Ethics Forums


An Insight into Peace

By Thalia Arawi


            For quite some time now the world has been tenaciously proving itself to be a consistent battlefield were peace is difficult to find. Humanity stranded in the middle of war is becoming an issue of paramount importance. Numerous nations wake up every morning not knowing whether they will live to see the next sunrise, other nations suffer psychological wars and threats and amidst this crude realism, human beings seem to long what has become a hollow word: Peace.

            I have read “A Vision of Peace” by Lawrence M. Hinman. Although I disagree with the idea of ‘military attacks’ since they are not “as narrowly focused and precisely executed as possible” (there are laws to war and these laws have been and are still, drastically broken), I find the five ‘elements’ of his vision essential for peace. Peace can be defined simply as the absence of war in its different forms thus, the ‘absence of violence’ where war is commonly defined as the use of violence and force in order to resolve differences and conflicts. However, this need not always be the case. War can also be explicated as threats of using force and military actions. This is a situation that prevails in the natural order of things and states, as Kant puts it, (in their external relations to one another), are in a situation of war where the rights of the stronger predominate even if there is no actual combat. This potential is actualized in our century that is marked by perpetual wars in different areas of the globe. They take different forms and extend to different time zones.  From time to time, hostile nations stop fighting and people feel freed and contented. They fail to acknowledge that wars are not over since as long as there is hostility there is no room for tranquility. We find this idea in Thucydides The History of the Peloponnesian War, where he maintained that the seven or eight years interim without combat during the thirty years of war between the Spartans and the Athenians was not to be considered a period of peace. Peace has to begin in the minds and in the intention of those who wage the war, in a form of an awakening where they realize that in war there really is no winner for both parties entangled in armed conflict actually suffer irreparable losses. Thus, good action is a reaction to a good intention at the basis of which, to use Kant’s term, there need be a “good will”.  In his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, the German philosopher presented what he called the Formula of the Kingdom of Ends: "So act as if you were, through your maxims, a law-making member of a kingdom of ends." This formula can indeed lead to the Vision of Peace and for those who find Kant too theoretical, Rawls gives the following methodical interpretation:  We should ask ourselves what principles it would be rational for us to will that we be governed by were we to make that choice from a position of ignorance about our own conception of the good, social situation, talents and abilities. Naturally, qua rational persons, we all have the same interests: the freedom to pursue our ends, a framework that will allow us to fulfill our ‘rational plan of life’ and insure that we lead a dignified life, etc. Thus, according to the Rawlsian interpretation, Kant is suggesting that we act in such a way that we choose a universal law from behind a veil of ignorance. Such a law cannot but pave the way to a just social order and be conducive to peace unless members of the original positions were irrational,   masochists or ‘psychopaths’, which is not the case.

            This, I think, is a precondition to the ‘elements’ of L.M. Hinman’s Vision. The “good will”, along side a “sense of justice”, ensure that these elements will be met, that the vision of peace, regardless of the hindrances that stand in its way is not all too impossible.


            At this point, I would like to elaborate on his third ‘element’, namely, the importance of living up to one’s own ideals. Human rights have been violated for centuries in various areas of the world and, with the development of new technology more so now than ever before. Human nature becoming what it is,  there is a striking growing immunity to harm and ruthlessness in the case of the attackers and the “strong” who are either becoming blind to the injustices they are inflicting or are becoming too simple-minded in thinking that they can actually delude the masses by trying to make the weaker argument appear the strong. At this point in time, there is a major uproar on behalf of the ICRC concerning the Guantanamo Camps in Cuba. Every person knows that the way these prisoners are treated and the conditions in the Camp X-Ray are inhumane. One need not know about Henry Dunant, the Geneva Convention or about the International Humanitarian Law to sense the injustice and to realize that an infringement on human rights is taking place. The Third Geneva Convention states that Prisoners of War (POWs) must be spared "outrages upon personal dignity," "humiliating and degrading treatment," and "insults and public curiosity," which were clearly violated as seen from the picture that was released by the US Department of Defense showing the Taliban and al Qaida detainees in orange jumpsuits at Camp X-Ray. How difficult is it for a rational person to go back to the maxim of universality where one is to “act only on that maxim whereby [one] can at the same time will that his maxim should become a universal law.”?  It is often the case that countries that are violating these laws are countries that have acquiesced to them and signed key treaties that honor them which brings me back to my view of human nature becoming what it is. Signing a treaty and not honoring it is akin to paying lip service to a cause while doing nothing about it. Those of us who are familiar with Henry David Thoreau’s act of civil disobedience remember well his ‘letter from jail’ and his contention that we have a ‘duty to obey the laws of our own conscience”, but ethics seems to have lost is place in the political arena.


