Beyond being merely a voice of “protest,” pacifism has no cache in the real world of politics, public policy and foreign affairs. This is perfectly obvious in the case of the classical Christian pacifist (discussed in my last post here) who refuses, as a matter of principle, to become involved in politics, public policy, foreign affairs and who more generally, (to adopt a phrase from Stanley Hauerwas) refuses to “give advice to Caesar.”
But it is also quite difficult to take “seamless garment pacifism” (discussed in my first post here) all that seriously as a matter of public policy and foreign affairs. However, even as a voice of protest against the use of military force in a particular instance, or more generally, against the size of defense spending, for example, such pacifism can’t be taken all that seriously. For instance, when a “seamless garment” pacifist prophetically denounces as unjust the use of military force in a particular instance, in Grenada, Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, Iraq, or Afghanistan, Gaza or more broadly the counter-terrorist campaign against Al Qaeda, politicians and public policy officials may humor them, and perhaps put them to good use for their own particular foreign policy views, but at the end of the day they know perfectly well that this is simply a practical implication of their broader principle, that the use and application of lethal force is always wrong, wicked, evil and condemned by the life and teachings of Jesus who they claim to follow.
Similarly, when pacifists call for a reduction in the size of the Department of Defense, everyone knows that this is because, as a matter of principle, they don’t believe there should be a Defense Department in the first place. And, of course, when pacifists plead that public officials should use on force as a “last resort,” it is difficult to take them seriously when you know that in principle, they do not believe a “last resort” is ever reached. There is always, for the pacifist, some other “non-violent” response to evil that is always morally preferable to the use of lethal force. In addition to disagreeing with them about their pacifism, politicians and other public officials know that they represent are a fairly small minority of the American public.