The essays in The Question of Peace in Modern Political Thought address the contribution that political theories of modern political philosophers have made to our understandings of peace. The discipline of peace research has reached a critical impasse, where the ideas of both 'realist peace' and 'democratic peace' are challenged by contemporary world events. Can we stand by while dictators violate the human rights of citizens? Can we impose a democratic peace through the projection of war? By looking back at the great works of political philosophy, this collection hopes to revive peace as an active question for political philosophy while making an original contribution to contemporary peace research and international relations.
Toivo Koivukoski and David Edward Tabachnick
What is peace? This collection explores different conceptions of peace as they are articulated in works of modern political philosophy. From Luther to Spinoza, Hobbes to Locke, Kant to Habermas, these essays from contemporary political theorists consider the contributions that modern theory has made to our understanding of peace as a political concept.
Our starting point for the volume is the observation that how one thinks about peace depends very much on how one comes at the idea. So, in a practical sense, peace may mean something very different for an educator and a soldier, a civil servant and an activist. What matters-both in terms of formulating it as a concept, and in terms of political action-is what peace would look like in a particular situation. There are a whole range of potentially peaceful conditions: from a critically engaged classroom, to a secure border, to an open consultation with stakeholders, to a rallying cry of "No justice, no peace," with voluntary cooperation withheld.
The common element between these many contested perspectives has a kind of obviousness to it. We may agree that peace is not war, without defining just what peace is. Or we might find quietude in a coming to rest, rather like the peace of the graveyard that Immanuel Kant grimly jokes (in his 1795 essay Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch) will be humanity's lot if we do not take up peace as a cause of action. In instances when we already agree on what peace is, the concept itself is not particularly helpful: it either directs our attention to the opposite phenomenon-war-or else it eases us into a false sense of solace, in hopes that are beyond the promise of politics.
Held precariously in an impasse between fear for the other, and exasperation at the recurrence of war, our thinking about peace must clearly account for the tangle of working concepts that attach to that idea. These articulate the growing profusion of ways to bring form and substance to our inklings of a better world, formulated in terms of what is worth hoping for, what are our common goods, and how we may begin to work toward those ends. Like any political discussion, the starting point here is a field of opinions. Each is particular to a point of view, sometimes prone to change, sometimes equivocal, sometimes determined: if not a mass of diverse singularities, then at least a singularity that contains multitudes.
If we trace out that diversity, peace may appear as less of a monolithic, abstract imposition, a kind of pax imperium, and more as a political project helped along by philosophic clarification. Its theoretical dimensions are intended less to synthesize some unified idea than to define and analyze the differences between concepts-a multitude of potentials for action, circling like constellations attracted by the gravity of peace. In the apparent absence of an idea of peace that can be peacefully agreed upon, we are left with politicized concepts of peace: an idea as unfinished as the political itself, and one that throws back on the individual much of the work of peace realization. It is we who must ask ourselves what peace means to us, and what we can do to make our particular vision most real to us in our lives.
This provisional quality of the active question of peace implies a fundamental ethic of respect for differences, of a recognition of others that goes deeper than the mere reciprocity of shared fear. If peace does indeed share in the basic plurality of our political condition, and of cherished ideals of justice and voluntary association, then such differences are intrinsic values. We recognize this in every expression of peaceful agency.
What political philosophy can add to the praxis of ethical agency is the moderating consideration of the limits of action-a moderation that arises out of the pluralistic quality of the idea of peace. We see the same diversity in all the theories of peace outlined in this volume that we do in the works of actual peacemakers, be they educators or soldiers, civil servants or activists. These modern works of political philosophy also acknowledge the absence of a singular idea of peace, and lean toward a liberal recognition of difference rooted in respect for others. As a political concept, this is perhaps the one modest contribution that contemporary theory can make to peace studies-and, perhaps, to the actual realization of more just and peaceful relationships.
The fourteen essays in this volume are arranged in a roughly chronological order, covering an almost 500-year span in the history of European religious, philosophical, and political thought. They range from Luther's fiery 16th-century rhetoric-the radical ideas that kick-started the Reformation-to the 20th-century critical theorist Jürgen Habermas (of all the thinkers examined here, the only one still alive today). In between are a wide variety of keen minds: Benedictus Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Emer de Vattel, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel, Henry David Thoreau (the only non-European), Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, and Jacques Derrida-together representing some of the most powerful thinkers in the Western tradition.
In Chapter 1, Jarrett A. Carty's reading of Luther describes an essential limit in the separation of powers between the earthly and heavenly realms. This theological distinction of faith and knowledge, each with its demands and duties, anticipates the modern separation of church and state. But the false conflation of divine and secular authorities can lead to two types of political excess and unjustified violence. On the one hand, this interpretation can encourage secular authorities to overreach their powers, claiming divine sanction for all-too-mundane acts of domination by force. On the other hand, it may stoke the fervour of revolutionaries who claim that God is on their side of history-thereby justifying violence by gnostic eschatology.
The rationales for both kinds of violence shift the discourse about war. From being a sometimes necessary, if often despised, means of action, it comes to represent a kind of redemption that promises more than force could ever offer-that is, either supreme political power, or total liberation from it. Beyond this basic confusion over what violence can accomplish, conflating secular and divine orders characteristically induces immoderate behaviour. A radicalized mentality of "the end justifies the means" often results not only in justifying any and all means; it actually demands their use.
The dangers that Luther saw in the peasant revolts that swept through Europe in the mid-16th century were apparent on both sides of the conflict: in the ruthless violence of an oligarchic class that claimed privileges by divine sanction, and in the radicals who claimed the right to revolt based on eschatological promise. This theological context for politics made the peaceful settling of contested claims extraordinarily difficult, short of totally cowing whole populations, or executing erstwhile nobility.
For Luther, the crucial significance of setting apart the two kinds of authority-one based on human laws and force, the other derived from divine laws-was a theological reasoning for what would become a defining feature of modern thought: separating church and state. This concept undercuts the justification of violence in the service of a higher cause, one that transcends all considerations of mere earthly means and ends. This early call for moderation is still sorely needed in our contemporary global politics, with its history of ideologically inspired violence-both by rulers and by those who would overthrow them.
The importance of a culture of peace as a basis for political security also informs Paul Bagley's essay on Spinoza in Chapter 2. By this reading of Spinoza, compelling myths and holy books are needed to mediate between the self-interest of the individual and the fervour of collective passions. Although reason may be able to subdue the passions and inform habits of virtue, such a philosophic balance is hard to develop and maintain. Something more is needed to build a peaceful society: a kind of template for understanding how individuals find their place in relation to the whole. A combination of received or imagined wisdom, coupled with the concord of religious ceremony, may be a more natural way to shape behaviours en masse.
This interpretation of the paradox of human nature, which is at once moved by desire and guided by reason, reveals the limits of a rational promotion of peace. Enlightened self-interest may not be enough to produce concord, either within states or between them. Myth and religion still hold sway over both policy-makers and political theorists. Bagley concludes that "so long as human beings are led more by the imaginative-affective life than by reason, Spinoza's teaching on peace, security and healthy life remains a cautionary tale."
In order to address political issues, the question of peace must be rooted in the motives and drives of human nature, in what would make peace desirable to both individuals and states. In Chapter 3, Laurie Johnson corrects a common misinterpretation of Hobbes-one that seems to make any form of cooperation between states impossible, and war the supposed norm for their relations. But for Hobbes, peaceful relations are manifestly possible. Granted, states are constrained neither by natural law (as are individuals, who feel the desire to seek and keep peace), nor by any...