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Geoffrey Ostergaard RESISTING THE NATION STATE
the pacifist and anarchist tradition
Formely published by the PPU now also available as pdf document.
introduction
1. pacifism, pacificism and anti-militarism
2. sectarian origins of pacifism
3. pacificism and the peace movement
5. conscription and the nation state
6. the co formula
7. anarchism as a social movement
8. anarchism as a tradition of political thought
9. society and the state
10. the anarchist view of the state
11. the anarchist view of the nation and of nationalism
12. anarchism and violence
13. convergence of pacifism and anarchism
12. notes and references
 

 

 


SECTARIAN ORIGINS OF PACIFISM
The intellectual origins of Western pacifism are firmly rooted in the beliefs of religious sects. The first of these sects was made up of the followers of Jesus who, in the Sermon on the Mount, preached a new message: 'Ye have heard that it hath been said: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also...Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.' (3) These words express the doctrine of 'nonresistance to evil', and for several centuries, while awaiting the Second Coming of Christ, his followers accepted the plain implications of the message. They refused military service while otherwise, at the same time, in St Paul's words, rendering unto Caesar his due. The eclipse of early Christian pacifism came with the conversion of Constantine who, in 313 AD, made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. With the sect transformed into a church allied to the state, St Augustine enunciated a new doctrine: the clergy were to be totally dedicated to God and to live accordingly, but the laity were to fulfil the normal obligations of subjects. He also developed the doctrine of 'the just war' which later, in the 13th century, St Thomas Aquinas elaborated.
In the late Middle Ages several heretical sects, notably the Waldensians, the Cathari, and the Czech Brethren of the Law of Christ, challenged the new orthodoxy, and espoused pacifist ideas. But the real beginning of modern pacifism dates from the Reformation of the 16th century, which marked a victory for the nascent modern state over the Catholic Church. Unlike Luther, various radical supporters of the Reformation in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands, who came to be known as the Anabaptists, called for an unqualified return to the teachings of Jesus. In the 'Schleitheim Confession of Faith', 1527, they argued that it was not possible to reconcile the way of Christ with the way of the world. Until the coming of Christ's Kingdom, a true Christian must be a 'nonconformist'. The sword, symbolising state power, was ordained by God, but 'ordained outside the perfection of Christ'. The secular political authorities formed part of the unregenerate world and existed only because people did not follow Christ's teachings and needed to be coerced. True Christians needed no coercion, should not coerce others, and should, as far as possible, effect a separation from the abomination. (4)
Accordingly - except for one group who attempted by force to establish the Kingdom of God on earth in the city of Munster in 1534-5 and who, for their pains, were bloodily repressed - the Anabaptists abstained from politics, refused to bear arms or serve as policemen, refrained from lawsuits and the taking of oaths, and declined to recognise the existing laws of property. One group, the Hutterites, proceeded to establish communist communities, 150 of which continue to exist to this day in the USA and Canada. (5) Subjected to severe persecution for heresy, many other groups rallied under the leadership of Menno Simons (1496-1561), and it is as 'Mennonites' that they are now generally known.
The Anabaptist strategy of withdrawal from the unregenerate world was not followed by the Puritans who gathered round George Fox in the England of the 1650s to form the Society of Friends, or Quakers. They aimed to Christianise the world and to establish a 'realm of the saints'. Believing that God exists in every person, they stressed the importance of the Inner Light as the guide for living. After some initial uncertainty about the use of violence, they issued in 1661 the Declaration which became the basis of their 'peace testimony'. It stated firmly: 'All bloody Principles and Practices we (as to our own particular) do utterly deny, with all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretext whatsoever...' (6) Pacifism was only one of the peculiarities of the Quakers, but it became their most distinguishing mark. It was in America, where some had gone in search of religious freedom, that Quakers were given the first opportunity to apply their principles in politics: 'the Holy Experiment' in nonviolent government in Pennsylvania, which lasted from 1662 to 1756.
Early in the 18th century, the radical wing of German Pietism gave birth to two new pacifist sects: the Dunkers and the Inspirationists, both of which emigrated to America. The Dunkers, now known as the Church of the Brethren, constitute the third of the 'historic peace churches' of the USA. They were followed later by the Shakers who, like the Hutterites, combined pacifism with voluntary communism. The pacifism of these sects was 'separational', not 'integrational' like that of the Quakers (7). A rather different kind of pacifism - 'eschatological' - was displayed by several sects formed in the 19th century, whose doctrines centre on a belief in the imminence of the Day of Judgement when the godless will be destroyed, after which Christ will reign as King over the faithful in a new world. These sects include the Plymouth Brethren, the Christadelphians, the Seventh Day Adventists, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Eschatological pacifism does not reject warfare as such. Wars may be seen as God's way of punishing the wicked and, while adherents should not take part in earthly wars, they may, when the time comes, take up arms in the final battle of Armageddon.
The pacifism of the sects has undergone attrition over the years. Thus, the majority of American Quakers and Brethren of military age served in the Second World War. (8) But, until the twentieth century, the pacifist ethic of Jesus was largely preserved by these fundamentalists. Christian pacifists are now represented in other churches. In the present century there has been a significant growth of pacifist sentiment among Methodists in Britain and Baptists in the USA and, more recently, among Catholics. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, founded in 1914, seeks to unite all who base their pacifism on Christian grounds.

 


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