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Jainism is an Indian religion that practices nonviolence towards all living beings. There are five principles that individuals of this religion must follow: nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy, and non-possession.

Nonviolence, or "ahimsa," is usually interpreted as not killing, but it can also include not harming others, directly or indirectly. Thoughts of hurting others are strictly prohibited and words of hare are not allowed to be spoken. The views of others must be respected.

Truthfulness, or "satya," is the notion that one must always be truthful. However, if being truthful would result in violence, the ethical thing to do in such a situation would be to remain silent.

Non-stealing, or "asteya," means that an individual must possess only their own possessions. The desire for another's is strictly prohibited. An individual should be satisfied by what they have earned through their own work.

Celibacy is abstinence from sex, which is only applicable to monks. Householders are allowed to practice monogamy.

Non-possession is the rejection of personal property and wealth that occurs before entering into the monastic ways. It is necessary to detach oneself from such things in order to reach the ultimate enlightenment. For householders, non-possession is owning without attachment, because possession is merely a human activity.

Nonviolence Heard 'Round the World

Living Nonviolently

For many, including myself, practicing nonviolence not only means that an individual does not and will not participate in violent behavior, words, or other actions, but also that an individual must cease to hate. There needs to be room for everyone in the heart. The individual must care for everyone, all neighbors, not just the ones we immediately recognize as such. The individual must take steps to love even those whose opinions drastically differ from one's own, and those with which one strongly disagrees. Nonviolence must transcend the physical and become mental as well. There is no room for animosity in a completely nonviolent life. This means that nonviolent individuals must also care for those who do not practice nonviolence. One can easily believe in the concept of nonviolence, but how easy is it to live nonviolently?

Human Nature

Because so much violence exists around the world today, because everyone sees it on TV or outside their homes, within their governments, within their families, many are under the impression that violence is an inherent human trait of the human condition. However, an argument can be made that violence has only really become an issue ocer the last five or ten thousand years.

Pragmatic Nonviolence

Pragmatic nonviolence is based on the necessity to create a social change or political movement that will allow a change to come into effect without actually changing the minds of the individuals who wish to keep society the way it is. In pragmatic nonviolence, winning over the opposition is not necessary to reach a political or social end.

Nonviolence has recently been used by political groups that have very little power like the peace, environment, and women's movements in the United States. Political movements have taken advantage of nonviolence as a tool that has political effectiveness, but they often do not mention the religious, moral, or ethical side of the approach. Those who practice pragmatic nonviolence strongly believe that just means will inherently lead to just ends.


Nonviolence is a form of social change that completely rejects the use of violence to reach an end. Nonviolence is not passive acceptance, but it is a nonviolent opposition. It is used nowadays as a means of social protest. Those who practice nonviolence believe cooperation and consent are necessary for political structures to survive and thrive, no matter the background.

One great example of nonviolence is the work of Gandhi. He successfully lead nonviolent resistance against the British in India, ultimately leading to the country's independence. Martin Luther King used the same concept to win the struggle for civil rights. The current Dalai Lama made clear that nonviolence is the only way progress can be made with China to reach any sort of deal. Nonviolence works.

Although often linked together, nonviolence and pacifism are different, although similar concepts. Pacifism specifically states that it is the rejection of violence on a personal, moral, and religious level, whereas nonviolence is specific towards a socio-political level. Nonviolence is also contextual. Someone could theoretically promote nonviolence in one area while supporting violence in another.


Christian Pacifism

Christian pacifism stems from the theological notion that violence of all kind is not morally correct and cannot coexist within the Christian faith. Individuals who follow this standard say that Jesus himself was a pacifist and he taught and practices peace, meaning that those who wish to follow him must do the same. Some notable Christian pacifists include Tolstoy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Ammon Hennacy.

In oder to be a Christian, these pacifists believe all ways and means of violence must be abandoned in order to fully understand and practice the religion. A more common term for the practices of Christian pacifists is the idea of "Christian Nonviolence."

Just War Versus Pacifism

Pacifist Review of Obama's Nobel Speech

How Would Pacifism Change the War in Afghanistan?


