A History of the Idea of Pacifism and Nonviolence

Ancient to Modern

Authored by: Duane L. Cady

The Routledge Handbook of Pacifism and Nonviolence

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138194663
eBook ISBN: 9781315638751
Adobe ISBN:


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Although the words “pacifism” and “nonviolence” have found common usage gradually since the mid-nineteenth century, the idea they refer to can be found in documents dating back nearly three millennia. Pacifism arises initially as moral opposition to violence, especially mass violence. Although much of our contemporary world presumes the moral rightness of war as a central function of the nation-state (see Cady 1989/2010), moral resistance to mass violence, along with moral preference for society being orderly from within by cooperation rather than ordered by force from without, can be traced back to antiquity. The effort here is not to describe past events wherein pacifism succeeded or failed to resolve conflict, struggle against oppression, or establish thriving peaceful societies by nonviolent means. That history is important, but here the focus is on the idea of pacifism, a moral history of humans aspiring to harmonious living and the absence of war.

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