Power of Nonviolence Mighty Penn: Peace Book Chapter 2 of the Week 9/26/11

The Power of Nonviolence Writings by Advocates of PeaceWe continue with the second chapter from the The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace This week we discuss the second chapter of the book which is an excerpt from a 1693 essay by William Penn entitled Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe.

This chapter is in the Pre-Twentieth Century section of the book . Last week we discussed the first chapter which contains the writings of the the Buddha, which was entitled Let a Man Overcome Anger by Love.

Even though one would expect a Duke to be conversant in dense, prosey writing, I must admit to this few page excerpt from Penn’s essay being rough going.

Penn starts off by arguing against the Latin proverb of the time that “Peace is Sought through War.”  He argues instead that peace is found through justice.  This quickly brings to mind Dr. King‘s response to the charge that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was disturbing the peace:

True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.

Penn continues his argument that war, internally or externally, never achieves its stated goals. War does not serve the interests of the governed; it only brings them hardship and loss.  overall, he finds that governments have a duty to governed to seek justice rather than violence as a policy tool.  A lesson that still has not been learned over 300 years later.

In the next paragraph, Penn moves from the benefits of peace to governments to its benefit to Christianity.  He decries wars waged in the name of Christianity, and argues that a path of peace would due more to convince non-Christians of the religion’s value. Penn moves his argument to the basis of Christianity by reminding the reader that Christ’s greatest name was the “Prince of Peace” and that he was often referred to as the “Lamb“. Now that Penn has defined Christ’s teaching, he turns to the clergy to convince government officials and the public to follow the Christian path of peace.

Bust of William Penn in Hall of Fame for Great...
Image via Wikipedia

William Penn’s writings on pacifism spring from his Quaker faith. He is responsible for many concepts that are considered the bedrock of American democracy.  Penn is indirectly responsible for the concept of jury nullification. While living in his native England, he challenged a law against public assembly by publicly preaching about Quakerism.  The jury in the case voted to find him not guilty, and refused to bow to the judge’s threats to change their verdict.  When the jury had their day in court, it was found that the jury has the final say in guilt of a defendant.

Penn is best known as the founder of the Pennsylvania colony which bears his family’s name. The colony was founded as a safe haven for Quakers, and a place of religious tolerance for all. His Frame of Government for Pennsylvania included a right to trial by jury, to be free from unjust imprisonment and to elections. Penn was influenced by the English writers such as John Locke, and in turn influenced Thomas Jefferson.  He created the concept of amendments to this framework so it could be a living document that changed with the times.

On the local level as a city planner, Penn planted trees in Philadelphia to create urban green spaces.  On the international level, he was an early proponent of a union of the American colonies, and of a European parliament.

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