Lewis begins his direct criticism of pacifism by attempting to dismantle its supporting facts. He starts by quickly conceding that “all parties” admit that war is “very disagreeable.” This intentionally softened statement, designed to create a semblance of common ground, stands in stark contrast to his next statement which strikes me as quite a leap. He writes, “The main contention urged by pacifists would be that wars always do more harm than good.” Unless this contention is somewhere written or stated in the official objections of the specific pacifist group Lewis is here addressing, it is being entirely assumed—creating a Man-of-Straw. To be sure, not all pacifists would agree with this premise, let alone start from it. One certainly needn’t affirm this “fact” to arrive at a pacifist position. Therefore, the ensuing section on the inherent failure of speculating about alternatively possible historical outcomes is utterly pointless. A pacifist can easily acknowledge that wars have accomplished some good without considering themselves morally obliged to serve in them. He also defends against the mysterious charge that a war such as World War II was “useless” because it did not “cure slums and unemployment.” Again, this amounts to little more than a Man-of-Straw considering a pacifist needn’t expect wars to cure anything to judge service in war wicked or him or herself morally obligated to conscientiously object to service. Lewis concludes this part saying, “On the test of facts, then, I find the Pacifist position weak.” Considering that no legitimate facts on which pacifists must base their pacifism were debunked, Lewis has proven nothing so far—least of all how it could be “morally obligatory” for Christians to serve in wars.
III. On Intuition
A. Thinking Pragmatically About Love and Help
Lewis believes intuition, properly surmised, is irrefutable. It is what “no good man has ever disputed.” He only argues that pacifists are mistaken about their intuition. What he will acknowledge is that intuition clearly teaches is that “love is good and hatred bad, or that helping is good and harming is bad.” This is a crucial concession that will soon lead to a misstep in Lewis’ logic. For from this grounding he proceeds to make an argument of expediency and pragmatism, that inevitably disregards this intuition for a type of realism. He writes,
You cannot do simply good to simply Man; you must do this or that good to this or that man. And if you do this good, you can’t at the same time do that; and if you do it to these men, you can’t also do it to those. Hence from the outset the law of beneficence involves not doing some good to some men at some times. (p. 41)
On the face of it, who could disagree with such sound logic? A person must prioritize the love or help he or she supplies in a given, specific instance, right? It would certainly seem so. He elaborates:
Hence those rules which so far as I know have never been doubted, as that we should help one we have promised to help rather than another, or a benefactor rather than one who has no special claims on us, or a compatriot more than a stranger, or a kinsman rather than a mere compatriot. And this fact most often means helping A at the expense of B, who drowns while you pull A on board. And sooner or later, it involves helping A by actually doing some degree of violence to B. (p. 42)
That quickly, pragmatism has already led Lewis—quite logically—to violate even his own, irrefutable intuition. Mere sentences beforehand, Lewis explains that pacifism has a misunderstood intuition. A more trustworthy intuition is that love and help are good while hatred and harm bad. Nevertheless, the “law of beneficence” to which Lewis appeals requires that constraint be applied to whom we are able to supply love and help. Then, logically, it follows that if we are permitted to withhold love and help to some due to a distinction, such as one’s citizenship or kinship, we are also permitted to apply violence to the other for the sake of the person closer to us in a social hierarchy of relationship. The moment Lewis’ constructs a hypothetical scenario that requires we choose between a loved one and another, the intuition from which he began this logical progression is rendered entirely irrelevant. For Lewis, is it no longer “bad” to “harm” someone, so long as the person you are harming is further from you relationally than the person on whose behalf you are harming them.
B. The Hierarchy of Relationship
Another fascinating aspect of Lewis’ logic on this point is the strata of relationship he outlines. First, those to whom we have promised help are to be prioritized over those to whom we have promised nothing. Second, those who have helped us are to be prioritized over those who haven’t. Third, “compatriots” are to be favored over “strangers.” Finally, family are to be favored better still over compatriots. Surely, when Lewis refers to this hierarchy as the “rules” which have “never been doubted,” he forgets the Bible. For the Bible directly calls into question such “rules.”
