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It Shoots Further Than He Dreams antimilitarist cartoon by John F. Knott. First published in March 1918.

Antimilitarism is a doctrine that opposes war, relying heavily on a critical theory of nationalism and imperialism and was an explicit goal of the First and Second International. Whereas pacifism is the doctrine that disputes (especially between countries) should be settled without recourse to violence, Paul B. Miller defines anti-militarism as "ideology and activities...aimed at reducing the civil power of the military and ultimately, preventing international war".[1] Cynthia Cockburn defines an anti-militarist movement as one opposed to "military rule, high military expenditure or the imposition of foreign bases in their country".[2] Martin Ceadel points out that anti-militarism is sometimes equated with Pacificism- general opposition to war or violence, except in cases where force is deemed absolutely necessary to advance the cause of peace.[3]

Distinction between antimilitarism and pacifism

Pacifism is the belief that disputes between nations can and should be settled peacefully. It is the opposition to war and the use of violence as a means of settling disputes. It can include the refusal to participate in military action.[4]

Antimilitarism does not reject war in all circumstances, but rejects the belief or desire to maintain a large a strong military organization in aggressive preparedness for war.[5][6]

Criticisms on violence

File:Detail of the Piano Score of Oscar Straus' The Chocolate Soldier.jpg
Cover of the Piano Score for the light opera The Chocolate Soldier, based on George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man – both of which make fun of armies and militarist virtues and present positively a deserter who runs away from the battlefield and who carries chocolate instead of ammunition.

Anarcho-syndicalist Georges Sorel advocated the use of violence as a form of direct action, calling it "revolutionary violence", which he opposed in Reflections on Violence (1908) to the violence inherent in class struggle.[7] Similarities are seen between Sorel and the International Workingmens' Association (IWA) theorization of propaganda of the deed.

Walter Benjamin, in his Critique of Violence (1920) would establish a difference between "violence that founds the law", "violence that conserves the law", and a "divine violence" which breaks the "magic circle" between both types of "state violence".[8] The "violence that conserves the law" is roughly equivalent to the state's monopoly of legitimate violence. The "violence that founds the law" is the original violence necessary to the creation of a state. "Revolutionary violence" is totally separated from the juridical sphere.[9]

Giorgio Agamben showed the theoretical link between the law and violence permitted Nazi-thinker Carl Schmitt to justify the "state of exception" as the characteristic of sovereignty. Thus indefinite suspension of the law may only be blocked by breaking this link between violence and right.

Henry David Thoreau's anti-military views

Henry David Thoreau's 1849 essay " Civil Disobedience" (see text), originally titled "Resistance to Civil Government", can be considered an antimilitarist point of view. His refusal to pay taxes is justified as an act of protest against slavery and against the Mexican–American War, in accordance to the practice of civil disobedience. (1846–48).[10] He writes in his essay that the individual is not with obligations to the majority of the State. Instead the individual should "break the law" if the law is "is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another."[11]

Capitalism and the military-industrial complex

Capitalism has often been thought by antimilitarist literature to be a major cause of wars, an influence which has been theorized by Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg under the name of "imperialism". The military-industrial complex has been accused of "pushing for war" in pursuit of private economic or financial interests.[12]

The Second International was opposed to the participation of the working classes in war, which was analyzed as a competition between different national bourgeoisclasses and different state imperialisms. The assassination of French socialist leader Jean Jaurès days before the proclamation of World War I resulted in massive participation in the coming war.[13][14] In Mars; or,The Truth About War (1921), Alain criticizes the destruction brought about by militarism, and demonstrated that it wasn't patriotism that forced the soldiers to fight, but the bayonets behind them.[15]

After World War II, US President Eisenhower's 1961 issued a warning on the influence of the "military-industrial complex".[16]

Right-Wing antimilitarism in the United States

American right-wing antimilitarists draw heavily upon the statements of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers condemning standing armies and foreign entanglements.[17] Jefferson's beliefs on maintaining a standing army are as follows: "There are instruments so dangerous to the rights of the nation and which place them so totally at the mercy of their governors that those governors, whether legislative or executive, should be restrained from keeping such instruments on foot but in well-defined cases. Such an instrument is a standing army."[18]

Right-wing antimilitarists in the United States generally believe that "A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country", as stated by James Madison.[19] To this end, there is much overlap between the Militia movement and right-wing antimilitarists, although the two groups are not mutually inclusive. The term "well regulated" in the above quote (and in the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution) is taken by such antimilitarists not to mean "regulated by the state" but rather "well equipped" and "in good working order", as was a common usage of the word "regulated" in the late 18th century.

Antimilitarist groups

Also see: list of anti-war organizations, peace movement, etc..

Until its dissolution, the Second International was antimilitarist. Jaurès' assassination on July 31, 1914, marks antimilitarism's failure in the socialist movement. The American Union Against Militarism is an example of a US antimilitarist movement born in the midst of the first World War, from which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) formed from after the war. Some Refuseniks in Israel, who refuse the draft, and draft resisters in the USA [1] can be considered by some to be antimilitarist or pacifist.


  1. From Revolutionaries to Citizens : Antimilitarism in France, 1870-1914 by Paul B. Miller. Duke University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8223-2757-0, p. 8.
  2. Cynthia Cockburn, Antimilitarism: Political and Gender Dynamics of Peace Movements. London, Palgrave Macmillan. 2012. ISBN 0230359752, p.2.
  3. Martin Ceadel, 'Thinking about peace and war. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0192192000, p. 101.
  4. "pacifism". The Free Dictionary.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Antimilitarism is not pacifism or the total rejection of war". Lisa M. Mundy, American militarism and anti-militarism in popular media, 1945-1970. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, 2012. ISBN 9780786466504, p.7.
  6. "militarism". The Free Dictionary.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  9. Walter Benjamin, Zür Kritik der Gewalt (1920) in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. II, 1 (1977) ("Criticisms on Violence")
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  13. "First World - Who's Who - Jean Jaures". Retrieved 2016-02-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Tharoor, Ishaan (2014-07-31). "The other assassination that led up to World War I". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-02-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Alain | French philosopher". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2016-02-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961". Retrieved 2016-02-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition". The Independent Institute. Retrieved 2016-02-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Jefferson on Politics & Government: The Military". Retrieved 2016-02-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "The James Madison Research Library and Information Center". Retrieved 2016-02-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

See also