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Pacifism and Nonviolence Approaches to War and Peace


Individuals, countries, and regions have different beliefs and ideologies, making conflicts inevitable. The way conflicting parties approach their differences plays a significant role in determining whether a skirmish will occur or not. There has been concern about the use of force or war to influence changes or accomplish desired outcomes because of the adverse effects of such techniques. Therefore, some individuals, groups, organizations, and nations advocate pacifism and nonviolence in war prevention and pursuance of peace. Evaluating different forms of pacifism and nonviolence tactics can help understand how they control and prevent human conflicts.

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Pacifism is a perspective that advocates for peaceful rather than violent relations in governing human interactions. Pacifists propose surrender or arbitration as means of resolving disputes. They argue that any form of war, violence or even killing is wrong (Moseley). Therefore, people should deal with conflicts arising from social interactions through mediation and compromise instead of opting for violent means. Pacifism accentuates the goodness of upholding peace to guarantee human well-being. The different forms of pacifism are absolute, conditional, selective, and active pacifism.

Absolute Pacifism

On the one hand, this form is considered deontological, where humans have the duty to avoid conflicts. It is mandatory for the pacifists to never engage in aggression, use force, or support war against others. Deontological pacifism accentuates moral actions in all pertinent circumstances in society (Moseley). In this regard, every individual’s deeds in the community are expected to promote peaceful coexistence, even when provoked by others. As a result, the approach can considerably minimize or eliminate human skirmishes.

However, issues such as the collision of duties are a considerable problem for deontological pacifism. Pertinent questions occur when force may be necessary to stop aggressors from taking innocents’ or pacifists’ life (Moseley). While one may argue that the pacifists may have no right to self-defense, especially the religious ones, they have the duty to protect the innocents, leading to the use of force. Equally, one may wonder whether the responsibility to respect others outweighs that of respecting oneself. Assailants transcend any obligation they should have towards their victims, but that must not warrant the forfeiture of the latter’s life. Possibly, moral evaluation of oneself compared to others influences the pacifists’ decision on whether to intervene to save their life or not.

On the other hand, moral consequentialists can support pacifism, asserting that evils associated with war or violence offset any good that may arise. Absolute consequentialist pacifists follow the rule of utilitarianism that advocates for the avoidance of violence or war as a moral rule since its retraction can be less beneficial to all (Moseley). Thus, people should adopt the ethical rule against conflicts or the use of force even when they would produce better consequences since it would guarantee more favorable outcomes. Absolute pacifists, deontological and consequentialists, prohibit violence and war irrespective of particular situations.

Conditional Pacifism

This form of pacifism admits the use of war or violence under certain circumstances. Conditional pacifism can be either deontological or utilitarian in nature. The deontological perspective acknowledges that one cannot consider enactment of their obligations in isolation since they may overlap, necessitating moral weighing or conditional acceptance (Moseley). Thus, conditional pacifists hold that the duty to advocate nonviolence and peace can conflict with the obligation to halt aggression to defend or save lives. Conversely, the utilitarian perspective endorses examining every action and conflict from a moral viewpoint of what move is likely to yield more favorable outcomes (Parkin 194). Therefore, war may be acceptable in some instances, such as during self-defense or protecting innocents from genocidal campaigns, even when the results are less auspicious. While wars may be inevitable when individuals, communities, or countries have differences, conditional pacifism can alleviate human conflicts and promote peace.

Selective Pacifism

Selective pacifists carefully choose what they do when in a conflict and only participate in just wars. They consider various factors, such as possible consequences of using certain weapons, before deciding whether to engage aggressors or not (Broadcasting Company). Selective pacifists hold that nonaggression in pursuance of peace is a matter of degree, opposing wars involving mass destruction weapons. For instance, they do not in any way support use of nuclear, chemical, or biological artilleries since they cause mass destruction of humans and properties (Broadcasting Company). While a conflicting party adopting selective pacifism and refraining from using such weapons may be disadvantaged, it can establish positive relations with others and sign a pact to avoid such destructive arms. Although selective pacifism only focuses on weapons that cause devastating outcomes, it can promote peace among nations through treaties.

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Active Pacifism

Active pacifists considerably participate in political activities to promote peace. While conflicts may be inevitable, they argue against particular wars. Most pacifists refuse to fight during wars; however, some engage in actions that seek to alleviate harm associated with the battles. For instance, some pacifists would drive ambulances to evacuate casualties from the battlefield. Others would instead not go to war and face a punishment of execution. Most countries in the contemporary world acknowledge that individuals have the right to object to military services conscientiously. Nevertheless, the objectors should participate in other forms of public services. Active pacifism prevents wars, promotes peace, and minimizes negative impacts in case conflicts arise.

Forms of Nonviolence Approaches


Advocates of the nom-resistance approach reject all types of physical violence, from individual and national stages to the internal level. This form of nonviolence has its roots in some Christian sects, such as the Amish and Mennonites (Sharp). Individuals who adopt it refuse to participate in wars and political activities, including voting and holding government offices. Nevertheless, they pay taxes and abide by their country’s demands as long as it is consistent with what they believe to be their obligation towards God. Non-resistant individuals do not utilize nonviolence techniques to oppose bad situations, and they hold on to their beliefs even oppressed. They ignore evil and suffer their lot as a way of portraying their religious duty. The main concern of such people is to be confirmed with their beliefs and maintain their integrity instead of pushing for social reconstruction (Sharp). Ideally, non-resistants believe in the impossibility of a world from sins such as wars and violence, opting to withdraw from evil. The role of non-resistance nonviolence in controlling or preventing human conflict may be insignificant because ignoring a problem does not resolve it.

