How to Think about War and Peace

by Mortimer J. Adler, Ph.D.


The Inevitability of War

How can we know that world peace is possible, that war is wholly avoidable? There always have been wars. How can we know that wars are not inevitable?

It is certainly true that during the last twenty-five hundred years men have lived with the belief that war is inevitable, that another war will occur in a short time. On point of fact, this belief has been completely verified. No decade has passed without one or more wars somewhere in the world. In the more civilized parts of the world, the average family has not survived three generations without some of its members being directly engaged in war, or at least suffering from the social and economic convulsions which follow in its wake.

But do these facts justify the inference that war is inevitable? “What always has been will be” is not always true. A valid inference here depends on knowledge of causes. If the reason why something has always happened is a cause in the very nature of things, then it will continue to happen as long as its cause remains operative, and that will be until the underlying nature is itself destroyed.

If the cause can be controlled or eradicated, the event which once seemed inevitable may be avoided. But even when something is avoidable in the very nature of the case, it still may not be avoided. That will depend on us- on our learning the causes to control, and on our making an adequate effort to control them.

The history of medicine records the shifting of many diseases from the incurable column to the list of the curable and the cured. With gains in knowledge and advances in therapy, we have learned, not only how to prevent and cure such ills as typhoid fever and diphtheria, but, what is more important, we have learned that they were never incurable in the first place. The discovery of our error in thinking the merely uncured to be incurable gives us confidence that other ailments sill uncured will turn out to be curable as medical science progresses.

Is war like disease, or is it like death? Is it intrinsically curable, though still uncured?

We cannot rightly think that war is normal merely because it has always plagued the social life of man.

The Abnormality of War

The person who thinks we cannot know whether war is avoidable may argue that before the end of the eighteenth century men did not know chattel slavery could be abolished. Before that time most men had not even dreamed of the possibility.

This mode of argument runs itself into the ground. It amounts to saying that, until a basic social reform is accomplished, it must appear to be impossible. It commits the error of confusing history with nature, and makes knowledge that something is possible entirely ex post facto.

The proof is not yet completed. The ambivalent of history, it can be argued, seem to show that war is a normal condition for men, as much as peace. Why are we not obligated to admit that both war and peace flow equally form human nature?

The answer is that men live at peace only under certain conditions, namely, the conditions provided by an organized society. Now, if it can be shown, as I think it can, that these social conditions respond to a natural human need, then it will be seem that peace is indispensable to the normal development of human life. If we see why a man cannot live humanly except he live at peace with his fellows, we shall understand why human nature requires peace. We must also see why the opposite is not true — why a man can live humanly without being in a state of war with some of his fellow men.

Still the question arises: why, then, have there always been wars, if war is not required by the nature of man?

There is absolutely nothing in the nature of man repugnant to the existence of a world community, as there is something in the nature of man repugnant to the existence of no communities at all. The nature of man makes world peace possible, for the same reason that it makes the war of each man against every other impossible. The reason is man’s need for society and, in order to preserve the society, for peace.

The fact that wars have always existed between communities signifies only man’s past failure to eradicate the cause of war — a cause which lies outside his nature, a cause which must be found in the character of his social institutions. These are ultimately the work of his intelligence and will. They have been made by man. They can be changed by man.

Just as the existence of slavery implies the existence of free men, the existence of war implies the existence of peace. We cannot even conceive of a society in which all men are slaves. But, Hitler to the contrary, we know that it is in no way impossible for all men to be their own masters. Nothing is the nature of man prevents a social organization in which all men are free.

The historical fact which enabled some men to understand the possibility of abolishing chattel slavery was the fact that freedom had always coexisted with slavery, even as peace has always coexisted with war. That helped them to see that slavery resulted from alterable social institutions, not from the essence of human nature which man cannot change at will.

Freedom and peace correspond to the deepest aspiration human nature. That man is by nature rational makes slavery repugnant, even as the fact that man is by nature political makes war abnormal.

Other animals are gregarious, but only man is by nature political. Some of the gregarious species live in a relatively stable family groups; some move in herds; some, as the social insects, belong to elaborate organizations a hierarchy of functions and division of labor. But, in every case the form of social life is instinctively determined. Generation after generation, the social structure of the beehive or the any mound remains the same. As long as a given species endures, it social pattern, like its modes of reproduction or nutrition, does not vary form species to species, not within a single species.

Though man is naturally gregarious, instinct does not determine the human forms of social organization. They exhibit a tremendous range of variation. Wherever one finds a beehive, one expects to find the same social arrangements. Such uniformity cannot be found in human communities. Furthermore, even within the same community of men, the social structure undergoes transformation in the course of generations. Man is the only historical animal, as well as the only political animal.

