Pacifism, Non-Violence

Is pacificsm the same as non-violence?

What is pacifism and non-violence?

Pacifism is a belief that holds that violence is always wrong and should be avoided. In the main, it is exemplified as opposition to war and militarism but it also often involves taking affirmative actions, such as non-violent protest, against such things. Non-violence is an individual's ability to go about their activities without ever recourse to a violent act. As such, the two are often linked. Non-violence has been used as a tactic in several notable political campaigns over the years, not all of them directly related to the pacifist movement. However, the two concepts are also connected through teachings in many religions, such as the Buddhist concept of ahimsa, which means to do no harm, or the concept of 'turning the other cheek' which Christ preached during his sermon on the mount.

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 Is pacifism the same thing as non-violence?

Answering the question of whether pacifism and non-violence are the same, it would be best to say no; they aren't. In fact, they are best considered as separate concepts which overlap one another. To be a pacifist means taking on a comprehensive opposition to violence, particularly organised violence. Being non-violent, on the other hand, is the personal decision to behave without using violence in a particular setting, circumstance or emotive state. Therefore, to be a pacifist, you would probably need to act in a non-violent manner to be true to yourself. That said, not all non-violent people are pacifists. Some non-violent people adapt the philosophy of accepting the deterrent effect of maintaining, if not deploying, certain military weapons systems, such as a nuclear arsenal, for example.

What are early examples of pacifism and non-violence?

In ancient China, the so-called Mohist school rejected the warring parties of the region. Instead, they took the decision that it would be better to only engage in defensive activities for their own protection. Some ancient Greek playwrights - such as Aristophanes, for example - are said to have proposed pacifism in response to the Peloponnesian Wars. There are some of these ideas that are expressed, although not overtly, in his works for the stage. There is also a similar strand of thinking in the highly militarised Roman tradition. This has been passed down through the works of Ovid and certain Stoic philosophers. In the West, pacifist thinking is also largely drawn from the teachings of Christ as recorded in the gospels. His idea that one should 'turn the other cheek' still carries great weight in many societies of Christian spirituality.

Has pacifism and non-violence had an impact in the modern age?

Addressing the question of non-violent and pacifist activity in the modern age means looking back to the seventeenth century. At this time, religious radicalism in Europe also took off, meaning that non-violent ways of dealing with disputes began to build momentum. Drawing on their understanding of the teachings of Christ, the Quakers notably espoused pacifism at this time, and they remain pacifists to this day. Some peace movements also grew during the Napoleonic Wars, but these only really took off after the brutality of the First World War. Mahatma Gandhi and Leon Tolstoy both proposed non-violence as a way forward for societies in the inter-war period. Gandhi's non-violent campaigns inspired later movements, including the US civil rights campaigns of the 1960s led by Dr Martin Luther King Junior.

Pacifism and non-violence are often linked but does not mean the same thing. Sign up and join the conversation.

What criticisms of pacifism and non-violence are there?

For some, pacifism and non-violence go against human nature which is always violent at some point. This poses a profound question about human societies and whether they are anything much more than animalistic groups which will fight over territory and resources or whether they are truly civilised. It should be pointed out, too, that even those people who accept that groups and individuals are capable of being true pacifists sometimes think that it does not help to overcome the violence of others. This is especially so when non-violence is not respected and met with further violence. The appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s by some of the Western powers is often pointed out as an example of pacifist thinking forming policy decisions that, ultimately, failed.

Why doesn't pacifism work?

Dealing with the question of whether being a pacifist might work or not needs to be answered in two ways. Firstly, it should be stated that no advanced nation has ever taken a pacifist approach to its foreign policy, for example. Places without armies to defend themselves against attack – even if they are only used in a defensive manner – have tended to be subsumed by larger powers. The disputed region of Tibet – now a part of modern China – is a good example. That said, pacifism can work at an individual level. This might mean being true to oneself and avoiding enlistment in a military force, for example. Moreover, pacifist campaigns have worked to some extent, as people like Gandhi and Dr Martin Luther King Junior have shown, even if what they achieved has been limited in some ways.

Why is pacifism good?

Understanding why being a pacifist might be considered to be a good thing means addressing a central question of ethics and morals about ourselves. The question is really what begets violence in the first place. If someone feels wronged by another and strikes them, then the person who has been hit might feel justified in striking back. They could even strike someone close to the person who struck them. This, in return, leads to further retaliation, and so the cycle of violence continues. What pacifists propose is breaking that cycle for the good of all. Crucially, they consider this to be the right thing to do from an ethical – sometimes religious – perspective. This means it is not just good for the person who would otherwise have been hit but for everyone.

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What is non-violence in communication?

