The Pacifism Debate in the Hartshorne — Brightman Correspondence

by Mark Youmans Davies

Mark Youmans Davies is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Oklahoma City University, Oklahoma City, OK 73106. He is Book Review Editor for the journal, The Personalist Forum. Email:

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.200-214, Volume 27, Number 3-4, Fall-Winter, 1998. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Dr. Davies stresses the main points of Brightman’s and Hartshorne’s disagreements about pacifism. He discusses the weaknesses and strengths of both their arguments and pays tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., who instituted the strengths and ignored the weaknesses of the principle.

I. Introduction

The most substantive portion of the Brightman-Hartshorne correspondence took place from November 1933 through the summer of 1944.1 The major events in Europe and Asia during this time are well known, including the rise of Nazi Germany and the expansion of the Japanese Empire, culminating in World War II. Since Hartshorne and Brightman are intentional about relating their philosophies to the concrete issues of our human existence in the world, it is not surprising that at some point in their correspondence they would discuss some of the issues of the war and the United States’ involvement in it. The bulk of their discussion concerning the war centers around the issue of pacifism, with Brightman defending the pacifist position against Hartshorne, who sees doctrinaire pacifism as an irresponsible approach, especially given the aggressive actions of Germany and Japan in the 1930s and early 1940s.

I will highlight the main points of Brightman’s and Hartshorne’s disagreement in the correspondence about pacifism, and follow this with a discussion of the philosophical bases of their positions as these are found in the correspondence and some of their published works. I will then point out what I see to be the strengths and weaknesses of both their positions. I conclude by pointing to the thought of Martin Luther King, Jr., who in many ways incorporates the strengths of both these positions while, for the most part, leaving the weaknesses behind.

II. The Disagreement in the Correspondence

The pacifism debate in the correspondence was triggered by a short remark by Brightman in a critical review he wrote on Hartshorne’s 1941 book, Man’s Vision of God, in which Brightman criticizes Hartshorne’s stance against pacifism (MVG-R 96-99). Before noting this remark, let us first summarize Hartshorne’s anti-pacifism argument as it is found in Man’s Vision of God (MVG 167-173). Here Hartshorne criticizes doctrinaire pacifism for its lack of social awareness. Hartshorne writes: "there is evidence enough that dogmatic pacifism is often the expression of a preference for a certain enjoyable sentiment as against facing the tragedy of existence, which even God does not escape, and which we all must share together" (MVG 168). Hartshorne stresses that love is not to be equated with sentimental humanism (MVG 165), rather it is an effort to act on an adequate awareness of others, and this awareness may lead one to use force in order to coerce those who are oppressing others (MVG 168). Hartshorne understands love to be "social realism" which recognizes the necessity at times of using "coercion to prevent the use of coercion to destroy freedom" (MVG 168,173). To stress this point against the pacifist approach, Hartshorne writes, "Freedom must not be free to destroy freedom. The logic of love is not the logic of pacifism or of the unheroic life" (MVG 173).

Hartshorne is convinced that although war is an evil, it is not an evil to be avoided at all costs. With Germany and Hitler in mind, he writes that "it is better that many should die prematurely than that nearly all men should live in a permanent state of hostility or slavery" (MVG 173). Adequate social awareness, which in Hartshorne’s view is the primary factor in love, will not allow those who are unsocial to gain a monopoly on the use of coercion, and therefore it is appropriate at times to go to war in an attempt to avoid such a monopoly and its tragic effects on humankind. That love must sometimes choose the use of violent force is, according to Hartshorne, an avoidable part of the tragic aspects of our existence in a world where human sin is a stark reality. He maintains that "to decide to shorten a man’s life (we all die) is not ipso facto to lack sympathy with his life as it really is, that is, to lack love for him. It may be to love not him less but someone else more" (MVG 168). Thus, for Hartshorne, killing other persons may at times be the lesser of two or more evils.

The basis of Hartshorne’s case against pacifism is that the consequences of absolute pacifism are often worse than the consequences of forceful intervention (based on adequate social awareness -- which includes awareness of human sin and the precarious balance of power in world relations). Given this emphasis on consequences in his discussion of pacifism, Hartshorne may have been surprised by the remark in Brightman’s review which criticizes Hartshorne’s rejection of the pacifist approach. In the review Brightman writes, "Perhaps the worst effect of a priori thinking in the book is the rejection of pacifism on grounds derived from the abstract nature of social awareness (MVG 166-168), without concrete consideration of actual long-run consequences" (MVG-R 98). The words to emphasize in Brightman’s remark are "long-run consequences. Although short-term consequences may favor the use of violence or war, Brightman does not believe that Hartshorne has taken into consideration adequately the long-term consequences of a consistently pacifist approach. Hartshorne begs to differ, and the debate on pacifism in the correspondence begins.

