PACIFISM AND THE STATE
1-1. What is wrong with a pacifist polemic? Does the institution of war
deserve better [than a war against itself]?
Yet, a polemic against war does not preclude a philosophical defense of peace.
1-2. The "just war" doctrine is a medieval relic. It represents the same
chauvinistic impulse that gave us the Crusades. The "just war" doctrine is thus
little more than the Christian version of the Islamic Jihad: it is little consolation to
know that some presumed "just" war is to be waged with good will rather than a
spirit of vengeance.
Neither the living nor the dead can recognize the difference.
1-3. A consistent pacifism represents a categorical renunciation of the
principles and practices of war and punishment, and thus of retribution and
retaliation in general. This renunciation extends to the realm of public as well as
So defined, pacifism implies a political philosophy, not only a statement of
ethics. It implies, that is, that the state cannot legitimately resort to the practices
of war or punishment anymore than can individuals. And, since the state is
defined by such practices, the final implication of pacifism for political philosophy
is that the coercive state is morally illegitimate.
1-4. Pacifism is not only a categorical renunciation of violence--of acts of war
and punishment--but also a renunciation of the threat of such (including the threat
implicit in every accusation and judgment of another person). For, if one never
uses violence, but only threatens to use it, one relies upon terror as the basis for
social order and social justice. This is not the way of peace.
1-5. In challenging the legitimacy of state violence, pacifism challenges the
distinction between public and private morality. It is this distinction which is the
foundation of the claim that the state not only has the right to use violence, but
that it has a monopoly on such a dubious "right."
1-6. "If a man strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other. You may not
exact retribution with your own hands. You may, of course, invoke the power of
the state and the entire society to do what you are forbidden to do on a purely
personal level. That is, you must as individuals be as gentle as lambs. You are
permitted to be vicious only when acting in groups."
Such might have been the words of Jesus of Nazareth if he had believed in the
usual distinction between public and private morality, in the "right" of secular
rulers and officials to lord it over their subjects, the common people.
1-7. Paul said, in Romans 13, that "The state is the instrument of divine
retribution." Thus began the tradition of revisionist Christianity, by which an
accommodation with the coercive state was made possible.
This accommodation, given scriptural warrant by Paul, was given philosophical
warrant by the medieval theologians, Augustine and Aquinas.
Modern orthodox Christianity, far from throwing off these medieval influences,
is too well-established, too comfortable with its accommodation with secular
power--violence--to accept the message of its founder in all of its purity and
1-8. Because Paul is in the Bible, orthodox Christianity categorically endorses
the words of Paul as the word of God.
Orthodox Christianity, that is, worships the Bible in lieu of worshiping God.
1-9. In rejecting the gentle teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and embracing the
legacy of Paul and the medieval theologians, orthodox Christianity endorses a
point of view that vitiates the original message by making it perfectly equivalent
to and compatible with the secular, worldly way of dealing with injustice: violent
By endorsing Paul without qualification, orthodox Christianity not only accepts
the divine sanction of the coercive state, but it also tells us something about what
it believes to be the nature of God, as well as the nature of divine justice.
1-10. Pacifism is not only at odds with the so-called "just war" doctrine, but
with all variants of "deterrence" theory as well, for deterrence is based on terror,
The Kingdom of Heaven is not based on the rule of fear. Jesus of Nazareth did
not "deter" evil. Terror was the greatest evil which he came to conquer. Would
he have used terror to cast out terror? Can a house divided against itself stand?
1-11. "Peace through war"--is the "just war" tradition not reducible to this
"Peace through fear"--is this not the absurdity of the doctrine of deterrence?
1-12. An ethic of peace cannot, of course, be defined merely by what it
renounces. Peace is surely not something which can be brought into existence
merely by a an ethic of "thou-shalt-nots": peace is certainly more than the absence
of conflict, as even the "just war" theorists have noted.
Therefore it is not enough to forbid retribution, retaliation. Nor is it enough
to rail against war and punishment, nor the institution of the state which they
support. One must also offer alternatives--to all of them, but, above all, to the
coercive state. If the coercive state is seen to be indispensable, then so must the
institutions of war and punishment, for these are the instruments of its survival.
1-13. The ultimate foundation of the "just war" doctrine is the assumption, in
one form or another, that God ordains the coercive state (hereafter simply referred
to as "the state").1
For, once one has assumed that the state is ordained of God, one cannot but
claim that one is justified in fighting (or punishing) to defend the state: in
accepting the idea that God has ordained the state, one has implicitly accepted
the "just war" doctrine as well.
1-14. If the use of "scare quotes" around the phrase "just war" seems to be
conveying some warning, then let the message be clear and explicit: "just war" is
assumed in this work to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.
1-15. Von Clausewitz is quoted frequently and faithfully by the sons of
Leviathan: "War is the extension of diplomacy by other means."2
How much time does von Clausewitz require by way of rebuttal? One need do
no more than point out that von Clausewitz's aphorism can be reduced to this and
no more than this: war is shooting at people; diplomacy is threatening to shoot
Such is the moral foundation of the so-called "Realpolitik."
1-16. The central requirement of the Sermon on the Mount is that one should
love one's enemies, do good to those who despitefully use one. (Matthew 5:44)
But, in the language of the U.S. Constitution, one who gives aid and comfort
to the enemy is a traitor to the state or nation. Thus, by the pronouncements of
the state, one who is truly loyal to the Christ is a traitor to the state. It is not,
however, the simple pacifist who declares himself to be a traitor to the state. It
is the state who declares the pacifist to be the traitor.
Jesus was viewed in his own time as a traitor because of his pacifistic views.
Is orthodox Christianity today, in its accommodation with the violent state, a
traitor to the Christ?
1-17. When Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, his fellow Jews expected a
warrior to be the champion of justice. What else could the ethical tradition of "an
eye for an eye" have led them to expect? When he appeared, gentle and
vulnerable, armed only with the power of peaceful ideas, they felt betrayed.
Or perhaps they were merely frightened by a new idea, one that challenged
their own retributive, violent, and patriarchal tradition.
1-18. The view that Jesus was pacifistic and did not accept the legitimacy of
the violent state (and its coercive methods of enforcing compliance) is not only
misunderstood by the overwhelming majority of those who label themselves as
"Christian": it was not even completely understood by the original disciples, nor
There are two problems to contend with here in dealing with believers: first,
one must demonstrate to nominal Christians the viability of the substantive ethical
point of view being defended (pacifism and the moral illegitimacy of the state);
and, second, one must demonstrate that this point of view was indeed that sub-
scribed to by Jesus of Nazareth. The first task is one belonging to the province
of philosophy, ethics. The second is one belonging to the province of biblical
exegesis or interpretation.