Pacifism and War

A complicated issue often brought into question relates to the idea of Just War theory and its impact on a pacifist viewpoint. Pacifism has a range of interpretations, beginning with true pacifism, then digressing to non-lethal pacifism, anti-war pacifists, and finally, those who follow the Just War tradition. Each group’s perception of violence changes. Non-lethal pacifists and true pacifists define personal acts of violence as a failure of their moral systems, whereas anti-war pacifists and those who believe in Just War attempt to justify their violent actions.

Just War attempts to justify itself by saying it promotes peace, peace is the ultimate goal, the achievement everyone wants. However, if war occurs because of the “right intentions,” and if those intentions are based on a humanitarian objective, how can a war actually occur? How can one consider war humanitarian when people die? How can a war be humanitarian when civilians die?

A utilitarian, most likely a just war follower or an anti-war pacifist (who does a good job at justifying violence), would look at the situation in terms of maximizing happiness of all parties involved. If going into the war would cause more suffering than good, then the war would automatically lose support and new plans of action would be sought out. A Kantian (most likely a non-lethal pacifist) would most likely remain true to their perception of duty to preserving life in the human race. Since killing, as a rule, cannot easily exist in this system, the possibility of a Kantian going against their duty would be a failure to herself and her moral code. In addition, some cultures are completely pacifistic, never engaging in war, never using any sort of weaponry against anyone. In this sense, it is possible for people to exist without wars. If these cultures can live peacefully and treat others with respect, everyone else should have the ability to do the same. Admittedly, many cultures have very militant backgrounds, but those wars have been going on for centuries.

A true pacifist would never allow herself willingly to engage in an act of violence against another culture in order to keep peace. To keep peace, a pacifist would act peacefully and create a tactic that would not involve bombing anyone. A true pacifist would do everything in her power to create a safe, peaceful resolve that would create a lasting peace.

Pacifism and Vegetarianism

A question raised recently among ethicists is based on whether animals’ lives should have the same weight as humans’. 53 billion land animals are slaughtered each year to produce food for humans. Fish farms around the world contribute to the rapid affect of global warming. Some individuals find the idea of animals caged until their untimely, painful death incredibly cruel. Some find vegetarianism a radical enough statement, while others challenge themselves to eat no meat or animal product of any kind. Does this kind of action truly mean that an individual is extending a pacifistic hand to those who have no voices of their own? Can it be argued that if a vegan refuses to eat animal products that she should also cease to eat plants? After all, countless crops are cut down every year for consumption. What makes them so different?

From a utilitarian perspective, all creatures, all life forms have the same rights. This tends to include animals, but not plants; it has become an arbitrary distinction worked into the definition. Therefore, this essay will address only this subjective definition. Although humans evolved from some form of monkey, orangutan, or ape, humans possess the teeth to tear flesh. Although this is the case and becoming a vegetarian goes against the biological disposition given to us over generations, some still consider it a moral choice. Why?

The main problem for most vegetarians and vegans is the mistreatment enacted upon animals in the slaughterhouses. Some never see the light of day. Chickens’ beaks are cut off while they sit in crates, only existing to lay eggs for mass production. Calves’ legs are tied together to prevent their muscles from growing in hopes that they remain tender when they are inevitably slaughtered and made into veal. A utilitarian would look at this situation and say, no one’s happiness can be increased by this situation. All of those animals are suffering, and are certainly not happy. The last thing any of them will see is the inside of a crate or a knife coming down on their necks.

If one considered the situation culturally and from a relativistic perspective, one point in particular stands out. In the American culture, most find the slaughtering of a dog or cat disgusting and taboo; however, in other cultures, such a practice goes unnoticed. In other cultures, dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, ferrets, and many other animals that an American would keep as a pet, are brought to the chopping block. Other cultures find the meat we slaughter disgusting because of the practices we employ to procure it. In this sense, the slaughtering of some animals, culturally, can often be perceived as immoral, but that does not take the radicalism necessary quite far enough.

A deontologist may look at the situation in the sense that it is wrong to kill as a rule and a duty. Although generally this only applies to humans, as Kant clearly makes known in his works, modern Kantians often debate whether that duty should encompass animals as well. If it does, then it would prevent any deontologist from eating meat without failing in their duty to uphold their moral standards.

