Pacifism in the Twentieth Century and Beyond

Authored by: Andrew Fiala

The Routledge Handbook of Pacifism and Nonviolence

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

Print ISBN: 9781138194663
eBook ISBN: 9781315638751
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Pacifism comes into its own as a philosophical idea and political movement in the twentieth century. Philosophers took up pacifism as an object for philosophical analysis. Pacifist parties and peace movements worked in earnest to abolish war. Nonviolent activism was successful. Peace and nonviolence became the object of sustained reflection. Scholars and activists clarified the power of nonviolence and the ongoing challenge of violence in all of its forms, including cultural violence, institutional violence, and structural violence. In the early part of the century important philosophers and scholars reflected on pacifism and often engaged in peace activism: William James, Jane Addams, John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, and others. After the Second World War, pacifism and peace activism focused on the problem of the Cold War and the absurdity of nuclear weapons. Throughout this period, peace activists honed their skills, learning from Gandhi and others. The field of peace studies developed in an effort to systematically understand how peace is made and violence can be diminished.

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Pacifism in the Twentieth Century and Beyond

Pacifism comes into its own as a philosophical idea and political movement in the twentieth century. Philosophers took up pacifism as an object for philosophical analysis. Pacifist parties and peace movements worked in earnest to abolish war. Nonviolent activism was successful. Peace and nonviolence became the object of sustained reflection. Scholars and activists clarified the power of nonviolence and the ongoing challenge of violence in all of its forms, including cultural violence, institutional violence, and structural violence. In the early part of the century important philosophers and scholars reflected on pacifism and often engaged in peace activism: William James, Jane Addams, John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, and others. After the Second World War, pacifism and peace activism focused on the problem of the Cold War and the absurdity of nuclear weapons. Throughout this period, peace activists honed their skills, learning from Gandhi and others. The field of peace studies developed in an effort to systematically understand how peace is made and violence can be diminished.

By the end of the twentieth century, an extensive scholarly literature had developed that focused on philosophical puzzles regarding pacifism in ethics and with regard to those aspects of political and social life that contribute to peace. In the twenty-first century, pacifism is still a fruitful subject of critical reflection. The non-pacifist alternative of the just war tradition has been honed and shaped by pacifist critique. Committed pacifists have developed a set of concepts and an intellectual apparatus that helps them understand their own commitments and ideals. In the twentieth century we get detailed accounts of “the military-industrial complex,” “militarism,” “warism,” and “war crimes,” as well as theories of contingent pacifism, just war pacifism, political pacifism, personal pacifism, and other concepts described throughout the present anthology.

This chapter considers two phases of the development of pacifism. The first phase developed under the shadow of Tolstoy and in relation to the First and Second World Wars. The second phase developed during the Cold War and includes pacifism as a response to nuclear weapons as well as the successful application of strategies of nonviolence in liberation movements. A third phase is currently under development, as we respond to the end of the Cold War and the ongoing “war on terrorism.” Also in recent years, there has developed an all-inclusive critique of violence that considers the ubiquity of structural violence and cultural violence, building on the work of Johan Galtung, one of the giants of peace studies (see Galtung 1969 and 1990). In general, in the twentieth century we see a productive dialectic between pacifism and its critics; and in general, the world has become sympathetic to the insights of advocates of pacifism and nonviolence.

Early Twentieth Century: From Tolstoy to the Second World War

There have long been a variety of people who are committed to nonviolence and opposed to war in a variety of cultures. There have also been sustained efforts to build peace and end war. Important philosophers have contributed to peace movements and the critique of war and violence: Erasmus, Kant, and Bentham. Religious thinkers such as the Quakers, Mennonites, and other Protestants also had a profound influence on the development of peace philosophy and pacifism. A longer genealogy of pacifism would examine the pacifism of American abolitionists, religious visionaries, and advocates of nonresistance and civil disobedience, such as Adin Balou, Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau.

