In the midst of a growing norm of militarism, technological advancements, and persistent large-scale human rights violations, the need for an international norm of peace is increasing. Pacifism has long been seen as an idealist and absolutist pathway towards peace that passively condemns violence, with little effectiveness in actually combatting it. Yet, in order to avoid violent warfare or humanitarian interventions that lead to post-conflict disasters and loss of life, or even a future of total war; the need to demonstrate the relevance of pacifism as a normative framework is crucial. This does not include turning a blind eye to human rights violations or abandoning all self-defense tactics against wrong doers. It means steering the international climate away from violence, militarism, weaponry, and replacing it with pragmatic, transformative techniques that take the non-ideal, context based, contemporary international system seriously. This essay takes a five-part approach; first, to recapture the very concept of pacifism as opposed to violence, while at the same time not neglecting the historical background of pacifism, it considers also type of pacifism appropriate for the contemporary system, brief review on pacifism, the face of contemporary world and the catholic church view/ positions on pacifism, and finally the relevance of the pacifism as an attempt to cultivate it into a global normative framework in the contemporary world.
The general tendency towards the use war has a long history and such is built on the conviction/ idea that wars should be fought for the sake of peace and justice. The question is, is waging war and violence the reliable platforms for peace accomplishment or is there no alternative to war and violence? Pacifism answers these questions.
Pacifism is a contested term. It is often defined narrowly as opposition to war; or more broadly understood as opposition to all violence. Pacifists are also sometimes committed to nonviolence as a way of life and to a vision of peaceful and harmonious coexistence. Pacifism can extend toward a commitment to nonviolence in all aspects of life, including vegetarianism. Or it can be narrowly construed as an antiwar position understood at the level of political theory. In the words of Andrew Fiala, “pacifism has been defended in a variety of ways: by appeal to religious authority, by grounding in fundamental moral principles, and by empirical claims about the negative consequences of violence and war”.
As a positive commitment to nonviolence, pacifists have argued that nonviolent social activism is both beneficial and morally praiseworthy. The word “pacifism” is derived from the word “pacific,” which means “peace making” [Latin, paci- (from pax) meaning “peace” and -ficus meaning “making”]. Modern usage has been traced to 1901 and Émile Artaud’s usage of the French term pacifisme. But the basic commitment to peace is an old idea. Pacifism has deep roots in the world’s religious traditions. In Christianity it can be traced to the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, “offer no resistance to the wicked” and “if any one hits you on the right check, turn the other cheek”.
Buddhism, Jainism, and other traditions have a similar emphasis on nonviolence. Religious pacifism is central to ideas found in Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Philosophical discussions on pacifism can found in the work of Erasmus, Rousseau, and other post Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers. In more recent history, versions of pacifism have been defended by William James, Jane Addams, Bertrand Russell, and Albert Einstein. Contemporary discussions in the philosophical literature proliferated during and after the Vietnam War era, as conscientious objection became an issue. In applied ethics literature, pacifists have responded in various ways to critiques of pacifism offered by Jan Narveson and others, while also seeking to clarify “just war” theory. Recent discussions of pacifism have emphasized the varieties of pacifism, arguing that pacifism is not merely an absolutist moral prohibition against violence. In some cases, the principle of double effect plays a vital role in pacifistic activities.
There are however, those who have argued against pacifism as irrational attitude to existential code, and as idealistic concepts. In the same vein, some have defended pacifism as a merely personal or vocational commitment while others have clarified that pacifism is primarily an antiwar position that does not necessarily extend to a critique of all violence. In another way, others have sought to articulate connections between pacifism and other issues: feminism, animal welfare, ecology, and theology. Pacifism is a commitment to peace and opposition to war and it relates to war as well as to domestic injustices and repressive policies. Our ordinary language allows a diverse set of beliefs and commitments to be held together under the general rubric of pacifism. However, this article aims to demonstrate through exploring several kinds of pacifism, that despite several objections to pacifism, its relevance to the contemporary world cannot be abandoned to the opposite (violence).
Types of pacifism
Absolute pacifism: it holds that it is never right to take part in war, even in self-defense. It is the belief that the value of human life is so high that nothing can justify killing a person deliberately. To stick to this principle consistently is hard. It views it as unethical to use violence to rescue an innocent person who is being attacked and may be killed, and this is not a comfortable moral position. Absolute pacifists usually hold this view as a basic moral or spiritual principle, without regard to the results of war or violence. However, they could logically argue that violence always leads to worse results than non-violence.