Bertrand Russell and Pacifism

Pacifism Isn’t Useful As A Philosophy And What To Do Instead

Pacifism isn’t useful as a philosophy. It ends up just making you the bitch everyone beats up on the playground.

Pacifism Isn’t Useful As A Philosophy

Pacifism is the belief that war and violence should be avoided at all costs. And two, that the world should dissolve their militaries. This article criticizes the second part of the philosophy, more than the first.

John Jay and Pacifism

Pacifism is a common favorite among people who think of themselves as intellectuals. It’s the perfect example of what tends to be wrong with academia and people who are more interested in intellectual or mental exercises, rather than actionable advice or understanding the world.

“It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations, in general, will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it. – John Jay

It’s attractive to these people for a couple of reasons. For one: it sounds cool, and two: it’s self-serving. It’s self-serving because the type of person who’s into pacifism is probably not the kind of person who would do well in a fight anyway.

When you combine all of those things together, there’s no wonder that the world’s deep-thinking rather than physical people are drawn to pacifism.

Ask The Bullied Kids

There are probably millions of kids who could attest to the fact that doing absolutely nothing when faced with an aggressive bully, leads to yet, more bullying.

When someone wants to physically attack you, the best response is to, either, talk them down through standing your ground, or the last resort: fight back.

Obviously, if you’re an articulate person, then talking them down and handling the situation that way is way better.

Only a self-proclaimed intellectual would think that when in the face of someone who wants to kick your ass, the best response is to just smile.

It’s like what George Orwell said a long time ago: “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals could believe in them.”

It Might Work Sometimes

Let’s pay credence to the fact that while it might work fine at that precise moment, it’s not likely to work for forever, and for a simple reason. You’ve now established yourself as the person who will do nothing.

And once everyone knows they can do whatever they want to you, you’ve become the whipping boy. And the person everyone picks on.

According to Thomas Sowell, the belief in pacificism in the United States, France, and Britain, is one of the reasons why Hitler had the courage to invade, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, during the Second World War.

Adolf Hitler and Pacifism

He thought Western leaders were so cowardly that he could literally just stomp around, invading Austria first, Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, and then finally Poland.

And it wasn’t until he invaded Poland that the West realized they had to do something about it. Intellectuals at that time, like Bertrand Russell, for example, were big fans of pacifism.

They called for the disarmament of the British and other Western nations in the face of Nazi aggression, in what ended up being probably one of the worst decisions of all time.

Winston Churchill Wasn’t Down With Pacifism

If It wasn’t for OG’s like Winston Churchill, we would’ve been completely doomed. However, what’s interesting is that before WWI, intellectuals thought wars were great.

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Before WWI, Americans and Europeans lived in a time where no one had experienced a massive conflict involving a significant portion of the population for a generation.

According to Thomas Sowell in his book, Intellectuals and Society, the only war Americans had experienced around the start of the 20th century was the Spanish-American war. The one where the Americans quickly forced out the Spaniards from their colonies in Puerto Rico and Cuba.

During this period of Western history, imperialism was considered as a moral necessity. University academics, politicians, and every member of the “upper-class” of society, if you’d call it that, was in support of invading foreign nations and bringing stability, democracy, and prosperity.


But, on the other hand, the intelligentsia (the academics or the “thinkers” of society) opposed imperialist invasions into other countries for the sake of economic gain, territorial expansion, self-aggrandizement, and military interests.

Despite the fact that imperialism is imperialism, regardless of the reasons for the invasion, whether it be good intentions or bad intentions, it’s still the same thing.

And during this time in history, the horrors of war and conquest were barely in the back of the average person’s mind, so it was easy to sit back and talk about the glory of war. As if it were something to aspire to.

People Who Have No Experience Don’t Actually Know

A few months back, I talked to some guys in the military and one of them said to me that, “the military is a good place to be if you want to turn somebody into spaghetti sauce.”

And it’s funny because, as soon as he said that, I knew right away he had never been to war. It was just lame tough-guy posturing. And transparent posturing at that.

From what I’ve heard from people who have actually experienced it, it’s not that great. It seems like anybody who has actually been in combat doesn’t speak highly of it, although, maybe there are some who do. Either way, It’s easy to talk about the glories of war and imperialism if you haven’t seen the effects of it first-hand.

Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson

The president of the United States at the time, Woodrow Wilson, who spent a good portion of his life as an intellectual, was the type of person to support imperialism as long as it were for “moral” reasons or “idealist” reasons rather than for material ones.

If the government invaded countries to spread “democracy and freedom,” intellectuals hailed it as the greatest thing since sliced bread. But if it were for the economic interests of the host country, it was bad.

However, following WWI, imperialism was no longer in vogue among academia anymore. And people in the community, including in public office, were convinced that all colonies should be dissolved at no matter the cost.

The Self-Determination Of Peoples

Around 1916, Woodrow Wilson gave a speech on the importance of “self-determination” of peoples and his Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, had an interesting diary entry about it.

(Self-determination is the ability to choose what you want to do in life. It’s the right of the person to govern themselves, rather than be governed by another country).

Robert Lansing described Wilson in the same fashion that you could describe modern “intellectuals.”

