Cross-posted from Waging Nonviolence. Dissent as Law.

saltmarch,independenceHistory remembers Mohandas Gandhi’s Salt March as one of the great episodes of resistance in the past century and as a campaign that struck a decisive blow against British imperialism. In the early morning of March 12, 1930, Gandhi and a trained cadre of seventy-eight followers from his ashram began a march of more than 200 miles to the sea. Three and a half weeks later, on April 5, surrounded by a crowd of thousands, Gandhi waded into the ocean, approached an area on the mud flats where evaporating water left a thick layer of sediment, and scooped up a handful of salt.

Gandhi’s act defied a law of the British Raj mandating that Indians buy salt from the government and prohibiting them from collecting their own. His disobedience set off a mass campaign of non-compliance that swept the country, leading to as many as 100,000 arrests. In a famous quote published in the Manchester Guardian, revered poet Rabindranath Tagore described the campaign’s transformative impact: “Those who live in England, far away from the East, have now got to realize that Europe has completely lost her former prestige in Asia.” For the absentee rulers in London, it was “a great moral defeat.”

And yet, judging by what Gandhi gained at the bargaining table at the conclusion of the campaign, one can form a very different view of the salt satyagraha. Evaluating the 1931 settlement made between Gandhi and Lord Irwin, the Viceroy of India, analysts Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler have contended that “the campaign was a failure” and “a British victory,” and that it would be reasonable to think that Gandhi “gave away the store.” These conclusions have a long precedent. When the pact with Irwin was first announced, insiders within the Indian National Congress, Gandhi’s organization, were bitterly disappointed. Future Prime Minister Jawaharal Nehru, deeply depressed, wrote that he felt in his heart “a great emptiness as of something precious gone, almost beyond recall.”

That the Salt March might at once be considered a pivotal advance for the cause of Indian independence and a botched campaign that produced little tangible result seems to be a puzzling paradox. But even stranger is the fact that such a result is not unique in the world of social movements. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s landmark 1963 campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, had similarly incongruous outcomes: on the one hand, it generated a settlement that fell far short of desegregating the city, a deal which disappointed local activists who wanted more than just minor changes at a few downtown stores; at the same time, Birmingham is regarded as one of the key drives of the civil rights movement, doing perhaps more than any other campaign to push toward the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This seeming contradiction is worthy of examination. Most significantly, it illustrates how momentum-driven mass mobilizations promote change in ways that are confusing when viewed with the assumptions and biases of mainstream politics. From start to finish—in both the way in which he structured the demands of the Salt March and the way in which he brought his campaign to a close—Gandhi confounded the more conventional political operatives of his era. Yet the movements he led profoundly shook the structures of British imperialism.

For those who seek to understand today’s social movements, and those who wish to amplify them, questions about how to evaluate a campaign’s success and when it is appropriate to declare victory remain as relevant as ever. To them, Gandhi may still have something useful and unexpected to say.

The instrumental approach

Understanding the Salt March and its lessons for today requires stepping back to look at some of the fundamental questions of how social movements effect change. With proper context, one can say that Gandhi’s actions were brilliant examples of the use of symbolic demands and symbolic victory. But what is involved in these concepts?

All protest actions, campaigns, and demands have both instrumental and symbolicdimensions. Different types of political organizing, however, combine these in different proportions.

In conventional politics, demands are primarily instrumental, designed to have a specific and concrete result within the system. In this model, interest groups push for policies or reforms that benefit their base. These demands are carefully chosen based on what might be feasible to achieve, given the confines of the existing political landscape. Once a drive for an instrumental demand is launched, advocates attempt to leverage their group’s power to extract a concession or compromise that meets their needs. If they can deliver for their members, they win.

Even though they function primarily outside the realm of electoral politics, unions and community-based organizations in the lineage of Saul Alinsky—groups based on building long-term institutional structures—approach demands in a primarily instrumental fashion.

A famous example in the world of community organizing is the demand for a stoplight at an intersection identified by neighborhood residents as being dangerous. But this is just one option. Alinskyite groups might attempt to win better staffing at local social service offices, an end to discriminatory redlining of a particular neighborhood by banks and insurance companies, or a new bus route to provide reliable transportation in an underserved area. Environmental groups might push for a ban on a specific chemical known to be toxic for wildlife. A union might wage a fight to win a raise for a particular group of employees at a workplace, or to address a scheduling issue.

By eking out modest, pragmatic wins around such issues, these groups improve lives and bolster their organizational structures. The hope is that, over time, small gains will add up to substantial reforms. Slowly and steadily, social change is achieved.

The symbolic turn

For momentum-driven mass mobilizations, including the Salt March, campaigns function differently. Activists in mass movements must design actions and choose demands that tap into broader principles, creating a narrative about the moral significance of their struggle. Here, the most important thing about a demand is not its potential policy impact or winnability at the bargaining table. Most critical are its symbolic properties—how well a demand serves to dramatize for the public the urgent need to remedy an injustice.

Like conventional politicians and structure-based organizers, those trying to build protest movements also have strategic goals, and they might seek to address specific grievances as part of their campaigns. But their overall approach is more indirect. These activists are not necessarily focused on reforms that can be feasibly obtained in an existing political context. Instead, momentum-driven movements aim to alter the political climate as a whole, changing perceptions of what is possible and realistic. They do this by shifting public opinion around an issue and activating an ever-expanding base of supporters. At their most ambitious, these movements take things that might be considered politically unimaginable—women’s suffrage, civil rights, the end of a war, the fall of a dictatorial regime, marriage equality for same-sex couples—and turn them into political inevitabilities.