One of the seminal thinkers for the development of twentieth-century pacifism is Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy’s nonresistant pacifism was based upon a close reading of the Christian Gospels. He explained, “Jesus said, simply and clearly, that the law of resistance to evil by violence, which has been made the basis of society, is false, and contrary to man’s nature; and he gave another basis, that of non-resistance to evil, a law which, according to his doctrine, would deliver man from wrong” (Tolstoy 1885: 40). This idea of nonresistant pacifism would set the stage for reflection upon pacifism in the twentieth century. Tolstoy influenced Gandhi (who named one of his early communes “Tolstoy Farm”). Gandhi and Tolstoy corresponded. Gandhi modified nonresistance and transformed it into active but nonviolent resistance. This idea influenced Martin Luther King, Jr., James Lawson, and other nonviolent activists in the twentieth century. Jane Addams was influenced by Tolstoy, as was James and Dewey. Addams traveled to Russia to meet Tolstoy; James wrote of Tolstoy in his Varieties of Religious Experience. And although Dewey studied Tolstoy, he rejected Tolstoy’s approach to life as requiring too much of an “all or nothing” choice (Dewey 1990). Dewey’s critique of pacifism—especially the “professional pacifists” of the WWI era—held that “the efforts of pacifists” were “idle gestures in the air.” Dewey wanted to see war made pragmatically effective—not abolish it. He said in 1917 that the future of pacifism lies:

in seeing to it that the war itself is turned to account as a means for bringing these agencies into being. To go on protesting against war in general and this war in particular, to direct effort to stopping the war rather than to determining the terms upon which it shall be stopped, is to repeat the earlier tactics after their ineffectualness has been revealed.

Dewey 1917: 359 Dewey, like others of his generation, thought that war could be used to end war. He supported American efforts in World War I (also called “the war to end all wars”). Committed pacifists rejected this idea.

Addams, James, and Dewey were members of the Anti-Imperialist League (along with Mark Twain, who mocked the cynicism of war, and Andrew Carnegie, who put his fortune behind philanthropic efforts to abolish war). Members were not necessarily pacifists even though they opposed American imperialism, including wars in the Philippines and elsewhere. In their work in different ways, Addams and James each advocated the development of a moral alternative to war. In a speech from 1910, published in 1911, entitled “A Moral Equivalent of War,” James discusses “Tolstoi’s pacificism” ( James 1911: 283). Reprints of this essay update the spelling, writing “pacifism” instead of “pacificism.” But this shows us that there was no agreement about the proper name for what we are describing here—whether it was pacific-ism or pacifism. The concept and terminology of pacifism was under development during this time. Scholars tend to agree that the term “pacifism” was coined by Émile Arnaud in 1901 at an international peace conference. Arnaud published a pamphlet in 1906, Le Pacifisme et ses Détracteurs, in which pacifism is described as the banner under which war is suppressed and a humane life is defended (Arnaud 1906). James’s usage of the term “pacificism” in 1910 shows that the idea was already spreading quickly. By the time of the First World War, Russell, Dewey, and others were arguing about the idea and employing the term “pacifism.”

Some authors have attempted to contrast pacifism and pacific-ism in a technical fashion. Dower explains—building upon the work of Taylor and Ceadel—that pacific-ism is focused on creating conditions for peace (which can also be open to limited and just wars), while pacifism is a moral rejection of violence (Dower 2009). In this sense, James would be a pacific-ist if he were not completely opposed to war, while being interested in imagining alternatives and preventing war. Indeed, James’s idea about a moral equivalent of war was primarily interested in finding ways to channel the human interest in warlike activity—in more peaceful and productive ways.

James died before the outbreak of World War I, but Addams and Dewey lived through it. The First World War caused philosophers to pick sides. Addams was opposed to the war. She supported Woodrow Wilson when he promised to keep the U.S. out of the war. She felt betrayed by Wilson when the U.S. entered the war. Addams connected her pragmatic hope for peace to democracy and the empowerment of women and the oppressed masses, who usually suffered silently from the horrors of war. Addams and her Women’s Peace Party worked to end the war and eventually ended up creating the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

As mentioned, Dewey supported the Great War. But Dewey’s student Randolph Bourne criticized Dewey for his support of the war. Bourne famously argued that “war was the health of the state”—and combined his critique of war with a general critique of militarized states (Bourne 1918). He was especially disappointed with the way the American intelligentsia threw its support behind the war effort. Bourne argued that once war breaks out, critical thinking stops, pacifism is viewed as absurd, and everyone is forced to join in as a cog in the “great wheel” of the militaristic state (Bourne 1917: 12).

