Skip to main content
Log in

Pacifism and the ethical imagination in IR

International Politics Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Cite this article

Abstract

There is no question that pacifism is largely ignored in IR. An important consequence of this is that normative theorising is more often than not limited to considerations of when to employ violence in response to threats and conflicts. This article aims to critically engage with some of the ways in which pacifist theory is neglected and dismissed in IR normative theorising, assess some of the consequences of excluding pacifist perspectives, and gesture towards the ways in which pacifist theory might help to expand the ethical horizons of debate over how to respond to violent threats. The article argues that taking pacifism seriously could help to expand the ethical imagination and range of policy options in considerations about civilian protection, among others. Investing in the exploration of pacifist approaches has the potential to go beyond short-term protection measures in violent conflicts, taking us instead towards the goal of breaking the long-term cycles of violence which perpetuate vulnerability in the first instance.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Institutional subscriptions

Notes

  1. I use these terms interchangeably to refer to a range of ethical positions relating to the rejection of war and organised forms of political violence, as well as a number of different types of theories of politics, and practical programmes for political action and social change. Although some scholars make a distinction between ‘principled nonviolence’ (or pacifism) and ‘pragmatic nonviolence’, I follow Stellan Vinthagen’s (2015) proposal that nonviolence refers to forms of political action which are simultaneously ‘without violence and against violence’ (p. 61, original emphasis), thus emphasising its underlying normative basis and disrupting the arbitrary dichotomy between principled and pragmatic nonviolence.

  2. In an acrimonious public debate, and following a number of other similar criticisms from senior members of the UK political establishment, a former Labour shadow minister, Chuka Umunna, stated: ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s pacifist views should disqualify him from office because he cannot keep Britain safe’ (Hughes 2015).

  3. The individual attacker analogy is deconstructed in Holmes (2013, pp. 162-63, 175-79) and Bird (2007, pp. 236-39).

  4. See, among others: The Non-violent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes (NAVCO) Data Project based at Denver University, available online at: http://www.du.edu/korbel/sie/research/chenow_navco_data.html.

  5. Arendt (1970, p. 56) similarly argued that ‘power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent… Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it.’

  6. For a detailed discussion of the ethical values of pacifism and nonviolence, see May (2015) chapters 4, 5.

  7. I am excluding here the extremely large and well-developed international conflict management literature which demonstrates the effectiveness of dialogue, negotiation, mediation, and third party intervention for both preventing the outbreak of violent conflict and achieving ceasefires and peace agreements.

References

  • Abrahms, A. 2006. Why terrorism does not work. International Security 31(2): 42–78.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Anderson, M., and M. Wallace. 2013. Opting out of war. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner.

    Google Scholar 

  • Anderton, C., and E. Ryan. 2016. Habituation to atrocity: Low-level violence against civilians as a predictor of high-level attacks. Journal of Genocide Research 18(4): 539–562.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Anisin, A. 2016. Violence begets violence: Why states should not lethally repress popular protest. The International Journal of Human Rights 20(7): 893–913.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arendt, H. 1970. On violence. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

    Google Scholar 

  • Argomaniz, J., and A. Vidal-Diez. 2015. Examining deterrence and backlash effects in counter-terrorism: The case of ETA. Terrorism and Political Violence 27(1): 160–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Atak, I. 2012. Nonviolence in political theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bartkowski, M. (ed.). 2013. Recovering nonviolent history: Civil resistance in liberation struggles. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bartkowski, M. 2015. Nonviolent civilian defense to counter Russian hybrid warfare. White Paper, The John Hopkins University Center for Advanced Governmental Studies. http://advanced.jhu.edu/academics/graduate-degree-programs/global-security-studies/program-resources/publications/white-paper-maciej-bartkowski/. Accessed 4 Sept 15.

  • Biddle, S. 2004. Military power: Explaining victory and defeat in modern battle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bird, C. 2007. An introduction to political philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, C. 2014. International society, global polity: An introduction to international political theory. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burrowes, R. 1996. The strategy of nonviolent defense: A Gandhian approach. New York: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Butler, J. 2004. Precarious life: The powers of mourning and violence. London: Verso.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cady, D. 2010. From warism to pacifism: A moral continuum, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Calhoun, L. 2015. We kill because we can: From soldiering to assassination in the drone age. London: Zed Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Celestino, M., and K. Gleditsch. 2013. Fresh carnations or all thorn, no rose? Nonviolent campaigns and transitions in autocracies. Journal of Peace Research 50(3): 385–400.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chenoweth, E., and M. Stephan. 2011. Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Elshtain, J. 2003. Just war against terror: The burden of American power in a violent world. New York, NY: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • English, R. 2013. Modern war: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Frazer, E., and K. Hutchings. 2008. On politics and violence: Arendt contra Fanon. Contemporary Political Theory 7(1): 90–108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Godrej, F. 2006. Nonviolence and Gandhi’s truth: A method for moral and political arbitration. Review of Politics 68(2): 287–317.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hauerwas, S. 2002. September 11, 2001: A pacifist response. The South Atlantic Quarterly 101(2): 425–433.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Holmes, R. 2013. In The ethics of nonviolence: Essays by Robert L. Holmes, Ed. P. Cicovacki. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

