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Can Revolutionary Pacifism Deliver Peace? via Reader Supported News

Professor Noam Chomsky was awarded the 2011 City of Sydney Peace Prize on November 2, 2011. Professor Chomsky delivered the following remarks upon receiving the award. — JPS/RSN

Not to be overlooked, however, is that Europeans came to realize that the next time they indulge in their favorite pastime of slaughtering one another, the game will be over: civilisation has developed means of destruction that can only be used against those too weak to retaliate in kind, a large part of the appalling history of the post-World War II years. It is not that the threat has ended. US-Soviet confrontations came painfully close to virtually terminal nuclear war in ways that are shattering to contemplate, when we inspect them closely.

And the threat of nuclear war remains all too ominously alive, a matter to which I will briefly return.

Can we proceed to at least limit the scourge of war? One answer is given by absolute pacifists, including people I respect though I have never felt able to go beyond that.

A somewhat more persuasive stand, I think, is that of the pacifist thinker and social activist A.J. Muste, one of the great figures of 20th century America, in my opinion: what he called “revolutionary pacifism.” Muste disdained the search for peace without justice. He urged that “one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist” – by which he meant that we must cease to “acquiesce [so] easily in evil conditions,” and must deal “honestly and adequately with this ninety percent of our problem” – “the violence on which the present system is based, and all the evil – material and spiritual – this entails for the masses of men throughout the world.” Unless we do so, he argued, “there is something ludicrous, and perhaps hypocritical, about our concern over the ten per cent of the violence employed by the rebels against oppression” – no matter how hideous they may be.

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