Bourne’s critique of militaristic states had parallels with Marxist critiques of the relation between war and the state, as found for example in the work of Karl Liebknecht—who published his Militarism and Anti-Militarism in 1907 (resulting in a yearlong imprisonment). Marxists like Liebknecht saw militarism as an adjunct of capitalism. Liebknecht claimed that standing armies and escalating militarism was a threat to peace. He was involved in “anti-militarism,” which involved advocating for universal disarmament and establishing international relations based upon proletarian interests. One of Liebknecht’s colleagues, Rosa Luxemburg, explained in an article entitled “The Meaning of Pacifism” in 1911:

Militarism in both its forms—as war and as armed peace—is a legitimate child, a logical result of capitalism, which can only be overcome with the destruction of capitalism, and hence whoever honestly desires world peace and liberation from the tremendous burden of armaments must also desire socialism.

Luxemburg 1911: n.p. The socialist pacifism of Liebknecht and Luxemburg developed alongside the anarchism of the early part of the century. Like the socialists, the anarchists were critical of the state’s power to make war. While anarchists and socialists often advocated the use of violence to overthrow the state, there were anarcho-pacifists whose rejection of violence was connected to a critique of political power in all its forms. One important example is Emma Goldmann, the American anarchist. Goldmann stated in an essay first published in 1908, “The fact is that Anarchists are the only true advocates of peace, the only people who call a halt to the growing tendency of militarism” (Goldmann 1998: 52). She explained further:

I believe that militarism—a standing army and navy in any country—is indicative of the decay of liberty and of the destruction of all that is best and finest in our nation. The steadily growing clamor for more battleships and an increased army on the ground that these guarantee us peace is as absurd as the argument that the peaceful man is he who goes well armed.

Goldmann 1998: 54
Goldmann further explained her complaint against the bourgeois pacifists as follows: “Nor is it enough to join the bourgeois pacifists, who proclaim peace among the nations, while helping to perpetuate the war among the classes, a war which in reality is at the bottom of all other wars” (Goldmann 1998: 355).

Before concluding this discussion of pacifism through the First World War, we should mention Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, two of the most prominent intellectuals of the twentieth century, each of whom was committed to pacifism. Each was opposed to the First World War, although they modified their position with regard to the Second World War. Einstein was one of the few intellectuals in the German sphere of influence to sign a document opposing the First World War. He continued his peace activism throughout his life. At one point he said, “I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the peoples themselves refuse to go to war” (Einstein 1981: 125). In 1928, he said:

It seems to be an utterly futile task to prescribe rules and limitations for the conduct of war. War is not a game; hence one cannot wage war by rules as one would in playing games. Our fight must be against war itself. The masses of people can most effectively fight the institution of war by establishing an organization for the absolute refusal of military service.

Einstein 1981: 90 Einstein was one of the most famous proponents of war resistance and refusal of military service. Later, in the 1930s, Einstein corresponded with Sigmund Freud regarding humanity’s warlike propensity. Freud’s response focused on the psychological tendency toward aggression. But Freud said that civilized men like he and Einstein “are therefore bound to resent war, to find it utterly intolerable. With pacifists like us it is not merely an intellectual and affective repulsion, but a constitutional intolerance, an idiosyncrasy in its most drastic form” (quoted in Einstein 1981: 202). Freud suggested that as the revulsion toward war grew and developed, the rest of humanity might “turn pacifist” (Einstein 1981).

Like Freud and Einstein, Russell was opposed to the mechanical brutality and insipid patriotic fervor of modern war. Russell was one of the most important philosophers of the early part of the twentieth century. His work on logic and philosophy of language was groundbreaking. In 1901 he reports a mystical conversion experience—prompted by an encounter with a young child—that opened his mind to pacifism:

Having been an Imperialist, I became during those five minutes a pro-Boer and a Pacifist. Having for years cared only for exactness and analysis, I found myself filled with semi-mystical feelings about beauty, with an intense interest in children, and with a desire almost as profound as that of the Buddha to find some philosophy which should make human life endurable.

