On Pacifism As Pathology

A Softer World 470

a softer world 470 by e horne and j comeau

I’m in a ‘social justice book club’ because I’m some sort of nerdy hippie and we’re reading Pacifism as Pathology by Ward Churchill, a book I found very persuasive in my younger, harder years.  Predictably, I’m less impressed by the book upon re-reading. I’m not exactly sure what the profile of a psychological disorder should look like, but Churchill’s attempt to create one for the disorder of pacifism comes across as superficial even to a non-expert. And then there’s the part where he argues that the actual, intentional goal of white American ‘radical’ leaders is to export as much of the physical suffering required to achieve social change to people of color worldwide and then use their continued position of strength to shape the emerging anarcho-syndicalist (or whatever) world order in a way that somehow continues to benefit said white radical leaders.

So the logical setup of the book is: This belief is wrong.  Therefore, people that believe this are (a) suffering a psychological disorder, or (b) evil geniuses.  These latter parts that attempt to divine the motivations of pacifists are  a ridiculous overreach.  But the original premise is solid!

There is a much better book, hidden within the self-indulgent speculation of this one, that only explains why pacifism is problematic and justifies the thesis with detailed historical arguments about the process of the South African revolution or changing effectiveness of Indian resistance movements pre- and post-war.  The book largely avoids engaging with the historical facts necessary to make a case for the centrality of violence to political change, satisfying itself with compelling, but unsubstantiated assertions: ‘Gandhi only succeeded because of the diminished power of post-WWII Britain’; ‘King only succeeded due to the emergence of more militant black resistance groups”.

I’m predisposed to agree with those arguments, but one has to actually make the case.  Martialing those facts is hard and boring, but it’s how you convince people; slick theoretical leaps appeal to the choir only, if even them.

So that better book is what I actually want to read, and I hope that some aspiring revolutionary will take the time to make it their dissertation so I can.

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