Hartshorne responds to Brightman’s review in a letter written on January 22, 1942, less than two months after the United States’ official entry into World War II. In specific response to Brightman’s remark about pacifism, Hartshorne writes the following:

As to pacifism, I thought I pointed to the concrete consequences of pacifism. Do we differ there as to the conclusion? If so, in the Conference on Science, Religion, and Philosophy you will find my empirical discussion.

I was primarily trying to combat the a priori argument for pacifism, in the book. I never yet met a pacifist with much interest, as distinct from profession of interest, in the consequences, short or long, of his doctrine. I mean this and I know 0f no exception. I am plenty interested in the empirical aspects of this issue I assure you. (BHC January 22, 1942)2

Brightman responds as follows:

If all you were trying to do in the book was to combat the a priori argument for pacifism, I am with you. The only valid argument is, I think, empirical. But when you write the following sentence, I am astounded: "I never yet met a pacifist with much interest, as distinct from profession of interest, in the consequences, short or long, of his doctrine. I mean this and I know 0f no exception." It happened that your statement came tome about the same time as the copy of Fellowship with Nels Ferré’s article in it, pleading for pacifism precisely on the basis of consequences. All the Quakers I know base their action and their faith largely on the successful consequences of peaceful behavior. Although not an absolutist, I call myself a pacifist, and argue solely from concern about consequences. The failure of the last war, the terrible revenge that the defeated country has taken, has seemed to me good evidence of the failure of victory in war to secure desired consequences. At present there is less hope for victory and less desire for decent consequences than in the other war. If you are going to say that any pacifist who professes interest in the consequences of the method of love has profession but not interest, I do not see what you are basing that on. I know dozens 0f pacifists who are far more concerned about the consequences 0f their views and 0f this war than are most supporters 0f the war. As for your statement, I deny the allegation and defy the alligator in so far as it is proper for a pacifist to assume such attitudes. (BHC September 18, 1942)3

Brightman’s remarks sparked a lengthy reply from Hartshorne in his next letter, written only five days later on September 23, 1942. In response to Brightman’s astonishment at Hartshorne’s claim that he never met a pacifist who had much interest in consequences, Hartshorne makes the following clarification:

Of course my sentence about pacifists not being much interested in consequences is at best elliptical. All of us have a tendency to make facts and real probabilities fit our views (or get out of our sight) rather than to make the views adjust to the facts and the knowable probabilities. Now my impression has decidedly been that pacifists do this even worse and much worse than other people, especially other people who are articulate and educated. (BHC September 23, 1942)

Hartshorne picks up on Brightman’s comment on Ferré’s "Christianity and Compromise," and illustrates how even Ferré tends to overlook the consequences of the pacifist approach, and as a result fails to make his argument on an empirical basis. Hartshorne writes:

I have read Ferré’s article, also a long letter on the subject, and also talked with him. Interest in concrete knowable realities seems to me in the background even with him. He says, for example that the only way for Europe to get along is to have the German people united and strong. Yet every known fact about Europe and the Prussian tradition and many other aspects of the matter, including the elementary geographical facts, imply that such an arrangement would mean that only by a lucky miracle could the other peoples in Europe get their minimal rights, unless the other peoples had first been made strong in independence of German influence. Germans have every military advantage, and this one-sidedness is the great problem, made much worse by many facts about Europe’s traditions and structure. (BHC September 23, 1942)

After criticizing Ferré, Hartshorne turns to a criticism of Brightman’s remarks about the consequences of the present war and the results of World War I:

To call the last war a failure has to mean, for your argument, that a German victory might have been as well or better, unless you think we might somehow have gambled for a draw.... Now I see no good reason to think that a victorious Germany would have done less harm than a defeated one has done. On the contrary. We might now have not even a choke but to give into the Germans. But further. The results of the last war were not fatalistically determined by the war itself, or there is no freedom. Winning gives an opportunity, but opportunities are not guarantees. Now why was the opportunity not better used (it was not wholly wasted, in my view, far from it)? Well are pacifists honestly surveying the mass of evidence for the conclusion that, as one of the best German students of the problem, a very religious man, has said, the greatest help of all to Hitler in his catastrophic career was given by "international pacifism" (E. Heiman[n]). This seems to me a plain fact. Hitler need not have been successful in his villainous plans, had enough people believed in the wisdom of stopping him by force. Surely the failure to stop him had something to do with the widely diffused notion that fighting never accomplishes anything. Thus this very belief that fighting is useless is one of the chief reasons why the fighting of the last war was not more useful. A wise discriminating use of force is one thing, a panicky resort to force at the last gasp, followed again by a wave of vague pacifism, is another. I shall fight this vicious cycle all my life. (BHG September 23, 1942)

Hartshorne goes on in the letter to argue that pacifism actually makes war worse when it comes because it weakens the wrong side, allowing those less hesitant about using force to get the upper hand.

