Unarmed Truth and Unconditional Love


In his final State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of unarmed truth and unconditional love. I was happy to hear him utter in public the four-letter L word. We hear politicians speak about love of country, but we rarely hear them speak about unconditional love. Too often love of country translates into love of people in the country who are like ourselves. Too often it means disrespect, distrust, paranoia, and even hatred of the Other.
Unconditional love, like radical love, is a way to adjudicate the contestation of ideas that leads to consensus on public policy. In his use of these terms, President Obama not only echoed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., but he also demonstrated the same faith in the power of unarmed truth and unconditional love. It was one Nobel Laureate expanding the reach of another laureate. In his Nobel lecture, King said in part:
“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
I have supported President Obama since he announced his candidacy in 2007 because he did not have is fingerprints on the Iraq war, and because as president, he is, for the most part, a just peace president, a just peace pragmatist to be exact. He spoke about just peace principles and practices in his Nobel lecture, and while he has rarely used the term since, his actions are just peace actions.
He operates out of the values of truth, respect, and security. He deploys diplomacy, strategic patience, a careful approach to the spread of weapons, a commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, and international cooperation in his foreign policy. His critics from the left and the right notwithstanding, his foreign policy has coherence and is rooted in an identifiable theory. Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy seems to be rooted in the theory of smart power. Most of the Republican presidential candidates seem to be making their foreign policy up as they go along. President Obama knows that we live in a post-colonial moment where no nation can dictate terms to another or take responsibility for the day to day function of another country. Free nations are responsible for their own governance. All the United States can do is offer assistance. He is careful about acts of war against sovereign nations.
Regarding domestic policy, he knows that without justice there can be no peace. The founders understood this when in the preamble to the United States Constitution they put the establishment of justice before domestic tranquility. President Obama also knows that justice is multifaceted and includes both restorative and distributive justice. He embraces the reality that sustainable economic development is a just peace practice and principle that requires respect for the natural world. This includes efforts to combat climate change.
When he echoes King and speaks of unarmed truth, he reminds us that the truth is its own power and does not need a gun. At the same time, no gun can shoot the truth. It is the stuff of reality. While none of us can know all of the truth – we know in part – we can and ought to bear witness to that portion of the truth that we know. Moreover, we ought to call out those in the public discourse who ignore or distort the facts. Basing public policy on falsehoods will not, cannot, lead to a good outcome.
Further, unarmed truth needs unconditional love to give us courage to speak and to face the truth. Untruth is a waste of time because the truth will always out, sooner or later. Unconditional love, radical love, means that we love the people we do not like. This love translates into good will. It translates into the Golden Rule: In EVERYTHING do unto other as you would have them do unto you. Unconditional love finds its most challenging application when we think about issues within the four broad categories that President Obama outlined in his speech – opportunity and security in a new economy; technology that works for us and helps to combat climate change; a foreign policy that keeps America safe while not becoming the worlds’ police nation; politics that reflect the best and not the worst aspects of our character.
Excuse me while I quote myself. In the introduction to my book – “Just Peace Theory Book One” – I express a hope that people in the future “will understand radical love far better than we do today. I hope they will not be ashamed to speak of it, to practice it, and to employ it better than we do today.” In his final State of the Union address, President Obama took us one step closer to this goal.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.’

2 thoughts on “Unarmed Truth and Unconditional Love

  1. Redefining the meaning of many concepts is a valiant pursuit. Making up words is done by experts beyond my pay grade and/or ability, most of the time. I like to think basic logic disavows the need to continue to pursue “unarmed truth” using either your or MLK, Jr’s original context. It just doesn’t string together enough logical syntax to be helpful in redefining some better relevance; I will grant you that I wasn’t around when MLK, Jr was using this stream of thought & it may very well have helped advance the goal of a peaceful resistance at the time. It’s a measure of people’s willingness to indulge hope, and as a line spoken by Morgan Freeman at the end of the Shawshank Redemption went: “Hope is a good thing…and a good thing never dies,” the sentiment does provide some comfort.

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