Unfortunately, while the two tasks are theoretically factorable, both enterprises
are mixed up together in practice. That is the nature of Christian ethics, and it is
one reason that all attempts at a sceptical secular reduction of Christian ethics are
1-19. On the Christian view, God not only appeared in the flesh, but he did so
in such a way as to make himself vulnerable, denying unto himself the protection
of both the state and religious hierarchies. His point was surely to exemplify a
way of dealing with threat and wrong-doing, a way which did not rely on appeal
for protection to the coercive sword of the state, but to God or true Reason alone.
It does take a lot of faith in the infinite power of God to accept such teachings
1-20. One does not know the Christ except insofar as one understands him as
challenging all forms of domination. Since all hierarchies are forms of domina-
tion, the message of the Christ is thus quite revolutionary in its rejection of both
state and "church" authority.
1-21. Is denial of unconditional allegiance to the state the cry of anarchy? If
one means by anarchy "without rule" (what the etymology of the term would
imply), then it most certainly is not anarchy. For, if God rules, there is rule
indeed, and so the absence of human coercion and hierarchy is not the same as
1-22. I am not advocating anarchy. Nor am I advocating theocracy as the
term is commonly understood, for in theocracy, as the term is commonly
understood, God is seen to rule through the state. I prefer to think that my view
is quintessentially Christian. We must consider the possibility that God does not
need the coercive state in order to rule--but he rules nonetheless.
If you must label me, then, label me not as an anarchist but simply as a
Christian, one who can take his religion straight, without rationalization or self-
1-23. Would the Prince of Peace have Leviathan3 in his employ? Would that
not be a house divided against itself?
1-24. "Anarchism" literally means "no rule." What I have advocated is indeed
the ideal of no coercive rule of human beings over other human beings, but rule
instead by the providential hand of God working both through a providentially-
ordered world and through human reason. If secular thinkers choose to label the
philosophy espoused here under the broad category of anarchistic theories, they
err greatly. The connotation of the term "anarchism" is not only that there would
be no rule but that it is possible for human beings to institute such a state of af-
fairs. Whether this is to be done peacefully (Kropotkin4) or by smashing the state
(Bakunin5), the presumption is that the goal of social action should be to design
institutions to take the place of the state. My presumption instead is that the only
moral requirement for individuals is to try to do the will of God: working through
situations and institutions as we find them, and changing them peaceably for the
better where possible.
God is already ruling, and thus the anarchist attempt at instituting a secular
alternative to the state represents a denial of the existence of such divine rule.
1-25. I admit that what is being denied here is some presumed necessity for the
state as an intermediary in the "chain of command" of divine rule over human
beings and the earth. What I am affirming is that order and harmony could still
prevail--peace in the fullest sense. Belief in God's omnipotence requires such a
belief, at least to my mind.
How closely such an ideal will ever be approached in this life is quite another
issue. But that the conscientious individual could and must live under God's rule
of unconditional benevolence regardless of what others might do is both an article
of faith and a statement of moral obligation. Nor does one have to retreat to a
commune or to the false security of some escapist sect to carry out one's true
obligations: one is required instead to carry one's efforts into the world, without
yet being corrupted by it nor yet being captured by allegiance to some small
segment of it to the neglect of the rest of humankind.
1-26. Let us be frank and admit that, as a consistent Christian, one is a traitor
to the coercive state. Everything that one stands for works against the long-term
maintenance of the state. If human beings were to be successful in their way of
dealing with each other and with social problems, they would do more than make
the state obsolete. They would destroy not only the state through their virtue:
they would destroy its very appeal.
1-27. Christianity urges one to love one's enemies, and the state by contrast
requires that one hate one's enemies, once the state has officially so declared them.
Christian love is to be manifest by action, and so action consistent with Christian
ity will sometimes coincide with the will of the state and sometimes not, but in any
case consistently Christian action will sooner or later--inevitably--run afoul of the
1-28. There is a kind of ironic truth in the view that the person who gives aid
and comfort to the enemy is a traitor to the state. Christianity requires such aid
and comfort to all persons, emphasizing aid to one's enemies. The requirements
of Christianity are thus traitorous to the state. Nor is this fact unseemly or
unfitting: as "no man can serve two masters," no person can serve the God of
unconditional benevolence and the god of retribution. And, make no mistake, the
state is inherently retributive. Retribution is its modus operandi. The church of
the Christ operates, by contrast, by the modus operandi of unconditional benevo-
lence and altruism, not retribution.
1-29. The military assault the enemy, and who is their greatest enemy? Those
who will not join them in the killing.
"You are cowards, you who are not willing to kill for your country!"
And so it is that those who are not willing to kill someone from another land
might want to prepare themselves to die at the hands of those from their own land.
If one should be called thus to die (and one should not lightly disparage that
possibility), then one must remember what country it is that one is dying to found
and protect: the Family of Humankind, the country that excludes no person.
The Family of Humankind is the only country worth dying for. It is not logi-
cally possible to kill for it without killing one of its own citizens.
1-30. God's judgments rest upon the premise of the absolute worth of the
individual, as expressed in the parable about the shepherd who left ninety-nine
sheep to search for the one which was lost. The rationale of secular authority, by
contrast, is usually for a mandated sacrifice of individuals for the sake of the
greatest happiness, the common good, national security, the State, or some other
institutional rationale which subordinates the worth of the individual to the whole.
The state, that is, believes in human sacrifice.
1-31. The mandated sacrifice of persons for the protection of institutions is
finally for the sake of maintenance of the institutionalized dominance implicit in
their governing structure, nothing more, ever. As Caiaphas said upon rationalizing
the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, "It is expedient that one man should die than
that the whole nation should perish." (John 18:14)
The statement turned out to be highly prophetic, but hardly in the way that
Caiaphas intended it. Caiaphas, for his part, perhaps mistook his concern for his
position for concern for the true welfare of the people, which can never be
fruitfully discussed apart from the welfare of particular individuals, all of them.
1-32. The question which needs to be asked is not whether it is conceivable
that a society could be planned and operated without appeal to coercion and the
traditional conception of authority, but whether each individual could see his or
her way clear to function effectively within the existing order without such ap-
If so, then the order--the structures of society--would also surely change, in the
most revolutionary and unpredictable ways.
1-33. One does not know whether a voluntaristic lifestyle is possible until one
has tried it, and tried it not intermittently or superficially, but as part of a continuing
struggle to work out alternatives to coercive and hierarchical organizational devices,
while yet trying to maximize one's contribution to society.
1-34. One must accept the inevitability that the ethical idealist must at some
point be prepared to put his principles on the line, in the form of his life, his family,
and all of his worldly goods. If he can live more comfortably with the loss of all
of these than with the loss of his principles, then and only then does he deserve to
be taken seriously.
1-35. I can almost hear the chorus: "But would you not kill to protect your
In trying to frame a response to this powerful objection, one needs to
remember that all persons are children of God, and all are of infinite value in his
1-36. The greatest successes in the realm of moral teaching have been abject
failures according to the standards of the world, and their worldly reward has
typically been humiliation, defeat, and even violent death. Greatness is bought
with a price, and its fruits are for future generations, not for one's own.
