But Now You Know

The search for truth in human action

Pacifism Breeds Violence

There two obvious extremes of self-defense:

  • Sociopaths like neocons, who want to kill other people “just in case”
  • Pacifists, who will not even defend their own lives

Of the two, it’s more widely understood that the sociopaths are wrong, and cause violence where none may otherwise have occurred.

But what’s often overlooked is that the pacifists, too, actually cause violence and death.

I know, it’s counter-intuitive…the truth often is, because the world’s more complicated than slogans like “non-violence equals peace”.

In real life, people who refuse to defend human life accomplish two things:

  • They cheapen life. Their actions state that life is not worth defending. They would rather they, or others around them, die, than sully themselves with taking action to protect the innocent.
  • They make violence safe and easy. There are no consequences in assaulting a pacifist. No risk of getting hurt, no cost in harming others.

Now anyone who wants to be a pacifist should be allowed to do so, even though it actually brings more risk to those around them, as any known pacifist is not a factor in whether to attack someone near them…

When you don't defend yourself, or others who seek it, you make unjust violence safer to commit

When you do not defend your life, or others around you, unjust violence becomes cheaper and safer to commit, and you are saying that life does not have as much value as your selfish belief

It’s unfortunate that pacifists are often hypocrites, though, who wish those around them to be forced to be pacifistic, themselves. They advocate bans on self defense, whether weapons or defensive violence, and want those bans backed by a government that enforces its bans with, of all things, threat of violence.

If you insist on owning a gun, or fighting someone who is robbing an innocent person nearby, even though some pacifist-advocated law bans you doing so, how will the government enforce that ban? Fines and imprisonment. If you refuse to comply with those penalties, what will it threaten in order to get you to submit? Violence.

So let’s count that as THREE ways pacifists often violence: They cheap life, they make violence safe and easy, and they often recruit governments to use the threat of violence to force pacifism upon others.


December 3, 2008 - Posted by | Philosophy, Politics, Society | , , , , , , ,


  1. Your argument is based on the idea that pacifists take no action, and “would rather they, or others around them, die, than sully themselves with taking action to protect the innocent.”

    But is this how pacifists really behave, or is it a straw man? Which pacifists are you thinking of? Consider, for example, the two most well-known pacifists in history, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

    Did King take no action against the violence of segregation, racist police violence, lynchings etc?

    Did Gandhi take no action against the violence of British imperialism?

    Whether you agree with their philosophies or not, it is unarguable that both of these pacifists were dedicated to the causes they believed in and helped catalyse huge changes through nonviolent action. Their actions played a major part in ending US racial segregation and British rule in India. Yes, both were killed for their beliefs (just as many non-pacifists have been) – but this was hardly the result of their ‘taking no action to protect the innocent’ – quite the opposite in fact.

    Comment by Nick | July 25, 2014 | Reply

    • I am talking about on an individual basis. When a rape or assault is occurring, a pacifist nearby is probably not going to accomplish much by going on a hunger strike or organizing a protest.

      And let’s not forget that Gandhi got a lot of credit that should have gone to the efforts of violent nationalists who were fighting at the same time he was protesting.

      Like King, Gandhi was simply was convenient to a ruling class that already had an agenda that could benefit from his protests. They found encouraging peaceful behavior more beneficial than focusing on the violent rebels who were also fighting for independence, so they focused attention on him. Without that violence, and their existing desire to free themselves of the harmful effects of Empire, he probably would have been ignored.

      But, again, I’m talking about pacifists refusing to use defensive violence to protect human life on an individual basis.

      Comment by kazvorpal | January 12, 2016 | Reply

  2. Peace does stop violence and to claim that pacifism breeds violence is erroneous. The fact of the matter is that if one lives a life of peace and non-violence, chances are you will very rarely encounter any violence to begin with. But if put in the position, I’d argue that a person is even MORE of a pacifist if they try to defuse a situation via self defense than to simply sit there and take a beating. But I think the most pertinent matter would be to not give others the reason to be violent, to begin with.

