Jus ante bellum:
“Pacifism is simply undisguised cowardice” – Adolph Hitler
The word ‘pacifism’, as Jenny Teichman says in the opening of her book Pacifism and the Just War, is “relatively new, dating from the beginning of [the 20th] century”. But already the term has been so misconstrued that quotations such as Hitler’s are ambiguous. This is because pacifism, as Teichman states, is not a single position but “rather a collection of related theories”. In his book, Thinking about War and Peace, Martin Ceadel places the different pacifist positions into three categories:
(i) optimistic…which argues that pacifism is even now the most effective defense policy to adopt (since non-violence can deter or repel an invasion), (ii) mainstream…which does not believe that pacifism is yet practical politics although it will fairly soon be so, and (iii) pessimistic…which believes that pacifism is a faith rather than a political strategy.
The optimistic pacifists in Ceadel’s first category can be called absolute pacifists. Most often these absolute pacifists are attached to a faith, e.g. Christian Fundamentalists, Jehovah Witnesses, Quakers, or Buddhist Fundamentalists. Perhaps, the most interesting argument made within this tradition is from Indian philosophy in the Veda, in which it states: “tat tvan asi” (thou art that). These three words, says Paul Deussen in his book, Outlines of Indian Philosophy, sum up “metaphysics and morals altogether. You shall love your neighbour as yourselves – because you are your neighbour and mere illusion makes you believe, that your neighbour is something different.” If this is the case, it would be illogical to hurt someone else, because to do so would be to cause a self-inflicted injury; the entire history of human conflict would be nothing more than a masochistic orgy. But the problem with this argument, as well as with the Christian motto, “turn the other cheek and be rewarded in heaven,” is that it is attached to a belief and cannot, therefore, be disputed in the domain of reason. One either believes in the position or one does not.
The second category of pacifism is mainstream pacifism. Ceadel argues that this is the position that most pacifists adopt. They accept that it cannot work in the present context, but is the ideal for which they strive. These are the pacifists who realize that their style of pacifism will not work until everyone is a pacifist. Until everyone is a pacifist, pacifists risk being threatened by non-pacifists.
The third, and final, category is pessimistic pacifism. These pacifists are similar to most readers of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto; intrigued with the ideal that is put forward but nonetheless sceptical that the ideal is too optimistic of human nature. Colman McCarthy captures this position in a humorous manner: “everyone’s a pacifist between wars; it’s like being a vegetarian between meals.” Despite all the morals and ethics that one may have in her or his arsenal, when push comes to shove, the morals and ethics will be subdued. At one point in the film, Walter turns to the Dude and says: “you know Dude, I myself dabbled in pacifism at one point. Not in Nam, of course.” Barrie Paskins and Michael Dockrill say the same thing in their book, The Ethics of War, when they state: “some pacifists say that they hope they would have the self-control to do nothing, but think they would probably be swept away by their feelings.” When in conflict, emotion seems to triumph over logic.
Perhaps instead of trying to control violence, the focus should be on how to redirect it. There is a misconception that pacifism means ‘passive-ism’ or ‘do-nothing-ism’. But pacifism was originally coined to mean “anti-war-ism." This involves much ‘doing’. Martin Luther King Jr. argued that “those of us who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” This requires action towards inaction. Energy is needed to oppose violence, so the pacifist must redirect their action productively.
Taking into consideration all these positions, one can see that pacifism has branched out too far. As Jan Narveson states in his article, “Pacifism: A Philosophical Analysis”: “several different doctrines have been called ‘pacifism’ and thus it is impossible to say anything cogent about it without saying which of them one has in mind.” Instead of adding new definitions or categorical classifications for the term pacifism, which is now much older (celebrating its 100th birthday this year), a fresh new term may be in order so as not to spread the pacifism butter any thinner than it already is on the toast of reason.
This new term to describe a mainstream pacifist who supports self-defense should be named after The Big Lebowski’s protagonist, and be called “dudeism.” The Dude (or “Duder, His Dudeness, Or El Duderino if, you know, you’re not into that whole brevity thing”) rides the wave of the middle ground and therefore is neither an absolute pacifist nor a pessimistic pacifist. If fact, it might be argued that the only absolute pacifist in the film is Donny because he never talks back to Walter when he’s told: “forget it, Donny. You’re out of your element.” Throughout the film, he passively remains in the background, and he is the only one to run away from the nihilist gang at the end of the film. Even though he is harmless, look what happens to him: he suffers the same fate as other pacifist characters, such as Piggy in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, or even Jesus of Nazareth. This might be a subtle statement that pacifists, the innocent bystanders of life, are the ones who suffer. Jiddu Krishnamurti says that the simple purpose of life is but to “live.” If one subscribes to this proclamation then pacifism must entail self-defense.
Teichman argues that no one contests the use of self-defense against nature. When confronted with a natural disaster, it is hard for even the absolute pacifist to argue that fighting the disaster would be a contradiction of her or his position. This is because violence is not being done to any sentient being. For example, stone may be destroyed with dynamite in order to escape from a collapsed mine. But as soon as a sentient being is introduced into the equation, such as in the case of an animal attack, pacifists divide in their responses. Some absolute pacifists, such as Fundamental Buddhists, would be opposed to the fighting, and the potential killing, of the animal. Substitute a human for the attacking animal and the divide becomes even further staccato. There are an infinite number of choices, according to quantum physics, in any one given situation. The right to self defense, therefore, should be uncontested because of the many choices that can appease both sides. Because of these choices the debate can move from “fighting back” or not “fighting back” to “fighting back” or “murdering” in self-defense.
