“Only liberal societies tolerate Pacifists” by C.S. Lewis

“Only liberal societies tolerate Pacifists. In the liberal society, the number of Pacifists will either be large enough to cripple the state as a belligerent, or not. If not, you have done nothing. If is is large enough, then you have handed over the state which does tolerate Pacifists to its totalitarian neighbour who does not. Pacifism of this kind is taking the straight road to a world in which there will be no Pacifists.”

–C. S. Lewis, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 1949/2001), 78.

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Filed under C.S. Lewis, Christian Theology, Quotable Quotes

2 responses to ““Only liberal societies tolerate Pacifists” by C.S. Lewis

  1. Joel Mollenhauer

    C.S. Lewis’ arguments are usually tightly reasoned, but you could drive a truck through this one.
    Lewis’ assertion that only liberal societies tolerate pacifists is incorrect. Totalitarian states have tolerated pacifists when it has been convenient for them to do so. Tsarist Russia for example tolerated the Mennonites in about the same degree as the USA did during the 19th Centuary. It must also be said that liberal states have rarely given unqualified tolerance to pacifists. In the vast majority of cases where conscription has been in effect, pacifists have been forced into non-combatant military service (such as in medical corps), or alternatively, other service to their governmens (often unpaid). In these cases the only alternative to aiding the nation’s war effort was to be imprisoned.
    Lewis’ argues that a large population of pacifists would cripple a nation’s war efforts, leading to their being invaded. This is a reasonable argument, but it is only valid if one can be certain that God cannot of will not miraculously intervene in the situation. What makes Lewis believe that God would not answer the prayers of pacifists asking him to prevent an invasion? Perhaps it is that he has already decided that pacifism is wrong, and that God would not reward such behavior.
    Implicit in Lewis’s argument is the idea that the fulfillment of the great commission (taking the gospel to all the world) is dependent on the advancement of liberal democracy. I believe that liberal democracy makes the world we live in a better world, but I’m unconvinced that the gospel is spread more rapidly in a better world than in a worse one.
    Finally, Lewis argues that a world full of totalitarian states (which would not tolerate pacifists), would be a world in which there would be no pacifists. In making this argument, Lewis has completely ignored Christian history. Indeed, he has ignored the historys of any illegal activities. Did the prohibition of alcohol stamp out the drinking of alcohol? No. Has the prohibition of cannabis stamped out the use of cannabis? No. The use of cannabis has increased dramatically under prohibition, and often in inverse proportion to the strengthing of laws against it. Likewise, Christianity experienced rapid growth during it’s first three hundred years, during which it was illegal, and often heavily persecuted. It must also be noted that to the best of our knowledge, the vast majority of Christians during this period were anarcho-pacifists. The Quakers, who are pacifists, experienced explosive growth during the 17th Centuary, but after the
    Toleration Act like other dissenting groups, they suffered a decline.
    Perhaps liberal societies are not so kind to pacifists after all. Maybe they’ve just figured out the most effective way to muzzle pacifists.

  2. Joel,

    This is one of the most thoughtful comments I’ve ever gotten on this blog. Thank you for posting it.


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