The moment you saw the title you most likely to either suddenly rush to dismiss this entire article as nonsense or as some delusional warmonger or you immediately agreed with me and still decided to disregard most of what I wrote below. I encourage both types of people to read and consider what I plan to write below because I believe I approach the subject at hand with a breath of some nuance.
Many people have been both for and against world peace. They have stood at both sides of this debate fiercely staring the other side down with either disdain or as intellectually inferior, as it is with most debates so ancient (community versus individual, isolation versus globalization, chocolate versus strawberry ice cream). Of course, there is always a third group that also likes to stand aside from both and likes to speak of ‘pragmatism’ (as I have my own problems with people who claim they are being pragmatic). I will gladly say I am not that third group. Instead, I am a person who wishes to frame the way that world peace has been spoken about in both the historical and recent political climate in contrast to its supposed ends. I try to understand why peace achieved through some of those means would not bring about those ends and a bit about how that end might just simply conflict with the fact that humans have diverse viewpoints. I am a person who hopes to convey that even the goal of manipulating the ‘human condition’ such that these viewpoints wouldn’t exist would not be preferable in virtue of preferability being identical to a thing that is ‘valued more than something else’.
As Aristotle would say, all discussions of a thing must begin with first principles and the first principles of this debate are peace and war or conflict. Peace is often seen as a simple rejection of a thing (that being war or conflict) and conflict (specifically political conflict) being the tensions between people that manifest spiritually/psychologically/cognitively and/or physically/materially in violence between the two or more entities. Wikipedia defines peace as an ideal state of happiness, freedom and peace within and among all people and nations on earth. I believe that peace shouldn’t be confused with ‘happiness’ and find the definition going beyond its bounds, but because of the similarities discussed in a later piece I plan to write between states of cathartic euphoria and peace, I will deign to accept it as somewhat useful and legitimate. I have a definition which I believe holds up much better as a reflection as to what those from all different strategies advocate for world peace. Of course, I find the Wikipedia definition useful to highlight the differences in ends and a fundamental disagreement as to what peace entails and what is desired from world peace but also possibly the idea that such beliefs do try to argue from the Wikipedia definition but thusly fail because of their ‘inherent contradictions’ (sorry for sounding a bit like David Harvey or Karl Marx there).
Political peace should be described as any state of affairs that lacks physical violence legitimised by some institution or group for political purposes.
People have various strategies for attaining world peace or in some cases why it is being achieved or will be at some point in time. In recent political history, we have people like Stephen Pinker and Ian Morris who believe through the works of Better Angels Of Our Nature (Pinker, 2011) and War! What is it good for? (Morris, 2014) each with very different reasoning as to what they both believe to be a highly peaceful era in human civilization. Ian Morris argues the age-old idea of peace through war and Pinker argues the comparatively new but still rather familiar peace through democracy.
Peace Through War! Peace Through Strength!
The peace through war argument is almost as old as the State itself. It stretches as far as Ramses II in the address the God Ptah makes to Ramses in 1279 BC:
“I have set for thee the might, victory and strength of thy mighty sword in every land … I assign them to thy mighty sword … I have thy terror in every heart … I have set thy fear in every country, thy fear encircles the mountains, and the chiefs tremble at the mention of thee…; they come to thee, crying out together, to crave peace from thee.”
For all of its horrors, Morris believes that over the last 10,000 years, war has made the world safer and richer, as it is virtually the only way that people have found to create large, internally pacified societies that then drive down the rate of violent death.
It is obvious to see the inherent contradictions of peace through war, or peace through strength because it is a thing that argues for the continuation of the very problem at hand. The desire for hegemonic domination is what causes societies to be at war in the first place. Yet those who believe that peace will be achieved through war think that the problem is what will create the solution! Even if we were to say that peace can be achieved through hegemonic domination it would not be the Wikipedia espoused definition for peace and it isn’t certain it would be the political peace described for very long since this is the exact state of affairs that promote repressive governments that restrict people’s ability to act. Peace through strength is the creation of a Leviathan that we didn’t sign up for and it is doomed to create more tension in the form of terrorist groups because their political opinions cannot exist otherwise. Repression breeds rejection. The cessation of physical violence is not the cessation of the threat of violence and not preferable. An increase in conflict might allow for more people’s politics to actually see the light of day and for experimentation to occur. Peace usually conceived of this kind doesn’t exclude a state threatening violence on others instead it would allow for it to occur. The threat of violence and absolute violence creates a constant state of individual stress from which there is no release and no peace. Periods of relief become rare and the atmosphere is suffocating, such peace isn’t to me preferable to war, rather the opposite, such peace justifies war. These state of affairs are in some ways reminiscent of books like 1984 (Orwell, 1949) because the State holds just as obviously contradictory ideas. In fact, the party in 1984 which is one of the most totalitarian States ever conceived, has the same principled but reverse: war is peace. The only difference here is that peace is war. I warn you to look with a wary eye when people make such a claim.
As we have seen above, in peace through war, it is an ultimate utopian (but as I have described rather dystopian) idea for which any means can be used to justify its ends. Those who argue for it would do anything to achieve it. Some would spend their whole lives in dedication to obtaining it. Others give large amounts of their personal wealth for it, and anyone else dreams of it. Almost everyone at least. But the dream many have and the lengths they are willing to take to obtain it make it a questionable end. World peace is an ultimate end for which almost anything can be justified to get to it as a means. Whether that be world domination, forced assimilation into a hive mind or genetically engineering everyone to be docile, nothing can stand in the path of world peace. Most wouldn’t go so far for ultimate peace anymore, but people do often justify similar things on smaller scales. It is a final destination for humanity but what peace requires may take away so much from our experience that we end up simplifying ourselves. As one in conflict, it seems a loss to me with little reward.
