Is there any difference between pacifism and nonresistance?

This past week, I received a great question from one of my readers. Thanks Mark for your question. I hope that this response is helpful. Please do drop me an email and let me know what you think.

Question: In your understanding, is there any difference between pacifism and nonresistance?

To answer this question, I think it would be best to first define the terms. From there, I’ll answer the question directly.

Pacifism – “the doctrine that all violence in unjustifiable” (source = Princeton Wordnet)
Nonresistance – “group refusal to resort to violence even in defense against violence” (source = Princeton Wordnet)
Nonviolent Resistance – “peaceful resistance to a government by fasting or refusing to cooperate” (source = Princeton Wordnet)

To me, the terms pacifism and nonresistance are quite similar but I am not sure if I would use them interchangeably. Pacifism is the term typically given to the doctrine or way of life that demands complete nonviolence under any circumstances. Nonresistance, because of the specific word, does have a sense of complete surrender to it. When I hear that term, I hear “no resistance, in any way”. Pacifism, on the other hand, while it does sound like the word “passive”, is not saying the same thing at all. Nonresistance does not necessarily imply the potential for active resistance that is discussed within pacifist situations.

Nonviolent resistance can derive from either pacifism or nonresistance, but as I mentioned above, nonresistance tends to imply that no resistance is offered, which would negate options such as nonviolent resistance. Examples of nonviolent resistance can include protests, civil disobedience and sabotage.

Wikipedia provides a great description of nonviolenct resistance:
“Nonviolent resistance (or nonviolent action) is the practice of applying power to achieve socio-political goals through symbolic protests, civil disobedience, economic or political noncooperation, and other methods, without using violence.” (source =

The Albert Einstein Institution provides a very thorough list of 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action. While some of these will be more favourable to people than others, it does show the wide variety of options available outside of violent response, some of which can be extremely effective.

So, in a nutshell, I would say that I see a difference between pacifism and nonresistance and the difference is in the nature of passive versus active resistance.

I’d love to hear other opinions on this one. Please do provide your comments.

Talk soon,



Author, Geek, CF fundraiser & Cancer Survivor. My wife & kids, faith, baseball, infosec & devops are a few of my favorite things.

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Posted in philosophy
One comment on “Is there any difference between pacifism and nonresistance?
  1. Kevin Archibald says:

    Very interesting, a topic i often wonder about – weighing up philosophies of Jesus and even Gandhi in the context of conflict.


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