What’s to prevent such a hierarchy from producing injustice? In what way does such a hierarchy reflect the nature of God? If I have resources with which I am able to help, by these “rules” I would never help or love anyone but my own family, country, and those who’ve helped me first. Then again, if these “rules” are as universal as Lewis takes them to be, neither would anyone else. Each family, community, nation, and so on would only care for themselves. As Lewis explained, love and help have to be applied discerningly, and a discerning person certainly doesn’t apply love and help to the “other.” Jesus, however, teaches a much different ethic:
You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. (Matthew 5:43-48, The Message)
Enemy-love is scandalous precisely because it runs counter of our intuition informed by the type of logic Lewis here applies. Jesus’ original audience would have thought just like Lewis. Yet Jesus called them to a different and greater ethic, and by extension he calls us to that very ethic as well. It is the ethic of God’s Kingdom. More on this later.
C. Is Violence Justifiable?
Lewis does not entertain any other possible ethic in this portion of his essay and his ethic continues to deteriorate the further he proceeds down the rabbit hole of pragmatism. After assuming the pacifist society to which he writes his address agrees with him thus far (p. 42), he continues to assault what he considers the only two remaining pacifist positions possible. The first is that violence against an individual who seeks to harm someone higher up on the hierarchy of love and help is permissible short of killing the person. The second is that killing such an individual is lawful, only war or “mass killing” is not. In his efforts to debunk these two possibilities he makes at least one logical error and one historical-cultural error.
Lewis’ logical error happens during his discussion of the first pacifist position he wishes to debunk: the position that violence is permissible against person B, provided they seek to harm person A, who is closer in relationship to you. In this argument Lewis writes,
I admit the general proposition that the lesser violence done to B is always preferable to the greater, provided that it is equally efficient in restraining him and equally good for everyone concerned, including B, whose claim is inferior to all the other claims involved but not nonexistent. (p. 42)
This entire section is predicated on the previous discussion of how love and help are not general but specific, and that when the choice must be made between a person of closer relationship over the “other,” violence is justified. This assumes an inequality of good to the two parties. In the proposed scenario, A receives love and help while B cannot. Lewis even uses the example of two people drowning. Person A, your fellow countrymen or someone who has lent you money, is to be saved over the “stranger.” Now Lewis is saying that, if possible, less violence is preferable to greater violence when qualified by two criterion: 1) the less-violent tactic must be equally efficient at restraining person B; and 2) it must also be equally “good” for “everyone concerned, including [person] B.” This is of course logically impossible. Any violence, either lesser or greater, enacted upon person B for the sake of person A, will necessarily be less good for person B than person A. In fact, the very reason violence is being enacted on anyone at all is because Lewis has forced us to choose which one we will love or help over the other.
D. Is War the Greatest Evil?
The second possible pacifist position Lewis now seeks to debunk is the stance that killing an individual person in certain circumstances is lawful, but it is war or “mass killing” that is wrong, evil. To build his case, Lewis attempts to prove that war is not the greatest evil. And two examples he uses of greater evils strike me as particularly alarming. He writes,
The doctrine that war is always a greater evil seems to imply a materialist ethic, a belief that death and pain are the greatest evils. But I do not think they are. I think the suppression of a higher religion by a lower, or even a higher secular culture by a lower, a much greater evil. Nor am I greatly moved by the fact that many of the individuals we strike down in war are innocent. That seems, in a way, to make war not worse but better. (p. 43)
Several things should be said here. First, it is entirely unnecessary for a person to accept the doctrine Lewis describes to affirm a pacifist stance. War needn’t “always” be the “greatest evil” for it to be prohibited by Christian faith. Adultery is not the greatest evil yet it is clearly precluded from permissible Christian activity. Christian pacifism is not predicated on the evil nature of war, but on righteous discipleship of Jesus Christ.
Second, Lewis accuses this thinking of ascribing to a materialist ethic that values life and health above all else. This accusation strikes me as surprising. Could not the same be said of the Just War proponent? Is not the Christian who claims it is necessary to protect life through war also valuing life above all else? The only difference is that the Just War proponent values the lives of their fellow countrymen over their enemies’ lives. If the Just War proponent did not value life and health, would they not gladly accept that injury or death are preferable to disobedience and/or dishonor of Christ?