Is it any wonder, then, that ethical idealism has had so few converts, and that
most persons prefer to embrace what is typically called the ethic of "common
sense": of self-defense, law and order, and those other principles which offer the
hope of material and social success--at least for the thirty or forty years of life
likely to be remaining to them when they first consider these questions seriously.
1-37. What is this nonsense about "idealism" versus "realism"?
It must be remembered that the root of "idealism" is "idea." The so-called
"realist" is merely an unimaginative person trapped in the old habits of thought of
the existing order of things. The "idealist" has an idea, a conception of what
1-38. Who are the greatest heroes, the most courageous persons in the world?
They are those who put themselves on the moral battlefields without arms or
armor, and whose measure of courage is in terms not of what they are prepared
to conquer but of what they are prepared to endure.
1-39. It is true that the whipping boy of "secular humanism" contains a great
deal of respect for the individual, and thus this great tradition of thought is falsely
maligned by those who obviously do not understand it. Yet, one may say of
secular theories in general that, even when defending the individual against the
state, they tend to invoke the state as the defender of the individual against the
The most ironic manifestation of this is the case of the church-state con-
troversy, wherein the state is the referee: it is a bit like putting the fox in charge
of the hencoop, but working out better, no doubt, than if religious bureaucracies
were in charge of the problem.
1-40. The final god of the secularists is the concept of "checks and balances"
or "limited government" (limited by what if not the state itself?). This view is even
a theology of sorts: it is certainly a metaphysic. It seems to posit a universe
whereby evil may be used to check evil. Yet, this view of the way evil is to be
checked does not prevent the perceived necessity of designing man-made institu-
tions whereby this checking can be carried out.
James Madison's Federalist Number LI is perhaps the Bible for this view,6
although Benjamin Franklin is perhaps its deistic theologian.
1-41. In early Christian thought, what checks evil is not evil but good. I
presume therefore that we are not to design either our personal actions or our
institutions in order to return evil for evil, but good for evil: a house divided
against itself cannot stand. That is, it is not by evil (as power or ambition) that we
are to "cast out" evil (to check power or ambition), but by the altruistic actions of
What Madison unwittingly did was merely to help extend the retributive
machinery of law at the micro level (where, at the level of specific acts, evil had
always been met by evil), to the macro level, by establishing constitutional and
political institutions whereby this checking of evil by evil could come into play in
the larger scheme of institutional forces. The intent was not retributive, to be
sure, but the form was: law, as John Rawls has correctly said, is always retributive
The greatest architect of practical legal theory who ever lived, Madison was yet
still a legalist. His theories are closer to the Realpolitik ("balance of power")
school of international relations than to Christian ethics. His legacy is retribut-
ivism writ large: it is the foundation for the litigious society where persons put
their faith in coercive law and in force checking force rather than in themselves--
and in God's law and forgiving spirit working through them.
The Madisonian tradition is a brilliant prudential tradition. It is not, however,
a moral tradition. Madison's masterpiece, the original U.S. Constitution, was a
product of compromise between dominant economic interests. It was indifferent
to the worst-off members of society--African Americans and women--and it
contained no significant reference to individual rights.
The constitutive foundation of the truly just society, the Sermon on the Mount,
made Madison's masterpiece obsolete two thousand years before it even came into
1-42. So-called "benevolent despotism" usually does not involve the benign
use of force, as in pushing a child out of the way of a speeding automobile.
Despotism in practice involves the use of intimidation; it is an appeal to fear. All
institutionalized despotism involves some degree of intimidation. Intimidation
cannot ever be benign, even when employed for the noblest of ends. At the very
best, it can only be called a "necessary evil," and even there we give it too much
1-43. Did nuclear weapons "keep the peace" after World War II? Lester
Brown has said that, far from having had "peace through deterrence," or peace
through military preparedness, what we had was forty years of "war by proxies"
between the two superpowers, each fighting the other through the medium of
smaller countries armed by them.8 There were too many casualties during that
forty-five-year period to call it "peace."
One might go beyond Brown and say without exaggeration that this forty-five-
year period of the Cold War was in fact the Third World War, always on the verge
of escalating into holocaust: that potential still exists. The Cold War was a violent
stalemate of destructive significance comparable to that of the First World War.
This is not an exaggerated claim, since some of the by-products of the Cold War
were the Cambodian and Ethiopian tragedies, not just the Korean and Vietnam
Wars, or the numerous wars in Asia, Africa, and Latin America initiated and
funded in large part by the two superpowers.
The total casualty list of the Cold War would also have to include those
persons who have died by the sins of omission which massive military spending
always produces: those who in that era could have been fed but weren't because
the two superpowers were so obsessed with military "aid" that they neglected the
humanitarian aid of which they were capable. Previous great powers have not had
the tremendous technological advantages which the two superpowers had after
WWII. What good the two superpowers might have done so far outstrips the
capabilities of all prior empires and dynasties that their failure to use these
capabilities for good actually puts them into a new category of villains: those who
let more people die than any other two regimes in history.
1-44. The best commentary on peace is the well-ordered and peaceful life, not
a written discourse. Such a life is not only its own commentary, but it will be
sufficiently inspiring to compel others to want to tell and to write about it.
It is in the spirit of that observation that one writes about Christian ethics
within the context of Christian faith: the man who was God captures the
wholeness of the message, so much so that the message cannot be understood
apart from the story of his life and being. Thus it is that Christian ethics treated
as just another ethical system founders on the shoals of shallowness and superfi-
ciality: it is the Being of God that one seeks to know. The ethical utterances are
just an expression of that Being. They are to be revered, but they can only be fully
revered and fully understood and appreciated as an expression of that life, of that
1-45. An idealist pacifism rests upon the assumption that a peaceful solution
is always possible, at least in the limited sense that a peaceful response to conflict
can always be found by the individual actor.
It is not absurd to presume that a peaceful response is always possible: the
absurdity is to presume a priori that only some kind of coercive and punitive
action can resolve certain types of problems.
The burden of proof always lies upon those who would choose violence,
coercion, or retaliation. A peaceful response does not have to be defended.
1-46. Christianity has been co-opted by its enemies. Everywhere those who
rule by force and those who follow them (and support them by the same means)
invoke the name of the Son of God for the most sordid of activities. Two broad
interpretations of Christian ethics are clearly at odds with one another. How is
this situation to be rectified?
One may say first that one's interpretation of the life of Christ should not come
from one or two passages but from the first four books of the New Testament
taken as a whole. The image of the Christ which comes through is so obviously
an image of peace and gentleness that it takes quite a bit of rationalization to
interpret it otherwise. Yet, this is quite often done, and not merely by those who
rule and fight, but by those who consider themselves "ordained" (a curious
concept) to be "official ministers" (an even more curious concept) of the truth.
The result of orthodox interpretations of Christian ethics, both Catholic and
Protestant, is what one might expect of official versions of anything: an interpreta-
tion which is friendly to officialdom, both ecclesiastical and worldly, but not so
friendly to the truth.