He wrote:


People should worry about the results of their actions, rather than the alignment of their words with a particular vision or belief system.

Actions Have Consequences

The dissolution of the Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires left entire nations of peoples free to govern in the way they wished.

In a newly freed nation of people with different ethnic backgrounds, once their governing body and central authority dissolved, minorities who were once oppressed, turned around and began oppressing others as revenge.

Ottoman Empire - Pacifism
The Ottoman Empire in 1871

And the fact of that matter is that no one in the intellectual community saw this sort of thing coming, despite what a person would consider as common sense. It’s like giving the bullied kid the ability to get immediate revenge on his tormentor.

Additionally, through the collapse of the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, newly created states
became vulnerable to Nazi occupation just twenty years later.

NATO Is An Attempt To Consolidate Smaller States

Interestingly, organizations like NATO, today, are an attempt to combine the power of individual nations who are small and vulnerable to threats. It’s one of the reasons countries like Ukraine need NATO to help them against the Russians.

The imperialist war of the Iraq War in 2002 is a good example of the old school way of thinking. The thinking behind going into Iraq was basically to “spread Democracy,” and it failed miserably.

Most think it was “for the oil,” but truth be told, they never did get that oil, as the majority of the oil comes from America itself, Canada, and just a couple of other countries.

The reasoning for the invasion of Iraq is similar to the average intellectual’s justifications for imperialism in the past. If it’s done for spreading “democracy,” then it’s good. But if it’s for money, then it must be bad.

The Iraq War Was A Disaster

However, what the Americans didn’t understand, is that when they went into the country, there existed already a ton of ethnic, religious, and cultural tension between Sunni and Shia Muslim. These people went on to fight against each other after the Americans defeated the Iraqi government.

When they got rid of that power, they inadvertently created a vacuum. And groups like the Islamic State and Al-Qaida wanted to fill it as quickly as possible.

Iraq War and Pacifism
Iraq War and Pacifism

The war ended up being a disaster for that reason. Like every other war, there existed a bunch of unforeseen consequences which they didn’t consider before they chose to invade.

Back in the early 1900’s, the Wilson government expected the dissolution of the former empires to lead to newly formed democratic governments and “self-determined” peoples.

The USSR Was Infinitely Worse Than The Government Before It

However, what ended up happening, in reality, was brutal dictatorships much worse than the previous governments.

A good example is the Soviet Union. The USSR which followed the Czarist government of the previous century was significantly worse than anything before.

Although the Soviet Union was able to reach a degree of economic prosperity, the government executed people. And it was a common practice to send them to horrible Gulags for no discernible reason.

Authorities considered “not respecting Stalin enough” grounds for twenty-five years of imprisonment.

In the 92 years that the Soviet Union reigned supreme, they executed more political prisoners in one year than did the Czarist government in the entirety of its existence.

And following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the world watched the Kosovo War go down.

During the early 20th century, intellectuals considered the First World War necessary for democracy around the globe. However, after the First World War, the reality of war became painfully clear.

Pacifism Is So Cool

After this, intellectuals realized, “oh, war is bad,” and then pacifism became cool.

And pacifist values became so entrenched in academia that they played a role in the next war.

The Prime Minister of England, Neville Chamberlain, chose to deal with Hitler through smiling and hand-shakes. The Germans would build more arms against the treaties, including tanks, boats, airplanes, and then he invaded Austria and Poland.

They allowed both of those invasions to happen, because of their pacifist values. They thought it would be better to just smile and let it happen. And then, eventually, the aggressive action would stop.

Meanwhile, Hitler was gearing up to try and take over the entire world. You can’t be a pacifist while the other person is literally trying to kill or destroy you completely.

Aleksandr and Pacifism
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said:

“The timid civilized world has found nothing with which to oppose the onslaught of a sudden revival of barefaced brutality, other than concessions and smiles.”

Regular working-class, salt-of-the-earth people, know a person has to stand up for themselves in the face of a bully. They’re not down with pacifism.

Live In Reality

And not simply for the sake of saving your own life.

It’s a matter of respect. If you don’t stand up for yourself, literally, nobody will give you respect. And people will passive-aggressively mess with you in so many subtle little ways.

What To Do Instead

It’s always better to think of yourself as an individual, rather than one who subscribes to some kind of a philosophy. In life, a person should value their own life, accomplishments, and relationships, rather than all of the things he knows or thinks is true.

Philosophy and knowledge should be used for the sake of improving your own life and the people you’re surrounded by, rather than for the approval of your peers.

Work toward figuring out what your next step is in life, and how to achieve what it is that you want, rather than intellectualizing and exercising your brain for the sake of impressing others. That isn’t to say that a person shouldn’t enjoy philosophy or concepts to think about.

Judge your actions by their consequences, rather than the intentions. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Truthfully, most people aren’t evil, they’re just misguided in their misapplication of ideas.

image sources

  • John Jay and Pacifism:
  • Adolf Hitler:
  • Woodrow Wilson:
  • Ottoman Empire:
  • Iraq War and Pacifism:
  • Aleksandr and Pacifism:
  • Bertrand Russell and Pacifism:

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