Russell 2010: 137 Russell subsequently wrote numerous polemics against war, including pacifist tracts. He worked with the No Conscription Fellowship and the Union of Democratic Control—both of which were opposed to the First World War. During the war he was fired from Cambridge, arrested, and sentenced to six months in prison. In one of his anti-war essays he argued that the juridical attempt to justify war was lazy and formulaic. While not affirming absolute pacifism, Russell offered a critique of war that could be described as utilitarian: he focused on “the balance of good which it [war] is to bring to mankind” (Russell 1915: 130). In general Russell claimed that the just war idea no longer applied in modern times. In the midst of the First World War he argued that the idea of self-defense is manipulated as an excuse for war. And he argued against the idea of going to war in defense of democracy: “To advocate democracy by war is only to repeat, on a vaster scale and with far more tragic results, the error of those who have sought it hitherto by the assassin’s knife and the bomb of the anarchist” (Russell 1915: 138). Russell further admits his admiration for Tolstoy and the principle of nonresistance: “The principle of non-resistance contains an immense measure of wisdom if only men would have the courage to carry it out” (139).

But Russell was no absolutist. He does not oppose all war—he defended the Second World War as the only available response to Nazism. Nonetheless, even during that war, Russell continued to call himself a pacifist, albeit a “relative political pacifist” (for example, in the article “The Future of Pacifism” 1943–4). This position meant for him that wars were usually not the best means for fighting for justice (with the exception of the war against the Nazis), and moreover, that there was a political solution to the problem of war. For Russell, the solution was to be a sort of world government that held a monopoly on force and that was committed to liberal principles of justice, as well as a complete transformation of social and political life. As he explained in Why Men Fight, the book he composed while in prison:

The fundamental problem for the pacifist is to prevent the impulse towards war which seizes whole communities from time to time. And this can only be done by far-reaching changes in education, in the economic structure of society, and in the moral code by which public opinion controls the lives of men and women.

Russell 2004: 97 After the First World War, by the 1920s, pacifism (Pazifismus) was the object of serious philosophical analysis for Max Scheler, the German phenomenologist who offered a detailed account in 1926/7 (published posthumously in 1931—translated as Scheler 1976; 1977). One of Scheler’s interests was the question of history and progress toward peace. A variety of important thinkers—Hobbes, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Spengler—claimed that war and violence are necessary features of human nature, that history proceeds through war, that war strengthens the state, and that peace is effeminate and war is heroic. Scheler pointed out that none of that is necessarily true; indeed, he supposed that as the human race continued its spiritual development, peace was more likely. Scheler connects the philosophy of peace to an account of the philosophy of history. Scheler is also important as a source of attempts to analyze the concept of pacifism, which is typical of twentieth-century philosophical approaches. He enumerated eight forms of pacifism: (1) heroic-individual pacifism (based on nonresistance), (2) Christian pacifism (based on natural law and the unifying efforts of the Catholic church), (3) economic-liberal pacifism (based upon the peace of free trade), (4) juridical pacifism (based upon legal systems grounded in Kant, socialism, and the growth of international treaties and institutions), (5) Communist pacifism (based in hope for the end of class struggle), (6) imperial world pacifism (based in the pacifying tendencies of imperial power—as in the pax Romana), (7) international capitalistic bourgeois pacifism (based in the unifying common interests of the international capitalists), and (8) cultural pacifism (based in cosmopolitanism and an educational effort at humanization).

Other analytic frameworks have been offered, outlining varieties of pacifism. But Scheler’s work, like that of Russell and the others mentioned here, reminds us that pacifism is a fruitful area of philosophical exploration.

The Second World War and Beyond

The Second World War posed a problem for pacifists. Quakers and other members of historic peace churches remained opposed to the war. But philosophical pacifists such as Russell and Einstein eventually acknowledged that a war against Nazism could be justified. Philosophers continued to reflect, even during the war, on the concept of pacifism. Paul Weiss presented an analysis in 1943 that explained a variety of types of pacifism: religious pacifism, cynical pacifism, sentimental pacifism, political pacifism, and ethical pacifism. Weiss concluded that there was room for ethical pacifism within the division of labor in society. He wrote:

If it is our choice to be contemplative men—scientists, philosophers, artists, or godly—we cannot in full conscience take part in that worldwide and permanent war, of which the present is but an episode, which proceeds by subjugating some men and nations in order to attain an eventual good for all. We must be and remain pacifists, in this war and those that follow, holding steadfast to our obligation to pursue ultimate ideals with fidelity, impartiality, and for all mankind.

