In his essay Violence: Double Passivity John Milbank sets out to show how the pacifist conviction of non-violence may not be all that is seems. In his critique of pacifism he points out two problematic postures of, what these pacifists claim to be, non-violence. “The pacifist outlook,” he writes, “seems to assume that where one is presented with acts of violence in real life—either towards others or to oneself—then to retain a stance of onlooker is morally superior to undertaking a defensive counterviolence.” That is to say, in the name of peace, the pacifist renounces participation in a given violent event. Milbank is right to show how a posture of non-violence or spectatorship is implicated in violence. I think, however, that he goes wrong in aiming his critique at pacifism as a whole instead of the particular understanding of pacifism he is describing. With the help of Hauerwas, and, perhaps surprisingly, Milbank, I would like to consider a different understanding of pacifism, in which the Christian understanding of non-violence (or peace) names a virtue.
Milbank rejects the understanding of pacifist non-violence as onlooker because it assumes that one can respond to violence in a purely nonviolent manner and, furthermore, that the appropriate response is one of passivity (non-violence). This is, of course, the result of the tendency to think of violence as characteristically physical; that violence names an action, whereas non-violence names a refrain from that action. Milbank, however, makes a significant claim when he writes that
“violence is never merely witnessed; it must also be judged. Is the outstretched arm a push, an assault, or a stay? Is the crack of the whip a spur, a rebuke, or a caress? It is clear that apparent violence may not after all be violence…inversely, that asserting will may in reality be negative… apparently nonviolent and neutral
assertion [may be], after all, privation and therefore violence.”
It is with this claim that Milbank goes on to say that the spectatorship of the pacifist is indeed more violent than a response of intervention or counterviolence.
I am here not concerned with why or how spectatorship is more violent, because I essentially agree with Milbank in rejecting a kind of pure non-violence. Or, to put it differently, I agree that one is always implicated in violence and that peaceable intention or action is often deceived. My concern is, rather, with all the pacifists whom Milbank has thrown out the window in response to one understanding of pacifism. This rejection of “all because of one” move seems a bit extreme, unnecessary, and ultimately unhelpful, to me. I say it is unhelpful because it gives the pacifist (or whomever, really) only two options of response: intervention (counterviolence) or spectatorship (which is also violent). While Milbank might then lean in the direction of intervention as a more appropriate response, I want to resist this presentation of absolute either/or options. In other words, without denying implication in violence, I want to cultivate ways of intervening or acting (to use Milbank’s non passive language) that are informed by an imagination of (not simply non-violence but) something other than violence, namely peace.
Peace, Hauerwas writes, “is the work of charity, which no one denies is a virtue. Peace is not a virtue only in the sense that it is encompassed in charity—which is at once a virtue and an activity—through which we love God and out neighbour.” The pacifist, then, is not at all passive but constantly working to participate in charity, the gift exchange inaugurated in creation ex nihilo and imparted in Christ. It is ironic that I end up drawing on Milbank’s own work elsewhere to articulate a Christian pacifism quite different from the one he rejects. Milbank’s work on gift exchange in The Ethics of Self-Sacrifice describes a radical participation in the exchange of charity. Furthermore, Milbank himself writes that “charity [is] not something for me, privately, to perform, but an entire network of complex reciprocity.” Peace and/or non-violence are not then positions taken in response to particular situations of violence one might encounter; rather, peace names participation in the imagination offered (as gift) through Christ. I think Hauerwas claims exactly this truth when he writes that “Christian non-violence is necessary not because it promises us a world free of war, but because in a world of war as faithful followers of Christ we cannot be anything other than nonviolent.” Nonviolence here names the cultivation and practice of the virtues of peace, such as charity, in spite of our failure to do so.
I have shown that I find implicit in Milbank’s other work a description of Christian pacifism that I also find in Hauerwas. It is for this reason that I think Milbank “throws out the baby with the bathwater” in his rejection of pacifism all together. That is not to say that Milbank does not offer an important critique of a certain kind of pacifism. He certainly does; his showing of spectatorship as violence is not to be made insignificant. Ultimately though, his conclusion to reject pacifism seems to be more of a language issue than anything else, and I find this hang up to be unhelpful. Christian pacifism does not seek to secure peace but to follow Christ. And it seems that the only reason Milbank would disagree with this proclamation is because of the word “pacifism.” This is why I cannot understand Milbank.
 John Milbank, “Violence: Double Passivity,” in Must Christianity be Violent? Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology, ed. Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs (Michigan: Brazos Press, 2003) 186.
 Milbank, “Violence: Double Passivity,” 184.
 Ibid, 186.
 Stanley Hauerwas, “Explaining Christian Nonviolence,” in Must Christianity Be Violent? Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology, ed. Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs (Michigan: Brazos Press, 2003) 181.
 John Milbank, “The Ethics of Self-Sacrifice,” First Things, March 1999, available from http://www.firstthings.com/article/2009/02/004-the-ethics-of-self-sacrifice-20, para.32.
 Hauerwas, “Explaining Christian Nonviolence,” 180-181.