    I consider myself a pacifist. In that I don’t try to cause any harm or strife to myself or other people, animals etc. If someone was to attack me, I would however exercise my right to defend myself. But if everyone did live a life of peace, the use for self defense would be entirely nullified.

    It’s only when those who don’t heed the message and who go out of their way to cause suffering and misery to others, that we feel and are given the need to defend ourselves from other people.

    So yes, non-violence does in fact equal peace, but only if everyone is willing to give up being a douche, lol. Otherwise, you just become a push over if you aren’t willing to defend yourself. Which is sad. How are we to ever advance as a species, becoming a type 1, type 2 and ultimately type 3 civilization if we can’t even live together in peace?

    The only reason why I am forced fight, is because others want to. Only when faced with violence, does it itself become necessary. There is no need for wars or for fighting at all. In every war or fight, someone has to take the first punch or shoot the first gun/missile. Only then is violence used to counter violence. Don’t throw the first punch or fire the first bullet and violence should cease because there is no logical reason to committing violence against anything.

    Comment by Raj | April 10, 2011 | Reply

    • What you describe is not pacifism. A pacifist will not defend the life of another, nor defend his own life, using force, violence, et cetera.

      You’re talking more about the non-aggression principle, which is a fundamental part of libertarian thought.

      Comment by kazvorpal | April 15, 2011 | Reply

      • Semantics aside, pacifism doesn’t breed violence. Please acknowledge and address the other points in my post.

        Comment by Raj | April 16, 2011 | Reply

        • the rest of the points in your post were dependent upon that semantic

          Comment by Lance | May 11, 2011 | Reply

          • No, they weren’t. If we are to take the literal definition of pacifism (one that doesn’t include self-defense), one still cannot logically conclude that pacifism causes violence. The only thing that causes violence is violence. A Buddhist Monk (for example) who refuses to help an attack victim isn’t the problem. Rather, the person who’s inclined to physically attack others is.

            If everyone were a pacifist, violence would cease to exist. But because everyone isn’t a pacifist, does that mean those who are should abandon trying to stop the problem (violence) and join everyone else in causing it?

            Comment by Raj | May 12, 2011 | Reply

            • A pacifist’s actions, and in fact his words, establish that he does not value life enough to protect it.

              The same sort of silly people who advocate pacifism fail to understand the idea of regulating life through costs, in general. Perhaps it’s some sort of intellectual deficiency.

              If you set a price control on rice, then you will have a rice shortage…because the cost of rice is important to regulating its supply.

              Likewise, you need to set a price on your life, so that those who are NOT peaceful will not feel free to violate it at their convenience.

              Oh, and the idea that all Buddhist monks are pacifists is a silly myth. In fact, there are actual “Buddhist warrior monks” of the very type that the collectivist dingbats represented in A Fish Called Wanda felt self-evidently false.

              Comment by kazvorpal | May 26, 2011 | Reply

              • You’re essentially arguing that because the world has violent people who are willing to hurt others, that pacifists make themselves out as easy targets and thus cause violence.

                I don’t know if this contention is devised with a misunderstanding of violence (which isn’t, contrary to your logic, giving someone incentive to harm you, but rather is the act of harming itself. The one who harms being the same one who causes violence. The one who gets harmed not. No action can cause violence but the action of violence itself. For example, if I call you an offensive name, is it my fault if you attack me for it? Did I incite your violent behavior by calling you a name or was it your violent demeanor?) or is simply flawed logic as a result of a flawed perspective.

                Arguing that a pacifist causes violence, in this case, is tantamount to arguing that a mugging victim caused the mugging to happen because he wore a flashy watch. Had he kept his watch out of sight, he wouldn’t have been mugged and thus, blame is placed on him.

                No. The individual who, upon seeing the flashy watch, saw a target and acted violently is the one who should hold complete responsibility for his actions and no one else. Did the person who wore the watch *cause* the mugging? Would make for a cogent argument, but it all depends on one’s perspective, as does the case of pacifists causing violence.