Weiss 1943: 491 But Weiss also laid out objections against pacifism that hold in extremis—when civilization itself is at stake. He concludes:

No man can remain an ethical pacifist or a militarist when civilization is in the process of being finally extinguished; no man can be really contemplative or practical when it has already been extinguished.

Weiss 1943: 496
This sort of argument explains the stakes for pacifists during the Second World War.

After the war concluded and the true devastation was measured—including the potential devastation of atomic weapons—pacifism re-emerged in earnest. Russell’s pacifism continued to develop through the Second World War and on through the 1960s. One problem for Russell was the presence of nuclear weapons. After the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, in an article printed in the Glasgow Forward on August 18, 1945, Russell soberly reflected on the power of the bomb. He concluded:

Mankind are faced with a clear-cut alternative: either we shall all perish, or shall have to acquire some slight degree of common sense. A great deal of new political thinking will be necessary if utter disaster is to be averted.

Russell 1945: 310 Russell’s proposed solution was stronger international institutions. Such a solution was also imagined by Einstein. Einstein’s pacifism was tied to his criticisms of nationalism and militarism. He advocated disarmament and was a supporter of the League of Nations as well as the United Nations. Einstein did advocate for the Manhattan Project because he was convinced that the Germans would get the bomb first. But Einstein remained committed to the abolition of war. In an article published in 1952, explaining his support for the American atomic bomb project, Einstein maintained, “I have always been a convinced pacifist. To kill in war is not a whit better than to commit ordinary murder” (Einstein 1982: 165). Claiming Gandhi as an inspiration, Einstein concluded, “Only the radical abolition of wars and of the threat of war can help” (Einstein 1982: 166). To create this outcome, Einstein maintained that peacetime had to cease being a mere preparation for war. Disarmament and de-escalation were necessary.

Russell and Einstein worked together to establish a conference of concerned scientists opposed to nuclear war—the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs (held in 1957). The so-called “Russell-Einstein Manifesto” (1955) considered the destructive power of hydrogen bombs and the potential of nuclear war to end the human race. The manifesto stated:

Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war? People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war.

The threat of nuclear war contributed to the development of a doctrine known as “just war pacifism,” which held that nuclear war and the general threat of total wars meant that there could no longer be a just war. As Robert Holmes argues, modern warfare is wrong, since modern war inevitably kills innocent persons and killing innocent persons is wrong. Thus for Holmes, “modern war is presumptively wrong” (Holmes 1989: 189).

As mentioned previously, Einstein indicated his admiration for Gandhi. And as we also mentioned previously, during the early part of the twentieth century, Gandhi’s efforts at nonviolent social activism were shown to bear fruit. Other chapters in this book discuss this in more detail. But it is worth pausing for a moment to point out that Gandhi seemed to think that his approach could have even been useful in response to Hitler and Nazism. Gandhi exchanged letters with Martin Buber, the great Jewish thinker, that focused on this question (Buber 1957). Gandhi stated, “If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified” (Gandhi 1938: n.p.). Buber explained his own position as follows: “I am no radical pacifist: I do not believe that one must always answer violence with nonviolence. I know what tragedy implies; when there is war, it must be fought” (Buber 2005: 293). But Buber was an advocate of peace and dialogue. He even imagined that this could work in the Arab-Israeli conflict. He explained his vision of a real peace as follows: “A peace that comes about through the cessation of war, hot or cold, is no real peace. Real peace, a peace that would be a real solution is organic peace. A great peace means cooperation and nothing less” (Buber 2005: 276).

Despite his sympathy for Gandhi and pacifism, Buber did not agree with nonviolence in response to evil threats such as Nazism. Nor perhaps did the Christian pacifist Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was persecuted by the Nazis for his pacifism and war resistance. According to the standard account of Bonhoeffer’s life and death, he renounced his pacifism and conspired in a plot to kill Hitler—for which he was executed. Recent scholarship has challenged this account, claiming that Bonhoeffer was not actively engaged in violence: his arrest and execution were for his war resistant activity and his work to save the Jews, and not because of the plot he was associated with (see Nation, Siegrest, and Umbel 2013). This theory of Bonhoeffer’s pacifism remains contentious. Defenders of realism look at Bonhoeffer’s participation in the plot to kill Hitler as an example of the failure of pacifism; but pacifists will prefer the alternative interpretation, which views Bonhoeffer as a hero of nonviolence to the end.

