Albert Camus’s Common-Sense Case for Pacifism

Albert Camus’s Common-Sense Case for Pacifism

In Neither Victims Nor ExecutionersAlbert Camus presents an interesting framework by which we can view the relationship between war, innocent civilians, and the moral responsibility of those who advocate war. He starts off with the presumption that war involves the death of innocent civilians. He’s right. He then asks what this brute fact says about individuals who advocate war. Professor Thom Brooks boils down his argument to this:

If we are willing to support military action against others knowing some civilians will be liable to be killed, then we should hold ourselves up as potential civilians to be killed by our opponents. If we choose to put other innocents at risk of death, then we must have the integrity to put ourselves at risk, too.

Camus’s point is pretty straight forward and common sensical. To advocate war is to advocate the death of innocent civilians. As innocent civilians ourselves, on what grounds do we justify the execution of people who are in no different of a situation than us? And if we do advocate the murder of people in no different of a situation than us, then on what grounds could we support  our own exemption from an enemy’s attacks?

Camus closes his book with a potential solution: “The only honorable course will be to stake everything on the formidable gamble, that words are more powerful than munitions.” He may be right.