Dorothy Day’s Pacifism

The Power of Nonviolence Writings by Advocates of PeaceThe eighth chapter of The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace contains Dorothy Days short 1936 essay Pacifism. This essay was written three years after she co-founded the pacifist Catholic Worker newspaper, and two years after Hitler was appointed Fuhrer.

Just as the newspaper was founded in response to the constant threat of war breaking out in Europe, the essay made a direct argument against US involvement in European military matters. She starts the essay with a pronouncement:

The Catholic Worker is sincerely a pacifist paper.

Dorothy Day half-length portrait, seated at de...
Image via Wikipedia

She is quick to follow it up with a clarification that she uses to differentiate the
Catholic Worker movement from the Communist Party.  They oppose injustice, greed and “imperialist war”, but not “class hatred” and “class war”.  In my mind, just saying they are pacifist, already differentiates the Catholic Worker movement.

Though the Catholic Worker movement is officially separate from Catholic Church, Day makes clear that they follow the church’s teachings.  she quotes the Pope at length on not using government resources on war preparations. Ending with the question:

Why not prepare for peace?

I am uncomfortable with the discussion of neutrality as pacifism  that follows.  To me, a pacifist is anything but neutral.  A pacifist opposes war by all parties.  In that way, they are nonpartisan, but not neutral.  A pacifist also speaks out for the victims of war.  Day’s essay seems to equate the victims of aggression with the aggressors themselves.  Thereby she justifies her stance of neutrality toward atrocities as the noblest form of pacifism.  This is the same stance that the Catholic Church itself was criticized for taking when it stayed silent on the victims of WWII fascism and the Holocaust.

Day extends her call for “neutrality” by suggesting the United States to set the example for other nations by withdrawing from all international commerce. Here, too, she errs on the side of complete disengagement.  Pacifism is not about becoming a hermit.  On the contrary, pacifism requires full engagement in the community, in an ethical manner.

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