Bernard Lafayette Conversation with Gary Eichten and Reflection


This past Monday was the 26th Annual Peace Studies Conference here at CSB/SJU. The evening keynote event was Dr. Bernard Lafayette in conversation with Gary Eichten. The recording of the event has already been posted to the institution’s archival YouTube account, I’ve embedded it here for your easy viewing, and after the break I have included in its entirety a reflection on this event that I wrote up for two of my classes in the day immediately following this amazing opportunity of an event.

[youtube=]The two points from the conference event with Bernard Lafayette in conversation with Gary Eichten I will be discussing together in the next two pages are two specific quotes. The first is from King shortly before he was assassinated: “The next movement will be to institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence”. The second is something Lafayette said when asked about what are our biggest challenges today: “The Middle East is a direction”. In reflecting I will attempt to discuss the points in light of my own experiences as well as the content of both Peace Studies courses I’m taking this semester, thereby forming one channel in which both a theology course and a philosophy course with Peace Studies focuses can add to the same academic discussion.

Let me first deal with introducing the second point. This was said while discussing the fact that we must overcome the notion that we’re only Americans. Lafayette noted that, in truth, we’re all born on this planet we call Earth. No other identity is as strong. The Civil Rights Movement and movements all across the planet are only needed because we’re strongly focused on identity. “Immigrants” is a term we only need because of this identity, and is a term we must ultimately denote a part of history. We must get to the point where security is absolute by extension of us all being loving neighbors.

It may be beneficial to discuss something of what Der Derian discusses of Nietzsche’s philosophy when discussing what would be the eradication of the need for security. You will see that Der Derian’s overall framework of security can, through this, be applied to the actions King, Lafayette, Ahmann, and others made in the marches of the Civil Rights Movement. Anyway, we see in this text the “human” instinct for fear of neighbor being above love of neighbor. Identity itself stems from the need to feel secure, and this is accomplished in holding to certain virtues. Thus if we recognized that we all shared the same birthplace security could be achieved through simply sharing the same identity (which in turn would retire the term “identity” when referring to humans altogether).

The March on Washington itself was designed to bring out the interest of whites for the legislation. Here we have a (now) historic example of King organizing a march that explicitly showed the American identity, not racial identities. This was the furthest step he could have taken, and that we have yet taken, to build an Earth identity for the human race. This was only achieved through the steadfast use of the elements of King’s ethic of nonviolence, which together show a method able to include everyone and succeed only by not wholly overcoming the other. These six elements, if used in the principled sense by all, probably would render this nonidentity of a universal Earth identity.

What holds us back from laying the foundations of such a universal nonidentity? War, quite simply. Lafayette mentioned that King worked first to end the current war because only when international disputes are settled could we accomplish the work of the Civil Rights Movement. Therefore we must achieve peace in and between all nations before we can hope to build up the nonidentity. This naturally leads to the philosophical and empirical question: Is Peace Possible? Roots of an answer, as well as methods, can be found in the texts of almost anyone you’d read from Der Derian to King; across all disciplines. Even whilst discussing fellow philosophers’ notions of security such a discussion leaves in its wake answers to how a global society without the need of such a framework could be formed. King drew on Gandhi’s nonviolent method, and today that method lives on in places around the world, which unquestionably provides a method with which to aid in the understanding of such a nonidentity, should war be abolished to enable such work. All disciplines make their contributions to this endeavor, and all lean on each other to do so.

Let me now contemplate the first point, that King’s final request was to institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence. It was while starting this mission that Lafayette learned of King’s death. It is in this very mission that the field of Peace Studies holds up and perpetuates the nonviolent method. This mission is one that teaches people the methods of love and respect towards all. King’s vision seems to have been to universalize what Gandhi had shown a little while back, what many others helped to enhance, and what could lead to this nonidentity I discuss above.

What stood out most in this part of Lafayette’s discussion was the clarity that we’re fulfilling this last request. This is the element worth reflecting on as my senior year moves ever forward. Many nations celebrate King’s birthday, this goes to show just how important of a person this individual was. To be studying something that keeps King’s spirit alive may well be to study one of the truly most important strands of academic and practical thought. Nonviolence is applicable to thousands of situations and every human field. Even when learning about one individual (Gandhi, King, Bonhoeffer, Sharp, etc.) or movement multiple times our understanding of the fundamental aspects of the methods and thought used continues to deepen. This enables us to fully use the theory and practice as we see fit.

Recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, and many other places show the power of these methods. There we’re seeing its use in the pragmatic sense for social good. Study of these examples leads us to forming the current incarnation of this successful method. When you use methods that humanize the other you end up with sustainable outcomes even if, initially, these weren’t agreeable outcomes for every party.

There is the ever-present example of principled nonviolence in not just the leaders of such movements, but more locally the lives of those in monastic orders. Here we have communities that maintain a nonviolent way of living while working for the other around them. The Benedictine Values have as the spine connecting them the core of what nonviolence is. Perhaps here we best can see how the Catholic tradition was before its formal founding one that embraced these principles, truly Jesus did give the message.

Therefore to be spending so much energy contemplating the nonviolent methods is a worthy endeavor. But this isn’t one subscribed to by just Peace Studies majors, and it isn’t one that ends when we receive our diplomas upon graduation. The Civil Rights Movement instilled in our society a continuing call to reach for the dream of a nonidentity. We will not reach such a goal until the ruling generation sees beyond the artificial national boundaries. We will only reach such a goal when, if surviving at all, the military becomes something that is currently still science fiction. Such a goal insists upon the nonviolent methods, and has as perquisite the deleting of current intranational racial and class boundaries.

When Lafayette so exuberantly stated that whoever shot King missed, this was because only after King’s body was buried has his spirit been carried forward in the mission of spreading nonviolence all around. Though the Peace Studies major does this, it takes each of us actively committing to molding wherever our work and leisure is to the nonviolent method for the institutionalization and internationalization for which King’s last request referred to become our impending global society. Let us all take up such a call, and work to make the true, largely unheard of, vision that King’s final reflection had become the world in which our children are born. No more should teenagers live their first two decades in a war-torn environment, they deserve, of all of us, to know a time of true peace. We all deserve this, and for longer than our final few years on this green Earth. It is for this reason, and many others, that we must make peace, and not discrimination, our goal.