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Absolutism and pragmatism in conscientious objection to military service during the 1914-18 war: The case of Dugald Semple in Scotland

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-57
JournalKirchliche Zeitgeschichte/ Contemporary Church History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


Dugald Semple (1884–1964) was born near Glasgow in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, and lived mostly in that area and in North Ayrshire, although he worked briefly in London and later travelled internationally as part of his vegetarian activities. The son of a tailor who was a Church of Scotland elder, Semple became an advocate of the “Simple Life”, and worked as a freelance journalist, naturalist and dietary reformer. This article, based on local history and archival sources, argues that a significant thread in Semple’s project of “life reform” or Lebensreform – a complex European movement in the first half of the twentieth century – was a principled non-conformist pacifism influenced by Tolstoy. However, it was not primarily an absolutist Christian anarchist stance that secured Semple’s appeal against conscription into military service in 1916, but rather a more pragmatic case which emphasised his involvement in lecturing on “food economy” which was accepted by the Tribunal as a form of “work of national importance”. The article offers a Scottish case study in the strategic negotiation of potentially conflicting grounds for resistance to the 1914–1918 war within a wider British “ecology of resistance”.

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