Pacifism is the opposition to war and violence. The term "pacifism" was coined by the French peace campaigner Émile Arnaud (1864–1921) and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress in Glasgow in 1901.[1]


Pacifism covers a spectrum of views, including the belief that international disputes can and should be peacefully resolved, calls for the abolition of the institutions of the military and war, opposition to any organization of society through governmental force (anarchist or libertarian pacifism), rejection of the use of physical violence to obtain political, economic or social goals, the obliteration of force except in cases where it is absolutely necessary to advance the cause of peace, and opposition to violence under any circumstance, even defense of self and others. Historians of pacifism Peter Brock and Thomas Paul Socknat define pacifism "in the sense generally accepted in English-speaking areas" as "an unconditional rejection of all forms of warfare".[2] Philosopher Jenny Teichman defines the main form of pacifism as "anti-warism", the rejection of all forms of warfare.[3] Teichman's beliefs have been summarized by Brian Orend as "...A pacifist rejects war and believes there are no moral grounds which can justify resorting to war. War, for the pacifist, is always wrong." The whole theory is based on the idea that the end does NOT justify the means.[4]

Moral considerations

Pacifism may be based on moral principles (a deontological view) or pragmatism (a consequentialist view). Principled pacifism holds that at some point along the spectrum from war to interpersonal physical violence, such violence becomes morally wrong. Pragmatic pacifism holds that the costs of war and interpersonal violence are so substantial that better ways of resolving disputes must be found. Pacifists in general usually reject theories of Just War. Some, however, believe that if the foe is willing to hurt others, then it is justified to respond with force, even to the extent of the atomic bomb. Such people can be called semi-pacifists.

A counter to this argument is the belief that even if one side's resort to force can provide more peace in the long run, people on both sides will think they are on that side due to the worse side's propaganda, so it would be safer for both sides to oppose war despite both believing they are on that side which should resort to force.


Some pacifists follow principles of nonviolence, believing that nonviolent action is morally superior and/or pragmatically most effective. Some pacifists, however, support physical violence for emergency defense of self or others. Others support destruction of property in such emergencies or for conducting symbolic acts of resistance like pouring red paint to represent blood on the outside of military recruiting offices or entering air force bases and hammering on military aircraft.

By no means is all nonviolent resistance (sometimes also called civil resistance) based on a fundamental rejection of all violence in all circumstances. Many leaders and participants in such movements, while recognizing the importance of using non-violent methods in particular circumstances, have not been absolute pacifists. Sometimes, as with the US civil rights movement's march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, they have called for armed protection. The interconnections between civil resistance and factors of force are numerous and complex.[5]


In contrast to the nonviolence principle stands the non-aggression principle which rejects the initiation of violence, but permits the use of violence for self-defense or delegated defense. People supporting the non-aggression principle claim that the moral prohibition of the use of violence follows from argumentation ethics, which applies only when people are using argumentation to solve disputes. So it does not apply when someone is subject to initiated violence, and hence self-defense is not morally rejected. Another possible approach is a semantic one: the claim that defense and aggression are fundamentally different, a point that is obscured when using terms like "defensive violence" and "initiated violence"; that there is no moral prohibition on defense and no need to justify it or make an exception for it.


"Dove" or "dovish" are informal terms used, especially in politics, for people who prefer to avoid war or prefer war as a last resort. The terms refer to the story of Noah's Ark in which the dove came to symbolize the hope of salvation and peace. Similarly, in common parlance, the opposite of a dove is a hawk or war hawk.

Early history

Vereschagin's painting Apotheosis of War (1871) came to be admired as one of the earliest artistic expressions of pacifism.

Advocacy of pacifism can be found far back in history and literature.


Compassion for all life, human and nonhuman, is central to Buddhism, which was founded by Siddhattha Gotama; and also Jainism, which was founded by Mahavira 599–527 BC. Both the Buddha and Mahavira were by birth kshatriya, the varna (social order) of soldiers and officials. An unusual example is that of Emperor Ashoka who became a pacifist after the bloody Kalinga war.