Third, Lewis provides two examples of evils he considers greater than war. The first example he uses is the suppression of what he calls a “higher religion” by a “lower” one. Obviously he does not give us any examples of these “lower” religions he speaks of, but let’s not forget the historical-cultural context in which this address is being delivered. Lewis is a former soldier and proud English patriot living in 1940—perhaps merely months after the invasion of Poland. Nevertheless, even though Nazism was certainly an evil, racist, fascist, totalitarian, nationalistic and ideological movement, one is hard-pressed to argue that it was primarily a religious movement. In fact, Nazi-controlled Germany maintained at least the facade of a Christian civil religion. In what sense, then, could Lewis consider the relevant war on the minds of his hearers primarily a religious war? Or, if we broaden the scope of this statement, what are we to make of the many, many wars fought by “Christians” on both sides? Both England and France were “Christian” nations when they engaged in war. And both sides of the Civil War claimed the divine support of the Christian God. What greater evil is there than Christians killing each other in obedience to the civil authorities of their respective nations?
Finally, Lewis also suggests the suppression of “higher cultures” by “lower” ones is a greater evil than war. Again, since Lewis does not elaborate and provide us with examples of these “higher” and “lower” cultures he speaks of, we are not capable of fully ascertaining his meaning. However, I must say that this point made me very uncomfortable. The judgment of one culture as “higher” than another shows concept for the Creator’s reflection in every human culture. Are industrialized, “civilized” cultures superior to agrarian, tribal cultures? What standard is being applied to determine the value of culture? To be frank, this statement smacks of an European ethno-centrism that deeply concerns me and dishonors Lewis’ legacy.
E. Is Pacifism Dangerous?
Moving beyond the two types of pacifism previously considered, Lewis now considers a pacifist strategy for preventing war and the question of whether there is any “cure” to human suffering. The strategy Lewis considers is another strange idea that seems to come from nowhere. Unless Lewis is addressing some written or spoken pacifist campaign it seems to be yet another Man-of-Straw. He counters the plan to eliminate war by the spread of pacifism as a philosophical idea by the use of propaganda. The plan is apparently to inundate nations with so many pacifists that an army could not be formed. Lewis sharply rebukes this plan saying that only “liberal societies tolerate Pacifists” and that a nation with so many pacifists that it would not fight would be overtaken by a nation that does not tolerate pacifism and therefore pacifism would become extinct.
In the second century, (c.178ad) a pagan philosopher named Celsus accused Christians of being irresponsible and unsupportive of justice because they refused to hold public office, fight in the army, nor swear oaths of allegiance to the state. Origen (c.185-251ad), an early church father and theologian, responded to Celsus’ criticisms in a six-volume work called Against Celsus. One of Celsus’ pointed concerns was that if Christianity gained popularity, with its nonviolent ethic, the Roman Empire would be rendered vulnerable and defenseless to attack by “barbarians.” Origen’s response is instructive and relevant to Lewis’ argument.
We say that if two of us agree upon earth concerning anything that they shall ask, they shall receive it from the heavenly Father of the righteous... For they will pray to the Word, who said of old to the Hebrews when they were pursued by the Egyptians: ‘The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall be silent’; and, praying with all concord, they will be able to overthrow far more enemies who pursue them than those whom the prayers of Moses—when he cried to God—and of those with him overthrew...But if, according to Celsus’ supposition, all the Romans were to be persuaded, they will by praying overcome their enemies; or (rather) they will not make war at all, being guarded by the Divine Power, which promised to save five whole cities for the sake of fifty righteous. For the men of God are the salt that preserves the early order of the world; the earthly things hold together (only) as long as the salt is not corrupted. (Against Celsus, 8.70)
Against Lewis’ argument I would defer to Origen and Scripture. The Christian response to the threats of enemies is increased trust in God. Prayer and righteousness seem to be the only ways to ensure the safety of God’s people, not weapons or war.