An aside to utopian ideas: A utopia is a sort finality of human politics distilled on some platonistic form. It can be seen as the destiny of humanity. In Philosophy Of Right G. W. Hegel proposes that the final end of history is a constitutional monarchy. This sort of niaveté is common with writers all throughout history. Francis Fukuyama is one of the most recent writers to make the same claim this time for liberal democracy and a student of Hegel. "In the organisation of the state — which here means in constitutional monarchy — we must have nothing before our minds except the inherent necessity of the Idea. All other points of view must vanish. The state must be treated as a great architectonic structure, as a hieroglyph of the reason which reveals itself in actuality. Everything to do with mere utility, externality, and so forth, must be eliminated from the philosophical treatment of the subject. Now our ordinary ideas can quite well grasp the conception of the state as a self-determining and completely sovereign will, as final decision." (p.275) Positively authoritarian and borderline fascistic view point. The same view that all other myths must become subservient to the state myth was proposed by moussilini in the doctrine of fascism. This is why Fascism hides itself within Liberalist view points.
Peace Through Democracy! Peace Through Economy!
What other ends of history lie beyond peace through strength? Money and ‘Democracy’ (of course by democracy these writers do not mean a direct democracy but a constitutional republic within a capitalist economy) are the two ways in which will bring about peace. The origin of peace through democracy and money trace their story as far back as Kant and possibly before that during the enlightenment. According to Pinker,
Kant envisioned a “federation of free states” that would fall well short of an international Leviathan. It would be a gradually expanding club of liberal republics rather than a global megagovernment, and it would rely on the soft power of moral legitimacy rather than on a monopoly on the use of force. The modern equivalent is the intergovernmental organization or IGO — a bureaucracy with a limited mandate to coordinate the policies of participating nations in some area in which they have a common interest.
A bureaucrats heaven! How wonderful! A Utopia of rules designed to keep “borders porous to people, money, goods and ideas” does sound nice but often times the actual result isn’t as utopian as you would like to think. Increases in bureaucratization might have the effect of harming the ability for goods to move around instead of help them. In the case of the Latin American Free Trade Association or LAFTA domestic firms pressured governments to increase trade tariffs which made it harder for things to trade between companies and countries.
Not to mention that a highly bureaucratic affair often has a whole host of useless redundancies. This state of affairs has led to most of the economies jobs to be made up of these sorts of jobs. Ones filled with an endless amount of useless paperwork only to keep people busy or as some sort of status symbol. The state of affairs Pinker and Kant advocate for are leading perhaps to a state of affairs that leads people restless and in a constant state where their work means little to nothing to any real person. The sort described in the famous article and book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (Graeber, 2018).
At least the political peace that I proposed seems like the relatively plausible end compared to peace through war strategy. The problem is that these theories have often been held in tandem with peace through war. A hegemonic republic such as the United States or the various other constitutional monarchies that held relatively ‘liberal’ economies such as Great Britain and Germany in the earlier centuries still went to war and instilled and maintained colonies throughout the world. These powers use their current hegemonic power to extract debt from poorer countries. Such means of ‘soft power’ are openly advocated in War By Other Means (Jennifer M. Harris; Robert Blackwill, 2016) and a short history of the commonality of these ventures by the republics worshipped by Pinker and company.
In 2012, the last year of recorded data, developing countries received a total of $1.3tn, including all aid, investment, and income from abroad. But that same year some $3.3tn flowed out of them. In other words, developing countries sent $2tn more to the rest of the world than they received. If we look at all years since 1980, these net outflows add up to an eye-popping total of $16.3tn – that’s how much money has been drained out of the global south over the past few decades. To get a sense for the scale of this, $16.3tn is roughly the GDP of the United States. (Jason Hickel, 2017)
I don’t really know if such an end is really desirable if it means an increase in behaviours like these, general lack of political fluidity and experimentation, and an increase in depression and suicide. We must always ask what are we losing in a bet and it seems to me this is a bet we would lose far more in return. This all seems even more ridiculous when you look at the fact that many are arguing that the time for liberal democracies is about to end with the rise of China and authoritarian capitalism. The creation of international monopolies of the digital kind brings into question the idea that the institutions we have today and the IGOs exclaimed by Pinker are doing nothing but increasing their power worldwide which many argue could undermine and is undermining republics. The Economist makes the argument that our views are becoming ever more diverging because of the platforms and the truth is becoming muddier for a larger portion of people. Political Peace alone doesn’t seem like it accomplishes a lot to improve the human condition if all these things worsen as a result and its existence is inherently unstable since it requires some sort of hegemon of ‘democracy’.
Perhaps we should look beyond just some sort of cessation of political peace as a desirable and more into improving the lives all the people around us in a variety of different ways. Nothing about political peace means happiness, prosperity and genuine flourishing of the human spirit. It often can create the opposite if desired over everything else. Let us instead look to other goals for ourselves, ones perhaps less utopian and instead ones that constantly shift and improve as time goes on. A constant self-criticism that allows an improvement in our own thoughts.