Peace is a goal of global politics that is not easy to achieve, nor is it easy to define. Peace is a composite term that connotes a range of political conditions from the absence of war to the institutionalization of social justice and/or cosmopolitan ethics. Peace is theorized primarily as the absence of war between political units in international relations and diplomatic studies, while philosophers and social theorists debate the social, economic, and ethical prerequisites for lasting conditions of peace. Social and economic prerequisites may be conceptualized as forms of wealth distribution that result in economic justice. Ethical prerequisites are often conceptualized as necessitating one of many forms of cosmopolitanism, such as respect for human rights. These prerequisites are extremely difficult to achieve in a pluralist world. Although peace defined as the absence of war frequently occurs, most theorists and observers would not claim that the conditions of lasting peace, including social justice and agreement on ethics, have ever been achieved. This entry discusses a range of conceptions of peace, using Immanuel Kant's formulation as a foundational text for the modern era. It also assesses the possibilities and problems that result from the intersection of peace with globalization and the attempts to institutionalize peace by the League of Nations and the United Nations.
Kant articulated in the 18th century the concept of “republican peace,” which some international relations scholars have called the “liberal peace” or “democratic peace.” Kant developed his concept of republican peace to lead, possibly, to “perpetual peace.” The contours of Kant's writings are instructive because they bring into play the relationship between a condition of absence of war, the development of legal norms facilitating peace, and the development of cosmopolitan ethics. Arguably, however, Kantian conceptions of peace insufficiently address social, cultural, and economic concerns.
Kant's understanding of the institutionalization of a republican peace and movement toward perpetual peace relies on the combination of political and moral action. Coming from a long tradition that understands human nature as inherently flawed, and writing during the period of Enlightenment thinking that espoused human reason can overcome moral and political flaws to engender human progress, Kant combined the creation of republics (which allowed participation and the use of reason at the domestic level) with the creation of an international law of nations to solidify peace at the global level. Both would be made possible by the use of ethical reason. The “enlightened” peoples who institutionalized republics would first connect with each other in a zone of peace, and gradually that zone would enlarge as others saw its benefits until it encompassed the world. However, neither republics nor an ever-growing zone of peace could be imposed from the outside, according to Kant, reflecting the dominant modern view that people themselves must participate in their own governance, and use their reason to do so.
Kant's views of what constitutes peace and how to create it have become a central reference point for scholarship from the 18th century to the present, even when he is not explicitly cited. This is because he ties together the character of domestic and international politics, and also considers “perpetual,” or permanent, peace as having a cosmopolitan ethical component. Each part of this construction of peace is contested. Diplomatic historians are primarily concerned with the international component of peace—whether there is an absence of war between nation-states, and if not, how to come to agreement to end war. Theorists of domestic systems, imperialism, feminism, and postcolonialism, however, debate whether one or another system such as capitalism, socialism, or communism or their variants, or other institutional features that allow for pluralist identities of various kinds, are necessary prerequisites for lasting peace. These theorists, then, look at how wealth is distributed across populations and how identities within political entities are constructed and treated. Theorists of cosmopolitanism, communitarianism, gender, and postcolonialism debate whether there can be agreement on ethical foundations or processes that can travel worldwide.
Democratic peace theorists primarily view peace as occurring between nation-states. However, they observe that peaceful relations only occur between democracies, not between democracies and other states, or between other states themselves. Democratic peace theorists also usually assume that democracies are “liberal” in an economic sense, meaning that they are based on capitalist market economies. Democratic peace theory has become influential in some policy circles in the post-Cold War era, in part because it provides a fuller understanding of peace than the Cold War ideas of “nuclear peace” or superpower management of conflict. The idea of conflict management as peace is an outgrowth of European balance-of-power politics during the 19th century especially, when peace between the Great Powers of Europe was promoted as the primary goal of Western statecraft. After the balance of power politics collapsed in the early 20th century, the League of Nations was created in 1919 to prevent future global conflicts such as World War I. Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations (1919) articulated the early 20th-century view that military weaponry and arms races were the primary obstacle to peace and international covenants were the primary means to achieving it, stating that “the Members of the League recognize that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations” (The Avalon Project, 2008). However, World War II and the advent of the nuclear era raised questions about the role of weaponry in preventing conflict. During the Cold War, the period from 1945 to 1990 that was characterized by the superpower stand-off between the United States and the former Soviet Union (USSR), a “nuclear peace” was obtained. The goal of this peace was to avoid the use of nuclear weapons after the United States’ bombing of two cities in Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the closing months of World War II.
