In common usage, quietism is often conflated with passivity, and pacifism is often equated with quietism. As a result, pacifism has often been confused with passivity. In the antebellum United States, John Brown and other militant abolitionists who endorsed the use of violent antislavery tactics criticized nonviolent reformers like William Lloyd Garrison as men of words instead of men of action. Garrison and his allies rejected the equation of their pacifism with quietism, but the charge that Garrisonian abolitionists were more passive than Brown still survives. In fact, the most recent scholarship on John Brown has tended to reinforce Brown's own division of the movement into active reformers like himself and less radical pacifists like Garrison. In this article, McDaniel challenges this polarized view of the abolitionist movement, which is partly the product of the common polarization of quietism and activism. He shows that both Garrison and Brown were complex icons, neither of whom can be easily categorized as a quietist or activist. A careful look at the antislavery movement suggests, therefore, that pacifism and quietism are not synonymous. Moreover, a careful look at Brown suggests that quietism and activism are not antonyms. On some definitions of quietism, McDaniel argues, even a violent activist like Brown can exhibit quietistic aspects. This article therefore challenges, as well, the common connotation of quietism as inaction.
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Research Article| January 01 2010
John Brown, Quietist
Common Knowledge (2010) 16 (1): 31–47.
W. Caleb McDaniel; John Brown, Quietist. Common Knowledge 1 January 2010; 16 (1): 31–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-2009-059
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