The golden road to freedom without violence for Dustin Howes is “collective self-rule.” Basically, that phrase is meant to indicate the instances in which a group of people take into their own hands the initiative to act, not relying on some external agency (like the state) to do their work for them.
Howes is inspired here by Hannah Arendt’s passages on the “lost treasure of the revolutionary tradition,” but more directly influenced by the examples of Gandhi’s campaign for Indian independence and the civil rights’ movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. In both of the latter cases, large numbers of citizens organized themselves and acted in a variety of ways (primarily non-violent) to move toward their stated goals. Arendt, writing about similar movements (she was particularly interested in workers’ councils), argues that the more important thing may be the experience of acting itself, of creating collective power through “action in concert” with others, as contrasted to any actual outcome. Swapping the passivity of a citizen waiting upon the state to do something for the activity of doing things for oneself is the key for her—as it is generally for people who advocate this kind of “participatory democracy,” with its emphasis on “voluntary associations” distinct from the formal institutions (and coercions) characteristic of the state.
There are two immediate and obvious objections to this position. The first is that both Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s movements were addressed to the state even as they were not of the state. They both wanted the state to do something—and their various activities were directed to that end. Not solely, of course, especially in Gandhi’s case. But to a large extent.
Second, both movements existed at the sufferance of the state. As many commentators have pointed out, Gandhian tactics would have done Europe’s Jews no good in the face of the Nazis. (Yes, there is the wonderful exception of Denmark; but that exception connects to the Nazis’ very different relationship to Western as opposed to Eastern Europe. Poland’s Jews could not have been saved by the Danish stratagem.)
But I don’t want to dismiss “collective self-rule” so completely or easily. I, too, believe that the health of democracy depends greatly on its wealth of voluntary associations, on the extent to which citizens take things into their own hands. So the two more important questions for me are:
Are such voluntary associations only possible within a state? I. e. is a protective state, a liberal state that guarantees the rights of assembly, of free speech, and the existence of a non-state civil society necessary for voluntary associations to even exist? The state, as Howes accepts, following Weber and Benjamin and any number of other theorists, is grounded in violence at the end of the day. We seem trapped in a politics that utilizes violence again and again if we retain the state. But imagining political order without the state is very, very hard to do.