The story of peace is as old as the story of humanity itself, and certainly as old as war. It is a story of progress, often in very difficult circumstances. Historically, peace has often been taken, to imply an absence of overt violence or war between or sometimes within states–in other words, a negative peace. War is often thought to be the natural state of humanity, peace of any sort being fragile and fleeting. I would challenge this view. Peace in its various forms has been by far humanity’s more common experience—as the archaeological, ethnographic, and historic records indicate. Much of history has been relatively peaceful and orderly, while frameworks for security, law, redistribution of resources, and justice have constantly been advancing. Peace has been at the centre of the human experience, and a sophisticated version of peace has become widely accepted in modernity, representing a more positive form of peace.
Peace has been organized domestically within the state, internationally through global organizations and institutions, or transnationally through actors whose ambit covers all of these levels. Peace can be public or private. Peace has often been a hidden phenomenon, subservient to power and interests.
The longer term aspiration for a self-sustaining, positive peace via a process aimed at a comprehensive outcome has rarely been attained, however, even with the combined assistance—in recent times—of international donors, the United Nations, World Bank, military forces, or international NGOs.
Peace is also a rather ambiguous concept. Authoritarian governments and powerful states have, throughout history, had a tendency to impose their version of peace on their own citizens as well as those of other states, as with the Soviet Union’s suppression of dissent amongst its own population and those of its satellite states, such as East Germany or Czechoslovakia. Peace and war may be closely connected, such as when military force is deployed to make peace, as with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) airstrikes in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995 and in Yugoslavia in 1999.
Both George Orwell (1903–50), in his novel 1984, and the French social theorist Michel Foucault (1926–84) noted the dangers of the relationship between war and peace in their well-known aphorisms: ‘peace is war’, ‘war is peace’. Nevertheless, peace is closely associated with a variety of political, social, economic, and cultural struggles against the horrors of war and oppression. Peace activism has normally been based on campaigns for individual and group rights and needs, for material and legal equality between groups, genders, races, and religions, disarmament, and to build international institutions. This has required the construction of local and international associations, networks, and institutions, which coalesced around widely accepted agendas. Peace activism supported internationally organized civil society campaigns against slavery in the 18th century, and for basic human dignity and rights ever since. Various peace movements have struggled for independence and self-determination, or for voting rights and disarmament (most famously perhaps, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament).
Ordinary people can, and have often, mobilized for peace in societal terms using peaceful methods of resistance. A wealth of historical and contemporary evidence supports a popular desire for a broad, positive form of peace. Recent research indicates that its development will tend to be hybrid. A hybrid peace framework ultimately must represent a wide range of social practices, identities, as well as indicating the coexistence of different forms of state, and a widely pluralist international community.
Featured image credit: Dove. CC0 via Pixabay.