Volume 18, Issue 1/2, Spring/Fall 2018
The Pacifist Tradition and Pacifism as Transformative and Critical Theory
Pacifism is often painted into a corner as an absolute rejection of all violence and war. Such a dogmatic and negative formulation of pacifism does leave us with pacifism as a morally problematic position. But pacifism is not best understood as a negative claim. Nor is pacifism best understood as a singular or monistic concept. Rather, there is a “pacifist tradition” that is grounded in an affirmative claim about the importance of nonviolence, love, community building, and peaceful conflict resolution. This more positive conception of pacifism aims to transform social and political life. When understood in this way, pacifism is a robust and useful critical social theory. This paper explores the philosophy of pacifism in an attempt to reconceptualize pacifism as a tradition of normative critical theory. The paper argues that pacifism ought to be understood on analogy with other critical theories—such as feminism; that pacifism should be understood in terms of the “pacifist tradition”—along lines familiar from interpretations of the “just war tradition”; and that pacifism should be seen as offering interesting themes and ideas that are worthy of philosophical attention.