Negotiations over specific policy proposals are important, but they come at the endgame of a movement, once public opinion has shifted and power-holders are scrambling to respond to disruptions that activist mobilizations have created. In the early stages, as movements gain steam, the key measure of a demand is not its instrumental practicality, but its capacity to resonate with the public and arouse broad-based sympathy for a cause. In other words, the symbolic trumps the instrumental.

A variety of thinkers have commented on how mass movements, because they are pursuing this more indirect route to creating change, must be attentive to creating a narrative in which campaigns of resistance are consistently gaining momentum and presenting new challenges to those in power. In his 2001 book “Doing Democracy,” Bill Moyer, a veteran social movement trainer, stresses the importance of “sociodrama actions” which “clearly reveal to the public how the power-holders violate society’s widely held values[.]” Through well-planned shows of resistance—ranging from creative marches and pickets to boycotts and other forms of non-cooperation to more confrontational interventions such as sit-ins and occupations—movements engage in a process of “politics as theater” which, in Moyer’s words, “creates a public social crisis that transforms a social problem into a critical public issue.”

The types of narrow proposals that are useful in behind-the-scenes political negotiations are generally not the kinds of demands that inspire effective sociodrama. Commenting on this theme, leading New Left organizer and anti-Vietnam War activist Tom Hayden argues that new movements do not arise based on narrow interests or on abstract ideology; instead, they are propelled by a specific type of symbolically loaded issue—namely, “moral injuries that compel a moral response.” In his book The Long Sixties, Hayden cites several examples of such injuries. They include the desegregation of lunch counters for the civil rights movement, the right to leaflet for Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, and the farmworker movement’s denunciation of the short-handled hoe, a tool that became emblematic of the exploitation of immigrant laborers because it forced workers in the fields to perform crippling stoop labor.

In some ways, these issues turn the standard of “winnability” on its head. “The grievances were not simply the material kind, which could be solved by slight adjustments to the status quo,” Hayden writes. Instead, they posed unique challenges to those in power. “To desegregate one lunch counter would begin a tipping process toward the desegregation of larger institutions; to permit student leafleting would legitimize a student voice in decisions; to prohibit the short-handled hoe meant accepting workplace safety regulations.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the contrast between symbolic and instrumental demands can create conflict between activists coming from different organizing traditions.

Saul Alinsky was suspicious of actions that produced only “moral victories” and derided symbolic demonstrations that he viewed as mere public-relations stunts. Ed Chambers, who took over as director of Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation, shared his mentor’s suspicion of mass mobilizations. In his book Roots for Radicals, Chambers writes, “The movements of the 1960s and 70s—the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, the women’s movement—were vivid, dramatic, and attractive.” Yet, in their commitment to “romantic issues,” Chambers believes, they were too focused on attracting the attention of the media rather than exacting instrumental gains. “Members of these movements often concentrated on symbolic moral victories like placing flowers in the rifle barrels of National Guardsmen, embarrassing a politician for a moment or two, or enraging white racists,” he writes. “They often avoided any reflection about whether or not the moral victories led to any real change.”

In his time, Gandhi heard many similar criticisms. Yet the impact of campaigns such as his march to the sea would provide a formidable rebuttal.

Difficult not to laugh

The salt satyagraha—or campaign of nonviolent resistance that began with Gandhi’s march—is a defining example of using escalating, militant, and unarmed confrontation to rally public support and effect change. It is also a case in which the use of symbolic demands, at least initially, provoked ridicule and consternation.

When charged with selecting a target for civil disobedience, Gandhi’s choice was preposterous. At least that was a common response to his fixation on the salt law as the key point upon which to base the Indian National Congress’s challenge to British rule. Mocking the emphasis on salt, The Statesman noted, “It is difficult not to laugh, and we imagine that will be the mood of most thinking Indians.”

In 1930, the instrumentally focused organizers within the Indian National Congress were focused on constitutional questions—whether India would gain greater autonomy by winning “dominion status” and what steps toward such an arrangement the British might concede. The salt laws were a minor concern at best. Biographer Geoffrey Ashe argues that, in this context, Gandhi’s choice of salt as a basis for a campaign was “the weirdest and most brilliant political challenge of modern times.”

It was brilliant because defiance of the salt law was loaded with symbolic significance. “Next to air and water,” Gandhi argued, “salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life.” It was a simple commodity that everyone was compelled to buy, and that the government taxed. Since the time of the Mughal Empire, the state’s control over salt was a hated reality. The fact that Indians were not permitted to freely collect salt from natural deposits or to pan for salt from the sea was a clear illustration of how a foreign power was unjustly profiting from the subcontinent’s people and its resources.

Since the tax affected everyone, the grievance was universally felt. The fact that it most heavily burdened the poor added to its outrage. The price of salt charged by the government, Ashe writes, “had a built-in levy—not large, but enough to cost a laborer with a family up to two weeks wages a year.” It was a textbook moral injury. And people responded swiftly to Gandhi’s charge against it.

Indeed, those who had ridiculed the campaign soon had reason to stop laughing. In each village through which the satyagrahis marched, they attracted massive crowds—with as many of 30,000 people gathering to see the pilgrims pray and to hear Gandhi speak of the need for self-rule. As historian Judith Brown writes, Gandhi “grasped intuitively that civil resistance was in many ways an exercise in political theater, where the audience was as important as the actors.” In the procession’s wake, hundreds of Indians who served in local administrative posts for the imperial government resigned their positions.