In response to Brightman’s criticism of Hartshorne’s rejection of pacifism as an example of a priori thinking which fails to consider the long-range consequences of pacifism, Hartshorne counters with the following:

Is the argument a priori? Absolute pacifism must be a priori, like all absolutes. Relative pacifism can appeal to contingent facts. However, in evaluating a principle of action rather than a description 0f facts there is in a sense necessarily an a priori element. That is, one must ask what the principle implies, should it be adopted, and this adoption is largely a possibility not a fact. In short, ideal experiment comes in to show what would happen. Still, that is not a priori in the strict sense. My argument was, that if all good men ad6pt the principle, or all wise men, that they will never use force then force will be left as the monopoly of any men not good enough or wise enough to abstain from it. That there will be such seems sure enough on an empirical basis, and it follows almost a priori from the notion that there is at least some plausible case for fighting, and this again follows pretty certainly from the fact that most [good and wise] men believe there is. (BHC September 23, 1942)4

Hartshorne goes on later in the letter to focus on Brightman’s remarks about the unlikelihood of desired consequences coming from the fighting or even from the winning of World War II. Hartshorne points out the differences between the consequences coming from victory or defeat, and he stresses the desirability of an Allied victory. He writes:

In any case, the primary consequences to be considered are those likely to follow from an Axis victory compared to those likely to follow from an Axis defeat... You say there is even less chance of a good outcome if we win than last time. I see many facts on the other side, but anyway that’s not the question, which is, is not the danger from defeat much greater than the danger from victory? This is not purely a question 0f your values or mine, there is a democratic principle involved. The United Nations are certainly much closer to being representative of mankind than the Axis, by any standard almost you choose, including the numerical. (BHC September 23, 1942)

Hartshorne concludes that pacifists are representing the interests of a minority in the world if they argue that the consequences of an Axis victory would not be worse than those of an Axis defeat.

In a handwritten addition at end of the letter, Hartshorne points to what he sees as one of the most devastating effects of the pacifists’ lack of social awareness and disregard for consequences. He writes in closing:

I add one thing out of unpleasant sense of duty, perhaps perverted. The more you argue that there is nothing to fight for now and little hope of victory the more you in effect fight on Hitler’s side. He’d pay you to do it, and wisely.

Sorry we have to argue this awful business. (BHC September 23,1942)

The debate on pacifism ends in Brightman’s next letter to Hartshorne, dated September 25, 1942, only two days after Hartshorne’s letter. Either there is an error regarding the date, or the United States’ postal service was much faster than it is today. At any rate, at the end of the letter, Brightman gives what proves to be the last word on pacifism in the correspondence. He writes:

I believe that Russia was right in calling on the League of Nations to keep the pledge of Versailles for a general disarmament. If England, France, Germany (Weimar), and America had kept the treaty, this war would have been averted. Nations pledged themselves to a pacifist policy and broke the pledge. The number of sincere and intelligent individual pacifists is very small. I believe that it is their important function to work now and in the peace for a reconciliation of humanity, to which they can make a unique contribution. This is not the whole story, but it is part of it. (BHC September 25, 1942)

III. Philosophical Bases for Hartshorne’s and Brightman’s Positions on Pacifism

Let us look now at how Hartshorne’s and Brightman’s positions on pacifism are related to their general philosophical outlooks. It is my contention that their positions hinge mainly on their understanding of value and their views concerning human nature.

For Hartshorne, as for Whitehead, value is connected to the complexity and enjoyment of experience, to the achievement of the satisfaction of an occasion of experience. That which adds to the complexity and enjoyment of experience adds to the value of the world and God who is fully present in the world. That which inhibits complexity and enjoyment of experience subtracts from the value of the universe. Given Hartshorne’s understanding of relations in which occasions of experience, and societies of occasions of experience, including humans, literally participate in one another’s being; it is not surprising to see Hartshorne’s emphasis on social awareness as the key to his rejection of doctrinaire pacifism. When certain human beings or groups of human beings subtract from the complexity and enjoyment of experience through various forms of oppression, aggression, or extermination, as in the case of Hitler’s Germany; the most responsible and loving thing to do at times, in Hartshorne’s opinion, is to use force in order that the oppressors, aggressors, and exterminators will be brought under control so that the value of human experience might again be increased. Hartshorne maintains that war "is better than to have a good part of mankind given over to slavery" (HCSTP 6). He believes that democratic nations have a particular responsibility to defend themselves and other nations in order to prevent injustices brought on by political tyranny (PDD 133).

