Orwell is strongly anti-pacifist, and I can't disagree with his reasoning. Pacifism is a ethical perspective which focuses on romanticized long-term effects of short-term non-violence, though when that little word romanticized comes into play, it subjugates actual reality. Pacifism is therefore a non-state which enables the harshness of immediate reality to go unchecked, in favor of a more ideal reality which does not exist. A pacifist though would call this reasoning situational and unprincipled, therefore poor and ineffective. They desire to build a world they deem appropriate and ethical, without the constraints and brutality of violence, and I can't fault their intention. Orwell--with whom I'm on the same page--delineates reality from fantasy, not getting caught up in their argument, which is actually a red herring.
He lists "two facts which underlie the structure of modern society and which it is necessary to ignore if the pacifist 'message' is to be accepted uncritically...1) Civilisation rests ultimately on coercion. What holds society together is not the policeman but the good will of common men, and yet that good will is powerless unless the policeman is there to back it up...2) Since coercion can never be altogether dispensed with, the only difference is between degrees of violence." (p.385-6) Modern society is comprised of individuals removed from nature and indoctrinated with civilized tenets and beliefs, who need surveillance and booster shots to remain within the artificial collective. It's one thing if we scrap the whole system and come up with another one, but with the one we've got--civilization--and how far it pulls us from nature, coercion is always present in some form. (This argument doesn't defend civilization or relinquish responsibility of the damage this paradigm causes, but it does submit that if you participate in civilization, and thus not scrap it wholly and replace with another system, then you must accept that coercion is and always will be involved.) Hence, no matter how peaceful and independent people think they are, there will always be police around to simultaneously respond to flights from normalcy, and remind the citizens that coercion is still active and present. This is how pacifism's idealism is a red herring; it oversimplifies an issue through providing an answer that doesn't fully apply to the problem. The problem: civilization didn't become coercive and destructive, it is coercive and destructive.
One of the problems with pacifism is enabling the progress which it deems reprehensible. Page 388: "The fact is that the ordinary short-term case for pacifism, the claim that you can best frustrate the Nazis by not resisting them, cannot be sustained. If you don't resist the Nazis you are helping them, and ought to admit it." Not actively fighting against the Nazis literally condoned their progress. This critique of pacifism spans across the board, and passive resistance only really produces positive, realistic effects if the aggressor isn't a maniac, but violent though socially sensitive, which is a small window. Gandhi proved this; the British were violent not sadistic, hence the repeated beatings visited upon a scrawny Indian man appealed to their humanity. (It also widely damaged their public reputation, but I'll be optimistic and err on the side of an awakening humanity within them). The Nazis, unlike the British to Gandhi, did not delineate non-combatants into categories of cowards, vermin, broke, or moralists. They just moved forward and decimated according to their plan. So not resisting Hitler didn't even potentially enlighten the Third Reich, it just made their march easier. The true pacifist would claim not to have control over the Nazi mentality, thus, their secession represented their own ethical purity. However, not resisting what is obviously evil and destructive aids in the merciless killing of more innocent people. I can't speak for Orwell, but for me, pacifists in this context are murderers themselves.
Orwell points out that pacifism is a luxury, there a boutique morality. Page 389: "Because, rightly hating violence, they do not wish to recognize that it is integral to modern society and that their own fine feelings and noble attitudes are all the fruit of injustice backed up by force. They do not want to learn where their incomes come from. Underneath this lies the hard fact, so difficult for many people to face, that individual salvation is not possible, that the choice before human beings is not, as a rule, between good and evil but between two evils." I'll admit he gets a little dramatic here, but what he's pointing out is that life is inherently dirty and difficult, with conflicting choices present in every moment. It's very easy to forget that every creature on earth must kill to survive. Senselessly kill, no, but the ideal of cleanliness and purity represented by pacifists doesn't represent the very species they are a part of very well, nor does it create a valid, functional paradigm.
Click the RSS FEED button below to receive notification of new Orwell 365 posts.