A book of great relevance to our times. Through real life situations we can see how nonviolent approaches to events of extreme violence transformed the situation and brought about outcomes which were restorative, not necessarily without personal sacrifice. Descriptive of the lessons we must learn if we are to preserve the planet eart as a place for human habitation. How we can learn to live together so that we not perish together.
— Stephen L. Angell, Alteratives to Violence Facilitator and Worldwide AVP Ambassador.
Transforming Power for Peace
A review by Colin Billett in Quaker Monthly
This little book of eight pages gives an historical perspective on the use of non-violent methods to achieve change at various times and in different places around the world. Sixteen short essays deal with principles, practice, and applications of peaceful methods of change in the twentieth century. First published in 1960, it is not possible to see how it has been revised in the last forty years, other than by the addition of a chapter on the unionization of agricultural labourers in the United States. Certain section appear curiously dated, whilst others have a resonance that will continue for many years to come.
Written by a Quaker, there is a religious flavour to the writing that may well detract from the notion that non-violent methods have universal application; the underlying, perhaps unconscious, emphasis on moral superiority tends to give a one-sided view to each of the cases. Indeed, some of the arguments, and language, now seem quite objectionable in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, beginning the historical portrait with the establishment of Quakers in the seventeenth century (with a brief nod to the early Christian persecution under the emperor Nero) also suggests that Friends invented peace. As a Friend one is likely to know the stories of Penn and Woolman; as a non-Friend they may well serve to detract from what is otherwise an informative and quietly inspiring work.
The ‘Transforming Power’ of the title has as its objective “not to suppress an evil situation but to transform it into a good one… By this term we mean to include all techniques for resolving conflicts by the persistent communication of ‘conscientious concerns’ through loving and non-violent action.” In order to achieve our aims by such methods, we must change ourselves and our daily lives by “consistently cultivating certain attitudes of mind”—identify with all humanity, have a “sense of the meeting” with others, stand firm when reason fails, and have faith in the power of truth. Such terms will ring familiar in the ears of Friends, but may have no such resonance in other traditions. The story of Gandhi, for example, who according to Aspey achieved so much with a few hundred committed supporters, is on of mass civil disobedience under inspired leadership, rather than a wholesale seeking of the light. Again, at the end of the book, Aspey talks of the need to have leaders from whom the activists must be prepared to take orders, and like early Friends, to undergo much suffering—a reliance on obedience perhaps rather than the inner light.
Past examples of “transforming power” include the abolition of slavery, resistance to the Nazis in Norway and France, work against “race prejudice in America,” unionization of farm labourers, and examples of peace protests during the cold war period. Whilst the stories of Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King never fail to move me personally, there is a great emphasis on personal suffering, which is not for the faint-hearted. A list of specific methods of non-cooperation is provided for the reader, ranging from legitimate ones such as court actions and strikes, through illegal ones such as civil disobedience, to those which involve the participants alone, such as fasting.
A very easy book to read, which can only add to its appeal when much of what is written by Friends is both complex and complicated, and a book which will serve as a sound introduction to peaceful change in a world where might and power are the dominant forces. Though it is in many ways dated, it does give an insight into the historical development of methods that are both relevant and pertinent today. Each chapter has topics for discussion, and a bibliography gives plenty of further reading—perhaps a book for younger Friends.
_Colin Billet is a member of Worcestershire & Shropshire MM._