Hartshorne is apt to use organic metaphors to describe our relations with each other, and this carries over into his discussion concerning the use of force and warfare. At one point, he even makes an analogy between war and amputation (PDD 139). There are times when a certain part of the body so threatens the rest of the body that the tragic choice must be made to eliminate it. It should be noted, with a sense of caution, that such organic analogies have been used by such figures as Hitler himself. He attempted to justify the purification of the Aryan race through the eradication of "undesirable elements" from the national body. However, the difference between Hitler and Hartshorne is that Hartshorne advocates the use of force only to deter others who are not respecting the freedom of other persons, whereas Hitler used force in order to bring about the dominance of one group over others, without any respect for the value of their experience.

In regard to the conception of human nature, Hartshorne seems to be squarely within the "political realism" tradition which focuses on the prevalence of sin in human nature and on the necessary use of power and coercion in group relations. In criticism of Brightman’s approach to world peace, Hartshorne remarks that in Brightman’s thought there is perhaps an "insufficient stress upon the ever-present tragedy of sin, which no plans for peace can hope to banish" (PIEP-C 557). Much like Reinhold Niebuhr, who is often described as a "Christian Realist" because of his "realistic" views about human nature and power relations, Hartshorne believes that various forms of coercion are necessary to maintain the balance of power among groups, and in certain circumstances this includes the necessity of going to war -- World War II being but one example. Hartshorne hopes that a peaceful world full of friendly cooperation might one day be possible. He says that he can hope for this "because it is God’s world; but on the other hand, we are human beings and not God, and so we remember our weaknesses" (HCSTP 12). In such an imperfect world, Hartshorne maintains that although persuasion is a preferable means of influencing others, love must be open to the possibility of using force so that those who are unloving may be coerced into a moderation of their aggressive tendencies. For Hartshorne, absolute pacifism fails to be aware of this "realistic" appraisal of human existence, and this he refers to as the pacifist delusion (BH 26-27).

For those aware of Hartshorne’s emphasis on persuasive power as being the only kind of power used by God, it may seem odd that Hartshorne advocates the use of coercive power on the part of humans. As David Basinger queries: "[H]ow can it be justifiable for us as humans to willfully use even violent coercion if God would never coerce at all? Or, to be more specific, if God would never use coercive power because persuasive power is morally superior and produces more worthwhile results, how can process theists justify the human use of coercive power in some cases? How can it become morally superior and more worthwhile for us?" (HG 166). Daniel A. Dombrowski is aware of this tension in Hartshorne’s thought, and he argues that it would be more consistent for Hartshorne to advocate the persuasive force of non-violent action rather than the use of coercive power to bring about peace (PHDT 345). Emphasizing along with Alfred North Whitehead that "‘the sense of peace’ consists in an immediate experience," Dombrowski maintains that "mediation through brute power always keeps us at least one additional step away from peaceful becoming" (PHDT 345).5

Why is it then that Hartshorne, the champion of the excellence of God’s persuasive power, maintains the necessity of humans sometimes using coercive power? To answer this question it is necessary to analyze Hartshorne’s use of the terms "persuasive power" and "coercive power." According to Barry Whitney, Hartshorne’s language concerning persuasion and coercion is imprecise and ambiguous (HT 58). Whitney maintains that "many of Hartshorne’s references to divine persuasion ambiguously imply what could just as easily be understood as coercion, despite the fact that this is clearly not what he has wished to imply" (HT 58). Hartshorne fails to distinguish among various degrees of divine persuasive power. Although Whitney agrees with Hartshorne that God’s power is not unilaterally determinative and therefore not coercive in the absolute sense, he "ascribe[s] a mixture of persuasive and coercive power to God," within the "infinite range of divine persuasive power, much of which is more persuasively influential, and hence more coercive, without it ever being an absolute coercion" (HT 65). This persuasive coercion is not to be confused with coercion "in the sense of overriding genuine creaturely freedom" (HT 65).

