V for Violence

NO to Violence

Few days ago Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the conflict in Syria has killed over 60,000 people already (The Guardian). Thousands of civilians have been silenced, tortured and killed. Thousands children will not celebrate their birthdays any longer. At the same time, Yves Daccord, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, announced that the current economic crisis will bring increasing violence across the Euro-Zone. Yet, people are more interested in reading about Kate’s pregnancy (with all due respect to the Duchess of Cambridge).

Violence has become part of our ordinary lives, yet it remains blurred in our minds. This post will discuss the issue of violence – and of war – as a blocked path – one we ought to leave behind and move instead towards active pacifism. Why? In Herzen’s words, “Violence and terror are employed to spread religious and political creeds, to establish autocratic empires and indivisible republics. But force can merely destroy and clear the place – no more” (To A Young Man, 1867).

Some people believe in the so-called balance of terror, whereby the simple threat of violence and war acts as a deterrent for governments to take belligerent actions. This worked ‘quite’ well during the Cold War era, when the world experienced 30 years of relative peace. In response to this position, I say that it is naïve, positive and is son of inertia. Nowadays, the nature of conflict has changed: we have to face not only the threat of war and violence as we think of them, but the threat of economics and financial wars; of high-tech conflicts. Conflicts we are barely aware of… (cf. Russia’s cyber attack to disable Estonia in 2007). Others have described violence and war are a necessary evil for the progress of humankind; insisting that wars have promoted moral, civic and technical progress. In my opinion, war – and violence – are only a symbol of death.

For those not convinced by the theories in support of war/violence, there’s another option: building a conscience - i.e. acknowledging that peace is not an ineluctable event, but a conquest. Thus, we ought to shift from passive activism to active pacifism: i.e. though the critiques of the justifications for war – 1) all wars are just; 2) all wars are unjust and 3) some wars are just, others unjust. Without going into further details about the theories mentioned, as it requires a longer discussion, I want to focus on the features of active pacifism, as discussed in Norberto Bobbio‘s “Il Problema della Guerra e le Vie della Pace”.

First and foremost, war becomes a crime against humanity, thus pacifism counters war in the attempt to destroy it. Second, there are three main types of active pacifism: (1) Instrumental Pacifism; (2) Institutional Pacifism and (3) Finalist Pacifism.

  1. Instrumental Pacifism = It consists of two movements: (a) first, an attempt to destroy the arms – i.e. the practice of disarmament; (2) second, an attempt to substitute violent means with non-violent ones, i.e. the practice of non-violence. Whereas the first moment is a policy, not a philosophy, the second one has been characterised by the actions of Gandhi, whereby non-violent means are used even when traditional theories justify the use of force and war. In my opinion, active non-violence is a precious gift for humanity.
  2. Institutional Pacifism = It represents a shift from the instrumental pacifism, as the institution taken into consideration are not the means of war, but the State. Again, we have to acknowledge two different movements: (a) judicial pacifism and (b) social pacifism. The former proposes the establishment of a super-partes powerful organisation, or Super-State. On the other hand, the latter proposes a total change of the capitalistic society with the transformation from capitalism to socialism through revolution. I think we should aim at carrying out the second option, i.e. social pacifism – as the formation of a super-partes institution (aka the UN) has not prevented governments and other groups from starting wars.
  3. Finalist Pacifism = It takes a step even further than the institutional pacifism, as it acts directly on the ‘man’. Like the previous forms of pacifism, this third type consists of two moments: (a) ethical-religious analysis and (b) biological. The first claims that the cause of war derives from a moral imperfection of the man – thus the transformation comes from priests, moralists, philosophers, etc.; whereas the second states that the cause of war depends on the instinctual nature of man – hence the transformation comes from biologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. This is probably the most effective, but less applicable form of pacifism.

But are pacifism and non-violence viable options for Europe, and the world?

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