Henry David Thoreau and American Anarcho-Pacifism

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Henry David ThoreauB. D. Maxham - National Portrait Gallery, Public Domain

So far, I have talked about forms of anarchism where the participants - while not advocating for unjustified violence - are willing to use violence as a tool of community defense or self-defense. However, in many parts of America, there were anarchist thinkers that subscribed to an anarchist ideology known as anarcho-pacifism. In the book Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements by George Woodcock, anarcho-pacifism is a school of anarchist thought that advocates for the use of peaceful, non-violent forms of protest and resistance in the fight for social change and resistance to overbearing state authority.

Like pretty much every form of libertarianism and anarchism I have talked about, anarcho-pacifists reject the principle of a society using a monopoly of violence as a method to try and legitimize power. They also reject strong hierarchies and singular state dominance over a community. One of the earliest influences on modern anarcho-pacifism is an American philosopher and naturalist named Henry David Thoreau. One of the most influential works Thoreau created advocating for anarcho-pacifism is an essay titled Civil Disobedience. According to the book Resisting the Nation State: The Pacifist and Anarchist Traditions by Geoffrey Ostergaard, this essay was very influential. It was so influential that it was named as an influence by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. for advocating nonviolent resistance.

For the record, Henry David Thoreau did believe that violence was somewhat ok, but only in self-defense when all other options have been exhausted. He was quoted as describing violence in this manner: "The question is not about the weapon, but the spirit in which you use it." However, the writings of Thoreau did have a huge influence on anarcho-pacifists in the United States and abroad. Basically, this man was one of the modern figures to influence plenty of pacifistic anarchist and non-anarchist movements!

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A person working in cybersecurity and living in the United States who loves to write about topics like U.S. history, technology news, and a bit of philosophy.

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