Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Pacifism: Legitimate or Not

by James Moore

When thinking of pacifism, generally, your first thoughts are someone who is totally against violence in any sense. In the piece by Jan Narveson we will see that not all pacifists, if we can call them that, subscribe to this form of pacifism. There are many different ideologies surrounding this one moral principle. In this essay I will attempt to answer the question as to what a pacifist is. Then if they are legitimate in holding this position.


A pacifist is someone that is against violence. The individual that holds this position as principle and action is a pacifist. This meaning that someone not only believes this to be true, as simply a principle, but also physically acts on the principle. I think we all hold that it is somewhat honorable to renounce violence. We also probably wish that the world could be without violence, but the majority of us will not actively submit to violence. The point is that you can’t simply hold a pacifist principle you must act on it.

If we hold this form of pacifism that I have just defined then would it be rational to hold this position. It depends on if it works or not. It doesn’t seem rational to hold this position if we, as pacifist, continually get attacked and took over by outside forces. This especially doesn’t seem rational if we are continually getting killed. There has to be a way in which we can persuade the enemy without using violence.

This is where Narveson gives us two different kinds of persuasion. The first is attempted rational persuasion and the second being successful rational persuasion. These are simple to comprehend the attempted persuasion could fail; the successful is exactly what it says. I think these two questions are indifferent in time not in result. Before you can have success you have to attempt success. This means that the attempting persuasion happens before the successful persuasion. You, initially, have to attempt to persuade the enemy, but the enemy can go either way. Successful persuasion only comes as an end result of attempting to persuade. If you are attempting to persuade an enemy that is hell bent on destroying you city and all its occupants then it seem less likely for you to succeed in the persuasion. This is why I would, personally, add a new element to my philosophical position. It has been utilized by just about every civilization known to man, it is called lying. The pacifist should bluff the enemy to make them think that they will return violence. If I have understood this philosophy correctly then it shouldn’t be a moral crime to lie if it is going to prevent violence.

Then the question comes, what if the bluff fails? This is where I think the position of the pacifist should end. The pacifist would allow the enemy to steam roll over them. This ideology seems irrational because there has to be a point where you don’t allow people to take the civilization that you have tried so hard to create. It seems difficult to start a pacifistic society without some sort of violent beginning. Now, if you lived in a small secluded area it might be some what easier but if you tried this across a large area I don’t see it working. If it was in a small area then opposing countries wouldn’t see it as beneficial to take it over, but a large area would be under constant attack from outsiders. The reason is because the enemy knows that this is an easy victory and it would be advantageous to have more land.

Narveson brings up a good point that a society that is pacifistic lacks justice. This might not be a problem if everyone sticks to their pacifistic philosophy but if one person decides to break the code then the whole society falls apart. You have to have something that keeps everyone in check even if you think there is no need for it. This is just a security plan that ensures everyone follows the rules. You would assume that prison could be a choice because it is not violent this may be so. Narveson seems to think that the pacifist would be forced to set the criminals free. If this is so I don’t see how any pacifistic society could ever work.

If we look at the less strict forms of pacifism, we begin to see more and more problems. When we assume that we can’t defend ourselves but we can defend others. This sounds totally ridiculous to me because if you refuse to defend yourself then they can kill you and do what the will with the people you are suppose to be defending. Is it then your duty to defend yourself so you can defend the people that can’t defend themselves. It seems easy to fall into this circular cycle where if your not there to defend the women and children, then no one will defend them. It appears that it is your duty to prevent your own death in order to keep your family and others that can’t defend themselves. I just can see how you can justify saving some one else but not yourself.

I think it is easier just to hold the position as a strict pacifist because there is less consistency in the more liberal form of pacifism. It doesn’t make sense to make justification for violence and still consider yourself a pacifist. If you are a pacifist you are against violence, not against violence only in some situations. This just makes you normal besides the fact that you won’t defend yourself.

In any case of pacifism, the ideology fails. It is a wonder thought to hold onto. I think everyone would agree that renouncing violence is a great idea. I think that it is a theory that only can be used in a hypothetical sense. This may be an ideal that we can all espouse to possibly one day get to. It must stay as a theory though because the world we live in now self-defense is primary in survival and being able to maintain a certain culture. It seems a joke to say my culture is pacifistic and we will not combat violence with violence. This would give a free ticket to who ever wanted the particular area. It seems that a pacifist would expect everyone else to be a pacifist as well. They are only concerned with themselves. This is a problem because the only way a pacifist can be successful in his doctrine, without dying, is that everyone else must be a pacifist as well.

If everyone is not a pacifist then you have a great possibility of being taken advantage of. To take a Hobbesian position we have to assume that everyone is out to take advantage of us. This doesn’t mean that everyone actually is out to get us but that there is a possibility that someone can take advantage of us.

The only thing that a pacifist can do is hold his position in secret and avoid ever reavealing that he is a pacifist. Then they can utilize the suggestion that I made earlier in the paper, which is to lie. They can fool the enemy into thinking that if violence is brought upon then violence will be returned. If the enemy persists then there is no response that the pacifist can do. This creates a definite problem with the position that the pacifist holds. I have to agree with Narveson that the pacifist has a lot of explaining to do on their position. It will take a strong argument to persuade my view on this subject. The way the world is now it seems difficult to honestly hold this position. I have to rest firmly against pacifism because an enemy is out to destroy its opposition. This means unless you are willing to defend your area then it will be taken over unless you are depending on someone else to defend you. If that country or area ever changes its position then your country and your beliefs are gone.

3 Comments:

Blogger Drew said...

Your exatcly right by saying, if someone breaks teh code then the social construction falls apart.I agree with this, it is hard to anaylticaly describ pacifism and in some cases you cant do it.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Jason said...

Here's a common reasoning for pacifism:

Premise 1: Violence begets violence. In other words, if I engage in violence, FOR ANY REASON, I create a trend for more violence.

Conclusion 1: The only hope of ending violence is to break the cycle, by refusing to act violently, even when violently acted upon (since returning violence would in turn lead to yet more violence).

Premise 2: Achieving real peace is worth dying for.

Conclusion 2: Even if it gets me killed, pacifism is worth doing (since it is the ONLY hope for peace [conclusion 1], and peace is worth dying for [premise 2]).

There are a few possible objections to this classic argument. The issue most of us have with pacifism, I think, is that we believe real, lasting peace just isn't possible. We believe that there will always be somebody out there who's willing to violently take advantage of us. Therefore, we reject pacifism in favor of just keeping ourselves alive.

8:42 PM  
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