After the march reached the sea and disobedience began, the campaign achieved an impressive scale. Throughout the country, huge numbers of dissidents began panning for salt and mining natural deposits. Buying illegal packets of the mineral, even if they were of poor quality, became a badge of honor for millions. The Indian National Congress set up its own salt depot, and groups of organized activists led nonviolent raids on the government salt works, blocking roads and entrances with their bodies in an attempt to shut down production. News reports of the beatings and hospitalizations that resulted were broadcast throughout the world.

Soon, the defiance expanded to incorporate local grievances and to take on additional acts of noncooperation. Millions joined the boycott of British cloth and liquor, a growing number of village officials resigned their posts, and, in some provinces, farmers refused to pay land taxes. In increasingly varied forms, mass non-compliance took hold throughout a vast territory. And, in spite of energetic attempts at repression by British authorities, it continued month after month.

Finding issues that could “attract wide support and maintain the cohesion of the movement,” Brown notes, was “no simple task in a country where there were such regional, religious and socio-economic differences.” And yet salt fit the bill precisely. Motilal Nehru, father of the future prime minister, remarked admiringly, “The only wonder is that no one else ever thought of it.”

Beyond the pact

If the choice of salt as a demand had been controversial, the manner in which Gandhi concluded the campaign would be equally so. Judged by instrumental standards, the resolution to the salt satyagraha fell short. By early 1931, the campaign had reverberated throughout the country, yet it was also losing momentum. Repression had taken a toll, much of Congress’s leadership had been arrested, and tax resisters whose property had been seized by the government were facing significant financial hardship. Moderate politicians and members of the business community who supported the Indian National Congress appealed to Gandhi for a resolution. Even many militants with the organization concurred that talks were appropriate.

Accordingly, Gandhi entered into negotiations with Lord Irwin in February 1931, and on March 5 the two announced a pact. On paper, many historians have argued, it was an anticlimax. The key terms of the agreement hardly seemed favorable to the Indian National Congress. In exchange for suspending civil disobedience, protesters being held in jail would be released, their cases would be dropped, and, with some exceptions, the government would lift the repressive security ordinances it had imposed during the satyagraha. Authorities would return fines collected by the government for tax resistance, as well as seized property that had not yet been sold to third parties. And activists would be permitted to continue a peaceful boycott of British cloth.

However, the pact deferred discussion of questions about independence to future talks, with the British making no commitments to loosen their grip on power. (Gandhi would attend a Roundtable conference in London later in 1931 to continue negotiations, but this meeting made little headway.) The government refused to conduct an inquiry into police action during the protest campaign, which had been a firm demand of Indian National Congress activists. Finally, and perhaps most shockingly, the Salt Act itself would remain law, with the concession that the poor in coastal areas would be allowed to produce salt in limited quantities for their own use.

Some of the politicians closest to Gandhi felt extremely dismayed by the terms of the agreement, and a variety of historians have joined in their assessment that the campaign failed to reach its goals. In retrospect, it is certainly legitimate to argue about whether Gandhi gave away too much in negotiations. At the same time, to judge the settlement merely in instrumental terms is to miss its wider impact.

Claiming symbolic victory

If not by short-term, incremental gains, how does a campaign that employs symbolic demands or tactics measure its success?

For momentum-driven mass mobilizations, there are two essential metrics by which to judge progress. Since the long-term goal of the movement is to shift public opinion on an issue, the first measure is whether a given campaign has won more popular support for a movement’s cause. The second measure is whether a campaign builds the capacity of the movement to escalate further. If a drive allows activists to fight another day from a position of greater strength—with more members, superior resources, enhanced legitimacy, and an expanded tactical arsenal—organizers can make a convincing case that they have succeeded, regardless of whether the campaign has made significant progress in closed-door bargaining sessions.

Throughout his career as a negotiator, Gandhi stressed the importance of being willing to compromise on non-essentials. As Joan Bondurant observes in her perceptive study of the principles of satyagraha, one of his political tenets was the “reduction of demands to a minimum consistent with the truth.” The pact with Irwin, Gandhi believed, gave him such a minimum, allowing the movement to end the campaign in a dignified fashion and to prepare for future struggle. For Gandhi, the viceroy’s agreement to allow for exceptions to the salt law, even if they were limited, represented a critical triumph of principle. Moreover, he had forced the British to negotiate as equals—a vital precedent that would be extended into subsequent talks over independence.

In their own fashion, many of Gandhi’s adversaries agreed on the significance of these concessions, seeing the pact as a misstep of lasting consequence for imperial powers. As Ashe writes, the British officialdom in Delhi “ever afterwards … groaned over Irwin’s move as the fatal blunder from which the Raj never recovered.” In a now-infamous speech, Winston Churchill, a leading defender of the British Empire, proclaimed that it was “alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi … striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace … to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.” The move, he claimed, had allowed Gandhi—a man he saw as a “fanatic” and a “fakir”—to step out of prison and “[emerge] on the scene a triumphant victor.”

While insiders had conflicted views about the campaign’s outcome, the broad public was far less equivocal. Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the radicals in the Indian National Congress who was skeptical of Gandhi’s pact, had to revise his view when he saw the reaction in the countryside. As Ashe recounts, when Bose traveled with Gandhi from Bombay to Delhi, he “saw ovations such as he had never witnessed before.” Bose recognized the vindication. “The Mahatma had judged correctly,” Ashe continues. “By all the rules of politics he had been checked. But in the people’s eyes, the plain fact that the Englishman had been brought to negotiate instead of giving orders outweighed any number of details.”