Richard Norman uses a number of self-defense situations to illuminate its problems and grey areas. His first example is a drunken attacker; the second, a reckless hunter. In each case the individual’s life is endangered and the individual has to decide whether it is right to kill in self-defense. Does the individual have the right to murder another human who is endangering her or his life? In both examples, the individual is surprised by the attacker and thus it would seem forgivable if the victim accidentally ‘kills’ the attacker in the heat of the moment while trying to defend herself/himself. The problem with permitting someone to kill in self-defense, but not allowing ‘murdering’, is that the line between ‘kill’ and ‘murder’ is very thin. It is hard to define the intentionality of the frantic victim who is trying to save her or his life. The alternative interpretations become obvious only afterwards; during the conflict instinct seems to guide the victim to the best possible defense. Instinctual defenses happen so quickly that it makes it hard to prosecute someone because they simply reacted to their situation.
In non-instinctual situations, when logic can enter into mind of the victim, the choice must always be towards non-contact. Norman describes a situation in which there is a possibility that a bystander might give away the position of an individual who is in great danger from a nearby mob. He states that “murdering” the bystander is the only way the potential victim of the mob can be assured safety. One could picture this scenario happening to a spy behind enemy lines with the choice of murdering an innocent civilian in order to ensure that her or his position is not revealed to the enemy patrol close by.
The problem in these examples is the assumption that the potential victim makes about the near future. The potential victim cannot make this prophecy with absolute certainty. Adin Ballou argues that sometimes the use of force in self-defense is the worst response for the preservation of human life. When force is consciously used, it rarely plays out the way that the individual had intended and is usually “misapplied in practice”. If the victim of a burglary engages a burglar when she or he is not directly threatened, the victim invites misapplication to happen. Here, claims such as “the best defense is a good offence” are made to justify attacking the burglar to assure safety, but here, just as in Norman’s examples the potential victim is exercising a false prediction. A great deal of courage is therefore needed by a potential victim to not throw the first stone. This takes “war guru” Carl Clausewitz’s point about the courage to attack and flips it upon its head: it takes more courage to wait on defense. The victim should always call upon the support of the police who, because of their training, reduce or remove the risk of this misapplication. Throughout the film, the Dude is seen taking beatings and not physically fighting back, even though he does manage to get in a few sarcastic one-liners. If the Dude had fought back it is possible that his assaulters would have used even more force than needed and the situation could have been worse. The Dude’s path of least resistance yielded the best results for the preservation of his human life. The viewer sees clearly that the Dude could always get another rug, but would not be able to roll with a broken arm or leg if he had chosen to fight back.
Some argue that the reason that self-defense is acceptable is because the attacker has “forfeited”  or lost his “autonomy.”  Norman states that: “the attacker’s right to life is someway overridden or negated by the defender’s right to life.”  If there is a choice between the two lives, it is argued that the priority must go to the victim. But the choice is not so clear-cut. Because the attacker usually does not want to die, it can be argued that, by attacking someone else, she or he has signed a risk wavier stating that she or he is aware that there is a possible consequence of death. It is more accurate to say that the attacker does not “forfeit” but “jeopardizes” her or his own life in attacking another.
If one is entitled to self-defense then what about property-defense? The narrative of the film begins with the Dude getting wound-up in the other Jeff Lebowski’s problems. He takes very un-Dude advice from his friend, Walter, who echoes George H.W. Bush by saying that this wrong done to the Dude is “unchecked aggression.” The Dude goes into action, not to check his aggressors but to get compensation for his soiled rug, as it “really tied the room together.” Can one legitimately defend her or his property? Defense of property is subordinate to the risking of physical danger. In the example of a mugging, as takes place at the end of the film, the assaulters want only money. If a victim of mugging fights back against the muggers, she or he is only making the situation worse as they have risked their life and the life of their assaulter for the sake of their wallet. It is easy to see that because of Walter’s actions Donny took a heart attack that would have been avoided by surrendering the small amount of money they had to the nihilist thugs. At one point during the film, the Dude even contemplates that had he not bothered seeking compensation for the rug he would have had nothing more than “pee stains” on his rug. Defending non-living things only makes things worse. New money can always be made and things can be replaced, but lives cannot be reborn or replaced.
If there is right to defend oneself, but not one’s property, then what about the right and/or obligation to defend others? Norman concedes that people have “some obligation to save lives and to render other kinds of aid.” If everyone had to defend others, there would be continuous chaos. The idea of obligation towards another just drives vigilantism. People do not have a duty to defend others, unless they live in Latham, Massachusetts, the fictional town that is home of the Good Samaritan Law, as seen in the finale episode of the television show Seinfeld. As Samuel Pufendorf wrote in his work, On the Laws of Nature and Nations: “I will give to those that are in need: but so as not to put myself in the same needy condition”. In this view, the individual may assist others but is not required to do so, especially if assistance jeopardizes her or his life. Only in certain occupations is this duty created. For example, it is the duty of the police to protect the lives of victims at the possible loss of their own. However, it is not the duty of the layman to protect her or his fellow human in need. Norman distinguishes between “killing” (what has been used in this paper as “murdering”) and “allowing someone to die.” The two are not morally equivalent. If they were there would be an immense feeling of guilt and shame by each individual for neglecting to try to end the suffering of victims of assault who are all around them. It is ironic that The Daily Show, one of the most popular comedies on television, claims to be a “fake” news show but, in fact, is a “real” dark comedy, as viewers laugh at stupidity of governments, particularly the United States, and their contribution to the destruction of others. In watching a dark comedy, such as a Quentin Tarantino film, the viewer can justify their laughter at tragic events by saying that the film is not real. Viewers of programs like The Daily Show, however, cannot make this claim; they are laughing at the actual chaos all around them. Programs like this demonstrate that the individual must be “pontiusly” divorced from any responsibility to others; otherwise no one would be able to enjoy this type of show for they would not be comedies but, rather, tragedies.