Like some other gregarious animals, man needs the society of his kind, not merely for pleasure but for survival. This basic biological need can be regarded as an instinctive drive toward association. Because they are not self-sufficing, men are instinctively impelled to live together. But instinct goes no further than this fundamental impulse.

Human intelligence devises the forms of association and conceives the institutions through which the social impulse of man is realized in a wide variety of organizations. Hence to say that man is by nature a political animal means two things: first, that man cannot live except socially; second, that the forms of his social life result from the exercise of his intelligence and freedom. They are not predetermined to any particular form.

There is no conflict between the modern theory of civil society as formed by a social contract and the ancient view that man is by nature a political animal.

The great political thinkers of modern times did not suppose that the human race could survive a single generation if all men tried to lead solitary lives. When they talked about man living in a “state of nature,” which he bonded to live with his fellows in a “state of civil society,” they had no historical event or process in mind. They simply meant that man’s natural need for social life must be supplemented by the activity of his reason in devising, and the activity of his will in instituting, the political community.

The word “contract” signifies a voluntary or fee engagement. Men do not have to live in civil societies. They are not instinctively determined to do so. They do so only when their reason tells them it is the best thing for them to do; and them they do so freely — by conventions which they voluntarily institute or accept.

In short, civil status, or membership in a political community, in both natural and non-natural to man. It is non-natural only in the sense that it is non-instinctive; or, to put it positively, in the sense that it is conventional-like any human artifice, the result of intelligence and volition. It is natural in the sense that it is natural for man (who does not act according to definite instinctive patterns) to exercise his reason and will to devise those institutions which most fully satisfy his human needs, the demands of his nature.

Men form political communities in order to have peace, in order to live without fighting and violence and to enjoy the positive benefits which peace confers. Peace, which is identical with the order of civil life, represents the normal condition toward which the nature of man aspires. War, identical with the absence of civil order, violates and frustrates human natural. That is why war is abnormal.

The abnormality of war is further evidenced by its effect on the highest forms of political life.

Men establish themselves in a civil society I order to live well. The conditions of its origin thus show the state or political community to be a means, not an end. Its purpose is to serve the happiness of individual persons. When the state subordinates the good of individual lives to its own welfare, it violates its own reason for being.

Such violence is done by the totalitarian states, whose exponents declare the good of the state to be an ultimate end, and who practice this false religion of “statism” by sacrificing men to the idol.

Democracy is the only completely just form of government, for it is the only form of government under which all men receive what are their due — rights and privileges of equal political status. If the political community originates to help men live well, the history of political life does not reach the natural term of its development until democracies come into being. Only then does a society exist in which all men, not must some, can live well.

In short, it is not society under any form of government, but only constitutional democracy, which adequately fulfills the needs of man’s political nature. Anything less necessarily frustrates and degrades, even when it does not enslave, the many who, while members of the population, cannot call themselves and each other “citizen.”

Now, it is a significant fact that the enterprise of war is more injurious to the political processes of a democracy than to the governmental procedures of the less advanced forms of civil society. Despotic government can undertake war without debating from its ordinary pattern. But a constitutional democracy requires all sorts of emergency measures in order to engage efficiently in war making. The worst forms of government — the least just and the least mature — are those most inclined toward was and the best prepared for its trials.

This confirms the abnormality of war is in no way lessened by the distinction between good and bad wars, just and unjust wars. All wars violate the nature of man and defeat his normal aspiration for the goods of social life- the goods which reflect the beneficence of peace.

What Peace Is

“War consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting,” wrote Hobbes, “but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is Peace.”

The peace which Hobbes has in mind is civil peace, not peace between independent nations. It is the “king’s peace,” against which criminals offend when they commit “a breach of the peace.” It is the sort of peace which can exist within a country while it is waging war on foreign fields.

The conception of war as not limited to battle, and of peace as not being merely the absence of fighting, applies to the external relationships of a state, as well as to its internal condition.

To know the cause of peace, we must first know what peace is. Let me appeal to a writer who thought he could define peace. In The City of God, Saint Augustine said:

The peace of the body is ordered temperature of parts…The peace of body and soul is ordered life and health of animate being…. The peace of man is ordered concord. The peace of the household is the ordered concord of commanding and obeying among those living together. The peace of the city is the ordered concord of commanding and obeying among citizens…..The peace of all things is the tranquility of order. Order is the disposition of equal and unequal things attributing to each its place.

In this statement, several points should be observed. In the first place, Saint Augustine is considering both the peace of an individual living thing and the peace of a community which includes a multitude of distinct individuals. The latter is peace in the social sense, whereas the former is peace in an individual sense-the inward peace of the heart, the peace between man and God. These two should never be confused. Social peace is primarily an affair of political institutions, justice, and law; individual peace, primarily a moral matter, an affair of virtue and charity.