One might still ask, "Why doesn’t God be a little more coercively persuasive when it comes to controlling evil in the world?" More specifically, "Why doesn’t God exert more control over the Hitlers of the world?" David Griffin answers such queries with the following assertion:

[W]e are local agents, with bodies between us and the rest of the world. Insofar as we can persuade our bodies to carry out our wishes, we can use them to coerce other bodies. But God, being a universal rather than a local agent, does not have a localized body. Insofar as God does have a body, it is the whole universe of finite things, including our souls and bodies. There is no localized divine body between the divine soul and us with which God could manipulate our bodies. God cannot coerce, then, because God is not one finite, localized agent among others, but the one universal, omnipresent agent. (ER 104)

Although God possesses an infinite range of persuasive power, according to Griffin, God cannot coerce finite objects in the same way that localized agents can. This leaves open the possibility that although God cannot use violent, coercive force to control evildoers in the world, it may be morally justifiable for humans to do so in order "to prevent intolerable antisocial actions" (ER 157). It may sometimes be justifiable to counter negative coercion in the world "which frustrates, harms, or destroys" (ER 156) with coercive power in order to preserve value and genuine freedom that respects the freedom of others in the world. It is important, however, not to use violent, coercive power when nonviolent persuasion could be equally, or even more, effective than force. As Griffin maintains, "We would therefore engage in or consent to negative coercion only with extreme reluctance, and only as a last resort, after other possible solutions had been seriously and exhaustively explored" (ER 158). Hartshorne’s acute awareness of human sin will not allow him to rely solely on purely persuasive power to counter the forces of sin in this world. Those who would use negative coercive power in such a way that it inhibits the freedom of others must be stopped, and sometimes purely persuasive power is not enough to accomplish this. Thus we arrive at the seemingly paradoxical conclusion that sometimes we must make war to make peace, that is, we must use coercive persuasion to control those who would use coercive power for the purposes of injustice. One is reminded of Martin Luther King’s contention that "true peace is not merely the absence of some negative force -- tension, confusion or war; it is the presence of some positive force -- justice, goodwill and brotherhood" (NRJ 6). A similar conviction seems to underlie Hartshorne’s thought as well.

Now let us move on to the bases of Brightman’s position. In contrast to Hartshorne, Brightman has a much more narrow understanding of the locus of value. For Brightman, personality is the seat of all value (PIEP 544). In agreement with T.H. Green, Brightman holds that all value is "for, of, or in a person" (PIEP 544). He concludes that it is only in persons that peace can exist (PIEP 544). Consequently, there can be no real peace without "respect for personality" (PIEP 544). Brightman maintains that personality is free, that it is social, and that it grows through a process of dialectical tensions (PIEP 546-553). Because personality is free "an enduring peace must rest on plans for effective freedom in the whole world" (PIEP 548). Because personality is social, a permanent peace is only possible when there is reconciliation among peoples, and Brightman notes that reconciliation is difficult to bring about through the means of warfare. Because personality is growth through dialectical tensions, "peace is tension raised to a constructive, creative, cooperative level ... [whereas] war is destructive tension" (PIEP 553).

The philosophical principles undergirding Brightman’s pacifism are expressed in his formulations of the moral laws, which he describes as universal principles to which the will ought to conform its choices (ML 45). These laws are not to be confused with prescriptions for action in specific circumstances, rather they act in a regulatory way as principles according to which one should choose if one is to be moral. All of Brightman’s eleven formulations of the moral laws undergird the vision which fuels his commitment to pacifism, but at least four of them warrant special attention.

First, in Brightman’s formulation of what he calls the "Axiological Law," Brightman maintains that "all persons ought to choose ‘values which are self consistent, harmonious, and coherent, not ‘values which are contradictory or incoherent with one another" (ML 125). Given Brightman’s understanding of personality as the seat of all value, it is difficult for him to reconcile the killing of other persons with a respect for their personality. If the end or value that is desired is respect for personality, then it would be more consistent if the means to reach that desired end also reflect this value.

Second, in Brightman’s formulation of the "Law of Consequences, Brightman writes, "All persons ought to consider and, on the whole, approve the foreseeable consequences of each of their choices. Stated otherwise: Choose with a view to the long run, nor merely to the present act" (ML 142). Clearly Brightman believes that the consistent use of peaceful means will have more desirable consequences in the long run in respect to the value of personality than does war. His experience of the post World War I years provided him with an example of how difficult true reconciliation is after such widespread hostility among nations, and he feared that the long-run consequences of World War TI might not be much better. This fear led him to write the following in 1933: "[T]he probability that peace will involve greater evils than war is, under modern conditions, almost infinitesimal" (ML 154).