Active Reconciliation

Individuals who prefer this form of nonviolence favor the utilization of active reconciliation and goodwill. They advocate for outward actions and personal compromise and enhancement of one’s life prior to any attempt to change others (Sharp). This group of people seeks to establish a positive attitude and policy among persons causing conflict by convincing them rather than using coercion. The approach is based on the principles of goodwill, kindness, and love, which have the power to influence humans and overcome evils. It is closely linked with Christianity teachings that encourage individuals to love and embrace enemies and people who offend and hate them (Sharp). Groups that adopt active reconciliation address conflicts in a way that does not cause trouble or agitation. They avoid direct actions such as boycotts or strikes and outspoken verbal statements that may have harmful effects on their opponents, controlling and preventing further skirmishes.

Moral Resistance

Individuals who apply this form of nonviolence approach to war and peace believe in resisting evils through peaceful and moral means. In this regard, personal moral obligation is an essential component of this tactic. According to Sharp, moral resistance comprises an individual’s refusal to participate in evil actions such as war and actively doing something against them. It emphasizes sensitization, persuasion, and the use of examples to influence social changes without coercion. People embracing moral resistance refuse to participate in war, strive to abolish the latter, and promote goodwill among classes, races, and nations, to establish a society where no one suffers. As a result, the approach controls prevalence and helps resolve human conflicts.

Selective Nonviolence

The people who embrace this approach to war and peace reject participation in particular violent conflicts. Such individuals are willing to use violent actions in certain situations to achieve desired goals (Sharp). Therefore, they evaluate past and prevailing circumstances to decide whether it is justifiable to participate in war. They may also oppose the use of destructive weapons during wars. For instance, rejection of efforts to prepare and use nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons during wars but accepting the use of other artilleries is a selective nonviolence approach that prevents possible mass destruction of humans and properties.

Passive Resistance

People who use this form of nonviolence approach to wars focus on preventing or achieving social, political, or economic changes. Resistors using this tactic prefer it because they either lack the means of engaging in violent resistance or have no possibility of winning if they use the latter methods. The primary objective of passive resistance is to harass opponents without the use of physical violence, forcing them to implement desired changes whether they like it or not (Sharp). People may practice this type of nonviolence at local, national, regional, or international levels through boycotts, strikes, and non-cooperation movements. Political prison camps’ strikes in the Soviet Union are examples of passive resistance.

Peaceful Resistance

This form of nonviolence is also used to accomplish or resist social, political, or economic changes. The approach acknowledges that nonviolent tactics are far much better than violence and should be used in the struggle. People who adopt it temporarily adhere to nonviolent discipline only for a particular fight. Sharp indicates that peaceful resistance increases the possibility of achieving the desired goals that reliance on constitutional procedures, verbal persuasion, and violent opposition. Examples of peaceful resistance include Defy Unjust Laws campaign in South Africa in 1952 and opposition to the construction of the US air force base at Sunakawa by the Japanese (Sharp). The approach prevents wars and promotes peace among individuals and nations.

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Nonviolent Direct Action

People who apply this type of nonviolence use interventions to institute new policies are patterns to cause desired social, political, or economic changes. Factors such as belief in nonviolence as an ethical standard motivate participants in nonviolent direct action. Sharp indicates that the approach may involve negotiations, investigation of facts, public appeals, and discussion with parties responsible for objectionable policy. The degree to which this method achieves intended changes in the opponents’ values and attitudes or causes alteration in the policy in question varies depending on how participants implement it. Nonviolent direct action is associated with numerous social and political changes globally, like alleviating racial segregation and discrimination in the United States.

Nonviolent Revolution

Major social issues in the contemporary world originate from individual and community life and are resolvable through radical fundamental changes in persons and society. The nonviolent revolution approach involves four aspects that help participants achieve desired positive changes without conflicts (Sharp). The first facet focuses on encouraging individuals to improve their own lives. The second one is about accepting such values as cooperation, equality, nonviolence, freedom, and justice as determining principles for the society. The feature is followed by the establishment of a more democratic and decentralized social order. Lastly, believers of this approach combat what is considered social evil through direct action and nonviolent resistance (Sharp). People who adopt this method implement it without the use of state machinery, which can cause harm to the participants.


Pacifism and nonviolence approaches to war and peace are essential tools used by individuals, groups of people, and nations to prevent and resolve conflicts. Pacifism is a perspective that advocates for peaceful rather than violent relations in governing human interactions. While different forms of pacifism are absolute, conditional, selective, and active pacifism, nonviolence tactics include non-resistance, active reconciliation, moral resistance, selective nonviolence, passive resistance, peaceful resistance, and nonviolent direct action, and nonviolent revolution. Pacifism and nonviolence can work as systems of controlling and alleviating human conflicts because they do not support the use of force or coercion to resolve issues or cause social, political, or economic changes.

Works Cited

Broadcasting company. “BBC – Ethics – War: Pacifism”. Bbc.Co.Uk.

Moseley, Alexander. “Pacifism”. Iep.Utm.Edu.

Parkin, Nicholas. “Conditional And Contingent Pacifism: The Main Battlegrounds”. Critical Studies on Security, vol. 6, no. 2, 2017, pp. 193-206.

Sharp, Gene. “A Study of the Meanings of Nonviolence | Gandhi – His Relevance For Our Times”. Mkgandhi.Org.

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