Again, our task is to identify the theistic roots of the modern idealism. Given that the Prince of Peace is not Edward, Rupert or Charles, this is hardly an onerous task. But I think there’s still some good meat on the bone.
It should be clear that by the standards of the 19th century, post-1945 Westerners are astoundingly pacifist. Or, to state the same proposition in the other direction, by 2007 standards our ancestors were remarkably bellicose. Anyone who doubts the proposition should recall the Ems Telegram or the Don Pacifico Affair, and wonder how a Palmerston would describe the case of Cleo Noel. (I’m not sure “pacifist” is the word he’d use.)
We are so familiar with pacifism that it’s easy to take the concept for granted. In reality, I think, it’s one of the weirdest animals to ever inhabit the human mind. It makes the Virgin Birth (which is not the Immaculate Conception) look positively straightforward.
The problem is that everyone believes in peace. Okay, perhaps not everyone. There certainly have been cultures that glorified war, generally for its well-known character-forming effect. Since we were all brought up on Erich Maria Remarque, it’s a mind-expanding experience to read the likes of Ernst Jünger, whose The Storm of Steel I recommend to anyone.
But to even the most die-hard of militarists, the object of war is peace. That is, the object of war is victory, and victory implies peace by definition. Few soldiers are prepared to give their defeated enemies back their weapons, so they can enjoy fighting them again.
In any conflict between X and Y, there are three paths to peace. X can prevail, Y can prevail, or X and Y can agree to leave the battle lines where they are now.
For example, one conflict that has been ongoing more or less since the founding of the postwar world is the Arab-Israeli war. One way to achieve peace in this conflict would be for the Israelis to leave Israel and live somewhere else—such as Guam, perhaps, or West Palm Beach. Another option is for the Israelis to conquer the Arab world plus Iran and compel its submission, installing military governors and teaching Hebrew in the schools, and eventually becoming the new ruling class, like the Manchu in the Qing Dynasty or the Mamelukes in medieval Egypt. And a third possibility is that the Arabs and Israelis could accept the current de-facto borders and leave each other alone.
Peace, in other words, is an ambiguous concept. Since everyone supports peace, claiming to support peace does not communicate information. It conceals information. Thus the mystery.
We know there is such a thing as a pacifist, because they hold marches and such. We know they tend to agree with each other, because we see few pacifist-on-pacifist wars. And it is pretty clear that they’re cryptocalvinists. But how can we predict, given a certain conflict, which of the three paths to peace our pacifist will recommend?
My theory is that what pacifists mean by Peace is actually the victory of righteousness.
The Calvinist doctrine that leads to pacifism is Providence, which is not just the Mafia-ridden slum where I went to college, but also God’s plan for the earth. God apparently takes a great interest in affairs down here, and he certainly doesn’t want his work to go to waste. Therefore, although his plan is of course mysterious, it tends to favor the victory of good over evil.
If you buy this theory, which was certainly quite popular among the Puritans (Lincoln stated it perfectly when he said “let us have faith that right makes might”), peace cannot be achieved except by the victory of righteousness. If the armies of righteousness fail to prevail, if they experience temporary setbacks, if their tank divisions are cut off and encircled, their bombers shot down and their convoys sunk, this may be a test, but it cannot be the final result. Because God himself has yet to step onto the field. And when he does, buddy, look out.
Therefore, any outcome that is not righteous is a recipe for more war. And therefore, peace and the victory of righteousness are synonymous. Assuming, of course, you believe in Providence. (And assuming you didn’t roll a bowling ball down the College Hill bus tunnel.)
This is why pacifism seems to make so little sense. In reality, just like Rawlsian distributive justice, it makes perfect sense. It just depends on a theological doctrine which has long since decayed. If you find arrowheads in an archaeological dig, it does not mean our ancestors went around hurling little chips of stone at each other.
Once we start looking for the arrowshafts, we find them everywhere.
A simple example is the set of disturbances in the US in the 1960s, which included violence by black militants in the inner cities, violence by white KKK activists and other advocates of “massive resistance” in the South, and various riots by students on university campuses.