  • Howe, D. 2015. The just war masquerade. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Science 27(3): 379–387.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Howes, D. 2009. Toward a credible pacifism: Violence and the possibilities of politics. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Howes, D. 2013. The failure of pacifism and the success of nonviolence. Perspectives on Politics 11(2): 427–446.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Howes, D. 2016. Freedom without violence: Resisting the Western political tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Hughes, L. 2015. Chuka Umunna suggests Jeremy Corbyn and his ‘nasty trolls’ should be disqualified from office over their pacifist views. The Telegraph, 20 November 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/12007050/Chuka-Umunna-Jeremy-Corbyn-Labour-Syria-vote.html. Accessed 3 Aug 2016.

  • Jackson, R. 2017a. Post-liberal peacebuilding and the pacifist state. Peacebuilding. https://doi.org/10.1080/21647259.2017.1303871.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jackson, R. 2017b. Pacifism: The anatomy of a subjugated knowledge. Critical Studies on Security. https://doi.org/10.1080/21624887.2017.1342750.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jackson, R., and H. Dexter. 2014. The social construction of organised political violence: An analytical framework. Civil Wars 16(1): 1–23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, J. 1981. Just war tradition and the restraint of war: A moral and historical inquiry. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Julian, R., and C. Schweitzer. 2015. The origins and development of unarmed civilian peacekeeping. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice 27(1): 1–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kemp, G., and D. Fry. 2003. Keeping the peace: Conflict resolution and peaceful societies around the world. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mantena, K. 2012. Another realism: The politics of Gandhian nonviolence. American Political Science Review 106(2): 455–470.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Martin, B. 2015. The dynamics of nonviolence knowledge. Mobilization 21(4): 533–545.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Masullo J. 2015. The power of staying put: Nonviolent resistance against armed groups in Colombia. ICNC Monograph Series, Washington, DC: International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. https://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/The-Power-of-Staying-Put.pdf. Accessed 1 Aug 2017.

  • May, T. 2015. Nonviolent resistance: A philosophical introduction. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  • McMahan, J. 2004. War as self-defense. Ethics & International Affairs 18(1): 75–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Miniotaite, G. 1996. Lithuania: From non-violent liberation towards non-violent defence? Peace Research: The Canadian Journal of Peace Studies 48(4): 19–36.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nepstad, S. 2011. Nonviolent revolutions: Civil resistance in the late 20th century. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • O’Halloran, P. 2015. Moments of conceptual potential: Frantz Fanon, the postcolony, and ‘nonwar Communities’. Politics, Groups, and Identities 3(3): 366–380.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rejali, D. 2009. Torture and democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Rengger, N. 2013. Just war and international order: The uncivil condition in world politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Roberts, A., and T. Ash (eds.). 2009. Civil resistance and power politics: The experience of non-violent action from Gandhi to the present. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Scarry, E. 1985. Injury and the structure of war. Representations 10(Spring): 1–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schock, K. 2011. Unarmed insurrections: People power movements in nondemocracies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schock, K. 2013. The practice and study of civil resistance. Journal of Peace Research 50(3): 277–290.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stephan, M. 2015. Civil resistance vs. ISIS. Journal of Resistance Studies 1(2): 127–150.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vinthagen, S. 2015. A theory of nonviolent action: How civil resistance works. London: Zed Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wallace, M. 2016. Security without weapons: Rethinking violence, violent action, and civilian protection. Abingdon: Routledge.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Walter, B. 2004. Does conflict beget conflict? Explaining recurring civil war. Journal of Peace Research 41(3): 371–388.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Waltzer, M. 1977. Just and unjust wars: A philosophical argument with historical illustrations. New York, NY: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

I acknowledge the support of the New Zealand Marsden Fund in the preparation of this article, the research for which was conducted under the Marsden Fund proposal, 14-UOO-075, ‘A new politics of peace? Investigations in contemporary Pacifism and Nonviolence’. I am also grateful to the Global Insecurities Centre in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS), University of Bristol, for the award of a Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professorship during 2016 which enabled a period of study leave at SPAIS where I wrote the first draft of this article.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Richard Jackson.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Jackson, R. Pacifism and the ethical imagination in IR. Int Polit 56, 212–227 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-017-0137-6

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-017-0137-6

Keywords

Navigation