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  • Peace without Perfection: The intersections of Realist and Pacifist thought

    Moses, J. (2015)

    Conference paper
    University of Canterbury Library

    It is generally assumed that realist political thought is the polar opposite of pacifism on questions of war and peace. In debates over the justifiability of violence in response to physical threats to ourselves or to others, pacifists will generally be confronted with ‘realistic’ analogies of personal self-defence against an assailant or to what are seen as the most obvious and compelling examples of ‘just wars’ from human history. Thus, as Duane Cady puts it, ‘[e]ntertaining pacifist thoughts means being prepared repeatedly to face questions about reacting to a mugger and confronting Hitler as well as being realistic, self-righteous, and self-sacrificial’ (Cady, 1989, p. 95). Thus, in constructing his ‘moral continuum’ from ‘warism to pacifism’, Cady himself places ‘war realism’, the view that ‘war itself is not an appropriate object of moral consideration’, at the ‘most extreme’ end of his spectrum. Realist views on war, therefore, are seen as being more distant from and irreconcilable with pacifist thinking than the via media of ‘just-warism’ (Cady, 1989, pp. 21-23). As a consequence of this kind of thinking, it is generally assumed that pacifists at the ‘pragmatic’ or ‘realistic’ end of the scale will normally allow for the possibility of fighting just wars in certain limited circumstances, as has been the case in just war theory from Augustine onwards. In contrast to this popular view, this paper will propose that the realist placing of war outside of questions of morality and justice actually has more in common with a pacifist position than is normally acknowledged and that this connection could be more fruitfully developed. Just war theory, from this point of view, represents a proliferation of malleable moral arguments for war that are not available from a realist perspective, which is deeply concerned with the limiting of moral arguments in favour of war for demonstrably ethical reasons. Yet this still leaves a number of important questions to consider. First and foremost, if we accept that the world is and always will be an imperfect place, as any realist thinker must, is there still any sense – or even any consistent possibility – in maintaining an opposition to all war? How does the realist reading of the imperfectability of man relate to problems of politics and war? And how might those theoretical claims connect to a politics of non-violence or pacifism?

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