Sunday, January 1, 2012

Just Peace

Peace has always been among humanity's highest values--for some, supreme.


"Peace at any price."
"The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war."
"Peace is more important than all justice."
"I prefer the most unjust peace to the justest war that was ever waged."
"There never was a good war or a bad peace."

Yet, we agree little on what is peace. Perhaps the most popular (Western) view is as an absence of dissension, violence, or war, a meaning found in the New Testament and possibly an original meaning of the Greek word for peace, Irene.

Peace, however, is also seen as concord, or harmony and tranquility. It is viewed as peace of mind or serenity, especially in the East. It is defined as a state of law or civil government, a state of justice or goodness, a balance or equilibrium of Powers.

Such meanings of peace function at different levels. Peace may be opposed to or an opposite of antagonistic conflict, violence, or war. It may refer to an internal state (of mind or of nations) or to external relations. Or it may be narrow in conception, referring to specific relations in a particular situation (like a peace treaty), or overarching, covering a whole society (as in a world peace). Peace may be a dichotomy (it exists or it does not) or continuous, passive or active, empirical or abstract, descriptive or normative, or positive or negative.

The problem is, of course, that peace derives its meaning and qualities within a theory or framework. Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist will see peace differently, as will pacifist or internationalist. Socialist, fascist, and libertarian have different perspectives, as do power or idealistic theorists of international relations. In this diversity of meanings, peace is no different from such concepts as justice, freedom, equality, power, conflict, class, and, indeed, any other concept.

All concepts are defined within a theory or cognitive framework--what I have called elsewhere a perspective.Through a perspective peace is endowed with meaning by being linked to other concepts within a particular perception of reality; and by its relationship to ideas or assumptions about violence, history, divine grace, justice. Peace is thereby locked into a descriptive or explanatory view of our reality and each other.

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