It’s an interesting exercise to reread the contemporary reports on these disturbances—now available for pennies—written by committees of distinguished Brahmin luminaries, such as the Kerner Commission and the Skolnick Report. As Skolnick says:
Almost uniformly, the participants in mass protest today see their grievances as rooted in the existing arrangement of power and authority in contemporary society, and they view their own activity as political action—on a direct or symbolic level—aimed at altering these arrangements.
Indeed. Of course, much the same could be said for Attila the Hun. And though the observation is no longer fashionable, it’s an open secret that the Dalit gangsters of today, who are of course cultural descendants of the Panther types so popular with Skolnick and his ilk, tend to view their crimes as not crime, but resistance.
The general recommendation of all these reports is that since the grievances are clearly righteous, the only way to stop the violence is to resolve the grievances. In other words, to find out what the militants need and give it to them. (As Skolnick puts it, “fundamental social and political change.”) Otherwise, since Providence will prevail, any resistance will only lead to more violence.
This recommendation held both for black riots in the inner cities, and for student riots on campus. And both, indeed, were largely successful in achieving the rioters’ objectives, at least any that a generous observer could describe as sane. Most Americans today don’t realize that the universities they send their children to today are the institutional products of this period of mob violence, or that the bizarre “ethnic studies” departments that feature so prominently in their curricula are essentially an occupying force devoted to maintaining this victory.
Of course, this remedy does not apply to (and these reports did not discuss) the violence of white segregationist militants, such as Sam Bowers and his White Knights. Obviously these gentlemen did not “view their own activity as political action,” and their various murders, firebombings, etc., were no more than common crimes. Hate crimes, in fact. Therefore, the FBI needed to be unleashed on them, and it was.
Because when you are resisting the forces of unrighteousness—as I hope we can all agree Mr. Bowers represents—meeting force with force turns out to actually be quite effective. Today in the US there is almost no white paramilitary violence. There is some, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who believes that if the authorities had listened to the concerns of the KKK, if they had set up social programs for white people who fled inner cities or couldn’t afford to send their children to segregated private schools, there would be even less.
The irony of the postwar age is that this reign of global peace, this universalist millennium, was achieved by the Allied victory in the most ruthless war in modern history, in which neither side displayed the slightest respect for enemy civilians. So much for the legitimate revolutionary aspirations of the German people! If violence never solves anything, why is Germany such a pleasant and peaceful place today, even minus a few cathedrals and other flammable bric-a-brac? Why didn’t the German people rise in revolt against this brutal military occupation? Well, because that wouldn’t have been righteous, of course. And so on.
If you, like me, don’t believe in Divine Providence and instead see history as a mere series of events which often exhibit patterns, but certainly no great plan or purpose, what are we to make of pacifists? Should we support them or oppose them? Is the victory of righteousness such a bad thing?
I believe not. I generally support peace of the third kind—formalizing the military status quo. But who can oppose the victory of righteousness? I am all for righteousness. Sign me up.
However, everyone by definition sees his own cause as righteous. And this certainly includes cryptocalvinists. Ultimately, a pacifist is just an activist whose strategy for victory is to suppress the military efforts of his enemies. If you have the same enemies as the pacifist, you are by definition on his side.
For example, the “peace process” in the Near East is over 60 years old as of this writing. In the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, it has created one of the most militaristic societies in human history, certainly surpassing the Imperial Japanese and perhaps even the Spartans, whose tradition of six-year-old suicide hoplites is yet to be discovered. Predation is by far the primary industry of this state, in the form of payments generally referred to as “aid,” which appear to be provided in exchange for refraining from violence against the contributors.
A foolish and atheistic person, ignorant of the ways of Providence, might think that the simplest way to resolve this problem would be to persuade Palestine to accept its current borders, refrain from assaulting its neighbors, and devote its obviously impressive energies to horticulture, software engineering, dance, and other peaceful pursuits.
However, there is no chance of this approach succeeding, because the current borders of Palestine are not just—they are unjust. Therefore, Providence will frown on any attempt to convert the status quo into a permanent peace, and my naive proposal is in fact a recipe for more war, a spasm of pent-up rage from the frustrated national aspirations of the Palestinian people. If these aspirations were unrighteous, they would constitute irredentism and revanchism, but since they are righteous, they are a plea from an oppressed people for the redemption of their stolen lands.
How do pacifists, or cryptocalvinists in general, decide who is righteous and who is not? This is a fascinating question, which I’m afraid we’ll have to look at another day.