Christianity has become increasingly a complex of bureaucracies, large and
1-47. What makes a pacifistic philosophy a Christian philosophy is the general
requirement to respond to evil with good, as well as to initiate good or benevolent
action in other situations. This general idea of unconditional altruism, which
requires us always to do good unto others no matter how they may treat us (good,
bad, or indifferently), is the practical expression of the golden rule: always treat
others not as they treat us, but as we would have them treat us.
Stated another way (so as to avoid any possible relativistic implications of the
golden rule), we are to treat others not as they treat us but as they ought to treat
us. That is, we are always to do good unto others, implying an objective standard
of what is good and worthy. This concept of the good or worthy can be further
generalized as the will of God: the good is that which is in accordance with the
will of God, and evil is that which is not in accordance with the will of God.
1-48. The most courageous souls to have walked the earth are those who have
gone into the world without armor. Socrates the soldier was no doubt a brave
man, but it is Socrates the philosopher whom we remember. Other examples
abound of those who have risked everything armed only with words: Jesus,
Gandhi, King, to name only a few.
The greatest pacifists have not only refused to carry weapons. They also
expected to die, and many of them did. There is nothing cowardly about pacifism.
If any man thinks that there is, then let him be human enough to try it.
1-49. The original point of the Christian teachings must have been in part to
demythologize war, the state, and other coercive and prudential institutions. Even
marriage was not to be exempt: even marriage was tied to the prudential
contractualism which was presumed to be the mortar of society, and a higher bond
between exclusive pairs of human beings had to have been anticipated.
1-50. If one could imagine modern technology as existing during the life of
Jesus of Nazareth, what would one think of the picture of Jesus entering Jerusalem
in a bulletproof, plexiglas "Jesusmobile," surrounded by twelve or more disciples
carrying automatic weapons?
Or, on the evangelical Protestant side, compare the simple entry of Jesus into
Jerusalem on a donkey, "the foal of beast of burden," with one of the modern
"Christian" rallies in which the leader rides up in a limousine, with hundreds or
thousands of people waving little American flags, while here and there policemen
and bodyguards armed with handguns look for troublemakers in the crowd.
1-51. Everywhere we witness the folly of entire cultures placing their faith in
militaries as the guarantors of "peace on earth." Thus it is that the U.S. Air Force,
not knowing what peace is, can proclaim (no doubt in all innocence) not only that
"Peace is our profession," but also that it is through nuclear might that we have
enjoyed almost a half century of "peace."
Peace, indeed. Mercy to those who cry peace where there is no peace. God
bless them; they know not what they say.
1-52. Who is the enemy in this or that war? Who, indeed? The enemy is not
a person at all, but a way of thinking and acting: the enemy is militarism itself.
He who would fight that enemy cannot use arms or make threats, for in taking
up arms or in making threats he concedes that the enemy has conquered him.
1-53. Is there war? Then let there be more preparedness for war so that there
might be peace. Is there infringement upon liberty? Then let there be more
arrests, judgments, and incarcerations so that there might be more liberty. Thus
will peace and freedom be realized in the world.
Or so it is claimed, and this way of looking at things is so well established and
familiar that anyone who challenges it is thought to be a fool.
1-54. Pacifism is at odds with militarism--and this ethical and philosophical
enmity cannot be denied. Pacifism is not at odds with the persons who are part
of military organizations. The point is not to condemn persons but to offer an
alternative mode of defense of those values which deserve to be defended.
1-55. Every once in a while one hears what has come to be thought to be the
ultimate reductio ad absurdum against pacifism: "But surely you would have to
concede that war against Hitler was necessary!"
The reply to such an argument is that it misses the point: "the war" was never
fought simply to defeat Hitler. The war was fought to defeat Germany, and
Russia was literally "used" to do most of the fighting. A restructuring of the
strategic balance, not the destruction of Hitler, was the primary end of World War
II. England, France, and the United States had wanted to weaken Germany for
some time, and their efforts in this regard actually created the preconditions for
The allies, not Germany or Austria, gave birth to Hitler.
1-56. World War II was, like World War I, the war to end wars: it rested upon
the same basic fallacy of thinking that building a huge war machine to limit the
power of one state or another would result in peace. The result of such thinking
is merely the perpetuation of militarism, not a triumph over it. Another state
always rises up to become the next dominant power, and all dominant powers
have the potential--almost the inevitability, it seems--of becoming the next
1-57. One reason that the victors in one war too quickly become the
aggressors in the next is that every dominant state comes to believe that its
dominance is a reflection of its superior moral or racial character. Upon arriving
at that conclusion, such a state will insist upon exporting its culture through the
use of force and economic domination--and believe that it has a great moral
purpose to perform in doing so.
At this point in history, the United States has decided that it has such a superior
culture. It thus follows in the footsteps of every tyrannical empire that has
preceded it. Although there is much good in this country, there is still almost
unqualified faith in the morality of militarism as an instrument of justice. This fatal
flaw in the national character makes the United States a very dangerous force in
world politics, more dangerous than the Soviet Union ever was. Yet, both
suffered from the delusion that it is justifiable to export their respective cultures
Both superpowers, that is, were cultural imperialists. One has been destroyed.
The other is on the wane. Technological stunts in recent wars distract Americans
from the reality of decadence and decline.
1-58. All major wars, though touted as defensive measures, are always the first
step in offensive preparedness for wars yet to come. The cycle of militarism and
cultural imperialism continues, and everyone who accepts its logic only helps to
perpetuate it. As long as young men and women can be convinced that arming
themselves to fight "the enemy" is a noble thing to do, the cycle will continue.
If they would fight a truly noble battle, they would arm themselves intellectual-
ly against the real enemies in all wars: war itself, as well as the ethnocentrism and
cultural imperialism which are its logical prerequisites.
1-59. Acts of war or violence may be categorically wrong, but it is entirely
possible that total non-violence must be looked upon as a limiting ideal, not an
absolute. Yet, in expressing one's reservations one does not want to water down
the idealist message of Christian ethics--it is surely the case that perfectly wise
beings would always be able to find peaceable solutions. It is conceivable that
even ordinary human beings could always find non-violent and non-coercive
solutions if they looked for them long enough.
1-60. Even if it should turn out to be the case that violence in exceptional
circumstances ("hard cases") is unavoidable or justifiable, one must never stop
measuring such exceptions or departures against the pacifist ideal. One must not,
that is, build one's moral principles upon such hard cases, for these are at best
exceptions to valid principles.
There might not even be such valid exceptions. Can one imagine the Christ
saying, "Turn the other cheek--except in hard cases"? I frankly cannot.
1-61. The institutions of war and punishment are not hard cases. They are
routinized violence. It is entirely conceivable, of course, that such routines began
as exceptional appeals to violence made in hard cases. Thus, although one does
not want one's general defense of pacifism to depend upon the correctness of the
assumption of an absolute prohibition against violence, it is possible that the cause
of peace requires such a categorical prohibition: the divine logic may require it.