In the second place, any condition of peace involves these elements: a multitude of things; their concord with one another; and an order among them which establishes this concord. In the social sphere, peace consists in a multitude of persons living together in concord and enjoying the tranquility of order.

In the third place, order is the central term. On the one hand, it establishes concord in a multitude; on the other, it confers tranquillity upon their living together. And when the multitude comprises of human beings who can live together by rules of their own devising, rather than by instinct, order results from two factors: from “commanding and obeying” and from “the disposition of equal and unequal things attributing to each it place.”

Order results from the reign of law or from the operations of governments, according to which men are related as rulers and ruled. Order in a multitude also results form the organization of that multitude, in such wise that each member occupies a place according to his equality or inequality with every other member.

The very word “community,” which has the word “unity” at its root, signifies that here is a unity which has come together. The significance of “community” also involves the notion of many persons having something in common. When men associate for a common purpose and share in common benefits derived from their association, they form a community — whether this be a social club or an industrial cooperation, a university or a political party, a family or a state.

However a community is formed, whatever be its size, its purpose, or the special characteristics of its personnel, social peace will be found wherever we find men living or working together in a community. The most important thing for us to see is that the peace of a family does not differ essentially from the peace of a village, nor does the peace of a small country, restricted in area, sparse in population, differ essentially form the peace of the largest state which has ever existed.

Peace does not consist in the total absence of fighting or quarreling, that it does not require all he members of the household to agree about everything.

We could define the political community by specifying the political common good. But it is easier to separate it form all the others by its inclusiveness. By its “inclusiveness” or “comprehensiveness”. I do not mean to imply that the political community should arrogate to itself every social function. That is the horror of totalitarianism. A well-ordered political community not only permits but also encourages the existence of subordinate associations to perform a wide variety of functions-economic, educational, or recreational.

How Peace is Made

The cause of peace is government. The effective operations of government make peace, and keep it.

Without government no community could long endure, if it could ever exist at all. Since peace is equivalent to the life of a community, since peace obtains only among the members of a community, whatever is needed to establish and sustain a community is needed for the establishment and preservation of peace.

Under the term government I mean to include every aspect of a community’s structure and organization. I mean not only the acts of commanding and obeying by which government most obviously manifests itself. I mean as well the disposition of status and function to every member of the community, the arrangement of public offices, and the distribution of rights and privileges.

Ordinarily when we speak of “the government” we mean the group of officials who occupy public office by election or appointment. Sometimes, we have an even more restricted meaning, referring to the executive branch of the government, in contrast to the legislature and the judiciary. But obviously the citizens who vote, who elect officials and can effect the amendment of the constitution, take part in the government of the country to which they belong.

The chief function of government is to settle differences among men who engage to live together. That is the reason why government is needed to keep the peace.

The two ultimate principles of government are the principle of decision by a majority and the principle of decision by a leader. Both are methods of reaching a decision which will be acceptable to the group, despite the individual differences of opinion about what should be done.

Fundamental disagreements cannot be avoided, but recourse to violence can be. About difficult practical matters, even the most rational men, prudent men and men with the common interest at heart, are as likely to disagree as to agree. This unalterable fact requires any community, small or large, to adopt some rules of procedure for reaching a decision in which the dissident parties will occur.

Either the rule that all will abide by a majority vote or the rule that all will accept the judgment of some one given the authority to decide can effectively settle disputes when they arise.

Neither rule determines which side of a practical dispute is in truth the right side. In fact, the minority may be right, or a majority of the group, dissenting form their leader’s judgment, may hold the sounder opinion. The rule of procedure is not a way of always finding the right answer to the question; it is only a way of always finding some answer without recourse to violence. That is the essential minimum condition which a principle of government must satisfy. In addition, one hopes that a rule of procedure will more frequently tend to produce a sound decision. Under different circumstances one may place one’s faith in the wisdom of the majority, or in the prudence of those to whom authority has been given.

These simple facts help us to understand the distinction between authority and force, or power; and also to see that any principle of government must involve both in order to operate effectively for the end it was intended to serve.

The authority of a rule, or of any person upon whom a rule confers authority, consists in its voluntary acceptance by those who will be subject to decisions rendered according to the rule. They accept the rule voluntarily because they recognize its operation to be for their good.

Unless a monopoly of authorized force exists on the side of government, and unless the officers of government, exercising the only authorized force in the community, also exert a substantial predominance of real power, government will fail in its work. The peace of the community will be torn by factions in civil strife. The community may be destroyed. This group of men may no longer be able to live together peacefully.

Effective government must combine authority with force. Naked authority will not keep the peace because men are men, not angels. When Alexander Hamilton wisely said that “if men were angels, no government would be necessary,” he had in mind the need for coercive force to support the authority of rules. “It is essential to the idea of law,” he wrote, “that it be attended with a sanction; or; in other words, a penalty or punishment for disobedience.”