A detailed consideration of whether Gandhian satyagraha would work against Nazis—or whether Bohnoeffer and other Christian pacifists remained committed to nonviolence in the midst of atrocity—is a question we cannot pursue further here. But we should note that Gandhi’s ideas about nonviolent social protest spread and were woven together with Christian pacifism. By the 1960s, nonviolent social protest had become part of the mainstream of social activism, embodied in the work of Martin Luther King and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement—and put into practice in other anti-colonial and civil rights protests around the globe, including in revolutions against the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America.

While Christian pacifism is discussed in more detail in another chapter, we should note that the twentieth century produced a significant amount of scholarship focused on Christian pacifism. Christian pacifists in the twentieth century include Dorothy Day, A. J. Muste, Thomas Merton, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, John Howard Yoder, Myron Augsburger, Cesar Chavez, and Stanley Hauerwas.

We cannot discuss each of these figures here. But we can highlight a few, noting that Christian pacifists were among the most radical—and most effective—forces for social change in the twentieth century. Day and her Catholic Worker Movement provide one inspirational example. Day linked pacifism with Christian charity and a general opposition to injustice and greed that was based upon Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Her model of Catholic nonviolence and social justice activism has a close connection with the work of Cesar Chavez, who drew upon his understanding of Latino Catholicism as an inspiration for his own nonviolent activism (see Orosco 2008). Another significant twentieth-century pacifist was A. J. Muste, who argued that pacifism was intimately tied to the idea that God is love. Muste worked with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, through which he influenced Martin Luther King, Jr., another one of its members. It was Muste, for example, who helped to send James Lawson to India, where he studied Gandhian nonviolence. Lawson was a Methodist minister who was also a conscientious objector during the Korean War. When Lawson returned from India, he worked with King and the Nonviolent Student Coordinating Committee. Day, Muste, King, and Lawson recognized the need for organized nonviolent action and for the creation of institutions of peace as a replacement for the war system.

Christian pacifists developed the strategy of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience based upon the idea that when the civil law conflicted with the higher moral or religious law, the law should be broken—as King explained in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (King 1986: 93). Civil disobedience grounded in Christian teaching points toward a higher law of the Kingdom of God. Related to this is the Christian pacifist call for a nonviolent revolution against existing social, political, economic, and racial systems. Muste, for example, once said, “In a world built on violence, one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist; in such a world a non-revolutionary pacifist is a contradiction in terms, a monstrosity” (Muste quoted in Danielson 2014: 103). At the heart of twentieth-century Christian pacifism is a commitment to a theology that makes no compromises with the secular world. Hauerwas has argued, for example, that pacifism is an explicitly theological doctrine that calls all other values—including the values of patriotism and nationalism—into question. Hauerwas follows ideas found in Bonhoeffer, as well as in the writings of Yoder and others, to reach the conclusion that a commitment to Jesus requires pacifism. In an essay reflecting on September 11 he wrote, “Christian nonviolence is not a strategy to rid the world of violence, but rather the way Christians must live in a world of violence” (Hauerwas 2004: 203).

There are of course Christians who are not pacifists. The twentieth century featured a lively debate among Christians about war and nonviolence. While pacifists argue that the original Christian message is a pacific one, there are a wide variety of defenders of the just war tradition who ground their approaches in the Augustinian tradition that claims that war can be used as a tool that is intended to create the peace of tranquilitas ordinis. These Christian realists and just war theorists include Reinhold Niebuhr, Elizabeth Anscombe, Paul Ramsey, James Turner Johnson, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and George Weigel. One influential work is Anscombe’s essay “War and Murder.” Anscombe argues that a false interpretation of Christianity leads to pacifism (Anscombe 1981: 55). Christian pacifism is based upon a “false picture” of Jesus and a fallacious reading of the New Testament. According to Anscombe, Christian ethics requires defense of the innocent, which can justify war; and the doctrine of double effect allows some innocent people to be killed in pursuit of a justified war.

