The Case for Institutional Pacifism

Image: 7th Army Training Command [CC/Flickr]

Event details

Department of International Relations Seminar

Date & time

Friday 27 April 2018


SDSC Reading Room, Hedley Bull Centre (130), corner of Garran Road and Liversidge Street, ANU
ANU Canberra


Dr Ned Dobos, UNSW Canberra


Julia Ahrens
02 6125 2167

Pacifism, in its most familiar form, is the view that waging war is never morally justified—call this the pacifism-of-acts. This is to be carefully distinguished from what we might call the pacifism-of-institutions. The latter position is not characterised by an absolute objection to waging war with the military resources that we have amassed. It is characterised, rather, by an objection to the amassing of those resources to begin with. To put it another way, while the pacifism-of-acts condemns military operations, institutional pacifists object to the very existence of the military establishment. It might be assumed that the pacifism-of-acts and the pacifism-of-institutions stand or fall together. If all modern war is unjust then obviously we ought to eliminate the possibility and temptation of ever engaging in it. Hence pacifism-of-acts makes demilitarisation a moral imperative.

On the other hand, if it is sometimes permissible to wage war, then presumably it must be permissible to prepare for it by building war-making capacity. So, on the face of it, if there is a compelling argument for the pacifism-of-acts then there is a compelling argument for the pacifism-of-institutions, and vice versa. Assuming that this view is mistaken, this seminar presents arguments for the pacifism of institutions which do not rely on or presuppose a commitment to the pacifism of acts.

Dr Ned Dobos is Senior Lecturer in International and Political Studies at UNSW Canberra. He is the author of Insurrection and Intervention (Cambridge University Press, 2012), and The New Pacifism (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Ned was a Visiting Scholar with the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and is a Senior Global Justice Fellow at the MacMillan Centre for International Studies at Yale. He is currently Assistant Regional Director of the International Society for Military Ethics, Asia-Pacific Division.

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