But why will not naked force do the work of government? Why must government have authority as well as power? If one man or a few have enough power to compel all the rest to obey their commands, will not the community be maintained and the peace be kept?

History gives us the answer. The tyrant maintains the community only for the sake of exploiting it. Tyranny always consists in the exercise of power for the private gain of the man possessing it, rather than in the interests of the community.

Whoever feels the oppression of the tyrant, whoever recognizees the injustice of the exploitation he suffers, will obey only under the threat of force. The tyrant’s commands will have no authority, and his unauthorized use of force can have only one result, in the long run or less. When the people are finally driven to prefer the risk of death to further oppression, they will employ the only expedient available to them — the use of naked force against naked force.

Tyranny breeds civil strife, just as powerless justice permits it. From the point of view of peace, it makes no difference whether men must resort to violence in order to obtain justice or are able to employ violence in order to do injustice. Neither force without authority nor authority without force can protect the community from civil strife. Neither can perpetuate.

Government must, therefore, provide three institutions for the peaceful settlement of quarrels between members of a community.

  1. There must be laws of two sorts:
  • General rules which determine the procedure to be followed in the adjudication of disputes; and
  • General rules which determine the standards of right and wrong according to which specific instances of conduct can be judged faultless or blameworthy. It makes no difference whether these general rules express the long-prevalent customs of the community or whether they are expressly formulated and enacted by one or more persons who are given legislative authority by the community.
  1. There must be courts which are designed to render an impartial verdict on the disputed issues and which, according to the laws of the realm, give judgment, commanding certain penalties to be imposed or certain compensations to be made.

  2. There must be sheriffs or police with authorized force and sufficient power to execute the judgment against the party adversely affected by the court’s decision.

These are minimum, not maximum, requirements.

In addition to these elements, there is obvious need for police power competent to bring offenders to trial or to compel disputants, under certain circumstances, to submit their differences to a court. One might also add the deterrent and preventative efficacy of an adequately constituted and efficiently operated police power. But the main point for us to consider here is that nothing less than these three governmental institutions can discharge the task of keeping the peace.

The Only Cause of War

The only cause of war is anarchy. Anarchy occurs whenever men or nations try to live together without each surrendering their sovereignty.

Each of the following elements is supposed to operate as a cause of war between nations, yet each occurs in the life of a single society.

  1. Economic Rivalry

Competition, even cutthroat competition, exists among the corporations and the individuals of most modern societies.

  1. Cultural Antipathies

These create friction among the members of a community. The clash of nationalists or races is present in the communities which have assimilated men form different historic backgrounds and of different biological stocks.

  1. Religious Differences

The rift of deep religious differences has been present in historic communities. In modern times, a single society has embraced infidels and believers, atheists and God-fearing men, every mode of life which men of other persuasions call “paganism” or “heresy.”

  1. Individual Acts of Injustice

No society is ever free from the injuries which men do to men. When men live together, some will always injure others or take advantage of others, just as there will always be fundamental disagreements and disputes.

Individual differences in talent and power always tend toward inequitable distributions of privilege, and privileged classes always tend to perpetuate themselves. Even in a community having the most just political constitution, there will be class distinctions.

The so-called “class war” — the conflict between the haves and have-nots — has always been present regardless of the particular form it takes, whether the haves have blue blood or tainted gold or unmerited gifts of mind and energy.

  1. Hate and Fear

All the emotions supposed to underlie the antagonisms of nations will be found motivating the actions of individuals in a single community. Men hate and fear some of neighbors, distrust them, wish them ill, for a wide variety of reasons or rationalizations.

  1. Factions and Ideologies

Within any political society, and due to some combination of the causes already mentioned, men ally themselves into opposing groups, form political parties, foment factionalism of all sorts, and adopt the slogans and shibboleths of conflicting ideologies.

If the unity which is the heart of a community had to be dead uniformity or complete unanimity, no political society would or could ever exist.

To say that anarchy is the only cause of war is, therefore, to say that it is the sine qua non condition, the one indispensable factor without which every other we can think of would be an insufficient cause.

Anarchy — the absence of government — is a negative factor. The various forces or tendencies which lead to war, unless restrained by government, are positive factors.

How, then, can it be said that anarchy is the only cause of war?

The question is fair. It can be answered by distinguishing between causes we can control and those we cannot. Only the former are significant for practical purposes.

We know now that only world government can prevent international wars. We know now the minimum amount of government which is needed, less than which could not effectively check the ever-present causes of war.

