Pacifism, in its absolute form, regards all war as wrong, whatever the practical consequences of fighting or not fighting. It is thus a moral belief, starting from basic values and assumptions. The underlying beliefs may be religious or based on some non-religious ethical or political code, but no matter what those beliefs, all absolute pacifists assert the impossibility of overcoming evil by evil methods. Other, more pragmatic or conditional forms, labelled by some writers as pacificism, may stem from other considerations, such as political beliefs or the circumstances of a particular conflict.
In practical terms, pacifism may give rise to a potentially inconsistent relationship between the individual and the state, given that there are no pacifist states. The practical application of pacifism may also go beyond the simple idea of not fighting, to extend to a more positive notion of peace. In particular the aim of eradicating structural violence may lead some pacifists to work for social justice as much as for such causes as disarmament. In this perspective, conflict is not the problem, but violence.
Various religions have adopted a pacifist stance, usually based on belief in a link (or indeed identity) between each individual and the divine, though in few of them has this stance been a majority one. In Western Europe pacifism has been mainly Christian in origin. There have been disputes as to whether early Christians were actually pacifist or merely refused to swear military oaths, but ever since Augustine formulated the concept of the "just war", the majority of Christians have been prepared to fight. The first absolute pacifist stance was taken by the Mennonites in 1561. Since then, in addition to other pacifist churches, humanist and political forms of pacifism have also emerged.
The term "peace movement" embraces a variety of organisations, some of which, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament are not fully pacifist. They include Mennonite and Quaker organisations, anti-conscription organisations and those which support members of the armed forces who have become convinced of the wrongness of war or of a particular war, and others more general. Some are affiliated to War Resisters International, whose founding declaration says, "War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war and to strive for the removal of all causes of war."
- Ceadel, M. Pacifism in Britain 1914-1945: the defining of a faith. Clarendon Press, Oxford. 1980. Chs 1-2
- Curle, A. True Justice. Quaker Home Service. 1981
- Curle, pp 5-6
- Ceadel ch 3