In his influential 1950 biography of Gandhi, still widely read today, Louis Fischer provides a most dramatic appraisal of the Salt March’s legacy: “India was now free,” he writes. “Technically, legally, nothing had changed. India was still a British colony.” And yet, after the salt satyagraha, “it was inevitable that Britain should some day refuse to rule India and that India should some day refuse to be ruled.”

Subsequent historians have sought to provide more nuanced accounts of Gandhi’s contribution to Indian independence, distancing themselves from a first generation of hagiographic biographies that uncritically held up Gandhi as the “father of a nation.” Writing in 2009, Judith Brown cites a variety of social and economic pressures that contributed to Britain’s departure from India, particularly the geopolitical shifts that accompanied the Second World War. Nevertheless, she acknowledges that drives such as the Salt March were critical, playing central roles in building the Indian National Congress’s organization and popular legitimacy. Although mass displays of protest alone did not expel the imperialists, they profoundly altered the political landscape. Civil resistance, Brown writes, “was a crucial part of the environment in which the British had to make decisions about when and how to leave India.”

As Martin Luther King, Jr. would in Birmingham some three decades later, Gandhi accepted a settlement that had limited instrumental value but that allowed the movement to claim a symbolic win and to emerge in a position of strength. Gandhi’s victory in 1931 was not a final one, nor was King’s in 1963. Social movements today continue to fight struggles against racism, discrimination, economic exploitation, and imperial aggression. But, if they choose, they can do so aided by the powerful example of forebearers who converted moral victory into lasting change.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus, an editorial board member at Dissent, and a contributing editor at Yes! magazine. Paul Engler is founding director of the Center for the Working Poor, in Los Angeles. They are writing a book about the evolution of political nonviolence. They can be reached via the website

Willoughby of Sense and Sensibility. Dancing with the Stars Willow, exited but not forgotten.

Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood. Left to die after being rejected by her suitor, the handsome Mr. Willoughby..

Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood. Left to die after being rejected by her suitor, the handsome Mr. Willoughby.

Willow of Dancing with the Stars. Elimination round not.

Willow of Dancing with the Stars. Elimination round not.


What Is Prayer? Prayer comes from the Latin precarius, “obtained by begging” and precari, “to entreat” – to ask earnestly, beseech, implore. Satyagraha in action.

praywithoutceasingMahatma Gandhi described prayer as:  “Prayer is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening. There is no peace without the grace of God, and there is no grace of God without prayer.  Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action. Undoubtedly, prayer requires a living faith in God.  Heartfelt prayer steadies one’s nerves, humbles one and clearly shows one the next step.”

“Prayer is”, according to theologian Ann Ulanov and Prof. Barry Ulanov, “the most fundamental, primordial, and important language humans speak. Prayer starts without words and often ends without them. It knows its own evasions, its own infinite variety of dodges. It works some of the time in signs and symbols, lurches when it must, leaps when it can, has several kinds of logic at its disposal.”praywithoutceasing

Rights vs prejudical law in the American and Canadian Constitutions.

ignoranceWithout Prejudice?

Ever wondered what these words mean? Here is an idea, quoted from a document prepared by Lynne Meredith:

Protecting your Rights by Signing Documents “WITHOUT PREJUDICE” by Lynne Meredith.

It is a maxim of American law that any statute contrary to the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, is null and void and no Citizen is bound to obey an unconstitutional law.

“An unconstitutional statute, though having the form of law, is in reality, no law and imposes no duties, confers no rights, creates no office, bestows no power on anyone and justifies no actions performed under it…” (late Am Jur 2d Sec. 256).

It is also a maxim of the Common Law that no Sovereign American Citizen of the 50 Republic states can be compelled in any action against his or her will. The 50 Republic states currently have an admitted [Territorial] “Government de facto,” which Black’s 2nd Law Dictionary defines as, “a government not established according to the Constitution … a government deemed unlawful, deemed wrongful or unjust, which nevertheless receives habitual obedience from the bulk of the community.”

When the Citizen educated in the constitutional, lawful and just (de jure) American law decides he or she no longer wishes to join the herd of habitually obedient (enslaved) sheep being led to slaughter by blind and unquestioned obedience to unconstitutional, unjust, and unlawful laws, he or she is sometimes faced with defacto employees and foreign agents, uneducated in law, oblivious to our Constitution and drunk with a false sense of power. Faced with guns, handcuffs and a potential night in jail while the law is debated, such a Citizen can be put in a position of “compromise” in order to “buy their peace.” There is a remedy and recourse, out of “de facto” statutes and back to “de jure constitutional law.”

Typically all it takes to “buy your peace” with the de facto government agent or official is a signature. In their mind, you have consented to waive your rights. However, if you write the words, “Without Prejudice” above your signature, you are declaring that you are not waiving any of your rights under the Constitution or Common Law and any document containing the words “Without Prejudice” cannot be used as evidence against you, in Court or otherwise.

“Where an offer or admission is made “without prejudice,”… it is meant as a declaration that no rights or privileges of the party concerned are to be considered as thereby waived or lost…” Black’s Law Dictionary.

The following information comes from Bouvier’s 1914 Law Encyclopedia, under “Compromise.”

