Wednesday 25 October 2006

Kim Fabricius: on investing in the arms trade

[NB: The following is a paper given by our friend Kim Fabricius at the University of Swansea last week, at a teach-in on the university’s investment in the arms trade. He shared the platform with a Marxist and a Muslim. I think the paper beautifully models the character of Christian “witness.”]

On the Self-Contradiction of a University Investing in the Arms Trade

It is good to share a platform with people who are committed to a university free from all investment in the arms trade. Whether that commitment extends to an equal zeal for non-violence altogether – including whatever strategies of protest or resistance that some of you may adopt as a result of this meeting – I do not know. If not, then I would argue that your commitment is, in fact, totally compromised, indeed self-contradictory – as, indeed, is any commitment whose terms are dictated by what one is against. But that is another platform! For today, I am glad that we are united in our horror at an institution of higher learning that makes money out of mass murder.

I myself am a pacifist, a Christian pacifist. That is to say, my pacifism cannot be abstracted from my discipleship, from my being a follower of Jesus, which in turn cannot be abstracted from the being of God. To re-phrase 1 John 1:5, “God is non-violent, and in him there is no violence at all.” Put another way, my ethics of peace derives from an ontology of peace, which specifically derives from Christology – from the nature of the Prince of Peace. I say this in witness, but also in warning – the warning that, really, there is no reason why my ad hoc ethical solidarity with you should have any purchase whatsoever if you do not share my theological convictions.

That is the truth of the matter, and that is why I share it with you: because violence is always inextricably linked with lies. The tree of war always has deceit for its roots. And that is the single, fundamental point of principled practice that I want to make to you today: that for a university, an institution of further education, a community whose very raison d’être is the pursuit of truth (notwithstanding post-modern nihilists who, with Pilate, mockingly ask, “What is truth?”), for such an institution to be making profits from a business whose own raison d’être is mendacity and mayhem – this is a prodigious oxymoron, an undertaking of extreme bad faith, and indeed an act of academic suicide. For how can a school of virtue do deals with an industry of vice without its own spiritual death being the bottom line?

Therefore there can be no justification whatsoever for any university investing in the arms trade, for even if the operation is “successful” (in the sense of “lucrative”), it is a mortal blow to the patient. Even if one is not a Christian pacifist, or even a pacifist, even if one’s appeal is to so-called Just War Theory, the theory itself rejects that appeal, for the WMD we are talking about demonstrably, flagrantly violate the Just War criteria of proportionality and discrimination. And if the appeal is to so-called “realism” – well, how cynical can you get? The reality of the matter is that we make our own reality of the matter: for it is not that ethical policies have been tried and found wanting, they have not been tried at all.

Things have to be the way they are only if we concede that things cannot be different. But they can be different, because in fact they are different – forgive me if I end where I began – because Christ is risen, and therefore the impossible is not impossible, in fact it is practical. So that, finally, I am not suggesting that the university sacrifice financial prudence to moral purity. Rather I am saying that in rejecting all investment in the arms trade, the university will actually be going with “the grain of the universe” (John Howard Yoder). In short, to disinvest in the arms trade is not only to be right, it is to “get real.”


James Crossley said...

Good man!

Anonymous said...


You rock on. I would have been interested to hear the marxist and the muslim as well - but it sounds like you nailed it to me.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

What they said! Let's work for "separation of university and military!"

Joanna said...

Kim, I'm not sure I agree with you, but I agree with Ben - as a beautiful model of witness, this leaves me humbled and challenged.

Joanna said...

Kim, I should clarify the above, in case it suggests that I'm not mostly convinced by your argument. I do agree that violence thrives on lies, that an institution/community dedicated to the pursuit of truth should have no truck with the violence industry, and that the current war does not in any way satisfy 'just war' criteria. And I really, really appreciate the way you place that in the context of your Christian conviction that Christ is risen. Just not sure I'm a pacifist yet.

Anonymous said...

Kim and all,

In homage to you're fantastic 10 propositions series, and as a response to the questions about violence in the OT that arose from the peace and war discussion, I've posted my own 10 propositions here... please come comment and debate!

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