Kucinich and the Politics of Nonviolence

In 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 principle.”

See, all along I’d been misinterpreting him. Kucinich’s campaign website 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?

September 27, 2003