“It must be permitted of men to buy their peace without prejudice to them. It has been held that one may buy his peace by compromising a claim which he knows is without right (Daily v. King 70 Mich. 568, 44 N.W. 959) but the compromise of an illegal claim will not sustain a promise.” Read v. Hitching. 71 ME 590.

Documents SignedWithout Prejudice” are Not Admissible as Evidence “It may, however, be considered settled that letters or admissions containing the expression in substance that they are to be ‘without prejudice’ will not be admitted in evidence…an arrangement stating the letter was without prejudice was held to be inadmissible as evidence … not only will the letter bearing the words, “without prejudice” but also the answer thereto, which was not so guarded, was inadmissible …”. Ferry v. Taylor 33 Mo. 323, Durgin v. Somers, 117 Mass 55, Molyneaux v. Collier 13 Ga. 406.

When you do not want to be “presumed” to be waiving rights or acquiescing to de facto statutes, you should sign all documents, “without prejudice,” above your signature. These documents cannot then be used as prima facia evidence against you. However if you are making claims that you may want to use as potential evidence in your favor, do not sign “without prejudice.”.

“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,” Universal Declaration of Human Rights.



Rabbis in penance before God’s Temple. Adonai hears.


The Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem.

rabbis in penanceexaltation

Piety in Faith.

Piety in Faith. Holy God.

Jerusalem’s inhabitants from the ages. Swans, our Jerusalamites.


The Terror of the Jacobins. The French Revolution symbolized dependence, rebellion and opinion as hallmarks of all revolutions violent and otherwise.

Robespierre was a leader of the Jacobin movement popularly known as the reign of Terror where popular violence was given extensive political rights.

Jacobin during the French Revolution (1789 to 1799), was used to describe members of the Jacobin Club, a revolutionary political movement that had been the most famous political club of the French Revolution.The club was so called from the Dominican convent where they originally met, in the Rue Saint-Jacques(Latin: Jacobus) in Paris.

Today, Jacobin and Jacobinism are used in a variety of senses. “Jacobin” is sometimes used in Britain as a pejorative for radical, left-wing revolutionary politics, especially when it exhibits dogmatism and violent repression. In France, “Jacobin” now generally indicates a supporter of a centralized republican state and strong central government powers and/or supporters of extensive government intervention to transform society. It is also used in other related senses, indicating proponents of a state education system which strongly promotes and inculcates civic values, and proponents of a strong nation-state capable of resisting any undesirable foreign influences.

Jacobins in the French Revolution

The Jacobin Club was one of several organizations that grew out of the French Revolution, and it was distinguished for its left-wing, revolutionary politics. Because of this, the Jacobins, unlike other sects like the Girondins, were closely allied to the sans-culottes, who were a popular force of working-class Parisians that played a pivotal role in the development of the revolution. The Jacobins had a significant presence in the National Convention, and were dubbed ‘the Mountain’ for their seats in the uppermost part of the chamber. Eventually, the Revolution coalesced around the Mountain’s power, with the help of the insurrections of the sans-culottes, and, led by Robespierre, the Jacobins established a revolutionary dictatorship, or the joint domination of the Committee of Public Safety and Committee of General Security. The Jacobin dictatorship was known for enacting the Reign of Terror, which targeted speculators, monarchists, left-wing agitators, Hébertists, and traitors, and led to many beheadings

The Jacobins were known for creating a strong government that could deal with the needs of war, economic chaos, and internal rebellion (such as the War in the Vendée). The Jacobins supported the rights of property, but represented a much more middle-class position than the government which succeeded them in Thermidor. Their economic policy established the General maximum, in order to control prices and create stability both for the workers and poor and the revolution. They favored free trade and a liberal economy much like the Girondists, but their relationship to the people made them more willing to adapt interventionist economic policies.

United Kingdom

In England, the word was also popularized in George Canning‘s paper, The Anti-Jacobin, which criticized the English Radicals, of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The English who supported the French Revolution during its early stages (or even throughout) were early known as Jacobins. These included the young Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and others prior to their disillusionment with the outbreak of the Reign of Terror. Others, such as William Hazlitt and Thomas Paine, remained idealistic about the Revolution.


In the correspondence of Metternich and other leaders of the repressive policies that followed the second fall of Napoleon in 1815, Jacobin is the term commonly applied to anyone with liberal tendencies, such as the emperor Alexander I of Russia.

United States

Early Federalist-leaning American newspapers during the French Revolution referred to the Democratic-Republican party as the “Jacobin Party”. The most notable examples are the Gazette of the United States, published in Philadelphia, and the Delaware and Eastern Shore Advertiser, published in Wilmington, during the elections of 1798.

In modern American politics, the term Jacobin is often used to describe extremists of any party who demand ideological purity. For instance, in the lead-up to the1964 Republican National Convention, the press referred to supporters of the insurgent Arizona conservative Barry Goldwater as “Cactus Jacobins” in their effort to unseat the moderate East Coast branch of the party (see Rockefeller Republican).   L. Brent Bozell, Jr. has written in Goldwater’s seminal The Conscience of a Conservative (1960) that “Throughout history, true Conservatism has been at war equally with autocrats and with ‘democratic’ Jacobins.” In 2010 a progressive American publication, Jacobin, was founded.

MK Gandhi and his command of disobeying illegal authority, governmental and otherwise.


God’s divine command and the existence of evil. A heresy repeated over centuries.

God's sovereignty and the mask of evil.

God’s sovereignty and the mask of evil.

Divine Sovereignty vs. Human Responsibility: The gospel of freedom.

humanresponsibility Only the Bible offers a genuine purpose for history without sacrificing human freedom.