Perhaps the most famous Christian who argues against pacifism is C. S. Lewis. In his essay “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” (an address he gave in 1940 to a society of pacifists) he considers the nature of obedience to authority, while also discussing the question of whether war produces more harm than benefit. With regard to the question of harms and benefits, he argues that there is no way of knowing whether this is true. He concludes, “History is full of useful wars as well as of useless wars” (Lewis 2001: 74). He also argues that pacifists are merely tolerated by liberal regimes—and that a liberal regime in which pacifism is preeminent would be defeated by a totalitarian regime waiting to pounce. He concludes, “Pacifism of this kind is taking the straight road to a world in which there will be no Pacifists” (Lewis 2001: 78). These are standard objections to pacifism. George Orwell made a similar and stronger point when he called pacifism a “bourgeois illusion” that is “dishonest and intellectually disgusting” (Orwell 1942: n.p.).

Lewis’s more specifically Christian argument appeals to a view of life that points beyond the material world. He says, “The doctrine that war is always a greater evil seems to imply a materialist ethic, a belief that death and pain are the greatest evils. But I do not think they are” (Lewis 2001: 77). Lewis further notes that the prevailing opinion of mainstream Christianity has been in support of war, including in the writings of Augustine and Aquinas. And he interprets the supposed pacifism of Jesus in a very concrete and limited way: the doctrine of turning the other cheek is for individual relations and has nothing to do with war.

As the Cold War dawned and nuclear weapons appeared on the scene, Christian debate moved further in the direction of just war pacifism. The nature of warfare in an age of advanced technology makes it unlikely that any war can be just. Nuclear deterrent strategy, for example, deliberately targets noncombatants, thus violating one of the basic principles of jus in bello. This critique is grounded in a larger ethical ideal that is closely associated with the ideals of what might be called Christian personalism. This is the idea that persons have intrinsic value. The personalist critique holds that modern warfare assaults the sacred dignity of the person in many ways: by using mass conscript armies, by vilifying and demonizing the enemy, and by using weaponry that makes killing abstract and impersonal. Along these lines, Pope John Paul II advocated a sort of pacifism in his idea of the “gospel of life.” John Paul links the critique of war to a broad critique of all sorts of killing, condemning abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and the death penalty. And he marks as a sign of hope our growing awareness of the importance of nonviolent approaches to social conflict:

Among the signs of hope we should also count the spread, at many levels of public opinion, of a new sensitivity ever more opposed to war as an instrument for the resolution of conflicts between peoples, and increasingly oriented to finding effective but “non-violent” means to counter the armed aggressor.

John Paul 1995: para. 27 The current pope, Francis, has reiterated his call for a Christian commitment to nonviolence. In his “World Peace Day” address ( January 2017) he states:

I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life…. Violence is not the cure for our broken world.

Francis 2017: n.p.
Unlike Lewis and Anscombe, who reject a pacifist interpretation of the Gospels, Francis explicitly embraces Jesus’s teachings of nonviolence. He cites the nonviolent accomplishments of Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and John Paul II. And he calls for Christians to engage in “peacebuilding through active nonviolence.” Of course, there remains a vigorous debate among Christians and in Catholicism about Christian pacifism. But it is hard to deny that the recent popes have shifted toward a commitment to some version of pacifism.

Related to Christian pacifism is the pacifism and nonviolence of thinkers and activists in other religious traditions. In addition to Gandhi, we might also note Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Muslim who worked with Gandhi and taught satyagraha to the Pashtun peoples. Other inspirational figures include the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn and the Tibetan Buddhist Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the Dalai Lama. But many nonviolent activists and parties have no famous single champion. Nonviolent activism can be found in movements by indigenous peoples across the world, including in the work of women seeking equality, oppressed people seeking liberty, and others concerned with social justice. As an example of this, we might note the movement known as “the Arab Spring,” which began as a series of nonviolent protests by Muslim youth that erupted across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011.

