Sunday, April 23, 2006

Peace Strategies Focused on Understanding

It seems to me that there is a rather limited number of approaches that are taken to the issue of how to bring about or maintain peace. Some approaches focus on the understanding as a means toward peace, while others take a more practical approach, e.g., conflict resolution, military forces used as “peace keepers”, reconciliation, etc.. Of course, the understanding also plays a role in the practical approaches, too. Even the military enforcement of peace is designed, in part, to get potentially warring factions to understand that continuation of hostilities will not lead to desirable consequences. However, the focus of what I am calling “practical approaches” is not on the understanding, per se, but on behavior and relationships, or on the ways in which different groups of people interact.
I do not mean to suggest that approaches toward peace that focus on understanding are not realistic or that they are impractical. To the contrary, it seems to me that understanding is a key to the achievement of lasting peace. Approaches toward peace that focus on understanding may be divided into several varieties, according to the sort of understanding thought to be effective toward bringing about or maintaining peace.

Moral Understanding. A large number of thinkers have argued that peace is to be won through moral understanding. War is wrong, it is argued, either absolutely or in specified conditions. When people understand this, and also that the conditions that would make war wrong obtain, they will refrain from war.

Religious Understanding. Often it is argued on religious grounds that war, either generally or in some cases, is wrong. So, according to Catholic just war theory, a war is wrong if it lacks an appropriate causis belli. Sometimes pacifists take a particularly strong position of this sort, that is, that pacifism has no justification except a religious one, and that without the religious justification, there is no reason not to engage in war when this seems politically advantageous. So, religious understanding is held to be an effective preventative of war generally, or of wars meeting certain conditions. In all of these cases, however, the religious understanding that is held to inhibit war (or some wars) is an understanding that God condemns war (or some wars). It is the desire to conform to the commands of God that should then motivate peace. Another sort of religious understanding related to mysticism has also been held to promote peace. It is held that when one empties the self of petty desires (Buddhism) or fills oneself with the love of Christ (Christianity), for example, enmity is replaced by love. An absence of passion or a universal love can motivate peace.

Political Understanding. There are also a variety of views according to which a certain sort of political understanding can prevent war. The sort of political understanding in question can be pragmatic or ideological. For example of a pragmatic argument, one could argue that a proper understanding of political relations in the modern world will show that the political aims for which wars are fought are more effectively achieved by other means. Such arguments could be made generally against all wars, or particularly against a specific war or against wars meeting certain conditions. As an example of an ideological argument, consider the position taken by socialists against the world wars and militarism because they viewed war as against the interests of the working classes.

Psychological Understanding. Sometimes it is held that an understanding of other people who are potential enemies will prevent war against them. Armies have often instituted rules against fraternization with the enemy because of the belief that friendly relations would make psychological impediments to warfare. Peace advocates have also advocated friendly relations among people who are potentially enemies as a means of reducing the risk of war. Some have also held that aggressive tendencies are caused by a certain psychological temperament, and that peace is to be achieved by creating conditions in which such temperament is mollified. Others have held that wars take place because those who call for war do not understand the horrors of war. Sometimes it is held that if we understood what motivates others to war against us, we could prevent war through negotiation.

Historical Understanding. Sometimes it is claimed that if people understood how futile wars have proven to be through history, no one would engage in war. Some have held that if both sides knew what the outcome of a war would be there would never be any war, because one of the sides would know that the outcome would be defeat and would therefore not engage in war, and there can be no war unless both sides engage in combat. The argument is fallacious, but here I’m not trying to evaluate the arguments, just compile a list of ways in which people have thought that understanding can bring peace.

2 Comments:

Blogger mohammed said...

A common slogan heard at protests is "No justice, no peace." How does that fit into our understandings of peace through understanding? Does peace have certain pre-conditions?

23 April, 2006 22:05  
Blogger Hajj Muhammad Legenhausen said...

If "no peace" means "war", this slogan would imply that there should be war whenever there is injustice. A moment's reflection should suffice to realize that this is indefensible. Peace does not mean acquiescence. There are many ways to struggle against injustice without violence. From an Islamic point of view, we should consider which tactic enables us best to adhere to the precepts of Islam while making the greatest gains toward religious ideals. I think a realistic assessment will lead to an abandonment of violence in virtually all cases we face today, (with the exceptions of some cases of self-defense).

30 April, 2006 20:37  

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