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Old 09-30-2020
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Before we can proceed with our discussion, we must make a clear distinction between non-violence as a principle, accepted as an end in itself, and non-violence as a means to some other desired end. Much of the present confusion in pacifist thought arises from a failure to make this distinction.

On the one hand, the absolute pacifist believes that all men are brothers. Therefore, he maintains that the supreme duty of every individual is to respect the personality of every other man, and to love him, no matter what evil he may commit, and no matter how greatly he may threaten his fellows or the values which the pacifist holds most dear. Under no circumstances can the pacifist harm or destroy the person who does evil; he can use only love and sacrificial goodwill to bring about conversion. This is his highest value and his supreme principle. Though the heavens should fall, or he himself and all else he cherishes be destroyed in the process, he can place no other value before it. To the pacifist who holds such a position, non-violence is imperative even if it does not work. By his very respect for the personality of the evil-doer, and his insistence upon maintaining the bond of human brotherhood, he has already achieved his highest purpose and has won his greatest victory.

But much of the present pacifist argument in favor of non-violence is based rather upon its expediency. Here, we are told, is a means of social action that works in achieving the social goals to which pacifists aspire. Non-violence provides a moral force which is more powerful than any physical force. Whether it be used by the individual or by the social group, it is, in the long run, the most effective way of overcoming evil and bringing about the triumph of good. The literature is full of stories of individuals who have overcome highwaymen, or refractory neighbors, by the power of love.[4] More recent treatments[Pg 4] such as Richard Gregg's Power of Non-Violence[5] present story after story of the successful use of non-violent resistance by groups against political oppression. The history of the Gandhi movement in India has seemed to provide proof of its expediency. Even the argument in Aldous Huxley's Ends and Means, that we can achieve no desired goal by means which are inconsistent with it, still regards non-violent action as a means for achieving some other end, rather than an end in itself.[6]

So prevalent has such thinking become among pacifists, that it is not surprising that John Lewis, in his closely reasoned book, The Case Against Pacifism, bases his whole attack on the logic of the pacifist position upon the theory that pacifists must, as he does, hold other values above their respect for individual human personalities. Even in speaking of "absolute" pacifism he says, "The most fundamental objection to war is based on the conviction that violence and the taking of human life, being themselves wrong, cannot lead to anything but evil."[7] Thus he defines the absolute pacifist as one who accepts the ends and means argument of Huxley, which is really an argument based upon expediency, rather than defining him correctly as one who insists that violence and the taking of human life are the greatest evils, under any conditions, and therefore cannot be justified, even if they could be used for the achievement of highly desirable ends.

Maintaining as Lewis does that respect for every human personality is not their highest value, non-pacifists attack pacifism almost entirely on the ground that in the present state of world society it is not expedient—that it is "impractical." Probably much of the pacifist defense of the position is designed to meet these non-pacifist arguments, and to persuade non-pacifists of goodwill that they can really best serve their highest values by adopting the pacifist technique. Such reasoning is perfectly legitimate, even for the "absolutist," but he should recognize it for what it is—a mere afterthought to his acceptance of non-violence as a principle.

The whole absolutist argument is this: (1) Since violence to any human personality is the greatest evil, I can never commit it. (2) But, at the same time, it is fortunate that non-violent means of overcoming evil are more effective than violent means, so I can serve my highest value—respect for every human personality—and at the same[Pg 5] time serve the other values I hold. Or to say the same thing in positive terms, I can achieve my other ends only by employing means which are consistent with those ends.

On the other hand, many pacifists do in fact hold the position that John Lewis is attacking, and base their acceptance of pacifism entirely on the fact that it is the best means of obtaining the sort of social or economic or political order that they desire. Others, in balancing the destruction of violent conflict against what they concede might be gained by it, say that the price of social achievement through violent means is too high—that so many of their values are destroyed in the process of violence that they must abandon it entirely as a means, and find another which is less destructive.

Different as are the positions of the absolute and the relative pacifists, in practice they find themselves united in their logical condemnation of violence as an effective means for bringing about social change. Hence there is no reason why they cannot join forces in many respects. Only a relatively small proportion, even of the absolutists, have no interest whatever in bringing about social change, and are thus unable to share in this aspect of pacifist thinking.


FOOTNOTES:


[1] Ernest L. Meyer, "Hey! Yellowbacks!" (New York: John Day, 1930), 3-6.