I consider myself an altruist and a follower of Kant. In this sense, I have radicalized Kant’s theory into a hybrid in which our duties to others encompass other animals as well. Who can say that animals do not have a conscious thought process. They feel fear, happiness, love, affection. The only reasons humans are different is because of human activities. However, from a structuralist point of view, “all human activity is constructed, not natural or essential.” From this perspective, all humans are actually animals with unnecessary actions that make us different from all other animals; however, if all the unnecessary activity were removed (i.e. wearing clothing, speaking or writing a language), then we have nothing to differentiate us from other species. In this sense, it is wrong to kill other animals because we do not have the right to kill them. We all exist on the same level. Humans only arbitrarily created activities that could distinguish us from others. Ceasing to eat animals because of the terrible lives they live before they are taken to the slaughterhouse is at least a step, but not nearly as deep and to the point as it could be. If we humans look at animals as if they have the same dignity and value as any other individual we would meet on the street, we have a moral obligation not to harm them.

I feel that it is 100% immoral and unjust to kill another living, breathing thing, whether land or sea creature. If one believes in souls, in energy, in life, pushing animals and animal products out of our diets and our consumption in the capitalist world seems like the logical, moral choice. I will always stand up for the rights of those around me, especially those with no voices of their own.

Civil Disobedience

Civil disobedience is a form of nonviolent protest that stands in the face of a government or significant power. Individuals participating in civil disobedience much like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., refuse to obey certain laws in order to sway the hegemony (i.e. the government) into changing its policies. Nonviolence in this sense cannot be considered immoral, but one can argue that disobeying the laws of the government is unjust; however, if the laws that an individual fights against restrict individual and human rights, then civil disobedience would logically seem like the correct and moral course of action. Martin Luther King stood up against the hatred and bigotry of the South by bringing together people of different races in nonviolent protest, making a statement bigger than the fire hoses of Mississippi could extinguish. King states in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech that people “must forever conduct [their] struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. [They] must not allow [their] creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, [they] must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” If a man so revered by the country believes it possible to successfully enact a change through nonviolence, carries it out, and changes the Unites States forever, then who is to say that the world cannot be changed for the better with such tactics?

Looking at civil disobedience from a utilitarian aspect opens and closes several doors. The range of possible actions presented to a pacifist enacting civil disobedience admittedly contains fewer options than those able and willing to commit acts of violence. As John Stuart Mill would theorize, and as Professor Vinnie Ferraro would say, the extent of one’s ability to act against something ends with one’s fist at the tip of the opponent’s nose. Within such a paradigm, one must assume that a peaceful resistance can harm only the individuals involved in standing up against the hegemony. In this sense, the consequences should end with no one dead and a positive change. Since the modern world is far from a utopian society, civil disobedience rarely works out that way. Often times, the government will fire on peaceful protesters and sometimes outcasts in the group will lash out against power. If someone becomes so squeezed that she cannot peacefully resolve anything anymore, then she resorts to violence when feelings trapped. Violence, although personally not credited as an inherent trait of the human condition, does have a tendency to make itself known if an individual suffers enough. Only the strongest can fight the urge to lash out physically.

A true pacifist would not consider harming any other individual. Pacifists also tend to adhere to altruistic tendencies. They often sacrifice themselves in order to make a statement or better the lives of others, promote a positive change. In this sense, a utilitarian could justify pacifism by saying that it contains altruistic elements and a true pacifist would never commit an act of violence on another human being. This closely obeys the ideas in utilitarianism about every life having equal worth and every opinion having equal weight. If the world suddenly worked like a vacuum and opposing forces would not attack the peaceful protesters unless the protesters attacked first (which, of course, a true pacifist would not do), then no lives will be lost and the happiness of the marginalized increases exponentially, the hegemony overthrown, and the need for violent action abolished. That situation, however, would really only occur in a perfect world where the human condition had no flaws, where individuals had the ability to work together to create a lasting peace that suited everyone’s needs and best interests.