In Ancient Greece, however, pacifism seems not to have existed except as a broad moral guideline against violence between individuals. No philosophical program of rejecting violence between states, or rejecting all forms of violence, seems to have existed. Aristophanes, in his play Lysistrata, creates the scenario of an Athenian woman's anti-war sex strike during the Peloponnesian War of 431–404 BC, and the play has gained an international reputation for its anti-war message. Nevertheless, it is both fictional and comical, and though it offers a pragmatic opposition to the destructiveness of war, its message seems to stem from frustration with the existing conflict (then in its twentieth year) rather than from a philosophical position against violence or war. Equally fictional is the nonviolent protest of Hegetorides of Thasos.


Panda was a god of peace (according to a gloss by Philoxenos).[6] (The derivation of this name "Panda" is from "pandi" 'unfold, publish', and is an allusion to the openness and forthrightness of pacifists.)


During the Warring States Period, the pacifist Mohist School opposed aggressive war between the feudal states. They took this belief into action by using their famed defensive strategies to defend smaller states from invasion from larger states, hoping to dissuade feudal lords from costly warfare.

The Taoist scripture "Classic of Great Peace (Taiping jing)" foretells "the coming Age of Great Peace (taiping)."[7] The Taiping Jing advocates "a world full of peace".[8]


The Lemba religion of southern French Congo, along with its symbolic herb, is named for pacifism : " "lemba, lemba" (peace, peace), describes the action of the plant lemba-lemba (Brillantaisia patula T. Anders)".[9] Likewise in Cabinda, "Lemba is the spirit of peace, as its name indicates."[10]

Chatham Islands

The Moriori, of the Chatham Islands, practiced pacifism by order of their ancestor Nunuku-whenua. This enabled the Moriori to preserve what limited resources they had in their harsh climate, avoiding waste through warfare. In turn, this led to their almost complete annihilation in 1835 by invading Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama Māori from the Taranaki region of the North Island of New Zealand. The invading Māori killed, enslaved and cannibalised the Moriori.

New Zealand

Among the Māori, the major god Rongo is the "god of peace".[11] The minor god Kahungunu is "a pacifist in spirit".[12]


In Hawaii at the time of Captain Cook's visit (1779 Chr.E.), Lono was worshipped as "god of peace".[13]

North America

The Whilkut of northern California have a bird-god of peace-making, "Merk" ('Egret').[14]

The Hopi people, whose name means 'Peaceful'[15] ("Hopi" is a contraction of /hopitu/ 'peaceful'),[16] have followed religious doctrine that is generally "anti-war".[17]

Among the Aztecs, Quetzalcoatl was "god of Peace ..., who required his people to live in peace".[18]

Judea under Roman control

Throughout history, many have understood Jesus of Nazareth to have been a pacifist,[19] drawing on his Sermon on the Mount (see Christian pacifism). In the sermon Jesus stated that one should "not resist an evildoer" and promoted his turn the other cheek philosophy. "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well... Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."[20][21][22] The New Testament story is of Jesus, besides preaching these words, surrendering himself freely to an enemy intent on having him killed and proscribing his followers from defending him.

There are those, however, who deny that Jesus was a pacifist[19] and state that Jesus never said that not to fight,[22] citing examples from the New Testament. One such instance portrays an angry Jesus driving dishonest market traders from the temple.[22] A frequently quoted passage is Luke 22:36: "He said to them, 'But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.'" Others have interpreted the non-pacifist statements in the New Testament to be related to self-defense or to be metaphorical and state that on no occasion did Jesus shed blood or urge others to shed blood.[19]

Roman Empire

Seneca the Younger expressed criticism of warfare in his book Naturales quaestiones (circa 65 AD).[23]

Maximilian of Tebessa was a conscientious objector. He was killed for refusing to be conscripted. [24]


Known in the Balkans as Bogomils and in northern Italy and southern France as Cathars, they were pacifists totally dedicated to nonviolence. The Cathars were actually branded heretics, persecuted, and eventually annihilated by the Catholic Church through the Albigensian Crusade and the Inquisition that followed.[25] "These heretics are worse than the saracens" exclaimed Pope Innocent III, and on March 10, 1208, after the murder of the papal legate Pierre de Castelnau, probably by Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, the pope took full advantage of it and proclaimed a crusade against a sect in southern France.[26]

Modern history

Penn's Treaty with the Indians. This treaty was never violated.