Third, in Brightman’s formulation of the "Law of the Best Possible," he writes, "All persons ought to will the best possible values in every situation: hence, if possible, to improve every situation" (ML 156). Writing in the middle of World War II, Brightman maintained that "the War is man’s revolt against the best. ... War threatens the very existence of values at any level both by destroying persons in whom alone the good can be realized and by menacing the ordered society and the institutions which support and cultivate values" (BPW 8). In Brightman’s view the cause of war can be traced to two sources: the failure of love and failure of reason. According to Brightman, "[C]o-operative, whole-hearted, universal love is the prime condition of the realization of the best possible world" (BPW 14-15), and this is a love which constantly contributes to the true welfare of all concerned, regardless of response.

Finally in Brightman’s formulation of the "Law of Altruism," he writes:

"Each person ought to respect all other persons as ends in themselves, and, as far as possible, to co-operate with others in the production and enjoyment of shared values" (ML 223). Here we see again a formulation of the principle of respect for personality" which is so central to Brightman’s position. The conditions of war make it extremely difficult to respect the enemy as ends in themselves; so much the case that Brightman feared that soldiers returning might need to undergo re-education and moral rehabilitation after the war in order to re-cultivate a rational love which is grounded in respect for personality (BPW 10).

In looking at Brightman’s moral laws and his position on pacifism, it becomes obvious that he had a more melioristic understanding of human nature than Hartshorne. Brightman is aware of the foes of love and reason in the world: e.g., our inhumanity to one another, racial hatred, economic exploitations, and wars (BPW 15). Perhaps it is this awareness which keeps him from describing himself as an absolute pacifist. But his focus is on the ability of persons to realize the best that is within them, and on the power of love to bring about reconciliation. If this type of unrelenting love were practiced in the years following World War I, perhaps the conditions which led to World War II would not have been created. We will never know, since the Treaty of Versailles and other post-World War I actions were not based on the rational love Brightman was advocating.

IV. Strengths and Weaknesses of Hartshorne’s and Brightman’s Views

Hartshorne’s recognition of the prevalence of human sin and the necessity of the use of coercive force in group relations is, I believe, both the strength and the weakness of his position. It is a strength because even in a world community, human sin would still be present, and coercive force would still be necessary, if only in the form of international policing. Hartshorne’s position seems to ring true in light of the tragedy of human existence in the world.

Hartshorne’s stress on sin and the necessity of coercive power becomes a weakness, however, because it tends to keep him from developing constructive programs for a peaceful world community.6 It is true that human beings have been sinful, are sinful and always will be sinful, but this can sometimes be overused as an excuse to avoid trying less coercive methods in societal and world relations. If we rely too heavily on forceful intervention to solve problems in world relations, we run the risk of simply continuing the cycle of violence by using violence as a solution to our problems, thereby making true reconciliation and mutual goodwill even more difficult to come by. Perhaps Hartshorne’s emphasis on the reality of sin and the need to check it by coercion made him unable to see the pacifists’ concern for long-term consequences, and the need to have a persistent minority calling the rest of us towards a more peaceful world community. Pacifists and non-pacifists often share a desire for the same ends, but they disagree on the best means for attaining their ends. Hartshorne’s failure to recognize the pacifists’ deep concern for consequences is perhaps the greatest weakness of his position,7 especially when he goes to the extent of blaming pacifism for contributing to the success of Hitler. A Hitler might not have been possible had more pacifist policies guided the leaders in the period directly following World War I.

Daniel Dombrowski points to this apparent weakness in Hartshorne’s view by arguing that although Hartshorne maintains that greater firmness in relation to Hitler and Germany would have been more appropriate in the Allies’ policy prior to World War II, he has not shown that greater conciliation after World War I might not also have been a better strategy than the policies attendant to the Treaty of Versailles (PHDT 342).8 Dombrowski writes:

"Greater firmness" would have been Churchill’s, and presumably Hartshorne’s approach. But Chamberlain’s approach, the one that failed, does not exhaust the possibilities. Appeasement is not the same as pacifism . . . [A] pacifist, if interpreted not only as an opponent to violence as a means of settling disputes, but also an opponent to violence, would never have been party to the treaty at Versailles in the first place. As Taylor suggests pacifism or "greater conciliation" may have succeeded as well as "greater firmness." (PHDT 343)

In the debate concerning "greater conciliation’ versus "greater firmness," Brightman falls clearly on the side of greater conciliation. The primary strength of Brightman’s position is his emphasis on reconciliation and on long-term consequences. I think he sees correctly that reconciliation is the principle upon which a lasting peace must rest. Otherwise the cycle of violence and war will continue. At the end of a time of open hostility the hatred does not disappear, and it often lies in wait for an opportunity to manifest itself anew in oftentimes more violent forms than in the past conflicts. Reconciliation is the only way to break this cycle.

