Pacifism

Ethical objection to violence.

Violence and the taking of life are morally wrong. People should therefore refuse to engage in or support military activity, and no cause can justify the use of military force.

There can therefore be no such thing as a just war.

Source:
David Miller et al., eds, The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought (Oxford, 1987)

Definition

Pacifism covers a spectrum of views, including the belief that international disputes can and should be peacefully resolved, calls for the abolition of the institutions of the military and war, opposition to any organization of society through governmental force (anarchist or libertarian pacifism), rejection of the use of physical violence to obtain political, economic or social goals, the obliteration of force, and opposition to violence under any circumstance, even defence of self and others. Historians of pacifism Peter Brock and Thomas Paul Socknat define pacifism “in the sense generally accepted in English-speaking areas” as “an unconditional rejection of all forms of warfare”.[4] Philosopher Jenny Teichman defines the main form of pacifism as “anti-warism”, the rejection of all forms of warfare.[5] Teichman’s beliefs have been summarized by Brian Orend as “… A pacifist rejects war and believes there are no moral grounds which can justify resorting to war. War, for the pacifist, is always wrong.” In a sense the philosophy is based on the idea that the ends do not justify the means.[6]

Moral considerations

Anti-war activist arrested in San Francisco during the March 2003 protests against the war in Iraq

Pacifism may be based on moral principles (a deontological view) or pragmatism (a consequentialist view). Principled pacifism holds that at some point along the spectrum from war to interpersonal physical violence, such violence becomes morally wrong. Pragmatic pacifism holds that the costs of war and interpersonal violence are so substantial that better ways of resolving disputes must be found. Pacifists generally reject theories of Just War.

Nonviolence

Some pacifists follow principles of nonviolence, believing that nonviolent action is morally superior and/or most effective. Some however, support physical violence for emergency defence of self or others. Others support destruction of property in such emergencies or for conducting symbolic acts of resistance like pouring red paint to represent blood on the outside of military recruiting offices or entering air force bases and hammering on military aircraft.

Not all nonviolent resistance (sometimes also called civil resistance) is based on a fundamental rejection of all violence in all circumstances. Many leaders and participants in such movements, while recognizing the importance of using non-violent methods in particular circumstances, have not been absolute pacifists. Sometimes, as with the civil rights movement’s march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, they have called for armed protection. The interconnections between civil resistance and factors of force are numerous and complex.[7]

Absolute pacifism

An absolute pacifist is generally described by the British Broadcasting Corporation as one who believes that human life is so valuable, that a human should never be killed and war should never be conducted, even in self-defense. The principle is described as difficult to abide by consistently, due to violence not being available as a tool to aid a person who is being harmed or killed. It is further claimed that such a pacifist could logically argue that violence leads to more undesirable results than non-violence.[8]

Police actions and national liberation

Although all pacifists are opposed to war between nation states, there have been occasions where pacifists have supported military conflict in the case of civil war or revolution.[9] For instance, during the American Civil War, both the American Peace Society and some former members of the Non-Resistance Society supported the Union’s military campaign, arguing they were carrying out a “police action” against the Confederacy, whose act of Secession they regarded as criminal.[9][10] Following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, French pacifist René Gérin (1892–1957) urged support for the Spanish Republic.[11] Gérin argued that the Spanish Nationalists were “comparable to an individual enemy” and the Republic’s war effort was equivalent to the action of a domestic police force suppressing crime.[11]

In the 1960s, some pacifists associated with the New Left supported wars of national liberation and supported groups such as the Viet Cong and the Algerian FLN, arguing peaceful attempts to liberate such nations were no longer viable, and war was thus the only option.[12]

Early traditions of pacifism

Vereshchagin’s painting The Apotheosis of War (1871) came to be admired as one of the earliest artistic expressions of pacifism

Advocacy of pacifism can be found far back in history and literature.

China

During the Warring States period, the pacifist Mohist School opposed aggressive war between the feudal states. They took this belief into action by using their famed defensive strategies to defend smaller states from invasion from larger states, hoping to dissuade feudal lords from costly warfare. The Seven Military Classics of ancient China view warfare negatively, and as a last resort. For example, the Three Strategies of Huang Shigong says: “As for the military, it is not an auspicious instrument; it is the way of heaven to despise it”, and the Wei Liaozi writes: “As for the military, it is an inauspicious instrument; as for conflict and contention, it runs counter to virtue”.[13]

The Taoist scripture “Classic of Great Peace (Taiping jing)” foretells “the coming Age of Great Peace (taiping)”.[14] The Taiping Jing advocates “a world full of peace”.[15]

Lemba

The Lemba religion of southern French Congo, along with its symbolic herb, is named for pacifism : “lemba, lemba” (peace, peace), describes the action of the plant lemba-lemba (Brillantaisia patula T. Anders).[16] Likewise in Cabinda, “Lemba is the spirit of peace, as its name indicates.”[17]

Moriori

The Moriori, of the Chatham Islands, practiced pacifism by order of their ancestor Nunuku-whenua. This enabled the Moriori to preserve what limited resources they had in their harsh climate, avoiding waste through warfare. In turn, this led to their almost complete annihilation in 1835 by invading Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama Māori from the Taranaki region of the North Island of New Zealand. The invading Māori killed, enslaved and cannibalised the Moriori. A Moriori survivor recalled : “[The Maori] commenced to kill us like sheep … [We] were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies. It was of no avail; we were discovered and killed – men, women and children indiscriminately.”[18]

Greece

In Ancient Greece, pacifism seems not to have existed except as a broad moral guideline against violence between individuals. No philosophical program of rejecting violence between states, or rejecting all forms of violence, seems to have existed. Aristophanes, in his play Lysistrata, creates the scenario of an Athenian woman’s anti-war sex strike during the Peloponnesian War of 431–404 BC, and the play has gained an international reputation for its anti-war message. Nevertheless, it is both fictional and comical, and though it offers a pragmatic opposition to the destructiveness of war, its message seems to stem from frustration with the existing conflict (then in its twentieth year) rather than from a philosophical position against violence or war. Equally fictional is the nonviolent protest of Hegetorides of Thasos. Euripides also expressed strong anti-war ideas in his work, especially The Trojan Women.[19]

Roman Empire

Several Roman writers rejected the militarism of Roman society and gave voice to anti-war sentiments,[19] including Propertius, Tibullus and Ovid.[20] The Stoic Seneca the Younger criticised warfare in his book Naturales quaestiones (circa 65 AD).[21]

Maximilian of Tebessa was a Christian conscientious objector. He was killed for refusing to be conscripted

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