A deontologist would say that each individual has a duty to not lie or kill anyone. If Kant’s ethical theory were applied to both sides, the opposing force would not fire upon those who find it morally wrong to carry weapons in the first place. Peace should be universal, and it can be argued that peace would promote healthier living and prevent needless, innocent deaths as a result from lack of discrimination in war. Since Kant would call everyone to act morally by upholding standards of duty and dignity, a pacifist would not dare to fail in her duty to preserve life. She would ultimately strive to her own death to uphold Kant’s standards of duty. One’s sense of duty, for this theory to work, must outweigh the pressure to lash out. Only those with the greatest self-control can succeed in never letting the violent side take hold.

Taking a relativistic standpoint on civil disobedience paints a different picture. The civil rights movement held great cultural value in the United States. Because of this, the right course of action was to stand up for the rights of the oppressed. African Americans had been in the States for centuries. Their culture became part of the soil, the soil that they had once plowed. Denying them rights denied part of the American culture. Although the hegemonic culture to that point had remained predominantly white, the inkblots of the African culture seeped through the cracks in the fields of Dixie and began to unite a nation. Without the peaceful demonstrations, opposition could have more easily deemed the oppressed as violent, hysterical, unworthy of the same rights. The aforementioned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. upheld the standards of dignity and duty (following Kant’s standards) to peacefully maintain the fight. Because African roots ran so deep in the United States culture, it would have been immoral to ignore the issue. It would have been immoral not to fight against the laws that suppressed human rights.

Personally, I believe that civil disobedience upholds a higher moral standard than violent action. The most important part of pacifism, to me, is the idea of nonviolent action. It is the purest option, but sadly, not widely received as a workable system. In my opinion, only true pacifists are of the highest morality. Although, admittedly, becoming a true pacifist is one of the most difficult feats one could ever wish to achieve, it leaves the pacifist with a clean conscience. Honestly, I cannot see anyone who considers herself a caring individual killing or condoning the killing of another. Furthermore, not acting in a situation where another individual suffers holds the individual at the same amount of fault as if she herself had caused the suffering.

In my opinion, no matter how crazy or difficult it sounds, the only completely moral way of conducting oneself is with nonviolent opposition – not just opposition in the sense of mere disagreement, but I would challenge everyone to take it one step further. It is also not enough just to act and live in peace, but to promote it through those acts and words. Desmond Tutu once told me, in the sermon he presented in my hometown, that every man should love every other man. Every man is loved and has the capacity to love. He then placed his hands on the podium, looked at all of us with tears in his eyes, and begged us to look at everyone as our brother or our sister, to never harm them in an act of violence, to never think badly of them for their differences from us, to uphold the standards of peace.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I have included for you a clip of two of Dr. Martin Luther King's speeches. Both are evidence of civil disobedience and nonviolent action, as well as his strong opposition to the war in Vietnam.

"I Have A Dream"

"Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam"

Impacts of War on Pacifism

Many socialist groups and movements believed in nonviolence in the 19th century. They were mainly against war because it seemed to be a way of manipulating the working class to benefit the bourgeoisie of the capitalist system. Several groups continued to protest war even when other socialist groups supported the wars of their country. Some other institutions that stood up to violence at the time included the traditional peace churches, the Woman's Peace Party, the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace (ICWPP), American Union Against Militarism, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the American Friends Service Committee.

The first woman to be elected to Congress, Jeanette Rankin, stood up against war and held very firmly the ideas of pacifism, and was the only person who voted against entering in both World Wars. After World War I, peace groups began to erupt, including the War Resisters' International and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. At the beginning of World War II, pacifism became less popular in places that were wracked by war.

Conscientious objectors also played a huge role in both World Wars. Some objectors were allowed to work in nonviolent roles in the military, while others who were less willing to comply were forced into federal prisons during the war.

Peaceful Protest in Yemen Fired Upon By North Gov't

Police Open Fire on Peaceful Iran Protest

Roots of Modern Pacifism

The 16th century was when the Protestant Reformation began to bloom and form new sects of Christian faiths. Among the sects created was the historic peace church. The peace churches included the Religious Society of Friends, the Amish, Mennonites, and Church of the Bretheren. William Penn, also a pacifist, controlled Pennsylvania with an anti-military policy. This allowed the Quakers and the Indians to trade peacefully without any threat of a fight.