In light of the modern situation and our possession of weapons of mass destruction, it is more pressing today than ever before to focus on a peaceful reconciliation of our differences. If wars continue to escalate, and the wrong weapons get into the wrong hands (one might argue that this is already the case), we may not have any long-term consequences to worry about. Brightman is right to see that the best possible long-term future belongs to a less violent world.

Hartshorne may be correct in surmising that one of the weaknesses in Brightman’s position is a tendency to underestimate the power of sin in the world and the need for the use of coercive force at times (PTEP-C 557). Brightman does seem to be dreaming of a fantasy "world community" at times, but it is not a dream divorced from an awareness of the challenges and difficulties of the pacifist approach. Brightman is aware that peace based on respect for personality is often more difficult than war, but he believes strongly that the consequences of peace are more favorable than those of war (PWC 23). One must still ask, however, "Is Brightman’s position tenable in the face of Hitler’s Germany?" Does not there come a time when the evil is so great that war is the lesser of the evils? We have to deal with the realities of the present, not with what might have been had the allies been more conciliatory following World War I.

V. Conclusion: The Synthesis of Martin Luther King, Jr.

As I have read through the disagreement in the correspondence and seen Hartshorne’s and Brightman’s positions clarified in some of their other writings, I have come to the conclusion that their "realistic" and "melioristic" positions should be mutually corrective to one another. At least in the expression of their positions concerning pacifism, Brightman could be more cognizant of the role of sin and power in group relations, and Hartshorne fails to be more aware that the best long-term consequences will come about through more peaceful and persuasive rather than coercive measures, with reconciliation being the guiding ideal for our actions.

The thought of Martin Luther King, Jr., can be a viewed as a synthesis of the strengths of these two positions, while for the most part leaving the weaknesses behind. King’s experience as a member of an oppressed minority In a violent and racist society, coupled with the intellectual influence of Reinhold Niebuhr’s "Christian Realism," led King to be painfully aware of the role of power and coercion in group relations. In this regard his thought is similar to Hartshorne’s. He was aware of the complexities of social and economic structures. King admits that Niebuhr helped him recognize "the complexity of man’s social involvement and the glaring reality of collective evil" (STF 98)9 But King did not despair of the possibilities for social improvement. The influence of Personalism on his thought during his studies at Boston University gave King a greater appreciation for the dignity of personality and a view that a personal God is working in the world so that this dignity might be enhanced. King was influenced by the moral laws with their stress on the respect for personality.10 He became convinced that the only possibility for improvement for black people in American society was through the reconciliation of whites and blacks based on justice and equality, the very ideals expressed in our Constitution, yet so inadequately expressed in our social structures.

King knew that injustices in society were not going to disappear magically, and he did not have a conception of God somehow miraculously curing the ills of racism, classism, and economic exploitation. He rejected the extremes of passive non-resistance on the one hand, and violent resistance on the other. Passive non-resistance did not meet the demands of the moral obligation to resist collective evil, and violence was an expression of despair that dimmed the hope for true reconciliation.11 King chose the path of "nonviolent resistance," which can be seen as a form of what Brightman calls rational love. Its goal is not the annihilation of one’s enemies, but rather their transformation and the transformation of unjust social structures so that injustice might increasingly be overcome within society.

As a strategy for justice for black Americans, I believe King’s non-violent approach to be more fruitful than both passive non-resistance and violent resistance. Hartshorne could not accuse King of not being concerned with the consequences of his non-violent actions. It was precisely King’s desire for a certain set of consequences that drove him in his non-violent struggle for justice. In the case of King and his non-violent movement, we are dealing with a minority group within a country that has practiced slavery both officially and unofficially. The majority peoples had already shown their willingness to commit violence against black Americans. From a strategic point of view, a violent revolution was not and still is not a fruitful option. Violent force could not have achieved the desired consequences.

But is not the situation of World War II different? In this case a minority of the people in the world, the Axis Powers, tried to force its will on the majority of the world, exterminating millions of people in the process. The majority of the world had the power to resist, and Hartshorne argues that violent resistance achieved better consequences than the nonviolent options. And here, though I often relate with the goals of pacifism, I must admit that I agree with Hartshorne. And I agree with the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s agonizing choice to participate in the assassination attempt of Hitler. There are extreme cases when killing someone for the sake of the lives of others might be the most loving and fitting action. But I believe these cases are rarer than most people would concede. We must continually ask ourselves if forceful intervention is really contributing to a context for greater respect of personality, or are the issues of self-interest and other ulterior motives clouding our judgment? We must ask ourselves if we are hindering the chances for reconciliation and a lasting peace by too often and too hastily speaking in the language of war. Hopefully by wrestling with the issues that Hartshorne and Brightman were struggling with over a half century ago, we will be able to derive some lessons for the construction of a more peaceful world, where the language of war will be heard no more, or at least less often than is presently the case.12



1. The Edgar S. Brightman -- Charles Hartshorne correspondence can be found in the "Edgar S. Brightman Papers," which are held in the Special Collections division of the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University.