Beginning in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation gave rise to a variety of new Christian sects, including the historic peace churches. Foremost among them were the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Amish, Mennonites and Church of the Brethren. After its founding by Quaker pacifist William Penn, Quaker-controlled colonial Pennsylvania employed an anti-militarist public policy. Unlike residents of many of the colonies, Quakers chose to trade peacefully with the Indians, including for land. The colonial province was, for the 75 years from 1681 to 1756, essentially unarmed and experienced little or no warfare in that period.

The humanist writer Desiderius Erasmus was one of the most outspoken pacifists of the Renaissance, arguing strongly against warfare in his essays The Praise of Folly (1509) and The Complaint of Peace (1517).[27]

From the 16th to the 18th centuries, a number of thinkers devised plans for an international organisation that would promote peace, and reduce or even eliminate the occurrence of war. These included the French politician Duc de Sully, the philosophers Émeric Crucé and the Abbe de Saint-Pierre, and the Quakers William Penn and John Bellers.[28][29] These internationalist ideas influenced both Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who promoted Saint-Pierre's plan, (while criticising many aspects of it), in Extrait du Projet de Paix Perpetuelle de Monsieur l'Abbe Saint-Pierre (1756),[30] and Immanuel Kant, in his Thoughts on Perpetual Peace.[31]

Bohemian Bernard Bolzano (1781–1848) taught about the social waste of militarism and the needlessness of war. He urged a total reform of the educational, social, and economic systems that would direct the nation's interests toward peace rather than toward armed conflict between nations.

Nineteenth century

In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, a number of peace societies were set up to prevent future conflicts. The first such movements were the New York Peace Society, founded in 1815 by the theologian David Low Dodge, and the Massachusetts Peace Society. These groups merged with other US peace groups in 1828 to form the American Peace Society.[32] The London Peace Society (also known as the Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace) was formed in 1816 with similar aims, and in the 1840s, British women formed "Olive Leaf Circles", groups of around 15 to 20 women, who discussed and promoted pacifist ideas.[33]

Russian writer Leo Tolstoy was a fervent advocate of pacifism. In one of his latter works, The Kingdom of God is Within You, Tolstoy provides a detailed history, account and defense of pacifism. Tolstoy's work inspired a movement named after him advocating pacifism to arise in Russia and elsewhere.[34] The book was a major early influence on Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948), and the two engaged in regular correspondence while Gandhi was active in South Africa.[35]

Bertha von Suttner, the first woman to be a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, became a leading figure in the peace movement with the publication of her novel, Die Waffen nieder! ("Lay Down Your Arms!") in 1889 and founded an Austrian pacifist organization in 1891.

Resistance to colonialism

In New Zealand, during the latter half of the 19th century British colonists used many tactics to confiscate land from the indigenous Māori, including warfare. In the 1870s and 1880s, Parihaka, then reputed to be the largest Māori village in New Zealand, became the centre of a major campaign of non-violent resistance to European occupation of confiscated land in the area. One Māori leader, Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, inspired warriors to stand up for their rights without using weapons, which had led to defeat in the past. In 1881 he convinced 2000 Maori to welcome battle-hardened British soldiers into their village and even offered food and drink. He allowed himself and his people to be arrested without resistance for opposing land confiscation. He is remembered as a great leader because the "passive resistance" he practiced prevented British massacres and even protected far more land than violent resistance.[36]

"Leading Citizens want War and declare War; Citizens Who are Led fight the War" 1910 cartoon

Mohandas K. Gandhi was a major political and spiritual leader of India, instrumental in the Indian independence movement. Grateful Indians gave him the honorific "Mahatma", usually translated "Great Soul." He was the pioneer of a brand of nonviolence (or ahimsa) which he called satyagraha --translated literally as "truth force". This was the resistance of tyranny through civil disobedience that was not only nonviolent but also sought to change the heart of the opponent. He contrasted this with duragraha, "resistant force," which sought only to change behaviour with stubborn protest.

During his 30 years of work (1917–1947) for the independence of his country from the British Raj, Gandhi led dozens of nonviolent campaigns, spent over seven years in prison, and fasted nearly to the death on several occasions to obtain British compliance with a demand or to stop inter-communal violence. His efforts helped lead India to independence in 1947, and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom worldwide.

