Putting World War I on trial: The moral peace activism of Austrian socialist Friedrich Adler through political assassination

Peace & Change, Volume 46, Issue 3, Page 241-268, July 2021.


This study of the action and motivation of Austrian socialist Friedrich Adler, who assassinated the Austrian Prime Minister Stürgkh during World War I, considers the possibility that an instance of targeted political violence could be a defensible means to further peace. Adler used the publicity of his act and subsequent trial to galvanize public opposition against World War I. Situating Adler’s statements about the assassination within their historical context and moral psychologist James Rest’s four-component model of morality lends support to Adler’s self-professed contention that his deed is morally defensible. This insight complicates the widespread view within the peace studies literature of nonviolent action as the most effective tactic to bring about a just and peaceful society. Adler’s moral peace activism, when framed as an unusual form of civil disobedience, permits tentative and surprising connections with the moral reasoning of renowned nonviolent peacemakers of the twentieth century like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

This was originally published on Wiley: Peace & Change: Table of Contents.