Pacifism is opposition to the practice of war.
Many (but not all) pacifists have a commitment to non-violence in general in society, making a commitment to achieving one's goals only through actively non-violent resistance or non-aggressive means. Among these pacifists, there may also be differing views as to what constitutes violence.
Other pacifists may not on principle be opposed to all social use of coercion or violence in all cases, but believe that war is a category of violence which is never necessary or acceptable.
Dovishness or Dovism is an informal term used to describe people with pacifist or anti-war principles. This alludes to the non-predatory nature of the dove. The opposite position is hawkishness or militarism.
"Leading Citizens want War and declare War; Citizens Who are Led fight the War" 1910 cartoon
Advocacy of pacifism can be found far back in history and literature, for example in the Classical world. Two instances from the Peloponnesian War 431—404 BC that have come down to us are the non-violent protest of Hegetorides of Thasos, and the Athenian women's anti-war sex strike in Aristophanes' comedy Lysistrata.
Some religious organizations, such as the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Amish, and the Mennonites, have been pacific for centuries. In the 19th century pacifist sentiment grew. Many socialist groups and movements in that century were pacifist, arguing that war by its nature was a type of governmental coercion of the working class, who were forced to fight and die in wars of no benefit to them at the behest of their political and economic masters who never suffer in the war's front lines.
In Aotearoa/New Zealand during the latter half of the 19th century the British, and its colonial settlers, tried many tactics to grab land from the Maori, including warfare. In one case a Maori leader was so inspiring that he was able to encourage warriors to stand up for their rights without using their weapons. This in an atmosphere where similar warriors had defeated opposing forces in earlier years. Te Whiti-o-Rongomai convinced 2000 people to welcome battle-hardened soldiers into their village and even offer them food and drink. This same, peaceful, leader allowed himself and his people to be arrested without resistance.
In the aftermath of the slaughter of World War I there was a great revulsion with war in much of the West, and pacifist doctrines gained many new adherents. However pacifist literature or public advocation of anti-war ideals was banned in some nations, such as Italy under Mussolini, the Soviet Union, and slightly later Germany after the rise of Hitler. In these nations, pacifism was denounced as simple cowardice. With the start of World War II, pacifist sentiment declined. Bertrand Russell argued that the necessity of defeating Hitler was a unique circumstance where war was not the worst of the possible evils; he called his position "relative pacifism". Even H. G. Wells, who had claimed after the armistice ending World War I that the British had suffered more from the war than they would have from submission to Germany, later urged in 1941 a large-scale British offensive on the continent of Europe to combat Hitler and Nazism.
Pacifist sentiment rose again a generation later in the 1960s.
"Pacifist" often less technically describes a person who accepts risks to himself and others, or prefers the penalties which might accompany a non-aggressive stance even in extreme circumstances, for the sake of avoiding a violent or military solution especially in politics. A person may be distinguished as more than usually confident in peaceful means for the resolution of any conflict, more of a pacifist than others, earning the reputation as a "dove" or a "peacemaker". Pacifism also describes a stance in particular circumstances, in contrast with those who believe that the circumstances justify violence. An advocate of a pacifist strategy may be more optimistic or opposed to violence in the situation, differing from his non-pacifist counterpart only in his assessment of the means the situation calls for. Positions which advise non-aggression under normal circumstances but reserve the right to self-defense under crisis, while not pacifist in an ideal sense, may be called pacifist in a pragmatic sense, reflecting strong commitment to the natural and nearly universal preference of peace over war.
The political theory of Green parties lists "non-violence" and "decentralization" towards anarchist co-operatives or minimalist village government, as two of their ten key values. However, in power, Greens like all politicians often compromise, e.g. German Greens in the cabinet of Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder supported an intervention by German troops in Afghanistan in 2001, but on condition that they host the peace conference in Berlin — and during the 2002 election campaign forced Schröder to swear that no German troops would invade Iraq.
This suggests that many who advocate "non-violence" or pacifism, especially political parties that participate in government, actually advocate what is more properly called de-escalation or even arms reduction (on a very large scale) rather than outright disarmament (which is advocated by many pacifists). Many outstanding pacifists of this sort have taken part in defensive military actions when their countries were attacked, but others prefer to leave their country if it is preparing for aggressive war (such as Germany in the 1930s). Clearly a party that writes and enforces law is not non-violent. It can be pacifist, however, by refusing participation in external conflicts, refusing to supply weapons, and sheltering refugees but not combatants. There are many definitions of such "pragmatic pacifism".