Usually referred to as NVC non-violent communication is a person-centred therapeutic model that was first espoused by Marshall Rosenberg, an American clinical psychologist. Rosenberg came up with the concept of non-violent communication in the 1960s, in which people were encouraged to show more empathy. It is not a form of dispute resolution but a methodology that helps people to understand the viewpoint of others better when disagreements or cultural clashes occur. Rosenberg was influenced by earlier thinkers, such as Erich Fromm, and applied his communication technique to schools in the US that were beginning to racially integrate in the 1970s. There are four components to non-violent communication skills. These are observations based on facts that are sensed, feelings as opposed to thoughts, needs which are universal in their nature and requests which are to be distinguished from demands.

What are some examples of non-violence answers?

According to Martin Luther King, there are certain answers that non-violent action can provide. He said that non-violent behaviour could only really be conducted by courageous people because it was an assertive action that demanded spiritual, mental and emotional strength. Another question he said peaceful protest answered was whether it highlighted the wrong in others. For Dr King, non-violent tactics sought to defeat injustice, not those perpetrating it. He saw wrongdoers as victims of injustice, too. Another answer he claimed non-violent campaigns offered was that they won over friends and built reconciliation between communities. He also said that through suffering, it would even be possible to convert one's greatest enemy to the cause because, for him, the universe is on the side of justice. This is, perhaps, the greatest answer that non-violent acts can offer.

What are Gandhi's principles of non-violence?

The first principle that Gandhi espoused with respect to non-violence was that it was always bound very closely to his concept of truth. Gandhi saw that violence was both personal and structural – a part of wider society – but that people's inner truths did not want to experience or perpetrate violence. Therefore, for him and his followers, non-violent action was the only way that the campaign to decolonise India from British rule could be fought. In other words, he taught that to have been violent would have been to deny the essential spiritual truth that resides in everyone. Secondly, Gandhi based non-violence on a concept of ahisma, which roughly translates as the search for truth through contemplation. He wrote that is ahisma is hurt by every evil thought, lies and hatred, something that would include, of course, violence in all its forms. To Gandhi, ahisma was a 'positive state of love' that could do good even to people who have done wrong.

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What are the types of non-violence?

Perhaps the most common form of non-violence is ethical. In ethics, some thinkers have demanded non-violent behaviour to work towards a more just society. In this model, the state should be non-violent towards its own citizens. It would advocate for the removal of the death penalty and corporal punishment as well as the abolition of slavery, for example. Another type of non-violent thought is religious in its nature. This comes in many forms, such as Christian, Hindu and Jain traditions, among others. Many Christians believe that violence is sinful, for example, but that such sins may be forgiven if they are repented. Jainists seek to do no violence to people or animals. Another type of non-violent behaviour can be described as pragmatic or tactical. This might involve protest movements that use peaceful sit-ins or vigils as a means of getting their point across simply because they are more effective if they're conducted without violence.

How can we promote pacifism and non-violence?

There are various methods available to people who wish to promote non-violent and pacifistic approaches to life. According to UNESCO, the United Nations body, peace between and within societies can be better maintained if pacifism is promoted through education. It recommends, for example, that schools teach children about it and that adult education should include elements of it when discussing religion, history and ethical questions. It is also widely advocated that greater media coverage of non-violent and peaceful actions should be maintained. If people see and understand why others are acting non-violently, then they will be more inclined to follow their leadership. In the increasingly fragmented media landscape of the information age, UNESCO also now recommends the promotion of peaceful and non-violent behaviour through social media channels.

What are the two types of pacifism?

To answer the question of what two types of pacifism there are, it should first be stated that they are not in conflict with one another. Indeed, both models can act together. That said, the first type of pacifist tradition is regarded as an advocacy model. In other words, pacifists advocate that their state acts in a non-aggressive way. After the First World War, this model was popular in many countries which had lost large numbers of men to the conflict. Notably, in Britain, advocates of pacifism influenced the government as it faced an increasing threat from Nazism. The other type is referred to as the ethical model. This means that individuals are opposed to all forms of personal violence on principle. Such people will not fight even if they are attacked, or the state attempts to force them to do so. So-called conscientious objectors are drawn from this ethical form of pacifism.

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Pacifism and non-violence in summary

Although pacifistic traditions are often lumped in with concepts of non-violence, they are distinct entities and should not be muddled up. That said, of course, there are many points where the two concepts crossover into one another. After all, a pacifist is likely to be a non-violent person if they are committed to the idea of a more peaceful and less conflicted world. Nevertheless, even some pacifists accept that they are only trying their best to act in a non-violent manner and that they still have the capacity for violence – it is merely a capacity that they are trying to never use.

For some, the whole idea of being non-violent is based on a more profound truth about humanity which, when seen from a spiritual standpoint, is essentially peaceful and peace-loving. It is only with our human structures and societies that we are violent. To Christians, for example, this is part of being sinful since man was expelled from the Garden of Eden. Christ taught that being non-violent even in the face of aggression was the right thing to do. Much later, his ideas influenced the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who also used spiritual strength to help them resist the human urge towards violence. More widely, however, both of these famous exponents of non-violent struggles chose to avoid violent confrontations because they felt it helped their cause. Today, protestors continue to use many of the same non-violent methods to further the cause of female safety, racial equality and human rights, to name just three examples.

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