Teach me your paths!

Guide me into your truth and teach me.

For you are the God who delivers me;

on you I rely all day long.

Remember your compassionate and faithful deeds, O Lord,

for you have always acted in this manner.


Mysteries are forced upon us by the facts of God’s Word; we are not inventing them ourselves. Since His written revelation teaches concepts that appear to be mutually exclusive, we must realize that with God both truths are friends, not enemies. In God’s higher rationality, things that we think must be either-or can in reality be both-and.

Thus, when the biblical facts warrant them, we can embrace incomprehensibles in the Bible and relate them to the omniscience and omnipotence of God. There is no need to abandon rationality for nonsense as the White Queen does in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.

“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said, “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”1

Neither do we need to adopt Tertullian’s position: “I believe it because it is absurd.”  Instead: “I believe it because God says it in the Bible.”

II. The General Problem

God has revealed to us in the Bible that He not only created all things but He also preplanned everything that would happen in His creation. He both knows everything that has happened and everything that is yet future. He actively decreed every detail of this reality, and He is sovereign over all. But here is where the mystery comes in: even though God is sovereign, man still has real responsibility and freedom in the choices he makes. These choices are his; he cannot blame God for them. And they will genuinely affect and modify the rest of his life.

Because this mystery more intimately affects us than most of the others, it is one of the most difficult to accept. When people face it, they tend to overemphasize one truth (God’s sovereignty) or the other (human responsibility). This produces a lack of balance.

This mystery manifests itself in different ways. For instance, it relates to the issue of election and faith in the doctrine of salvation, as we will see later in this chapter. It also relates to the problem of evil, that is, how evil could enter the creation without God being responsible for it. We will examine this age-old problem in chapter 5.

But first we need to demonstrate from the Word of God the truth of the two basic propositions in this mystery. Do the Scriptures really say that man is completely responsible for what he does even though God planned everything that would come to pass?

III. Divine Sovereignty

God is able to do anything He desires. “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 NET Bible). “He does whatever he pleases in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all the ocean depths” (Ps. 135:6). The Lord carries out everything exactly as planned.

Certainly you must have heard! Long ago I worked it out, in ancient times I planned it; and now I am bringing it to pass (2 Kings 19:25). “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a human being, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not establish it?” (Num. 23:19). All that God has preplanned is as good as done. Nothing can change it, for there is no authority above God. As He says through Isaiah, “To whom can you compare me? Whom do I resemble?” (40:25).

Because of His complete uniqueness and sovereignty, God is able to declare, “Truly I am God, I have no peer; I am God, and there is none like me, who announces the end from the beginning and reveals beforehand what has not yet occurred, who says, ‘My plan will be realized; I will accomplish what I desire ….’’’ (Isa. 46:9-10; see also Isa. 14:24; 43:13).

God directs the history of the universe along the course of His foreordained plan. This involves His ability to choose individuals and groups for special purposes in the outworking of this plan. For instance, Jeremiah and Paul were chosen by God to have special missions even before they were formed in their mother’s wombs (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15).

God also elects individuals for salvation. Christ speaks of those elected for salvation (Matt. 24:22, 24, 31; Luke 18:7), and Paul clearly endorses this concept (Rom. 8:29-33; Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1; see also 1 Peter 1:1-2; John 1).

Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 is particularly striking. God’s election of those who would be saved is pretemporal, “before the foundation of the world,” according to verse 4. This choice involved love and it was based on God’s kindness. He predestined us “to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will” (v. 5).

God’s sovereignty is self-determined, and this fact is emphasized three times (v. 5, 9, 11). In God’s loving purpose, all things have been designed to lead “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (v. 6, 12, 14). It is best that God works in all things, for only in this way will all things ultimately glorify God. This glorification is consistent with God’s love and kindness because He alone is worthy of ultimate glorification. (Nevertheless, God will also glorify all believers at the resurrection when He finally conforms us to the image of His Son. But even God’s act of glorifying others will bring greater glory to Himself).

God’s sovereign purpose extends to all things in His creation and is not limited by space or time. This plan is so complete that Scripture declares, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Prov. 16:33). Consider the implications of a statement like this! Ultimately there is no chance in this universe because even the workings of probability and statistics are controlled by God. There are no real accidents and God is surprised by nothing.

We have seen that God’s eternal plan is all-inclusive, extending even to His election of those who will be saved.2

But what about those not elected for salvation? Most theologians would naturally prefer to limit the bounds of God’s sovereign plan at this point. The word preterition is often used here, meaning that God “passes by” the nonelect.

However, several passages in Scripture seem to support a more active role on God’s part. If this is so, reprobation may be a more appropriate word than preterition.

Romans 9:10-24 is one passage that should be carefully studied. God has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires–both verbs are active (v. 18). God’s choice is not based on human merit, but on His mercy and inscrutable purposes. But if God hardens some, how can human responsibility be real? How can He blame the non-elect for not doing His will (v. 19)? God answers that the question is out of order (v. 20). We know that there is no injustice with God (v. 14), and therefore, as vessels we must trust the Potter. For man this issue is a mystery.

Another passage along this line is 1 Peter 2:8. Speaking of those who reject Jesus Christ, Peter says that “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”Scripture also says, “The Lord works everything for its own ends–even the wicked for the day of disaster” (Prov. 16:4; also compare Ps. 92:6-7). Other verses also reveal how God hardens hearts (Is. 6:10; 44:18; John 12:40; Rom. 11:7-8, 25).