            The fourth element that L. M. Hinman presents is the “need to take positive steps toward the establishment of a genuine world court of criminal justice”. The statue of justice is a symbol. A blind Justice holding the sword and the scales. The scales in her hands stand for equality and balance, the sword represents the coercive force of the law in the application of justice and the blindfold over her eyes portrays the impartiality of legal justice, which gives us the edict that no person shall be a judge in his or her own case. Fighting for justice cannot be by means of a sword without a scale or else it will create further injustice and there will be no room for peace.

            In his magnum opus A Theory of Justice, Rawls states: “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.” Waging a war against terrorism in order to abolish it and spread justice is indeed an ideal that sets a framework perhaps for all utopian thinking. Terrorism is a threat to peace and by definition, as Nozick puts is in his Anarchy, State and Utopia “Utopia is the best world imaginable for all of us”. Yet, when terrorism is fought by terrorism, when injustice is fought by injustice, when the spirit is vengeance and when civilian ‘causalities’ are confused with military targets there is no room for justice to prevail. And this is exactly what is happening.

            To L. M. Hinman’s five ‘elements’ I would add a sixth element that I think is essential in that it will promote a culture of peace, namely, education. In the Hague Agenda for Peace & Justice for the 21st Century we read: "A culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems, have the skills to resolve conflicts and struggle for justice non-violently, live by international standards of human rights and equity, appreciate cultural diversity, and respect the Earth and each other. Such learning can only be achieved with systematic education for peace."  As I said before, peace starts in the minds of people and “out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was every made” was Kant’s insightful remark. Education plays an important role in shaping that timber that is becoming more crooked by the day and nations that are in war are blaming each other’s educational system while failing to actually see or acknowledge the shortcomings in their own.


            It was once said that the only means necessary for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing. This need not be done through violent means, and indeed I do not espouse this philosophy, rather it can be done through nonviolent and peaceful means and history of full of such examples that actually did pay.  The world is becoming more of a violent place because of people who are thirsty for power and equally because of people who do nothing about it. That political behavior is becoming a morally dubious venture is something that cannot be concealed or brushed aside as “accidental”. Kant, and rightly so, felt that politics is not simply a matter of prudence and calculation and that there should be some limits to politics.  His political philosophy ensues from his moral philosophy and according to him, practical reason should set the standards for political life. This philosopher of the Enlightenment makes the timely important distinction between the “moral politician” who conceives of the principles of political expediency in a way such that they coexist with morality on the one hand, and the “political moralist” who construes morality in such a way so that it suits the interest of the statesman. Our world is mostly governed by the latter: Political Moralists with a Machiavellian twist thirsty for power. Kant says that the moral world (which provides us with some vision or conception of an ideal to be approached) and the political world which provides us with the occasion to make an attempt at actualizing this ideal state) are strongly linked: a true theory of politics must begin by paying homage to morality and enduring peace between nations is a possibility.

            The readers of this essay might think that, as a Kantian, I have fallen into the trap of asserting the primacy of idealism over realism. But it is important to note that Kant did not offer any guarantees that perpetual peace will actually take place rather that its pursuit must not be dismissed as imaginary.