[2] Krishnalal Shridharani, War Without Violence (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1939
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Revolutionary Anarchism

The revolutionary Anarchists belong essentially in this group. As Alexander Berkman has put it, "The teachings of Anarchism are those of peace and harmony, of non-invasion, of the sacredness of life and liberty;" or again, "It [Anarchism] means that men are brothers, and that they should live like brothers, in peace and harmony."[23] But to create this ideal society the Anarchist feels that violence may be necessary. Berkman himself, in his younger days, was able to justify his attack upon the life of Frick at the time of the Homestead Strike in 1893 in these words:


"But to the People belongs the earth—by right, if not in fact. To make it so in fact, all means are justifiable; nay advisable, even to the point of taking life.... Human life is, indeed, sacred and inviolate. But the killing of a tyrant, of an enemy of the People, is in no way to be considered as the taking of a life.... To remove a tyrant is an act of[Pg 11] liberation, the giving of life and opportunity to an oppressed people."[24]

Later, Berkman insisted that a successful revolution must be non-violent in nature. It must be the result of thoroughgoing changes in the ideas and opinions of the people. When their ideas have become sufficiently changed and unified, the people can stage a general strike in which they overthrow the old order by their refusal to co-operate with it. He maintains that any attempt to carry on the revolution itself by military means would fail because "government and capital are too well organized in a military way for the workers to cope with them." But, says Berkman, when the success of the revolution becomes apparent, the opposition will use violent means to suppress it. At that moment the people are justified in using violence themselves to protect it. Berkman believes that there is no record of any group in power giving up its power without being subjected to the use of physical force, or at least the threat of it.[25] Thus in effect, Berkman would still use violence against some personalities in order to establish a system in which respect for every personality would be possible. Actually his desire for the new society is greater than his abhorrence of violence.


FOOTNOTES:


[21] Cadoux, Christian Pacifism Re-examined, 116-117.


[22] The way in which a whole social order can differ from that of the West, merely because it chooses to operate on the basis of different assumptions concerning such things as the aggressive nature of man is well brought out in the study of three New Guinea tribes living in very similar environments. Margaret Mead, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (London: Routledge, 1935).


[23] Alexander Berkman, What Is Communist Anarchism? (New York: Vanguard, 1929), x-xi, 176.


[24] Alexander Berkman, Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist (New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1912), 7.


[25] Berkman, Communist Anarchism, 217-229, 247-248, 290.



Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln represented the spirit of moderation in the use of violence. He led his nation in war reluctantly and prayerfully, with no touch of hatred toward those whom the armies of which he was Commander-in-Chief were destroying. He expressed his feeling in an inspiring way in the closing words of his Second Inaugural Address, when the war was rapidly drawing to a victorious close:


"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness to do the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."



The Church and War

The statements of British and American churchmen during the present war call to mind these words of Lincoln. At Malvern, in 1941, members of the Church of England declared: "God himself is the[Pg 12] sovereign of all human life; all men are his children, and ought to be brothers of one another; through Christ the Redeemer they can become what they ought to be." In March, 1942, American Protestant leaders at Delaware, Ohio, asserted: "We believe it is the purpose of God to create a world-wide community in Jesus Christ, transcending nation, race and class."[26] Yet the majority of the men who drew up these two statements were supporting the war which their nations were waging against fellow members of the world community—against those whom they professed to call brothers. Like Lincoln they did so in the belief that when the military phases of the war were over, it would be possible to turn from violence and to practice the principles of Christian charity.[27]

There is little in human history to justify their hope. There is much to make us believe that the violent attitudes of war will lead to hatred and injustice toward enemies when the war is done. The inspiring words of Lincoln were followed by the orgy of radical reconstruction in the South. There is at least as grave a doubt that the spirit of the Christian Church will dominate the peace which is concluded at the end of the present war.

The question arises insistently whether violence without hate can long live up to its own professions.


FOOTNOTES:


[26] number of these religious statements are conveniently brought together in the appendix to Paul Hutchinson's From Victory to Peace (Chicago: Willett, Clark, 1943). For a statement of a point of view similar to the one we are discussing here, see also Charles Clayton Morrison, The Christian and the War (Chicago: Willett, Clark, 1942).


[27] Bernard Iddings Bell has expressed the attitude of such churchmen: "Evil may sometimes get such control of men and nations, they have realized, that armed resistance becomes a necessity. There are times when not to participate in violence is in itself violence to the welfare of the brethren. But no Christian moralist worth mentioning has ever regarded war per se as other than monstrous, or hoped that by the use of violence anything more could be accomplished than the frustration of a temporarily powerful malicious wickedness. War in itself gives birth to no righteousness. Only such a fire of love as leads to self-effacement can advance the welfare of mankind." "Will the Christian Church Survive?" Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 170, October, 1942, 109.
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