IV. Human Responsibility

Just as biblical a doctrine as divine sovereignty is human responsibility. For instance, Romans 9 (God’s sovereignty) is not complete without Romans 10 (human responsibility): “For the scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:11-13).

King Saul furnishes a good example of the reality of human responsibility. His disobedience cost him a kingdom that would have been everlasting: “the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever” (1 Sam. 13:13). God later said of Saul, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned away from me and has not done what I said” (1 Sam. 15:11).

The Bible makes it clear that we are not pawns in the hands of a deterministic and fatalistic universe. Every command in the Old and New Testaments is proof of the reality of human responsibility from God’s perspective.

A number of passages neatly juxtapose the truths of God’s complete sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Consider, for instance, the Crucifixion of the Son of God. Men were responsible for putting Jesus to death even though He was “handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Those who were gathered together against Jesus simply did what God’s hand and God’s purpose predestined to occur, according to Acts 4:27-28. This mystery also relates directly to Judas Iscariot and his betrayal of Christ: “For the Son of Man is to go just as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed” (Luke 22:22)!

God is the divine Potter who has “right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special use and another for ordinary use” according to His own purpose (Rom. 9:21). Yet this “clay” has a will and is responsible for the choices it freely makes. (Read Jer. 18:1-12 to see how the prophet subtly intertwines both of these concepts.)

God is omniscient. Even when He “changes His mind” (as in Jer. 18:8, 10), it is because He had planned to do so from eternity. In His omniscience He also knew the Jews would not turn back from their sins (indeed, He had even hardened their hearts; Isa. 63:17). Yet His appeal to Judah was no sham (Jer. 18:11); it was a valid offer. Another Old Testament passage that combines the two themes of God’s control and man’s responsibility is Isaiah 63:15-64:12 with 65:1-2.

Philippians 2:12-13 is a very practical passage in which we may observe a perfect balance of these two truths. Paul is talking about the outworking of the Christian life. He emphasizes the aspect of human responsibility in this process (v. 12), and he also emphasizes God’s sovereign control (v. 13). God is controlling and man is responsible. Neither of these two verses should be quoted without the other because the Bible keeps both truths in perfect balance.

V. Synthesis of Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

God is the supreme Ruler over this universe He created. His plan affects every detail of this creation. This plan is eternal, and there never was another plan. Thus, terms like purpose, foreknowledge, predestination, and election are logically related, and they are equally timeless.

God’s complete control over His creation is based on His omniscience and omnipotence. Since God has knowledge of all things actual and possible, His eternal plan is not based upon blind choice. Instead, God has wisely chosen a plan in which all details will finally work together to bring about the greatest good (the glorification of God). Since God is the absolute of truth, goodness, and love, His plan is a reflection of His own being and nature.

Not only has God chosen the best possible plan; He also has the power and authority to bring it about (omnipotence). When God promises to do something, there is no question that it will be done. This is why every biblical prophecy will be perfectly fulfilled.

Nevertheless, God carries out his all-inclusive plan by a variety of means. God may directly intervene or He may achieve His purpose by an indirect agency (e.g., the laws of nature). He may even fulfill His plan by taking His hands off in a given situation (the phrase “God gave them over” appears three times in Rom. 1:24-28). But God is in control regardless of what means He chooses to use.

The Bible makes it clear that God’s work in predestination and election is loving (Eph. 1:4-5; 1 John 4:7), wise (Rom. 11:33; 16:27), and just (Gen. 18:25; Rom. 3:4-6). “The Lord is just in all his actions, and exhibits love in all he does” (Ps. 145:17).

In some inexplicable way God has seen fit to incorporate human freedom and responsibility into His all-inclusive plan. Even though the Lord is in sovereign control of the details in His creation, He never forces any man to do anything against his will. The fact that He judges sin means that He is not responsible for the commission of the sins He judges. When a person sins it is because he has freely chosen to do so. Similarly, when someone is confronted with the terms of the gospel, he can freely choose to accept or reject Christ’s offer of forgiveness of sins. Because it is free choice, he will be held responsible for the decision he makes (see John 12:48).

In my view, personal and moral responsibility require free will. While I disagree with those who say that our wills are in total bondage, I am not implying in my use of the terms “freedom” and “free will” that humans are autonomous. We do not control the fundamental realities of our lives (e.g., our time on earth and our abilities), and yet our choices are ours.

In biblical terms this whole mystery can be summed up by saying that God is both King and Judge. “Scripture teaches that, as King, He orders and controls all things, human action among them, in accordance with his own eternal purpose. Scripture also teaches that, as Judge, He holds every man responsible for the choices he makes and the courses of action he pursues.”3

Finally, God’s plan is not always the same as His desires. Although His plan controls what men will be, the product often is not what He desires. This is partly because God has chosen to allow human will to operate. For instance, God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4; see also 2 Peter 3:9). Yet He has not elected all men: “… The elect obtained it. The rest were hardened” Rom. 11:7).

Thus, God’s plan and desires are two different aspects of His will. He has revealed His desire (what men ought to do), but His plan for what specific men will do has for the most part been hidden. This is almost a mystery within a mystery, because there is no way we can conceive of how these two aspects of God’s will relate together in His mind.

VI. Illustrations

J. I. Packer captures the essence of this mystery when he writes, “Man is a responsible moral agent, though he is also divinely controlled; man is divinely controlled, though he is also a responsible moral agent.”4 Many have attempted to illustrate the interrelation of these two truths, but because this is a mystery, their attempts have proved inadequate.