The concept of democratic peace that became popular after the end of the Cold War is more comprehensive than those of nuclear peace, the reduction of armaments, or Great Power peace, but it still runs into significant problems. These include determining just what a democracy is, potentially defining hard cases as democracies to confirm the theory. A more significant problem is its potential for ignoring how democracies can also be imperialist, extracting resources from other areas of the world and instigating violence in these areas while bringing profits and prosperity back to their own nations. Thus, the idea that the democratic zone of peace can expand infinitely relies on the assumption that the benefits of market economies are nonzero sum. This is an assumption that is highly contested by many scholars of globalization. These critics, then, point to the importance of economic as well as political systems and the distributive and identity ethics on which they are based.
Globalization also results in many kinds of transnational flows, making it difficult to promote peace between nations only. Theorists of globalization differ on whether transnational flows promote peace or conflict. Trade in goods and contact between peoples of different languages, religions, ethnicities, and nationalities can promote knowledge, understanding, and tolerance of differences, according to classic liberal theory. This theory also assumes that everyone will benefit and support market-based economies and that contact will result in an increase in shared ethical values or cosmopolitan ethics. Yet critics of globalization contend that contact does not always breed tolerance, especially when some groups of people—classes, ethnicities, genders, nations—profit from trade and other forms of contact while others lose out. Theories of imperialism and postcolonialism focus on how economic and legal systems are weighted toward perpetuating the economic and political power of elites in the global North and leaders they support in the global South. Such unequal rules of the game, they assert, underlie conflict and prevent peace.
Cosmopolitan ethics, according to proponents, can create peaceful relations among peoples and reduce the differences among nations, classes, genders, and ethnicities. But theorists disagree whether cosmopolitanism should be based on results, or consequences, as opposed to principles. The latter, called deontological ethics, asserts that individuals must act based on rules of behavior, not according to expected outcomes. Deontological ethics formed the basis of Kant's moral reasoning, which he called the “categorical imperative,” asserting both that one must act according to principles that can be universalized, and that human beings, having the power to reason, must be respected as “lawgiving beings” in and of themselves. According to proponents of cosmopolitanism, therefore, respecting others and acting according to universalizable principles can lay the foundations for peaceful relations between peoples.
Critics, however, argue that principles themselves are part and parcel of broader systems of culture and economic practice. What is recognized as promoting the common good in one community may be viewed as an obstacle to the common good in another. Strong communitarians, therefore, argue that the attempt to universalize ethics will inevitably run into a dead end, and that the most we can do is promote tolerance among communities having different ethical and moral principles. Increasingly, social theorists and philosophers try to navigate between cosmopolitan and communitarian ideas about the possibilities of peace. These efforts frequently involve detailed descriptions of how allegedly cosmopolitan ethics and legal norms have promoted the good of elites or powerful states over the masses or less powerful states, and proposals for universalizing respect for identity communities as well as individuals, and for redistributing political power and wealth. These proposals also return to a quasi-consequentialist conception of ethics.
According to a Senegalese proverb, peace is everything. In other words, there is no political, social, environmental, or ethical factor that does not contribute to peace, or that could possibly disturb an existing peace or hinder the achievement of peace. This definition is more comprehensive than most, but it points to the intertwining of politics, economics, and sociocultural issues that theories of peace (and war) inevitably must address, particularly in an age of intensified globalization. It is increasingly difficult to conceive of projects for peace between discrete nation-states when the flows of people, languages, economic goods, and cultural and religious practices transcend state borders. It is also increasingly difficult to conceive of projects for peace among discrete nation-states when inequalities and other threats to peace seem to have structural and transnational manifestations.
That is why the United Nations, created in San Francisco in 1945, defines its central purpose as promoting peace, and why states and actors in civil society have created multiple offshoots and agencies to try to address related economic, health, cultural, and other issues that can prevent peace. Article 1 of the UN Charter states that the purposes of the United Nations are “to maintain international peace and security, to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.” This purpose, however, requires the development of “friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” (a passage that takes note of the inequalities arising from colonial exploitation), and “solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion” (a passage that emphasizes the necessity of ethical agreement that different identities must be respected). The United Nations and its numerous related agencies provide the major, although not the only, global forum in which debates about conflict and the requirements of lasting peace are debated today. As such, the United Nations reflects the ongoing interconnections between an ever-globalizing world and the political, economic, and ethical aspects of peace that continue to pose challenges for diplomats, philosophers and theorists, and civil society activists in the modern era.
Conflict and Conflict Resolution, Cosmopolitanism, Global Conflict and Security, Global Governance and World Order, Liberalism, Neoliberalism, United Nations, War
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