The Right and Wrong of Sovereignty

Sovereignty belongs to no individual man. No man shall be above the positive law or exempt from its coercive force — not even the chief magistrate of the land, certainly not its legislators, judges, or minor officials. The personal will of no man shall enact or set aside a law. The constitution itself, and all the laws which are made by due process under it, are formulated and instituted by a whole community, or by their chosen representatives.

According to the theory of popular sovereignty, the sovereignty which resides in the offices of constitutional government is derived from the authority and force of the community itself. A sovereign people confer sovereignty upon the government it constitutes. Being the source of al other sovereignties, popular sovereignty is unalterable.

The word “sovereign” can no longer be used to designate a man. It now designates the government of a community which has framed and adopted its own constitution.

Without might, men are not governed. They are merely admonished.

Without right, men are not governed. They are merely overpowered.

Government combines might and right, and in consequence has sovereignty over those who acknowledge the right and recognize the might.

If and when world government exists, it will have to possess sovereignty in this sense. Lacking it, would not be government. Anyone who conceives world government as exercising only moral authority uses the word “government” but does not understand the fact.

The Degrees of Peace

Peace on earth is not paradise. No human community will ever be free from crime and violence, the injustice of man to man, deceit and treachery. No amount of social progress will ever provide man with a life unburdened by pain and sorrow, devoid of moral struggle, or unrivaled by spiritual discords. Peace in the world will never, to the end of time, relieve man of the search for peace in his own heart.

The conditions of human life can be improved, but at their best they will reflect all the imperfections of man’s imperfect nature.

Utopian fantasies set a false standard of perfection, one which does not fit human nature. They bring discredit upon the word “ideal.” Rightly impatient with utopian thinking, the practical man tends to dismiss any discussion of ideal conditions as irrelevant to the real course of affairs. The false and extravagant idealism which sets standards of unattainable perfection is irrelevant, but a sober idealism should mot be made t suffer for such utopian folly.

Universal and perpetual peace represents an ideal in the sense that it is a better condition than the world has yet experienced. It may even be the best condition of social life than men can hope to know on earth. But it is not utopian.

Universal and perpetual peace is a practicable ideal because it is possible for men as they are. Men do not have to become angels, or even saints, to achieve a better world than the one in which we live.

All the elements of the primitive legal system will be found in the international situation. Each sovereign state is its own judge as to whether it has suffered an injury, by reference to the customary standards of international conduct which are called “general international law.” And, having judged itself offended against, it exerts what power it can in self-help to punish the offender or remedy the injury, soliciting additional force from whatever nations it can inveigle into the struggle.

In the light of these facts, it is certain that there can be no degree of international peace so long as the international community remains anarchic; it will also cease to be international in the sense of being a community of independent sovereign states. When the condition of world peace supplants the present situation, men will no longer speak either of international law or of international society.

A community of the world’s peoples, living together under government, will not be a society of nations, but a society of men, divided into subgroups only according to the divisions of local government.

We have found the minimum conditions for some degree of peace, in either the limited communities which have so far existed or in the future community of the world’s peoples. They are, briefly: impartial law, impartial judgment, impartial execution, as opposed to making the law to suit one’s self — being judge in one’s own case, and resorting to private might be self-help.

Two things should be obvious at once:

(1) The peace of a political community is impaired by civil strife of all sorts. Whether or not we choose to call such civil violence “war,” the fact remains that civil peace cannot be regarded as perfect until governmental machinery is able to cope with every form of dissension or dispute.

The perfection of peace does not depend of the removal of all causes for dispute or strife; nor even the avoidance of force in the settlement of differences. It depends on ways of keeping quarrels on the conversational level, and on a monopoly of the legitimate force needed to execute decisions.

(2) Since peace, in any degree, depends upon government, the several degrees of peace will be correlated with the various forms of government. Forms of government vary in two ways. Some are intrinsically more just than others. Among governments which are equal in justice, one may be more efficient than another, that is, better able to do the work for which government is intended.

It would be reasonable to expect that the most just government and the most efficient will maintain the highest degree of peace. Neither justice without efficiency nor efficiency without justice will keep the peace perfectly. Defects in justice will occasion civil strife. Defects in efficiency will fail to provide pacific means for remedying injustice, or will fail to support them by public force.

The most fundamental distinction among the forms of government is that between constitutional government and despotism, the absolute rule of one man who regards himself as a personal sovereign.

Since the sovereign man is above the law, those subject to his rule can take no lawful stand against him. They lack juridical rights. They have no power to protect themselves against oppression, no legal means by which to seek remedies for injustice.

Constitutional government is intrinsically more just that the most benevolent despotism. It abolishes personal sovereignty. The basic political status under constitutional government is that of citizenship. The rights and privileges of citizenship can be legally safeguarded against the encroachments of public officials. Those who are admitted to the status of citizenship have the political equality and the political freedom which is the just due of every man.

