Shugars on Compromise and Enemies

Sarah Shugars evaluates the prospects for compromise in matters of justice and injustice:

…if a full victory is beyond our reach perhaps a step towards justice is better than the status quo. Or, perhaps, a step towards justice will simply mollify the moderates, who will no longer feel the need to fight for more robust reform. On the other hand, refusing to compromise may earn you enemies – alienating moderates who might otherwise be willing to support your cause. These are complex, strategic questions which every movement and activist must evaluate and consider. Importantly, a willingness to compromise for the good of the movement should not be confused with an instinctual response of conflict-avoidance.

I don’t think Shugars justifies that last line: perhaps it’s wrong to avoid conflict, but perhaps too those instincts have wisdom, such as the importance of preserving comity for future matters. A nation torn by value-based disagreements can fail to fix a lot of roads and schools while they glare daggers at each other. (Ask me how I know!)

And activists are not always the best judges of either their opponents or the effective strategies for achieving their goals (nor are philosophers and political theorists, of course). In any case the question of instinct here suppresses a decision about the default strategies we should adopt that is itself strategic and requires the utmost prudence and practical wisdom.

Shugars also quotes the excellent Charles Mackay poem, No Enemies, with its rousing challenge that those without enemies have stood by as cowards before injustice. But we ought also to consider Wendell Berry:

If you are not to become a monster,
you must care what they think.
If you care what they think,
how will you not hate them,
and so become a monster
of the opposite kind? From where then
is love to come—love for your enemy
that is the way of liberty?
From forgiveness. Forgiven, they go
free of you, and you of them;
they are to you as sunlight
on a green branch. You must not
think of them again, except
as monsters like yourself,
pitiable because unforgiving.

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