War and Peace, by Mortimer J. Adler

by Mortimer J. Adler, Ph.D.

The word “war” in everyday discourse usually means actual warfare, fighting with whatever weapons are available at the time and place, and the word “peace” usually means the opposite, the absence of violent warfare.

But, considered philosophically, we must take account of a more complex set of meanings. In the first place we must distinguish between the state of war and actual warfare. Sovereign princes or sovereign states in relation to one another are in a condition of anarchy. In this century we have a new name for this condition. We have called it the “cold war,” as opposed to the hot condition of actual warfare, In the “cold war” with each other, sovereign states may be either friendly or hostile, but that relationship can change from time to time.

The word “peace,” in addition to its negative meaning as an absence of the violence of actual warfare, has a positive meaning. Civil peace is enjoyed by a people who can settle all their conflicts and disputes by means of the instrumentalities of government and law, and so they do not have to resort to the violence of actual warfare.

We owe to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes this more precise understanding of war and peace. It is this more precise understanding that leads us to the conclusion that, in the absence of government, which is anarchy, we cannot have civil peace, locally, nationally, or in the world of international relations. Permanent world peace without world civil government is impossible.


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