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Keith Pavlischek September 20, 2012
Beyond being merely a voice of "protest," pacifism has no cache in the real world of politics, public policy and foreign affairs. This is perfectly obvious in the case of the classical Christian pacifist (discussed in my last post here) who refuses, as a matter of principle, to become involved in politics, public policy, foreign affairs and who more generally, (to adopt a phrase from Stanley Hauerwas) refuses to "give advice to Caesar." But it is also quite difficult to take "seamless garment pacifism" (discussed in my first post here) all that seriously as a matter of public policy and foreign affairs. However, even as a voice of protest against the use of military force in a particular instance, or more generally, against the size of defense spending, for example, such pacifism can't be taken all that seriously. For instance, when a "seamless garment" pacifist prophetically denounces as unjust the use of military force in a particular instance, in Grenada, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Iraq, or Afghanistan, Gaza or more broadly the counter-terrorist campaign against Al Qaeda, politicians and public policy officials may humor them, and perhaps put them to good use for their own particular foreign policy views, but at the end of the day they know perfectly well that this is simply a practical implication of their broader principle, that the use and application of lethal force is always wrong, wicked, evil and condemned by the life and teachings of Jesus who they claim to follow.
Similarly, when pacifists call for a reduction in the size of the Department of Defense, everyone knows that this is because, as a matter of principle, they don't believe there should be a Defense Department in the first place. And, of course, when pacifists plead that public officials should use on force as a "last resort," it is difficult to take them seriously when you know that in principle, they do not believe a "last resort" is ever reached. There is always, for the pacifist, some other "non-violent" response to evil that is always morally preferable to the use of lethal force. In addition to disagreeing with them about their pacifism, politicians and other public officials know that they represent are a fairly small minority of the American public.
So, what does a pacifist do if he wants to get a serious hearing in the "halls of power?" Over the past several decades Christian pacifists have tried to come to grips with this problem. In an attempt to be taken seriously on matters of foreign and defense policy they have hitched their wagons to those who, while not embracing their Christian pacifism, nevertheless are generally allied with them on other political and ideological views. This allows them to say in public manifestos, in peace conferences and the like that, "while some, or even many of us are pacifists, others among us are not strictly speaking Christian pacifists." This allows them to say that both just war thinkers as well as pacifists are against.....well, fill in the blank.
Over the past half-century or so this "crypto-pacifism" or "functional pacifism” has been repeatedly criticized by many Christian scholars and adherents to the just war position of Christian moral reflection. The great Christian moral theologian Paul Ramsey first took up the problem in the 1960s and since then he has been joined by many others, including James Turner Johnson, George Weigel, Oliver O’Donovan, Darrell Cole and others. I will have more to say about all this in my next post, but now, I simply want to take note of the fact that recently these Christian theologians and ethicists have been joined in their criticism by political theorist and just war expert Michael Walzer. According to Walzer:
Many clerics, journalists, and professors, however, have invented a wholly different interpretation and use, making the [just war] theory more and more stringent, particularly with regard to civilian deaths. In fact, they have reinterpreted it to a point where it is pretty much impossible to find a war or conflict that can be justified. Historically, just war theory was meant to be an alternative to Christian pacifism; now, for some of its advocates, it is pacifism’s functional equivalent — a kind of cover for people who are not prepared to admit that there are no wars they will support.
While Walzer’s remarks on the tendency toward "functional pacifism or "crypto pacifism" are not particularly novel, it is nonetheless important for two reasons. For one thing, Walzer is arguably the most influential public intellectual in the fields of military ethics and just war theory. His Just and Unjust Wars (1977) is rightly considered a classic not merely in academia, but also throughout the U.S. military’s formal education system, including the military academies, the command and staff colleges, and the war colleges. Second, Walzer is a man of the secular left, and an eminent left-wing academic. He is most decidedly not a conservative or a neoconservative. He is an editor of the leftist political quarterly Dissent, he is a contributing editor to The New Republic, and he regularly writes for that magazine as well as the New York Review of Books and other prominent liberal outlets. He thus has no conservative or theological or ecclesiastical axes to grind. It is particularly worth noting that Walzer acknowledges that the tendency toward thinking of the just war tradition as functional pacifism “is especially strong on the left,” adding that this is why “it is stronger in Europe than in the United States.” We would do well to keep this comment by Walzer in mind whenever Christian pacifists claim to have found a "third way" that is "beyond" the old categories of just war and pacifism (e.g., fads called "Just Peacemaking"). Or when pacifists organize conferences with a heavy dose of pacifist academics and activists with a token non-pacifist here and there. Inevitably, they are, as Walzer tells us, little more than "a kind of cover for people who are not prepared to admit that there are no wars they will support." To which one must add, more often than not they are also a kind of cover for people, Christian pacifists in particular, who are prepared to admit that there are no wars they will support.
In my next post in this series I will show how those who embrace this crypto-pacifism, or functional pacifism, or "just peacemaking" typically distort classic Christian just war tradition and doctrine.
NOTE: For a more extended discussion on Michael Walzer and "functional pacifism," from which these comments are modified, see my article Proportionality in Warfare in The New Atlantis.
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