Principled or radical pacifism
While those who believe that war is normally preferable to peace are rare indeed, pacifism as a distinctive belief is not at all common. The distinction of pacifism is not only an extraordinary faith in the effectiveness or benefits of peaceful means of resolution of conflict, but the principled rejection of all pretended justification of violent means under any circumstances. At a minimum, this stance is adopted as a matter of personal conviction limited to one's own choices, which sometimes leaves the individual conscientiously free to serve in a war effort as a non-combatant if required to do so. Some people who felt they could not in good conscience fight in a war served as ambulance drivers during World War I; others were jailed, such as the American pacifist agitator David Dellinger.
The ultimate pragmatic argument that may be offered by pacifists is that violent resistance to violence always fails to bring about peace, that war can only be expected to establish a realignment of forces under principles of violence. Besides, pacifists may argue, war frequently fails to accomplish the political or economic ends to which it is supposedly directed, nor do the benefits usually outweigh the cost, and rarely in actuality is war motivated by the high ideals that its supporters use to justify it. Not all forms of radical pacifism make pragmatic assumptions, and rather simply oppose violence as such. Radical pacifism is controversial, and only a few religions (such as the peace churches of Christianity and many Buddhist sects) advocate it.
Pacifism has both a passive component (refusing to fight) and an active component (working for peace). Many pacifists may seek to be recognized conscientious objectors by their government, and may actively seek other ways to avoid all participation in their nation's maintenance or use of military forces. Pacifists believe that if their community is threatened by a crisis of aggressive opposition, all aggression as such should be opposed, including self-defensive "aggression". Those who advocate a philosophy of total non-violence at all levels may offer pragmatic arguments for the benefits of non-violent resistance; however, a radical pacifistic position is in the final analysis a moral, spiritual or religious principle intended to be maintained at all cost, and therefore does not necessarily imply any optimistic expectation for the material benefits of this policy.
Today, some countries (for example, Switzerland and Germany) offer civilian service in order to allow pacifists not to go to military.
Pacifism and international aggressions
Some pacifists are in favor of the establishment of a world government as a means to prevent and control international aggression without the UN veto problem.
Such radical behaviour as pacifism is often induced by religious beliefs. In particular, many Buddhists are pacifist, as are members of the Religious Society of Friends, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, Amish, Unitarian Universalist and some other Christian groups. There are also groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses which espouse neutrality rather than pacifism.
Opinions are divided among Christians over whether Jesus advocated pacifist teachings. Certain Christian denominations, known as peace churches, have taken the position that he did do so, and believe further that early Christianity was essentially pacifist in nature. The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy advocated what has come to be known as anarcho-pacifism or Christian anarchism. He argued that Christians were obligated to be pacifists, and that pacifists, in turn, were obligated to be anarchists — since government is based on the use of force. Tolstoy was influenced by Henry David Thoreau's writings on civil disobedience. Tolstoy's own writings on pacifism and non-resistance converted Gandhi to pacifism.
In the modern era, theologians such as Mennonite John Howard Yoder and United Methodist Stanley Hauerwas have been strong advocates for Christian pacifism. Both have strengthened the pacifist argument with sophisticated philosophical underpinnings, grounded in the Bible and the life, words, and person of Jesus.
Non-pacifistic religions, including Judaism, many variants of Christianity, and Islam, have usually made no pretense of meaning "pacifism" by their messages concerning the great obligation to pursue peace: typically constructing rules, sometimes very elaborately defined, under which the use of aggression for the establishment and maintenance of justice may be legitimate. Non-pacifist Christians typically interpret Christ to have taught patience under even extreme religious persecution, but do not directly extend the teaching as a rule for the governance of nations or the strategies of police forces. Most, in particular the Roman Catholic Church, adopt some formulation of a just war doctrine, by which the use of violence or force is deemed legitimate and necessary under certain circumstances, on which occasions non-participation may be judged morally wrong.
While usually emphasizing the inherent limitations of aggression toward accomplishing these ends, and typically warning of the risk that aggression often works contrary to its aim, force is not a fundamental contradiction of their religious principles. However, it is almost universal among these religions to absolutely reject violence as a means for spreading their religion to uncoverted peoples — a principle for which their adherents are often chastised, from within and outside their communities, on account of the occasions upon which it has been ignored. Even some of the pacifist religions and philosophies have sometimes approved the use of force in apparent contradiction of their principles, although not always by stooping to take up weapons themselves. During World War II some Quakers put aside their pacifist beliefs and did fight.
Followers of pacifist religions must often go to great lengths to be able to effect change. This does not mean it cannot be successful, as in the case of Mohandas Gandhi's application of the Jainist religious concept of Ahimsa, which played a major role in India's independence. Gandhi relied on his followers' committing acts of non-violence with the specific purpose of setting a perfect contrast with the violence used by the British against them, in order to sway public opinion.
Last updated: 08-07-2005 21:00:42