During the twentieth century, pacifism became conceptually distinguished from a different sort of commitment to nonviolence. Indeed, scholars such as Robert Holmes identified a concept called “nonviolentism,” which Holmes seems to have coined in 1971 (Holmes 2013: 157). This is a broader concept than pacifism since nonviolentism opposes violence in general and not just war. Yet nonviolent social protestors need not be morally opposed to war: they may simply be strategic in their use of violence. However, in the Gandhi-King tradition, the prevailing idea is that there ought to be a unity of means and end: if one is aiming toward justice and peace, one ought to utilize peaceful tactics. And indeed, during the 1960s, there was a developing conjunction between civil rights activism and anti-war activism. Since the end of the Cold War, pacifists and social activists have focused on defending human rights, strengthening international institutions, and criticizing the excesses of militarism. Today there are a wide range of pacifisms and nonviolentisms that are grounded in a variety of religious, ethical, and political doctrines. Pacifism and nonviolence are also connected to critique of a variety of practices and ideas, with connections to feminism, environmentalism, and so on. Pacifism and nonviolentism has also been conceived in connection with a larger life-affirming ethic. Albert Schweitzer, for example, describes a larger ethical idea based upon the principle of “reverence for life,” an idea that led him to vegetarianism. As Schweitzer puts it, “Ethics is responsibility without limit toward all that lives” and “a man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life that he is able to assist and shrinks from injuring anything that lives … Life as such is sacred to him” (Schweitzer 2002: 73–74).

Conclusion: Beyond the Twentieth Century

When the Cold War ended, there was great hope that the logic of nonviolence would prevail. Francis Fukuyama predicted “the end of history.” Successful nonviolent campaigns brought about the end of the Soviet Empire. In Czechoslovakia this was called the velvet revolution or the gentle revolution. There was hope for global disarmament and the growth of peaceful globalization connected to the spread of liberal-capitalism and democracy. Unfortunately, violence and war did not go away. Terrorism and mass violence continues to plague the world, and war was declared against terrorism. Ongoing conflicts remain unsolved. The geopolitical situation has remained fractious. Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction continue to exist. And technological developments have changed the nature of warfare, which now includes cyberwar, drone attacks, precision guided missiles, missile defense systems, and so on. Throughout this period, international organizations have continued to grow, including international tribunals that try war crimes and international peacekeeping forces that intervene under the developing idea of humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect innocent people who are being persecuted and slaughtered by their own governments. If the era of total and global wars appears to be over, there still remains significant violence and the ongoing challenge of justifying military responses to violence.

Philosophers and activists continue to reflect on the nature of violence and the question of peace. A significant amount of scholarship has developed that is focused on the question of justice in war and the just war tradition. Scholarship on peace has also grown to include a field known as “peace studies,” which often focuses on empirical inquiries. Guided by the work of seminal thinkers such as Gene Sharp and Johan Galtung, we now have a deep and comprehensive understanding of the power of nonviolence. Philosophers have continued to probe and question the ethics of pacifism: many of the key authors in the ongoing debate about the ethics of pacifism and peace philosophy are included in this anthology. One conclusion to be derived from the past 25 years of conversations about peace, war, and violence is that these things are philosophically complex. There are varieties of pacifism. Peace and violence are complicated topics with multiple meanings, iterations, and applications.

The theory and practice of pacifism and nonviolence has benefited from a long century of debate. The world has benefited, as well, from the work of nonviolent activists and theorists of nonviolence. In 2011, the psychologist Steven Pinker published a book explaining “why violence has declined” (Pinker 2011). The good news is that the empirical data show us that violence is declining. Pinker’s complex thesis about the decline in violence includes reflections on psychology, politics, and philosophy. Although he does not directly attribute the decline of violence to the development of pacifism and nonviolence outlined here, the implication is clear. The work of many of the authors and activists cited in this chapter and discussed in the rest of this anthology have been instrumental in changing our attitudes about violence, in clarifying the power and value of nonviolence, and in helping us to understand how we can build a global culture of peace. There is still much work to be done on behalf of peace. But thanks to the heroic efforts of those discussed in this chapter, we are already on our way toward a better world.

Works Cited

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Further Reading

Brock, P. , and N. Young . (1999). Pacifism in the 20th Century. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. (A definitive historical overview of pacifism in the twentieth century.)
Cortright, D. (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (A useful overview of peace movements, which points beyond pacifism and toward peace activism and nonviolence broadly construed.)
Kurlansky, M. (2006). Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea. New York: Modern Library. (A popular survey of the history of pacifism and nonviolence.)
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