World War I

There was strong antiwar sentiment in Western Europe during the 19th century. Many socialist groups and movements were antimilitarist, arguing that war by its nature was a type of governmental coercion of the working class for the benefit of capitalist elites. The French socialist pacifist leader Jean Jaurès was assassinated by a nationalist fanatic on July 31, 1914. The national parties in the Second International increasingly supported their respective nations in war and the International was dissolved in 1916. Nevertheless many groups protested against the war, including the traditional peace churches, the Woman's Peace Party (which was organized in 1915 and led by noted reformer Jane Addams) and the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (ICWPP) (also organized in 1915).[37] Other groups included the American Union Against Militarism, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the American Friends Service Committee.[38] Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, was another fierce advocate of pacifism, the only person to vote no to America's entrance into both World Wars.

Between the two World Wars

In the aftermath of World War I, there was a great revulsion against war, leading to the formation of War Resisters' International[39] and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and in Britain the No More War Movement and the Peace Pledge Union (PPU). The League of Nations convened several disarmament conferences in the inter-war period.

The British Labour Party had a strong pacifist wing in the early 1930s and between 1931 and 1935 was led by George Lansbury, a Christian pacifist who later chaired the No More War Movement and was president of the PPU. The 1933 annual conference resolved unanimously to "pledge itself to take no part in war". "Labour's official position, however, although based on the aspiration towards a world socialist commonwealth and the outlawing of war, did not imply a renunciation of force under all circumstances, but rather support for the ill-defined concept of 'collective security' under the League of Nations. At the same time, on the party's left, Stafford Cripps's small but vocal Socialist League opposed the official policy, on the non-pacifist ground that the League of Nations was 'nothing but the tool of the satiated imperialist powers'."[40] Lansbury was eventually persuaded to resign as Labour leader by the non-pacifist wing of the party and was replaced by Clement Attlee.[41] As the threat from Nazi Germany increased in the 1930s, the Labour Party abandoned its pacifist position and supported re-armament, largely due to the efforts of Ernest Bevin and Hugh Dalton who by 1937 had also persuaded the party to oppose Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement.[42]

In the Soviet Union, pacifism was initially tolerated. However with the advent of Joseph Stalin's rule, while a pro-Soviet "peace movement" was allowed to operate abroad, "home-grown pacifism was ruthlessly suppressed"; all Soviet pacifist organisations were closed down by 1929. Stalin's regime also removed the law permitting conscientious objectors to serve in noncombatant roles in the Red Army.[43] A number of Tolstoyan pacifists were known to be among prisoners in the gulags in the 1940s and 1950s. [44]

A noted Canadian pacifist was the politician J. S. Woodsworth, who called for the strengthening of the League of Nations to ensure world peace. Woodsworth also called for the use of economic sanctions against states that committed aggression, such as Italy when it invaded Abyssinia.[45] Agnes Macphail, another noted Canadian pacifist, was the first woman to be elected to the Canadian House of Commons. Macphail objected to the Royal Military College of Canada in 1931 on pacific grounds.[46] Macphail was also the first Canadian woman delegate to the League of Nations, where she worked with the World Disarmament Committee. Although a pacifist, she voted for Canada to enter World War II.

The Spanish Civil War proved a major test for international pacifism, and the work of pacifist organisations (such as War Resisters' International and the Fellowship of Reconciliation) and individuals (such as José Brocca and Amparo Poch) in that arena has until recently[when?] been ignored or forgotten by historians, overshadowed by the memory of the International Brigades and other militaristic interventions. Shortly after the war ended, Simone Weil, despite having volunteered for service on the republican side, went on to publish The Iliad or the Poem of Force, a work that has been described as a pacifist manifesto.[47] In response to the threat of fascism, some pacifist thinkers, such as Richard B. Gregg, devised plans for a campaign of nonviolent resistance in the event of a fascist invasion or takeover.[48]

World War II

With the start of World War II, pacifist and anti-war sentiment declined in nations affected by war. Even the communist-controlled American Peace Mobilization reversed its anti-war activism once Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, mainstream isolationist groups like the America First Committee, declined, but many smaller religious and socialist groups continued their opposition to war. Bertrand Russell argued that the necessity of defeating Adolf Hitler and the Nazis was a unique circumstance where war was not the worst of the possible evils; he called his position relative pacifism. H. G. Wells, who had joked after the armistice ending World War I that the British had suffered more from the war than they would have from submission to Germany, urged in 1941 a large-scale British offensive on the continent of Europe to combat Hitler and Nazism.[citation needed] Similarly Albert Einstein wrote: "I loathe all armies and any kind of violence; yet I'm firmly convinced that at present these hateful weapons offer the only effective protection."[49]