2. Hartshorne, letter of January 22, i942 (edited and sent March 29, 1942). The last sentence quoted appears to have been added on March 29, 1942. Hartshorne refers in this passage to his essay A Philosophy of Democratic Defense," Science, Philosophy, and Religion Second Symposium (New York: Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion in their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., 1942), 130-172.

3. The article referred to in this passage is Nels Ferré’s "Christianity and Compromise," Fellowship 8 (1942), 53-55.

4. The reader should note that the words ‘good and wise" were stricken with a pen mark before Hartshorne mailed the letter.

5. See also Alfred North Whitehead, Adventure of Ideas (New York: Macmillan, 1933), 381.

6. This criticism is not leveled at process theology in general. I agree with David Griffin that the widespread adoption of process theism would more likely "induce in persons a pacific spirituality through which they would become passionately committed to creating a new world order in which war would not seem necessary" (ER 157).

7. Cf. Randall C. Morris, Process Philosophy and Political Ideology: The Social and Political Though of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), 167.

8. See also A.J.P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (New York: Athenaeum, 1962), 278.

9. Quoted in Walter G. Muelder, "The America of Martin Luther King, Jr.," paper prepared for the Sophomore required course at Berea College, Spring 1973, 4-5; Special Collections, Boston University School of Theology Library.

10. For an excellent account of the influence of the moral laws on King’s thought, see Walter 0. Muelder’s, "Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Moral Law," Lecture given at Morehouse College, 1983; Special Collections, Boston University School of Theology Library, Boston.

11. John J. Ansbro elaborates on this point in his, Martin Luther King Jr. The Making of a Mind (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1982), especially chapters 4 and 6.

12. I would like to thank Randall Auxier and Andrew Irvine for their helpful comments on the various drafts of this paper.


BHC The Edgar S. Brightman-.Charles Hartshorne Correspondence, Special Collections division of the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University.

BPW Edgar S. Brightman, "The Best Possible World," Journal of Bible and Religion 11 (1943), 7-15, 72.

ER David Ray Griffin, Evil Revisited: Responses and Reconsiderations, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

HC David Basinger, "Human Coercion: A Fly in the Process Ointment?" Process Studies 15 (1986), 161-171.

HCSTP Charles Hartshorne, "How Christians Should Think about the Peace," a radio discussion by Edwin Aubrey, Charles Hartshorne, and Bernard Loomer. Pamphlet The University of Chicago Round Table (Chicago, April 9, 1944), 20 pages.

HT Barry L. Whitney, "Hartshorne and Theodicy," Hartshorne, Process Philosophy, and Theology, edited by Robert Kane and Stephen H. Phillips, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989, 53-69. [A more recent discussion of Whitney’s understanding of divine persuasiveness in process theism will be published in his "Divine Power and the Anthropic Principle," The Personalist Forum (1998), forthcoming.]

ML Edgar S. Brightman, Moral Laws, New York: Abingdon Press, 1933.

MVG-R Edgar S. Brightman. review of Man’s Vision of God, by Charles Hartshorne, in The Journal of Religion 12 (1942), 96-99.

NRJ Martin Luther King, Jr., "Nonviolence and Racial Justice," A Testament of Hope. Edited by James M. Washington. San Francisco: Harper, 1986, 5-9.

PDD Charles Hartshorne, "A Philosophy of Democratic Defense," Science, Philosophy and Religion. Second Symposium. New York: Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., 1942, 130-172.

PHDT Daniel Dombrowski, "Pacifism and Hartshorne’s Dipolar Theism," Encounter 48 (1987), 337-350.

PIEP Edgar S. Brightman, "Philosophical Ideas and Enduring Peace," in Approaches to World Peace, Fourth Symposium, edited by Lyman Bryson, Louis Finkelstein, and Robert M. MacIver. New York: Harper and Bros., 1944, 542-556.

PIEP-C Charles Hartshorne, comment on "Philosophical Ideas and Enduring Peace," by Edgar S. Brightman, in Approaches to World Peace, Fourth Symposium, edited by Lyman Bryson, Louis Finkelstein, and Robert M. MacIver. New York: Harper and Bros., 1944, 557.

PWC Edgar S. Brightman, "The Philosophy of World Community," World Order, edited by F. Ernest Johnson. New York and London: Harper & Bros., 1945, 14-30.

STF Martin Luther King, Jr., Strive Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1958.