On Pacifism

Don Kates writes about Orwell’s disdain for pacifism:

And, notwithstanding his long and painful experience with war, Orwell was deeply antagonistic to pacifism. He dismissed pacifists as people who live in society and enjoy all its benefits in blithe disregard of the fact that these benefits only exist because others are at all times doing lawful violence on society’s behalf. The fact is that society IS violence (lawful violence), both overt and implicit. It is only through society’s superior capacity to engage in violence that we control the Charles Mansons, Ted Bundys, Ted Kazinskis and Andrew Cunanans of this world instead of vice versa.

The conclusion is that pacifists are parasites: people who enjoy the benefits of violence done by others but are themselves unwilling to soil their hands with it.     

20 thoughts on “On Pacifism”

  1. Kates and Orwell are quite right. Pacifism is a bankrupt philosophy. Pacifism is irrationality and cowardice masquerading as moral superiority.

  2. Don’t lump all pacificists together. Jesus, for example, knew there was a time for swords and a time for accepting a crucifixion he didn’t deserve. Some pacifists have the courage of their convictions.

  3. Yes – some pacificists have courage. Most, however, are just shallow cowards.

  4. I am a strong proponent of non-violence. But I quickly make a point to distance myself from pacifists. Overall violence is a blunt instrument that only works best in a handful of scenarios, and therefore should be made a good effort to be avoided.

    That being said in the few instances where violence Is the answer, I am well prepared to respond, and will not passively surrender.

    Most “Pacifists” are indeed cowards hiding their yellow bellies behind an ideology.

    I do know a Buddhist who is a true pacifist tho. He belies that it would be better for him to be murdered than sully his Karma with violence.

    I asked him if somebody was to rape his wife in-front of him would he be able to remain passive.

    His answer: “I really can’t answer that.”

    I admire his beliefs, but my admiration doesn’t make me think they’re any less wrong.

  5. It’s worse than you make it out to be: a pacifist is someone who has made the conscious decision that nothing good is worth fighting for…

    It’s not just a morally bankrupt philosophy it’s truly immoral.

  6. Remember, turning the other cheek usually only lends symmetry to one’s wounds.

  7. Great post and comments.
    Yes, Jesus was relatively pacifistic when He was taken away to be horribly mistreated and “legally” murdered by the authorities, but that is because He was destined to so suffer and die for our sakes, and He perfectly obeyed the Father’s prophetic will (“Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done” – Luke 22:42.)
    But when He returns to judge those who have rejected the great sacrifice He made for them, these He will “kill with the sword…and all the birds will eat their flesh until they are full” (Revelation 19:21). Hardly a pacifist! And until He returns, His followers are to be prepared for trouble by having money and necessities saved up, and swords for self-defense (Luke 22:36)!
    See also Paul’s declaration that governments are to wield the sword to punish evil-doers, whether domestic criminals or foreign invaders (Romans 13:3-4).
    The key is to read the WHOLE Bible in context to understand when pacifism is right and when it is wrong and foolish.
    Again, good post and discussion!


  8. I’m with Weer’d – violence should always be avoided if possible. I just don’t believe that it’s always possible, or always moral, to avoid it.

    On the other hand, I also subscribe to Rule 27 (“Don’t be afraid to be the first to resort to violence”) and Rule 6 (“If violence wasn’t your last resort, you failed to resort to enough of it”). If you wait for the other guy to start shooting, it could be the last thing you do. If he’s still a threat when you’re done being violent, then you’re not done being violent.

    My problem with actual pacifism, is that most pacifists won’t stop others – like the police – from doing violence on their behalf (well, how are they going to stop them?). As Anon said, “a pacifist is someone who has made the conscious decision that nothing good is worth fighting for,” but as the article Sebastian linked to points out, they let others fight for the civilization they require in order to exist. Without civilization, a true pacifist’s life span would be measured in minutes, but that civilization requires violence to exist.

    Pacifism is not just immoral, it’s also a lie.

  9. Don’t lump all pacificists together. Jesus, for example, knew there was a time for swords and a time for accepting a crucifixion he didn’t deserve.

    Jesus, as presented in the bible, was peaceful, but he was far from being a pacifist. Arnie points out some good quotes that illustrate this, but the best example would be his actions with the money-changers in the temple. A pacifist would recoil in horror from the idea of even the little violence he did there.

    A pacifist believes all violence is evil and will refuse to commit any violence. A peaceful man believes that violence should be avoided whenever possible, but that it is sometimes necessary.

  10. “If you wait for the other guy to start shooting, it could be the last thing you do. If he’s still a threat when you’re done being violent, then you’re not done being violent.”

    IMHO Violence is not always physical assault. Threats are violent acts (and should be taken at face value), Somebody forcibly entering your home is violence. There are lots of things somebody can do to first resort to violence that won’t put you at the disadvantage, but I believe the enemy should always be the first to use violence.

  11. IMHO Violence is not always physical assault.

    Good point. I think I just have the current debate going on over at Robb’s stuck in my head.

    I guess it depends on how the word “violence” is being used in the discussion at hand, since it’s definition is a bit flexible in normal use. I was going by the more usual meaning of physical violence, but your usage is just as correct, and your point is correct within that usage. I think we’re saying pretty much the same thing, just with different terms.

