Radical Protestants Pacifists and the History of Violence:

It is interesting to me that two of the most Pacifistic variants of the Protestant reformation, the Quakers and the Mennonites, both have violent origins in the context of revolutionary change.  Recently, I have been sort of going through the histories of Norman Cohn, which itself has a strange relationship to the Situationist International which is documented in Lipstick Traces, on the Mennonites and the radical reformation.  While I often focus on the Radical Enlightenment as a locust point for history, it is important to remember that the early modern religious wars led to an establishment of a republic in England and began the fragmentation of the “Holy Roman Empire.”  

While there is much to say on this topic, I noticed that both the Mennonites and the Quakers had particularly bloody origins: the Quakers were often the most militant in the New Model Army of Cromwell, and while they are only of the few sects from the period to survive in England (the levelers, the diggers, the ranters all being lost to history), the Quakers did not start adverse to violence:  taking a middle path between the levelers, who believed in universal equality, and the ranters, who may not even have existed but whose partaking in sin to earn forgiveness is sort of a Antinomianist Christian heretic urban legend that reappears periodically in history in which the Brethen of the Free Spirit and the Cainians are also representative, the Quakers, however, were much more radically egalitarian than the Calvinist puritans.  The Quaker pacifism, however, only emerges after the the Quaker Acts in the Restoration. 

Similarly, Münster Rebellion and the radical Anabaptist violence in the Peasant wars after the Reformation  led to some particularly horrific results. This is covered by Norman Cohn quite well. Menno Simons seemed to proclaim radical pacifism only after the complete degeneration the anabaptist communities and their crushing at the combined hands of Catholics, Calvinists, and Lutherans. 

While I think this period can be explored in more depth by a left perspective as sort of a precursor and largely divergent set of idea that led up to “The Enlightenment,” but without the belief in “reason.”  Anyway, what can be learned in the fact that many of the most radical protestant’s commitment to peace doesn’t seem to come out of religious dogma at first, but the experience of the excesses of violence? 

It is an interesting question, isn’t it? 

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About El Mono Liso

Por una civilización de la pobreza.

Posted on April 18, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. The adoption of nonresistance by Quakers was definitely a defensive move. As early sympathizers of Cromwell only to later abandon him, they were under threat after the Restoration with reprisals by King Charles II. The “Peace Testimony” declaration of 1660 seems to me more as begging for mercy than any sort of conversion to high-minded pacifism. http://www.kimopress.com/Ingle-01.htm

  2. That is a really good resource that confirms my reading, I wonder what we can say about the Mennenite.

  3. I haven’t had a lot of luck finding much anabaptist historiography that is critical about the social position of the founders, nor very deep beyond, “we’re pacifists because Jesus commands it.” There is a lot of Menno scholarship out there, but it might take a while to find something relevant. In the meantime, this group blog is actually pretty cool for some insights into what modern Mennos are thinking. http://young.anabaptistradicals.org/

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