In the late 19th century in New Zealand, the Maori village became the main hub of nonviolent resistance against British soldiers attempting to confiscate and occupy their land. The tribe gave food and drink to the invaders, and were inevitably arrested, but their nonviolent action prevented them from being slaughtered.

Bernard Bolzano said that war was needless and a waste of time and energy. It was under his suggestion that the nation reform the social, economic, and educational systems so that the country could focus more on peaceful dealings with others rather than waste time on war between them.

Another pacifist is Leo Tolstoy. He defends pacifism in his work "The Kingdom of God is Within You." This book then went on to inspire Gandhi, leading the two to correspond about pacifism.

Gandhi became a political, as well as a spiritual, leader of the Indian independence movement. He was called “Mahatma” or “Great Soul” because of his ways. He created a nonviolent movement called satyagraha, which translates to "truth force." He used civil disobedience in order to stand up for what he believed and encouraged others to do the same.

An Interesting Take on Veganism and Violence

Should Pacifism Extend to Non-Human Beings?

A question often pondered by ethicists is whether or not pacifism should extend to the animal kingdom. Since animals are living, breathing organisms, is it right for us to slaughter billions of animals a year to feed humans who do not actually need their meat to survive?

Many individuals have become vegetarian and even vegan in pacifistic protest of killing animals. Many more have stopped buying leather and furs. Currently, 3.2% of the US population, around 7.3 million adults, are currently vegetarian, and yet another 5.2% (11.9 million) are interested in starting a vegetarian diet ( On the other hand, India has around 400 million vegetarians. Although mainly for religious reasons, these religions are based in pacifism and treating animals equally.

Utilitarians also view all non human organisms on the same level as humans. Everything which possesses life has the same right as another, no matter how insignificant one may seem. Although those who deem themselves Kantian moral saints in deontology find animals as means to an end, some neo-Kantians have begun to adopt the idea that animals have just as much right not to be killed as humans do.

Tacoma Police Arrest Nonviolent Protesters

Ancient History of Pacifism

Evidence of pacifism goes as far back at 600 BC in India through Hinduism and Jainism. Pacifism extended to everyone, human and non-human. In ancient Greece, in the mid 400's BC, the idea of pacifism only extended to individuals in individual situations. For example, stealing Aristotle's wine after beating him would be completely against the Greek moral ideals. The idea also branches through Aristotle's own value ethics, whereas what is morally right is based on reason. Beating someone would be considered unreasonable by him. Aristophanes even wrote about a woman going on a nonviolent strike against the Peloponnesian war, which he featured in one of his plays. Pacifism also came into being in early Italy, inspired by the God of Peace, Panda. The Hopi tribe in North America had a generally nonviolent outlook on life.

Religiously, Jesus was a pacifist. In the story of the Sermon on the Mount, he makes clear that violence is wrong and unnecessary. For example, the ideas of loving your neighbor as yourself or turning the other cheek. Taoists even believe in the coming of an age of peace.

Pacifism in the Modern World

Pacifism, by my understanding, is an opposition to war and violence as a possible means to end disputes or gain control over others. It is the radical notion that problems can be solved peacefully and non-violently. From Ancient Greece, to Ghandi, to Martin Luther King, to hippies, pacifism has found its way into society, whether or not it is widely accepted as a reasonable alternative. Whether pacifism is expressed by civil disobedience, economic cooperation, political cooperation, or nonviolent protest, nonviolent action can create a successful outcome.

Pacifism can be based morally or consequentially, following the theories of John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant. It is widely recognized with pacifists that violence becomes morally wrong whether on a grand scale (i.e.war) or on a small scale (i.e. spousal abuse). Because of this, even the Just War theory is rejected widely among pacifists. All war is wrong, including war that is a last resort.

The point of this blog will be to educate about nonviolent action taking place around the modern world as well as explore past events and the peaceful leaders that facilitated those actions.