1-62. Even if it should be the case that one simply cannot find the ideal, non-
violent solution in one instance, one is not justified in assuming that it did not exist
simply because one did not find it. Such a conclusion would encourage one to
rationalize the use of violence or force in the next problematic situation.
The result of this way of thinking is that, after a while, one tends to become
accustomed to the routine use of force, threat, or fear.
1-63. If pacifism does imply a kind of moral absolutism (by no means an
obvious conclusion), perhaps a categorical renunciation of the use of fear as a
motivator is a better starting point for an ethic of absolute pacifism than is a
categorical renunciation of coercion or violence. Even better, at least as a starting
point, would be a categorical renunciation of the punitive spirit or motive.
1-64. There are absolutely no circumstances under which the punitive spirit
could ever be justified. If this sounds reminiscent of Immanuel Kant's exaltation
of good will as the only thing which is good in itself, let it be remembered that
Kant nonetheless called for a "categorical imperative" of retribution.9 Kant thus
claimed to be able to justify the institution of punishment while simultaneously
calling "good will" the only thing which is good in itself. It seems that, at a
minimum, one should criticize this position on the grounds that "good will" is
inconsistent not only with a punitive spirit but with any concrete instance of
It would be a strange ethic which condemns the motive but sanctions the act!
1-65. The distinguishing feature of an authentic Christian ethical perspective
is that it tends to reduce questions of "public policy" to questions of individual
ethics: "What ought I to do?"
The question of "what the state should do" is seen to be nonsensical, or at least
mythical: states do not "do" or "decide" anything, since the personified state is a
reified concept bordering upon the mythical. More precisely, the state as a
personified entity is a fiction, and it takes whatever meaning it has from the fact
that persons believe the fiction to be real.
Nonetheless, when individuals do act in groups, each individual must still hold
himself or herself to the same high standard of ideal means that limits individuals.
1-66. The central objection which Christian idealism has to meet is a simple
question: "But how can one imagine an ordered society based upon the pacifistic
principles of Christian ethics?" Christian idealism can meet this objection directly,
but it is more useful to challenge the logic behind the question with another set of
Why should one have to imagine a blueprint for society? Why not instead
simply ask how a moral person in any society or any situation could apply the
principles of Christian idealism?
There is no simple answer to such questions, but a creative pacifism will find
the solutions and innovations as it needs them.
1-67. To any person who insists that a given society cannot hold together
where persons do not punish or go to war to defend themselves, the Christian
idealist has to ask whether such a society ought to hold together. Perhaps a
society that really is held together by punishment or war ought to be restructured,
for what do punishment and war typically protect if not some form of institution-
1-68. What if Christianity did "weaken" Rome militarily. Would that be an
indictment of Christianity--or congratulations to it?
Perhaps Christianity succeeded in doing what force of arms could not do. I do
not necessarily think this to be the case, but Augustine was sufficiently troubled
by this charge that he devoted considerable effort in an attempt to disprove it. His
proper response, I think, should have been: "We would like to think that mere
Christianity could have brought down a militaristic, parasitic empire, but perhaps
you give us too much credit." Instead, Augustine--in spite of his greatness--
gave us the "just war" doctrine, thereby helping to prop up many more Romes yet
1-69. Could a widely adopted pacifism bring down the United States of
America, in whole or in part?
1-70. A diagnosis of cancer might serve to induce a few person to seek God
and to repent of their sins. In the same way, it is possible that, for a few
individuals, arrest and incarceration might provide the same impetus for
Does this mean that cancer--death or the threat of death--is divinely ordained?
Of course not, and I think that the coercive state, which also deals with death and
the threat of death, is not a divine institution.
1-71. What is the church if not the "body of Christ" or the "community of co-
believers"? What, indeed? Co-believers in what? In a divine Messiah who came
to accuse and humiliate, to punish and rule with a flaming sword? Or a Messiah
who came to show the obsolescence of the sword--and of every coercive and fear-
inducing practice and institution which it represents? If I have to choose
so starkly, I shall surely choose the latter. If the Messiah did not have such a
mission, would he really be unique and worthy of consideration of the claim of
1-72. Who are the most loyal of the loyal opposition? Why, they are those
who would render aid and comfort to the enemy.
They are the most loyal to the nation of humankind. Perhaps they are indeed
traitors to this or that state. The state, and all advocates of a lesser nation than
that of all, certainly would define them as such.
Who would God consider the traitor to his cause: those whose loyalty is to all
humankind, or to only one segment of it?
1-73. If all we had of the story of Jesus driving the money changers from the
temple were the three accounts in Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, and Luke
19:45-46, then we would only know that he drove the money changers out and
overturned their tables. We could only speculate as to whether or not he used
force, fear, or persuasion to drive them out.
The version in the book of John, however, goes further. This version is often
cited to show that Christ was at times a man of anger and violence. In fact, the
version in the book of John allows an understanding which is consistent with the
view of Christ as a peaceful man, a view much more consistent with the other
accounts of all facets of his life.
Some confusion is engendered here by problems of translation. The King
James Version gives the following account, translated from the Greek in an
uncharacteristically careless fashion:
Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and found in the temple those that sold
oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and
when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out
of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the
changers' money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that
sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an
house of merchandise. (John 2: 13-16, KJV. Italics supplied.)
Were this translation accurate, the passage would indeed imply that Jesus drove
people out with the whip or scourge, along with the sheep and the oxen.
A return to the original Greek (from which the King James was translated)
gives quite a different account:
And the Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to
Jerusalem. And he found in the temple those selling oxen and
sheep and doves, as well as the money changers sitting; and having
made a lash out of ropes he expelled all from the temple, both the
sheep and the oxen; and he poured out the coins and overturned
the tables of the money changers; and he said to the ones selling
the doves: Take these things out of here--do not make the house
of my Father a house of merchandise. (Italics supplied.)
The above is a paraphrase of the literal English translation of Alfred Marshall10:
I have changed primarily the word order of certain clauses so that the translation
is somewhat more idiomatic.
The significance of the latter version is that it says only that "he expelled all
from the temple, both the sheep and the goats." That is, perhaps a correct,
idiomatic translation is that "he expelled all of the sheep and goats." One may
surmise that it was not necessary to drive out the herders of these animals by
force, since the mere driving of the animals out would suffice to induce the
herders to go with them. Of course, he probably did give verbal commands--or
prayerful exhortations--to the herders to exit the building, but it is equally clear
that verbal commands or pleas do not have much effect on sheep and oxen: the
"lash of ropes" was a quick and harmless way to drive the animals out. It was
probably the same type of device used to drive the animals through the streets and
into the temple in the first place: it would not have been perceived as a threatening
instrument--much less a weapon--by the drivers of the same animals.
