Personal and Political Pacifism

Personal pacifism as stated by Reitan refers “to that personal commitment to non violence, essentially not construed under the general obligation to abstain from violence and …not to express the belief that all persons ought to oppose violence under every circumstance indented to”.

Going per the above definition it appears that personal pacifism denounces all forms of violence whether in self-defense or in defense of others. Personal pacifism is viewed by many scholars to be an aspect of personal choice since it is neither expected nor demanded of others in society. Personal pacifism, more often than not, is taken to absolute pacifism in that it holds that it is always wrong to wage war (Kenneth 1995).

Practically this view operates to deny any personal participation in all wars. Under personal pacifism, a person will refuse to participate in the war due to personal holding that doing so is immoral. Precisely personal pacifism depends on who the person is or what this person has decided to be.

In his classic work kemp (1995), states that “The decision to be that kind of person may be a response to a vocation in the etymological sense, i.e., a calling, presumably from God, or it might be an individually made life-choice. In either case, it is vocations which only some have, or a vocation or option to which only some respond.” Personal pacifism can either be a passive component (refusing to fight) and or an active component (working for peace).

Political pacifism calls for an establishment of a world government as a means to prevent and control international aggression without being vetoed by the United Nations. Political pacifism opposes war and violence as a means of settling disputes by political entities.

Thus it entails the belief that waging war by a political entity under any circumstances is wrong. However, political pacifism employs just war theory to justify some form of violence as well as killings (Tolstoy, 1989).

Personal pacifism establishes a plausible case against the claim that war is sometimes justified in that it is not possible to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants as required by jus in Bellum.

For instance, the use of bombing, in what may be construed as a just war, may bring about the death of innocent people. Personal pacifism articulated on theological understanding has no place for just war.

According to the Gospel, people are called to live a life in which violence and division are overcome by sacrificial love. The teaching of Jesus on the aspect of violence is that a person should not return evil for evil rather good for evil. Hence a person should not hate who wrongs him but should demonstrate love to his enemies.

Theologically life is sacred; hence, this view is held by personal pacifists to denounce war or violence generally since it is immoral to ever act in a way that would cause the deaths of others.

In conclusion, whereas personal as well as political pacifists construe war to be evil, some philosophers view war to be a necessary evil (Tolstoy, 1989) in that by engaging in war, people avoid greater evils. According to such philosophers accepting pacifisms would be tantamount to accepting greater evils in the society.


Kenneth W. Kemp (1995) Personal Pacifism Theological Studies, Vol. 56,

Peter Brock. Personal Pacifism in Historical Perspective.

L. N. Tolstoy, (1989) ‘Patriotism and Government’, in I Cannot Be Silent: Writings on Politics, Art and Religion by Leo Tolstoy Bristol: The Bristol Press.

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