claims to be, then he can
only be a libertarian.

I infer, then, that Kucinich can’t really want to enforce
that laundry list of pet projects that he advertises on his website.
That would be violence, after all. As Ludwig von Mises writes:

It is important to remember that government interference
always means either violent action or the threat of such action.
The funds that a government spends for whatever purposes are levied
by taxation. And taxes are paid because the taxpayers are afraid
of offering resistance to the tax gatherers. They know that any
disobedience or resistance is hopeless. As long as this is the state
of affairs, the government is able to collect the money that it
wants to spend. Government is in the last resort the employment
of armed men, of policemen, gendarmes, soldiers, prison guards,
and hangmen. The essential feature of government is the enforcement
of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are
asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for
more compulsion and less freedom.

Since nobody with Kucinich’s reverence for nonviolence could possibly
want to increase “violent action or the threat of such action,”
he plainly couldn’t seriously be calling for his projects to be
governmentally enforced. He must instead be trying to persuade people
to implement these programs voluntarily.

The only alternative would be to assume that Kucinich regards, or
expects us to regard, governmental edicts “as
though they were incantations, passing directly from decree
to result, without the inconvenience of means
.” And what sensible
person could be so deluded?

27, 2003

T. Long [send him mail]
is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Auburn
; author of Reason
and Value: Aristotle versus Rand
; Editor of the Libertarian
Nation Foundation periodical Formulations;
and an Adjunct Scholar of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute
. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1992,
and maintains the website Praxeology.net,
as well as the web journal In
a Blog’s Stead


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