Even more significant is the fact that he dealt differently with the money
changers, as well as those who had the doves: he poured out the coins and
overturned the tables of the money changers, which was surely inducement
enough to leave. As for those with the doves, he merely spoke to them: "Take
these out of here--do not make my Father's house a house of merchandise."
(Notice that there is not even a reference to a "den of thieves," as one finds in the
other biblical versions.)
The point is clear enough: surely the doves were in cages and could not be
driven out with the lash. Therefore, in order to get them out, he had to tell their
owners to move them out. Thus there is no record of his using force on those
with coins or with caged doves, neither of which responds to the lash. Nor is
there any record, on this interpretation, that he used the lash to drive out the
owners of the oxen and sheep: he only used the lash on the animals, not on their
If I am correct, there is thus no record in the New Testament of Christ's use of
1-74. Why is it assumed that Jesus even spoke in anger to the moneychangers
in the temple? It seems more reasonable and consistent to assume that he spoke
with anguish and dismay, perhaps with his hands against the sides of his head,
saying something like the following: "What are you doing? Do you not know
that this is a house of prayer, not a house of merchandise?"
1-75. The Luke version of Jesus' driving the money changers from the temple,
by contrast, emphasizes not the use of force, but the use of words: he cites that
passage from scripture saying that they have made a den of thieves out of a house
of prayer. (Luke 19:45)
A man who quoted scripture as the means of "driving" people out of the
temple ultimately can be said to have appealed to their consciences, not to force
or fear. The original Greek is apparently compatible with this interpretation.
1-76. Many passages in the New Testament clearly point to Jesus' aversion to
judgment, violence, and domination:
(1) Jesus responding to Pilate: "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship
were of this world, my servants would FIGHT, that I might not be handed over
to the Jews. . ." (John 18:36. Emphasis supplied.)
(2) Jesus arguing to the men who stood prepared to stone the woman caught
in the act of adultery: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" (John 8);
(3) Jesus in Gethsemane, imploring his followers not to use force to prevent his
imminent arrest: "All who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think
that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me twelve legions of
angels . . . ?" (Matthew 26:52-53);
(4) Jesus gently reproving the sons of Zebedee for wanting to occupy positions
of power: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their
great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but
whoever would be great among you must be your servant. . . ." (Matthew 20:25-
I recognize, of course, that a mere recounting of such passages proves nothing
about the historical accuracy of the Bible, much less about the claims of divinity
for Jesus of Nazareth. Given the evil committed by armed men in the name of
Christianity, however, perhaps it is well enough to show that a coherent Christian
ethic exists and that it is pacifistic to the core.
Those who opt for the sword in any manifestation will have to find some other
justification besides the account of the life and teachings of Jesus: it cannot be
found there. All that can be found is an ethic of peace and brotherhood and
sisterhood, as well as the invitation to undertake the process of moral growth: "Be
ye therefore perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48)
1-77. If one is going to argue for the so-called "just war" doctrine on the basis
of the account of Jesus' exhorting (or even commanding) the money changers to
leave the temple, one is on very shaky ground. Why would anyone want to try so
hard to prove that the Prince of Peace believed in war? There is absolutely no
biblical warrant for such a thesis.
More to the point, such a stance is a rationalization that makes absolutely no
sense. Perhaps the same may be said of all attempted justifications for the use of
1-78. Consider the following passage:
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto
him a centurion beseeching him, and saying, `Lord, my servant
lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.' And Jesus
saith unto him, `I will come and heal him.' The centurion an
swered and said, `Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come
under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be
healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me:
and I say to this man, "Go," and he goeth; and to another,
"Come," and he cometh; and to my servant, "Do this," and he
doeth it.' When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that
followed, `Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith,
no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, that many shall come from
the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac,
and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the
kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be
weeping and gnashing of teeth.' And Jesus said unto the centu
rion, `Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto
thee.' And his servant was healed. . . . (Matthew 8:5-13, King
This writer has had this passage thrown up to him many times by military
officers as Jesus' stamp of approval of military service. "Why," it is argued, "did
Jesus not tell the Centurion to forsake the military if Jesus' message is one of total
pacifism?" The question is a worthy one, and one must confess not to know the
On the face of it, however, this passage can hardly be seen to be an endorse-
ment of military "service," for it is quite neutral with regard to the whole question
of the rightness or wrongness of such "service." Yet, beneath the surface lies con-
siderable meaning, and one must at least give one's opinion as to what it is.
The first thing to be noted is that a request for a religious miracle has come
here from an outsider, and not merely from a Samaritan but from one of the hated
Roman officers, a leader of the occupying forces of the Roman legion.
Yet, is there any reason to believe that Jesus, with his universal message of
salvation, would turn away a Roman anymore than he would turn away a hated
tax collector (such as Matthew) or a prostitute? Surely, the fact that Jesus healed
or helped such people--and asked them to follow him--can hardly be seen as
evidence that he sanctioned their activities. Indeed, the entire point of this passage
might be merely to show the universality of the Christian message of redemption:
even the most hated enemy is yet a child of God.
As for whether this passage implicitly endorses military service by failing to
denounce it, it should be remembered that a Roman centurion would later be in
charge of maintaining order at Jesus' crucifixion, and Jesus would not tell that
centurion to forsake military service either--but that hardly means that Jesus
thought that that particular centurion was in the right by carrying out the order to
have him executed!
1-79. The context of the story of Jesus and the centurion indicates that Jesus
was using the fact of this man's station--his being a Roman and a soldier--as an
example of how universal his message of salvation really was. He used it as well
to indicate to the Jews that they should not be complacent in their assumption that
they, merely by virtue of their birth, were and would always be the chosen people
of God. "Look," he seems to be saying, "Even this Roman officer has more faith
than you do. Throughout all of Israel I have found no one with more faith than
I find in this commander of the hated occupying forces."
Far from being an endorsement of the military, the argument being made in this
passage might even be of the form, "Look, even in this lowest of human activities,
we find virtuous men--foreigners at that." Such an interpretation might be too
strong, but it does remain a possibility: the profession of killing might well have
ranked lower than prostitution and tax-gathering in Jesus' view of corrupt
1-80. God appeals to--and often uses--each of us within the organizational or
cultural milieu in which he finds us. Not only does he sometimes work through
individuals who happen to be soldiers, but he also works through educators who
(like it or not) sometimes more nearly resemble petty bureaucrats than teachers in
their everyday duties. This is not to say that he affirms the role of soldier qua
soldier or of bureaucrat qua bureaucrat. It might be that he achieves good
through persons much of the time in spite of their formal roles. May it suffice to
say that every role, not just that of soldier, has within it the inevitable tensions
between individual morality and official duties. How best to resolve the tension
for every profession is impossible for any person to say: it is difficult enough for
a person to try to answer such a question for his own profession. But surely the
answer is not to be found in resigning from every organization just because it more
or less often does things that one disagrees with.
