Species of War and Peace

27 May 2009

Wednesday


A couple of days ago in More on Clausewitz I discussed Anatol Rapoport’s tripartite classification of philosophies of war into the political, the eschatological and the cataclysmic.

There are many classifications and categories of wars. Near the end of Strachan’s recent book on Clausewitz that I have been discussing this past week, Strachan says that Clausewitz made a fundamental distinction between wars of observation and wars of decision. There are also the familiar categories of just war, preemptive war, preventative war, guerrilla war (what Clausewitz called “small war” or a “people’s war”), war of extermination, and so forth. It would be an interesting exercise to compile a complete list of proposed classifications and categories of war. It would be more interesting yet to attempt to formulate a theoretical structure into which all these species of war could be coherently fitted so that they hang together in a way that makes sense. In short, it would be worthwhile to sort things out, conceptually speaking.

For a  dialectical conception of peace, to complement a dialectical conception of war, we would need to develop the concept of peace with full consciousness of the conceptual pair of war and peace and the complex interrelations between these two concepts that are formally opposed but nevertheless are not contradictories. Non-peace is not always war, and non-war is not always peace. A stalemate within a conflict may appear, in some respects, to resemble peace, and the struggle to establish peace may, in some respects, resemble war, but the two conceptions are essentially and fundamentally distinct. For example, think of non-violent campaigns and struggles for equality and justice: in many respects such actions are essentially a war against society, its norms and conventions, but a non-violent campaign such as Mohandas Gandhi “waged” in India could not reasonably be called warfare.

Gandhi with with textile workers at Darwen, England, September 26, 1931. Does this embody a genuine ideal of peace, or it is warfare by other means?

Gandhi with with textile workers at Darwen, England, September 26, 1931. Does this embody a genuine ideal of peace, or it is warfare by other means?

In More on Clausewitz I wrote: “In Rapoport’s exposition of these three philosophies of war, war appears as an event that “happens,” interrupting the “ordinary” and “normal” condition of peace that prevails, or ought to prevail, and it is clearly implied that something must be done to “explain” the outbreak of war.” To see how true this is, and how we do not intuitively conceive of peace in parallel terms, imagine Rapoport’s philosophies of war re-formulated as parallel philosophies of peace.

Eschatological peace with the Millennium comes at a certain price. When I first saw this Stephan Lochner painting in Cologne in 1990 it made quite an impression on me.

Eschatological peace with the Millennium comes at a certain price. When I first saw this Stephan Lochner painting in Cologne in 1990 it made quite an impression on me.

Can we make sense of a philosophy of political peace, eschatological peace, and catastrophic peace? Yes, certainly we can. There are some obviously examples that come to mind that embody these ideas. For example, the idea of the Millennium in Christian thought is a paradigm case of eschatological peace: the messianic fulfillment of a grand cosmic plan. The communist ideal of the establishment of a classless society constitutes the secular parallel to Christianity’s sacred eschatological peace. It would not be too difficult to formulate a political conception of peace, and indeed such a conception is suggested by a well-known passage from Shakespeare, when Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, intones over the infant Elizabeth:

In her days every man shall eat in safety,
Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing
The merry songs of peace to all his neighbors.
God shall be truly known; and those about her
From her shall read the perfect ways of honor,
And by those claim their greatness, not by blood.

Shakespeare, “King Henry the Eighth,” Act V, Scene V, lines 34-39

An engraving by Joseph Collyer (London, 1748 - 1827) of "The Christening of Queen Elizabeth"

An engraving by Joseph Collyer (London, 1748 - 1827) of "The Christening of Queen Elizabeth"

It is a little more difficult to imagine a substantive parallel for a cataclysmic philosophy of peace, and since the cataclysmic conception most fully and completely embodies the sense that things “just happen.” But even here, if we search our memory and imagination, we might find an exemplar of catastrophic peace. For example, the idea of a Golden Age before civilization, or even, from our present standpoint that possess a sort of sad awareness of dystopia, a new Golden Age after the end of the civilization, may be taken as examples of catastrophic peace that befalls humanity and lies outside our control.

Cataclysmic peace: The Golden Age.

Cataclysmic peace: The Golden Age.

All of these examples, perhaps with the exception of the first, are a little strained, and just this is the point: peace doesn’t quite follow a perfect parallel with war. And indeed there are things that can be said of peace that cannot be said of war. Peace seems to embody an ideal, whereas war does not seem to embody an ideal. We may imagine ultimate and absolute forms of war, and we can imagine a perfectly executed campaign, but it involves a certain conceptual strain to attempt to conceive of war as an ideal, though I am sure this has been done. There is nothing so perverse that human experience does not testify to its possibility at some place or time.

Still, it is a worthwhile intellectual endeavor to attempt to formulate an adequate theoretical model to organize our thought about war, and then to attempt to apply any insights gained from this systematic endeavor in formulating a similarly systematic and coherent theoretical framework for understanding peace. If we could do this, we would be that much closer to a definitive theory of peace, and it is only with a clear understanding of what peace is that we could realistically attempt to put peace into practice in the actual world. Philosophical understanding is the only propadeutic to and heuristic for practical efficacy and concrete results.

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In writing the above I realize that I have made the unstated assumption that contradictory concepts, and perhaps also inverted and complementary concept pairs, ought to each replicate the theoretical structures of the other, so that parallel formulations of what is true for the one should also be true for the other, mutatis mutandis. This makes for an interesting general principle, though it is probably next to impossible to prove anything so sweeping. However, as a methodological principle it is potentially fruitful.

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