But constitutional government can be defective in two fundamental ways — in justice and in efficiency.

If the constitution does not admit all the members of a population to the rights of citizenship, it is unjust. If the franchise is narrowly restricted, if some remain in chattel slavery, if others are kept politically immature as wards of the community, political freedom and equality have been unjustly distributed.

The marks of the just constitution are universal suffrage and the abolition of all politically privileged classes. By these marks political democracy is defined, and so far as political justice is concerned, it is clearly the best form of government.

But political justice can be combined with economic injustice. Politically free men can be economically exploited, which means that they are enslaved, for slavery consists in being used by another as an instrument of that other’s private profit. The perfectly just constitution must, therefore, remove all obstacles to economic reforms which progressively ameliorate the conditions of labor and which progressively approach an equitable distribution of economic opportunities and rewards.

Economic freedom is indispensable to the unfettered exercise of political freedom. Like political liberty, economic freedom is established by justice and by government, not in spite of justice and apart from government. Economic freedom cannot be defined in terms of free enterprise, ownership of private property, or being in business for one’s self, though it is true that free enterprise and private property are essential safeguards against the sort of collectivism which substitutes one economic master, the state, for many. John Adams was right in thinking that no man who is dependent for his subsistence upon the will of another can fully exercise political freedom; but Adams, like most of the Founding Fathers, was an oligarch who advocated a suffrage limited to those fortunate enough to be born to, or to have achieved, economic freedom.

Economic democracy involves economic justice for all men, as well as economic freedom for all. The theory of free enterprise fails to solve the problem precisely because it insists only on the necessary autonomy of the economic life, and neglects the just regulation of the economic order to prevent exploitation. The ultimate natural right to be protected is not the right to private property, but rather freedom from exploitation, based on the equal right of every man to work for his own happiness and the common good.

The measure of efficiency in the practice of constitutional government is the extent to which due process of law, supported by legitimate public force, can settle every controversy involving real grievances.

We speak of universal and perpetual peace. The universality of peace can be achieved only by world government. That universal peace must be perfected to become perpetual. World government can achieve this by satisfying all the conditions we have just considered. Obviously, the world may enjoy universal peace long before that peace is itself perfected by the justice and efficiency of world government.

World government must not only be constitutional, but it must also be democratic, with all the implications this has for the political status of men everywhere. It must not only become politically democratic, but it should also look to the realization of economic democracy. It should not only be just politically and economically, but it must also safeguard whatever justice is attained by adequate sanctions. More than that, it should provide efficient machinery for altering any compromise status quo, for improving justice continually by due process of law. No form of imperialism can be allowed to remain.

A legitimate use of force and every implement of education must be directed towards achieving equality of conditions throughout the world and in reducing local deviations from the spirit of laws, especially reactionary or intransigent subversion.

When these things are done, universal peace will become perpetual. Clearly nothing less than the perfect peace which is universal and perpetual can be our ultimate goal. Nothing less need be, for this goal, is practical, not utopian.

A Society of Men

It has now been proved that universal and perpetual peace is possible. Let me briefly summarize the steps of the proof.

(1) We have seen the conditions required for any degree of peace. These conditions are the same regardless of the size of the population and of the area with which we may be concerned. Peace exists wherever there is a political community, a society of men living together under government — in a city, a state, a nation or the world.

(2) The universality of peace is only one aspect of its perfection. It is the quantitative aspect. There is also a qualitative aspects which varies with the likelihood of civil strife within any community have some degree of peace. Peace is qualitatively perfect only when it is perpetual, only when the justice and efficiency of government preclude the occasions or the need for civil violence.

Let us look for a moment at international law to see why it cannot possibly meet the needs of the situation. The point is not that international law is at present defective and that, when developed or improved, it will perform the task of keeping the peace. The point is that world peace requires a complete transformation of international law.

We have already seen the respects I which international law is like primitive law. It is the kind of law which belongs to an anarchic community in which the basic legal functions are performed by individuals judging and helping themselves. But there are still further respects in which international law differs from the law of a true political community, the sort of law which manifests the operations of government.

(1) It is supposed to be a matter of custom that nations respect each other’s sovereignty. It is at least customary for each nation to demand respect for it sown sovereignty.

(2) It is a moral precept that nations, like individuals, should keep the promises they have made.

These two maxims summarize the general content of international law in so far as it concerns the rights of nations and their duties to one another. It should be obvious at once, from the whole history of international affairs, that nations frequently violate each other’s rights, and frequently fail to discharge their obligations. International law is as powerless to prevent the wars which result there from.

It seems a little odd to describe as customary law what is more frequently breached than observed. The general maxims of international law can be regarded as customary only in the very special sense already observed. It is customary for each nation to demand that other nations fulfill their obligations. It is customary for each nation to demand that other nations respect its rights.