To condemn all officials would be not only to condemn much of adult society
but to condemn the social matrix within which much good is accomplished--but
very often by bucking the organization and sometimes, though probably not often,
by resigning from it. In no case, however, should working within an organization
necessarily imply a sanctioning of the organization qua organization.
Yet, one must be wary of joining any organization which would presume that
joining it means surrendering one's moral sovereignty to the rules or laws that
govern that organization. The buck does not stop at the top of the chain of
command: it stops with each individual, and no myths surrounding laws or oaths
of office can ever change that fact.
1-81. The argument is often made that the commandment not to kill in the Old
Testament is really better translated as "Thou shalt not murder." Linguistic and/or
contextual arguments are advanced to show that the word used is indeed different
from the one which refers to killing in general, or is used in such a context as to
mean something different.
This may be true, for all I know. It is irrelevant in any case. No Christian can
accept the ethical standards of the Old Testament, based as they are on the retribu-
tive principles inherent in "an eye for an eye." Whether killing another human
being is wrong in any and all cases is a very good question, as the issue of
voluntary euthanasia attests to.
Even so, we will not get the answer from the Old Testament, for it has been
superseded: "You have been taught an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but
I say unto you, that you resist not evil; but whoever should strike you on the right
cheek, turn to him the other." (Matthew 5:38-39. See the larger context of this
teaching for an elucidation of the systematic nature of the Sermon on the
1-82. Pacifism may weaken a militaristic culture by hastening the crisis
resulting from the conflict of ideas. Until there is a challenge to the dominant
elites by pacifist thinking, such elites are not apt to actively doubt their own
methods or, alternatively, to try to prove or justify their methods by redoubling
their militaristic efforts. Once they do feel the force of the challenge, however,
and if they do not change but persist or even deepen in their intransigence and
coerciveness, then they themselves ultimately perform those actions which alienate
and disillusion the populace, leading to a quicker demise for the regime and
possibly the whole culture.
Pacifist thinking thus brings a sword of division which hastens the onset of the
moral dialog. It hastens the lessons of history. It does not destroy anything worth
saving: false beliefs should be thrown out, as should institutions based on those
It is ironic, nonetheless, that it is not the truth but the reaction against truth
which causes regimes to become more brutal and rigid in the face of criticism. It
is ironic also that this reaction is ultimately responsible for confirming the il-
legitimacy of the regime and thereby hastening its demise.
1-83. To equate Christian ethics with pacifism would perhaps be to reduce the
ethical core of Christian ethics to an ideology. In a similar manner, to refer to
"Christian pacifism" might appear only to contain reference to an ideology, but
also makes the adjective "Christian" into a mere qualifier and thus subordinate to
Nonetheless, I have used the terms "pacifism" and "pacifist" because I think
these are valid and concise, if incomplete and imperfect, labels. I cannot imagine
Christian ethics being validly used to defend the institution of war, nor even any
particular war, and thus it is correct to say that Christian ethics is "pacifistic"
without yet saying that it is nothing more.
Christian ethics is part of a comprehensive worldview which cannot legitimately
be factored out from the general context of a religious faith. In addition, even that
part of Christian culture which is a valid expression of Christian ethics is not
merely pacifistic in tone and intent: it is thoroughly altruistic and non-retributive,
and whatever pacifistic strains it may contain are derivative of this ethical core of
altruism and non-retributivism.
1-84. If Christianity is at its ethical core pacifistic, and if the essence of
Christianity is forgiveness, then perhaps the defining essence of a consistent
pacifism is a forgiving disposition.
"Non-retributivism," whether in the realm of distributive justice ("forgiving"
economic debts) or in the penal realm ("forgiveness" as finding alternatives to
punishment), is the term philosophers have used, and it is a valid term. Yet, it is
perhaps well that it should be demythologized and brought down to earth: at its
core, an ethic of non-retribution is simply an ethic of forgiveness.
1-85. There is nothing passive about pacifism. "Pacifism" has its root in the
Latin word for "peace," whereas "passive" has its root in the Latin word for
"passion." The two concepts have absolutely nothing in common, and those who
think that pacifism implies passivity in the face of social injustice are seriously in
It is an activist pacifism that one wants to espouse.
1-86. There will no doubt come a day when modern societies and their wars
will be looked at with the same general revulsion and horror which is now
reserved for those primitive societies which practice human sacrifice. Indeed, war
is human sacrifice, and the belief that such dying and killing will somehow
promote peace is a superstition on a par with the proverbial belief that sacrificing
virgins to the volcano god would prevent earthquakes.
1-87. Should we speak of "a path to peace"? "Peace" as used in this work
could indeed refer to a final state, but the relevance of a study of peace is for the
present time, a time in which there is not peace. The emphasis here is therefore
on the path of peace, for peace is not a plan or a blueprint which any rational
human being would try to impose upon the world, but a way of acting in the
1-88. If I were pressed to offer a justification of pacifism, I should have to say
that peace is eminently practical and realistic, and that true justice proceeds not
through retribution, nor through war nor through arrest and conviction, but
through moral suasion and the moral perfection of individuals.
As for justice, the pacifist must affirm a conception of justice which is
redemptive rather than retributive, forgiving rather than accusatory, and borne of
both ideal ends and means, not mere good intentions and rationalizations for
horrid means in the name of any end, however noble.
1-89. As a this-worldly conception, peace is definitely in the nature of an ideal,
although I shall not go so far as to call it a "utopian" conception. "Utopia" means
literally "no place," and it is not self-evident to me that peaceful conditions and
peaceful means of resolving conflict are nowhere to be found, nor that social
harmony as an endstate is nowhere to be found: they are simply not to be found
on an enduring basis or on a large scale. That peaceful means are employed on
a fairly sustained basis by some individuals seems clear enough, however, and
there are those glorious interludes and events during which there seems to be a
momentary attainment of the state of perfect harmony, albeit on a limited scale.
1-90. The officers of the state often perceive their role in noble terms. They
see themselves in their official capacities as protectors of those under their
jurisdiction. This protection is in the nature of a two-edged sword, however: the
alternative to protection is extortion. Those who refuse to accept the legitimacy
of those in coercive positions will find themselves excluded and threatened.
The logic of calling state protection "extortion" is that, even when the state
does not overtly abuse those who refuse to give full allegiance, it systematically
deprives of rewards. This deprivation or withholding of rewards is de facto
punishment, of course, and the punishment so inflicted can be life-threatening. In
all instances, it threatens the psyche and a sense of self-respect, and the state even
in the mildest of its sanctions attempts to use the peer pressure of those who are
"members" to exact pressure toward recanting.
Where the state does not seek to destroy dissenters, that is, it tends to use any
means necessary to "convert" them to the civil religion.
1-91. How can one be a pacifist, never being sure that the requirements of
always returning good for evil will not leave one's loved ones vulnerable? Would
one sacrifice one's loved ones to some abstract idea?
Ask Abraham, who was prepared to sacrifice Isaac if the will of God seemed
to require it.12 One must have some faith that God, although subtle and
mysterious at times, is not cruel: the story is no doubt mythical, but the larger
point about faith in a divine Providence still has force.