All too often, people try to apply illustrations of foreknowledge to predestination and election. For instance, they may compare God with a man standing on top of a mountain, looking down at a road that curves around the base of the mountain. The man can see into the future because he knows which cars will pass by one another before they become visible to each other. But God’s plan involves more than foreknowledge. Foreknowledge is passive, but divine control is active.

Another illustration involves a person engineering a situation in such a way that it creates a desire in another person to make a certain decision. Courtship is an example. When a man wants a woman to become his wife, he designs his courtship in such a way that she will respond with a willing “yes” when he proposes. He plans the situation and perhaps knows she will accept his proposal; yet she has a free choice to accept or reject. But even this illustration breaks down. It implies that when we sin, God seduced us in this direction. But that simply is not so (see chap. 5).

The Special Case of History

History itself is completely bound up in the divine sovereignty/human responsibility mystery. Because of it the Christian view of history is unique, since it allows for both determinism and free will. “Both apply, but always in such a way that the evil of history is man’s work and the good of history, God’s.”8 History itself is both a divine and a human product.

From the divine perspective, “History is not just what happens, but what the living God does”9 God’s relation to history is more than a sequence of interventions; He is always active in usual and unusual ways. God is active in the affairs of all nations and men to bring about His sovereign purpose (see Ps. 33:10-11; Isa. 10:5-15; Dan. 2:21; 4:17; Hab. 1:6).

History, therefore, has a clear goal, and it is moving toward a definite consummation in the Second Coming and glorious reign of Jesus Christ. Yet at the same time, God has seen fit to give us genuine freedom of choice.

The biblical picture of history offers two crucial elements: the goal of the historical process and the reality of free will. No historian who works from an unbiblical base can logically arrive at either of these elements. Without a revelation from the God who created history, no one could uncover the goal of history. We are all minute parts of the process, and it would be presumptuous for any part to think he could step out of the process and objectively comprehend the whole.

Neither can the secular historian avoid the problem of determinism. Apart from a personal God, man is left with a deterministic universe driven by forces and laws beyond his control. Only the Bible offers a genuine purpose for history without sacrificing human freedom.  A realization that God is on the throne can give us a confidence and should make us bold, patient, and prayerful. The results must be entrusted into God’s sovereign hands.


If God controls all things, why pray? The answer, of course, is that God commands us to pray, and we are responsible to be obedient to this command. We are also responsible to meet the conditions for answered prayer (some of these conditions are found in John 15:7; 16:23-24; 1 Peter 3:7, 12; 1 John 5:14). Otherwise, our prayers will be hindered.

Though God is sovereign, the prayers of His children contribute significantly to the outworking of His program. This does not mean that we are pushing buttons or forcing God to answer, for He does not grant all requests. Prayer should instead remind a believer of his complete dependence upon God for all things. When great things happen, God is the One who should be glorified, not the person who prayed. So at the same time that God is in control of all things, our prayers can and do profoundly shape reality.


God has a plan for every life, but the details of this plan are carried out by the free choices of each person involved. As we said before, however, God’s plan is not always the same as His desires. The degree to which God’s desires are carried out in His plan for our lives is our responsibility. God, for instance, desires that we come to love Him for who He is and what He has done for us. But we are not robots programmed to say, “Praise you! Praise you!” No one can truly love God (or anyone else) without the power to choose.

He can freely choose among five genuine options. Here is where the wonder comes in: the five contingencies are real, and yet whatever is done is God’s plan. This is true for all of us. Because the contingencies are real, we remain responsible for the choices we make.

God sees the whole line at once because He is not limited as we are to the temporal sequence of events (chap. 7). Since we cannot see our lines of life as God sees them, no one can live his life as though there were a blueprint in front of him. A Christian should instead place his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the decisions of each day.


God is on the throne. He is in complete control of all creation. Even though all things are in constant flux, nothing escapes God’s constant notice. “Even all the hairs on your head are numbered” (Matt.10:30). Every time a hair falls out, every time you comb your hair, the Lord takes it into account!

Each of us is significant because the living God places us in high esteem. “By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him” (1 John 4:9).


“The dice are thrown into the lap, but their every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33). In view of the overwhelming scriptural evidence for divine sovereignty, terms like fate and lucklose their significance. In an ultimate sense, nothing happens by pure chance.

Nevertheless, the biblical doctrine of human responsibility is just as clear, and the lives of all people bear this out. No one can live as though he were a machine programmed by the forces of fate. He must make choices.


We have an ability to contemplate the future and a desire to affect it. The problem is that we want to exercise free will, but we do not want the responsibility that goes with it. People try to avoid responsibility in a number of ways.

One effort has been to set up a random universe in which the casual agents are time and chance. Atheistic evolutionism is an attempt to kick out the Owner of the universe. If we don’t have to answer to a personal Creator, there is no need to worry about responsibility for our sinful actions and thoughts.

In this last section we have considered only a few of the implications of the divine sovereignty/human responsibility mystery. The biblical truths involved in God’s sovereign purpose and control of His universe should lead us to a greater appreciation of God Himself. The more we meditate on these things, the more we can picture His loving concern, wisdom, holiness, and greatness.

Make me understand your ways, O Lord!

Teach me your paths!

Guide me into your truth and teach me.

For you are the God who delivers me;

on you I rely all day long.

Remember your compassionate and faithful deeds, O Lord,

for you have always acted in this manner.

(Ps. 25:4-6).