The Probability of Peace: An Optimistic View of History

The unity of human history lies in the simple fact that it is, all human. This justifies the philosopher in searching for a history has never been written — the history of the human race.

That truth consists in understanding history as the working our of man’s potentialities for social and cultural development.

The general pattern of social evolution is affected by all sorts of contingent circumstances which prevent it from moving in a straight line. It includes errors and failures as well as successes. Men have the capacity to brutalize and degrade their life as well as to humanize and civilize it. Nevertheless, in the course of time, the achievements of progress do become more stable and secure. Above all, human history, unlike natural evolution, must be viewed as only partly determined by physical factors. For good or for evil, it also represents the work of man’s free will.

This optimistic view of history was held by Immanuel Kant. He devolved it in a book which has significant connections with his later work on Perpetual Peace. Ten years earlier, in 17884, he wrote a treatise entitled Idea of a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View. Its fundamental thesis was that human capacities are “destined to unfurl themselves completely in the course of time, and in accordance with the end to which they are adapted.”

The attainment of the highest level of civilization is the goal of the race, as the attainment of happiness is the goal of the individual life. Nut, whereas the individual may fail to achieve the full good of his being, the race will succeed in fulfilling the promise of nature’s endowment.

Human civilization is a work of reason and of freedom, not of instinct. Since men use their freedom for evil as well as for good, the motion of history will not be in a line of steady progress.

The struggle of many generations is needed for the predominance of good and for the increments of progress by which the human race gradually perfects it civilization.

Kant saw that the perfection of civilization depended upon the establishment of a civil society, the political constitution of which embodied the justice needed to fulfill man’s social nature. He also saw that the internal well-being of particular societies is profoundly affected by their external relations with one another. The state of war between nations continually works against the tendency toward civilization within communities. Universal and perpetual peace is, therefore, the goal toward which man’s striving tends.

Progress Toward Peace

In the field of political history, there seem to be two laws of growth. One formulates the tendency of political development from despotism to constitutional government and, under the auspices of constitutional government, form oligarchy to democracy. The other formulates the tendency of political expansion from communities small in area and sparse in population to states which embrace vast territories and populations, heterogeneous as well as numerous.

It should certainly be obvious that the nation-state is only the latest, not the last, stage in the process of political expansion.

The only limit to political expansion is the world-state. Nothing less than that can stop the process. The world-state is the natural limit of expansion, the last stage of political growth in which two fundamental unities coalesces: (1) the unity of the planet as the territorial basis for man’s political life, and (2) the unity of human nature, underlying all racial and cultural differences, as the psychological basis for universal citizenship.

The Obstacles of Peace

Peace is not an ultimate end, and absolute good in itself. Political peace, like the very existence of a civil society and its welfare, provides the conditions men need to lead a good human life. Peace is a means to happiness, and the pursuit of happiness requires both liberty and justice.

We see, therefore, that world peace cannot be made if men will not give up the things which stand in its way. Even if it is made, it cannot be perpetuated if the terms of its making demand the sacrifice of the very goods which peace should serve.

We see one further point. If men misconceive their happiness to consist in money, fame, or power, they do not really want peace even if they delude themselves into thinking that war disturbs their pursuit of these things.

There is nothing intrinsically evil in money, fame, or power. What is evil is the infinite lust which seeks to possess them at all costs — the desire to have them in unlimited quantities, and before anything else.

Men who place their happiness in such goods, preeminently or exclusively, not only defeat themselves, even in the short run of a single lifetime; they also jeopardize the common good of the society in which they live. No one — man or nation — can seek unlimited wealth without impoverishing others, without increasing rather than diminishing the inequitable of the material factors in human welfare. No man or nation can wield unlimited power without enslaving or subjecting others.

The simplest test of a true conception of human happiness is that it should be attainable by each individual without in any way impeding or preventing an attainment of the same goods by others. Anyone who regards the pursuit of happiness as a competitive enterprise, in which first severed and the devil take the hindmost is doomed to discover that the first shall be last in the devil’s accounting.

All of the moral obstacles to peace arise from disordered desires, desires for things in the wrong order, or unlimited desires for things which are good in their place and under some limitation of quantity which respects the needs of others.

For the deepest spiritual brotherhood to obtain among all men, it may be necessary for all to recognize the fatherhood of one God. But that is not necessary for political comradeship among citizens of the same state. For the peace of God, nothing less; than the theological virtue of charity will do. But justice — political and economic — is sufficient for civil peace.

One further point must be observed. There is a prevalent tendency to overemphasize cultural differences, and to minimize or neglect the profound similarities between diverse cultures. These common elements lie deep, because they are rooted in the underlying humanity of men everywhere. The differences being accidents of place or breeding or history, are necessarily superficial.