Pacifists in the Third Reich were dealt with harshly; German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky,[50] and Olaf Kullmann, a Norwegian pacifist active during the Nazi occupation,[51] were both imprisoned in concentration camps and died as a result of their mistreatment there. Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter was executed in 1943 for refusing to serve in the Wehrmacht.[52]

There were conscientious objectors and war tax resisters in both World War I and World War II. The United States government allowed sincere objectors to serve in noncombatant military roles. However, those draft resisters who refused any cooperation with the war effort often spent much of each war in federal prisons. During World War II, pacifist leaders like Dorothy Day and Ammon Hennacy of the Catholic Worker Movement urged young Americans not to enlist in military service.

Later twentieth century

Martin Luther King, Jr (1929–1968), a Baptist minister, led the American civil rights movement which successfully used Gandhian nonviolent resistance to repeal laws enforcing racial segregation and work for integration of schools, businesses and government. In 1957, his wife (Coretta Scott King), Albert Schweitzer, Benjamin Spock, and others formed the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (now Peace Action) to resist the nuclear arms race. In 1958 British activists formed the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament with Bertrand Russell as its president.

In 1960, Thich Nhat Hanh came to the US to study comparative religion at Princeton University and subsequently was appointed lecturer in Buddhism at Columbia University. Thich Nhat Hanh had written a letter to Martin Luther King in 1965 entitled "Searching for the Enemy of Man" and during his 1966 stay in the US met with King and urged him to publicly denounce the Vietnam War.[53] King gave his famous speech at the Riverside Church in New York City in 1967,[54] his first to publicly question the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Costa Rica

On December 1, 1948, President José Figueres Ferrer of Costa Rica abolished the Costa Rica’s military.[55] In 1949, the abolition of the military was introduced in Article 12 of the Costa Rican Constitution. Unlike its neighbors, Costa Rica has not endured a civil war since 1948. Figueres later remarked with justifiable pride that such reforms gave Costa Rica a deeper and more human revolution than that of Cuba.[56] The budget previously dedicated to the military now is dedicated to providing health care services and education.[57]


Peace churches

Peace churches are Christian denominations explicitly advocating pacifism. The term "historic peace churches" refers specifically to three church traditions: the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonites (and some other Anabaptists, such as Amish and Hutterites), and the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends). The historic peace churches have, from their origins as far back as the 16th century, always taken the position that Jesus was himself a pacifist who explicitly taught and practiced pacifism, and that his followers must do likewise. Pacifist churches vary on whether physical force can ever be justified in self-defense or protecting others, as many adhere strictly to nonresistance when confronted by violence. But all agree that violence on behalf of a country or a government is prohibited for Christians.

Pentecostal churches

Jay Beaman's thesis[67] states that 13 of 21, or 62% of American Pentecostal groups formed by 1917 show evidence of being pacifist sometime in their history. Furthermore Jay Beaman has shown in his thesis[67] that there has been a shift away from pacifism in the American Pentecostal churches to more a style of military chaplaincy and support of war. The major organisation for Pentecostal Christians who believe in pacifism is the PCPF, the Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship.

The United Pentecostal Church, an Apostolic/Oneness denomination, is the largest Pentecostal organization that takes an official stand of pacifism: its Articles of Faith read, "We are constrained to declare against participating in combatant service in war, armed insurrection... aiding or abetting in or the actual destruction of human life."[68]

Other Christian denominations

The Peace Pledge Union was a pacifist organisation from which the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship (APF) later emerged within the Anglican Church. The APF succeeded in gaining ratification of the pacifist position at two successive Lambeth Conferences, but many Anglicans would not regard themselves as pacifists. South African Bishop Desmond Tutu is the most prominent Anglican pacifist. Rowan Williams led an almost united Anglican Church in Britain in opposition to the 2003 Iraq War. In Australia Peter Carnley similarly led a front of bishops opposed to the Government of Australia's involvement in the invasion of Iraq.


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