  12. As a Latter-day Saint, I have interesting perspectives on the use of force and pacifism. In addition to Biblical teachings, we have examples in the Book of Mormon, where the captain of the Nephite army, Moroni, explains that, if it were required of them by the Lord, they would put down their weapons, and allow themselves to be destroyed and enslaved–but they weren’t, and instead were required to defend their lives, their freedoms, and their families, even unto bloodshed.

    Among the stories in the Book of Mormon is a group of people, called the people of Ammon, who originated from a bloodthirsty society, and upon their conversion to Christ, they buried their weapons, and took an oath never to fight again. Even in this situation, the Lord didn’t want them to be destroyed! and this oath was a way to atone for their previous bloodthirsty ways. Certain religions like to use this as an example of how we Latter-day Saints are hypocrites for our acceptance of fighting in wars, in order to do so, they have to take this out of context: later, in another war, these same people sent their sons out to battle, because those sons hadn’t taken that oath, and they sorely wanted to help support their protectors; those sons received special protection from society.

    Even Christ’s “turn the other cheek” is taken out of context: he isn’t talking about immediate deadly force. He’s talking about being insulted, and responding to insults with quiet dignity.

  13. “Good point. I think I just have the current debate going on over at Robb’s stuck in my head. ”

    heh, Just so we’re clear that woman in the crouched position could pop the robber in the back of the skull and any missed shots would go into the roof. And even with the robber’s back to her she is under attack.

  14. Correction: “those sons received special protection from society” should read “those sons received special protection from God”–that still doesn’t sound right–“God gave those sons special protection in battle, because of their faithfulness.”

    Overall, I think I could have written this comment better…my mind apparently isn’t at its peak functionality. I suppose it could have something to do with moving to a new place this week…

  15. The best story I ever heard about Christian pacifism came from a man I knew who spent years in Liberia in the 1960s and 1970s.

    A very large, tough fisherman in Liberia coastal town liked to get drunk and fight, and because he was so big and strong, he kicked everybody’s butt.

    But he converted to Christ.

    After news of his conversion spread, the people he used to beat up while drunk came together, and approached him on the beach as he was examining his nets.

    They taunted him, threatened to attack him, and reminded him that Jesus said he had to turn the other cheek.

    The fisherman listened quietly, and during a break in the shouts, he spoke back to his taunters.

    “Yes, Jesus says I must turn my cheek. So you will hit me here (pointing at one cheek) and then I will turn my face and then you will hit me here (pointing at other cheek.) And after you have done that, I will make a greasy spot of you on the sand.”

    The taunters left.

  16. Real pacifism takes enormous courage and strength of character–a point that Witness makes very well.

    Most “pacifists” are convenient pacifists. They want someone else to do the ugly business of violence. They are quite willing to pay someone else (a police officer) to do the often morally corrupting business of using violence.

    Most real pacifism is an outgrowth of the Thirty Years War. Armies would march through Germany (which is why Amish, Mennonites, and many other pacifist groups in America are German in origin), and would torture the farmers to tell them where their goods and women were hidden. The Swedish cocktail, for example, involved using a funnel to force excrement down someone’s throat until they the victim’s belly was distended–then the soldiers would stomp on him until he vomited. Then repeat.

    One of the books that I used for GRE prep mentioned that many farmers eventually gave up honest worker, and became bandits. Others became pacifists, and when William Penn opened up Pennsylvania, they immigrated. At least here they only had to deal with Indians–a relatively gentle bunch by comparison with European armies.

  17. After the WWII my dad left Annapolis where he was a still Midshipman and went to college in Education (for a degree in pedagogic training) then he went on to Divinity School for a Theology Phd and became a Minister. He was very much influenced by an elder-Pastor who had been a machine-gunner in the trenches of WWI, and he became a pacifist. He had lost most of the kids that he had gone to school with to the War. They were a lot who didn’t come home or who came home badly broken.
    He also became a missionary overseas teaching orphan boys how to work with shop tools and learn to make a livelihood for themselves in a culture that would otherwise totally abandon them SOL. So we moved overseas.
    I was a kid when he told me that he would not kill anyone to protect me, which to me was very disappointing (and a bit selfish) since a Dad is like a kind of Superman. But I realized that I was on my own as far as personal safety and dispensing violence went, so I learned to be very observant about situations and people, and make a plan to deal with them…
    On the one hand, because of the gentle Christian beliefs and the way he and we lived our lives, such a malign threat of violence – even in a strange and savage country overseas – never even closely materialized, so he got to keep his promise and I got to learn Mantis Kung-Fu and what makes a machine-gun work, and other self-defense studies (Archery, Fencing) – and eventually how to shoot guns.
    I don’t belabor him now because he taught me also how to not be dependent on violence – so I have two tools in my utility-belt instead of just one with only varying degrees of implementation. I think my brother just skipped the whole non-violence thing because we were always at it. The reminder of his statement-of-faith still stings a bit, but I have to turn the other cheek on that because he’s my Dad, and besides Mom would probably do plenty of killing-violence on his behalf. ;-)

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