But the confusions about sovereignty still persist, especially the failure to distinguish between its internal and external aspects. This prevents men from seeing that subjugation or political dependency is not the only alternative to national independence.

They do not see that if they give up external sovereignty in order to establish a world federation, they necessarily retain the internal sovereignty of their government in local affairs. They do not see that the choice between national independence and subjugation arises only in the anarchic situation.

If they were to decide against international anarchy in favor of world government, they would be avoiding the possible loss of national independence at the hands of a conqueror, at the very same time that they would be surrendering external sovereignty for federal status. This most men do not see.

Revolution for Peace

For the last time, let us face the question whether peace is possible.

It is certainly impossible if the obstacles to it reside in any unchangeable features of human nature. If peace required men to be angels, or even most men to be saints, it would be a human impossibility. But the requisite changes in moral attitude and intellectual outlook, do not entail superhuman aspirations counsels of perfection.

Attitudes and opinions are both matters of habit. How men feel toward certain things, and what they believe about them, are consequences of nurture, not endowment of nature.

Were this not so, cultures could not differ from one another in fundamentals of belief or desire. The variety of cultures and historic changes in the growth of any single civilization show plainly enough that men vary in their habits of emotion and thought.

If the moral obstacles to peace were founded on something as instinctive as the impulse to self-preservation, then an unalterable aspect of human nature would forever prevent peace — at least for men so long as they remained men. But the moral failings and the intellectual misconceptions which seem to be the chief impediments are not instinctive.

They are habits of character and of mind. They have been acquired in the course of history and under certain cultural influences. These habits can be changed in the course of time and by means of the same factors which originally formed them — education and experience.

The intellectual habits are the easier to change. Men have outgrown superstitions as profound as the belief that loss of national independence always amounts to political subjection. The conquest of false opinion has been accomplished not only in the fields of physics and medicine; it has also taken place in the sphere of social and political ideas.

Most men once thought that subjection to a despot was the natural condition of the majority. Most men no longer think so in some parts of the world. That is quite sufficient to show that, in the future, most men everywhere can become enlightened on this point.

We can argue similarly in the case of peace. Some men in the world today — however few relatively — do not understand that world federation would in no way deprive nations or their people of any degree of true human liberty. This fact shows that the prevalent notions about national independence are not innate ideas which all men have from birth, and from which they cannot free themselves. Inculcated by mis-education, the confusion about sovereignty can be removed by sound teaching.

In these matters, formal schooling usually needs to be reinforced by the lessons of experience. Experience supplemented teaching in bringing large numbers of men to understand their natural right to self-government — the right which despotism violates. In the same way that the whole atmosphere of political thought has been changed on this point, it can and will be changed with regard to the false notion that absolute sovereignty belongs to nations by natural right.

There is, in short, no intellectual impediment to peace which sound education, supported by some experience, cannot cure. But the moral difficulties, ultimately due to emotional disorders, may be less susceptible to such remedies.

Education for Peace

Civil liberty is not unlimited freedom. It is a freedom bounded by maximal and minimal conditions. In a just society, no man should have more liberty than he can use justly, or less than he needs to live a good life. More liberty than this becomes criminal license. Less deprives men of dignity, degrading them to slavery, which consists in their being used as means to the happiness or, more strictly, the selfish interests of other men.

It should be obvious that civil liberty is not incompatible with law and government. A man is no less free because he must obey a just law, even if he is not the author of that law, or would have wished to see it formulated differently in some particulars. Political freedom does not mean self-determination or self-government in that anarchic sense which recognizes no authority except one’s own will — or whim — and hence yields obedience only to superior force.

At one extreme, there is the error of supposing that peace can be established by world political institutions prior to any of the moral and intellectual changes needed to make these institutions sufficiently acceptable to enough people. AT the opposite extreme is the error of supposing that the heart and mind of man must be completely ready before the necessary institutions can be initiated.

The institutionalist and the moralist fail to see that two sets of factors are everywhere interactive. Men must be morally and intellectually ready for political institutions — but only to some degree. Once the institutions exist, they will condition the whole social environment, and produce further moral and intellectual changes favorable to their own operation.

The moralist underestimates the educative influence of political institutions. The institutionalist does not pay enough attention to the psychological soil in which institutions must take root. It has been said, for example, that international institutions will not work until an international conscience exists. This strains the truth. The truth is that an international conscience will not be robust until international agencies become operative, and that international institutions will not work well until an international conscience matures. At an earlier stage, the weakest strain on international conscience may be sufficient to permit the tentative and halfhearted adoption of international institutions.

The End


This essay on War and Peace was excerpted from Dr. Adler’s book How to Think About War and Peace by Robert Sutherland, Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas.

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