1-92. I heard a man say that he has the decisive rebuttal to the pacifist: "What
if someone should attack a member of your family? Would you stand idly by and
But did I not hear him say that his son turned eighteen yesterday? Is he going
to stand idly by--without protest--and let the state sacrifice a member of his family
on the superstitious altar of war?
1-93. What should we say of an eighteen-year-old young man, a mere boy,
who leaves the protection of home and of everything that he knows, to join the
armed forces of his country? Should we say that he is foolish, that he is na‹ve,
that he is misguided, that he has been suckered, that he is brave?
Whatever else we may say, we should have to say that he is indeed brave. But
what should we say of the larger group that would save itself by sacrificing its
We should have to say that it is cowardly and selfish and not worthy of his
1-94. The French word l'enfant means "child." From it we get the word
"infantry." The word is telling.
War is a kind of mass sacrifice of the children of two warring societies who
cooperate in the practice of their superstitious religious beliefs: "We will slaughter
our children to this war if you will slaughter yours."
1-95. Did I hear someone say that Christianity is against human sacrifice but
is in favor of the "just war"? Or did I just imagine that?
1-96. What does an eighteen-year-old boy want more than anything else in the
world than to be thought of as a man? Is there any human being more vulnerable
in its need of an affirmation of its worth?
The state is a vulture, preying upon such vulnerability, such earnestness, such
innocence. The young man of draft age is considered its legitimate prey.
1-97. The most novel ideas must be stated ahead of their time if they are ever
to have their time. I do not, however, claim a novel moral insight here. The
moral view expressed here is that of the Sermon on the Mount. It was ahead of
its time two thousand years ago. Perhaps it still is. In any case, I cannot improve
I think, in other words, that Jesus was--two thousand years ago--categorically
opposed to the institutions of war and punishment. In some ways, this book is
little more than a sustained expression of astonishment that most of organized
Christianity cannot see that after all these years.
1-98. Many of our institutional forms have outlived their usefulness, if indeed
they were ever useful. Defective or incomplete institutions always have caused
and always will cause human casualties, but the entire social order will not
necessarily fall simply because of the defects of institutions, at least not until the
institutional forms evolve to a certain point in terms of destructive potential.
War and punishment, and their associated rationales, seem to have approached
that critical point. These two institutions, I would maintain, have alwayp been
evil. They now have the potential to destroy all of human society, everywhere.
1-99. Is nuclear deterrence exempt from Murphy's Law?13
1-100. War is nothing but institutionalized retaliation on a mass scale, just as
punishment is institutionalized retaliation on an individual scale. As retaliation is
always wrong, so war is always wrong. There is no such thing as a "just war."
All war is inherently unjust, although some wars are no doubt more unjust than
Cannot the same thing be said of punishment?
1-101. One must reject the "idealist-realist" dichotomy. The idealist and the
so-called "realist" are not really opposites: the opposite of an idealist is a non-
idealist, a person without ideals, principles.
The idealist is the ultimate realist.
1-102. The only way to "conquer" an enemy is to convert him. Then he
becomes a friend, an ally. Any lesser solution is a defeat: he has continued (and
probably will continue) to repel one's best assaults--one's best ideas.
1-103. So you say that you have not--would not have--betrayed the Christ, the
perfect Son of God?
Well, would you betray, then, or have you betrayed one of the more imperfect
children of God?
In how one treats any old human being--that is where the story is told. Finding
a perfect person to betray is difficult. Most of us--all but the original twelve--must
make do with someone else.
We are typically very good at that.
1-104. So you say that you are a pacifist because you are against global
Friend, the problem of peace would be easy if the only war one had to refrain
from was global thermonuclear war--or any other war between nation-states.
The real pacifist is at peace with his neighbor, his co-worker, and the members
of his own family. Show me a person who can get along with all of these, who
does not bring accusations or threats against any of these, and I can show you a
truly peaceable person.
War may end in violence. It begins with judgment, accusation, and threat.
Those who would end it would cut it off at its source, at whatever level.
1-105. An ethic of peace must protect and save not only the innocent, but the
guilty, too--for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
If an ethic of peace is going to save only the innocent, who is going to save us?
1-106. Political theory as it has been traditionally conceived is a set of
exercises in legitimizing state coercion and violence, or in delimiting the realm of
supposedly legitimate state coercion and violence.
If state coercion and violence are categorically illegitimate, however, then
political theory so conceived is also illegitimate. This means that most persons
who are attracted to political theory qua political theory are trying to find some
way to justify state coercion and violence, and they are thus engaged in one of the
most reactionary enterprises known to man.
If one would challenge such a tradition, one at least ought to be advised as to
what one is up against. To be accepted into that fraternity too easily could be a
sign of failure as a truly moral philosopher.
1-107. Pacifism as a comprehensive social theory depends upon more than one
premise, but one of its essential premises is the notion that the only lasting way to
peace lies through appeal to the intrinsic sanctions of conscience, not to extrinsic
rewards or punishments.
The preceding is just a rather inelegant way of saying that the pen is indeed
mightier than the sword: it is the power of ideas, freely exchanged and chosen,
which will change the world, when the world is changed for the better on a lasting
1-108. Peace has as much to do with interpersonal as international relations.
1-109. It is a cowardly country or culture which institutionalizes the sacrifice
of its young people in war or prisons in order to maintain the given social order.
That would be cowardly even if one were doing so in order to defend an otherwise
perfect social order.
But to sacrifice one's young people for the sake of perpetuating the present,
obviously unjust order? That is not mere cowardice. That is treason.
1-110. "Treason! Why, these traitorous slime, who will not fight and defend
their own country!"
Tell me, you who talk like this, whom have you betrayed lately? Whom have
you sold down the road to enhance your own reputation--or self-image?
Treason on the small scale, one or two human beings at a time--this is where
the battle of faith and goodwill is being lost.
1-111. "But," I can hear you saying, you who have had this man arrested, this
woman fired, "This was not treason. These people were the villains, the wrong-
doers! They deserved their punishment. How much more is one justified in going
to war against the enemies of one's country!"
Tell me, friend, who does not belong to your country? And who are the
villains, the wrong-doers? For are not all of us children of the same father, and
have not all of us yet sinned?
1-112. The pacifist does not merely believe that violence or war should be
used as a "last resort." That is the basic premise behind the so-called "just war"
The genuine pacifist has faith, a simple faith, that there is always a moral
alternative to violence, war, and punishment--whether one sees that alternative or
1-113. Acting on the simple faith in alternatives to violence, the consistent
pacifist does not spend time constructing contingency plans in case peaceful means
fail. The pacifist spends his or her time continuing to look for alternatives to non-
violence--even after the atrocity has been committed.
Is there a better way? This is the divine obsession of the pacifist in ethics and
Was there a better way? This is the divine obsession of the pacifist in history.