                Envisage a world where everyone did defend themselves or didn’t give anyone incentive to attack them. Violence would still occur. You’ll find that in real life, the safest areas of the world aren’t the places where everyone is armed to the teeth to thwart would-be robbers, murderers, etc,. They’re the places where the overwhelming majority of people don’t have violent dispositions to begin with.

                As far as Buddhist monks go; I am aware that they aren’t all pacifists. ‘Buddhist monk’ seemed like the appropriate group to use in my example as they’ve become, regardless of how erroneously, the beau ideal of a pacifist.

                Comment by Raj | May 27, 2011 | Reply

                • More self-righteous from your deluded mind. If you hate violence so much, then I dare you to let some bad guy walk all over you and kill you right than and there.

                  Comment by Anonymous | November 3, 2013 | Reply

                  • Wow, functional illiteracy much?

                    Perhaps you should actually read the article, before sounding off in a way that shows you have no idea what it says.

                    Comment by kazvorpal | November 3, 2013 | Reply

                    • Oh my, aren’t you hoity-toity know-it-all?

                      Comment by Anonymous | February 4, 2014

    • I don’t suppose that you have any idea how hypocritical you sound and are, goody-goody.

      Comment by Anonymous | November 3, 2013 | Reply

  3. Some good points, about pacifism being a cop out. But missing some nuance, in my opinion.
    As a long time war resistor, gun owner, and generally not easy to categorize person, I’d like to add some missing ingredients to the conversation.
    I admire Ghandi’s methods and results. No amount of violent resistance could have accomplished what he and his followers did. I resisted the Vietnam draft, and risked becoming a felon, because I won’t support killing strangers, mostly civilians,
    who represented no threat.
    At the same time,I strongly suspect that elements in the US Government would be far more able and eager to perpetrate
    mass violence against US citizens, if Americans were not so heavily armed. This was clearly demonstrated in the 1980’s when an IRS High Profile scare program to target “tax resisters”
    backfired badly. Many desperate people targeted by the IRS for “example” died in a blaze of gunfire. Only later would the facts come out. In many cases these “criminal rebels” turned out to be
    ordinary people. As is common, the murky vagaries of IRS communication and accounting had expanded possible taxes ranging from small refunds to small tax bills into life destroying figures. After a few dramatic deaths, news on the details of each “outlaw case”, caused a storm of public protest. Which put the IRS “example” program back in it’s cage.
    As the the economy weaken, it’s as predictable as the seasons that an increasingly incapable Government will ramp up dramatic “example” actions, targeting largely mythical “internal enemies”, in much the same way as they launched foreign wars. Please consider a kind, and gentle person’s well researched opinion, that at this time in history, this country is far better off with
    a heavily armed citizenry.
    At the same time, it’s surprising how few problems can be solved with a gun. Just listening to people with some reflective empathy, using Non Violent Communication, can resolve seemingly
    impossible situations time & again.
    I support non violence. I assert that armed citizens are
    critical to peace & stability at this time in history.
    Killing another human diminishes the community and the
    killer,regardless of defense or offense. People who have killed are damaged more than can be imagined. Just look in the eyes of someone who has killed, talk to them, notice how they are.
    Much of this and other country’s economies are structured on
    mass violence and dehumanization. Just because we take a vow or condemn violence does not seperate us from the actions of the country and economy we live in. It’s not just about vows, or
    owning or not owning guns. It’s about how we be in a positive way, in the guts and caring we have, the willingness to communicate fully, honestly, in a generous, empathetic, and vulnerable way that matters. Love & communication are where true courage & contribution lie. It’s hard to do.
    Read the book “Non Violent Communication” for a powerful tool in personal speech and action. Let’s not divide into camps, with the “gun nuts” on one side & the “hippies” on the other.
    I pray that we learn to communicate with and love each other.
    I think it’s possible that we can create a world where violence is not practiced on an industrial scale, in our lifetimes.
    I expect there will be violence & suffering along the way.
    Each of us has a contribution to make in lessening violence & suffering, contributing to that better world.
    Especially in how we talk and listen to, and care about each other.


    Comment by Greg | April 21, 2009 | Reply

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