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Multifaceted Approaches to World Peace

January 8, AD2017

During the eighties, I edited an anthology, Philosophical Perspectives on Peace, which included numerous prescriptions for world peace by philosophers, psychologists, and litterateurs from the ancient world, and through the Renaissance and Enlightenment, up to the late twentieth century.  

The proposals of these authors seem to break up naturally into the following categories: 1) Strong centralized governments; 2) Federations; 3) Sublimation or redirection of human aggressiveness; 4) Social and economic justice and 5) Religious awakenings. Of course notions of the geographical extent of the “whole world” have changed much since many of these writings were published, but strategies for world peace still seem to include these five types of emphases. If we try to bring them up to date, we might arrive at the following analyses:

1. Strong Centralized Governments

 Probably the most cogent example of centralization as a solution throughout the centuries was the Roman Empire, in which people from various countries (as the example of St. Paul illustrates) could claim rights and privileges based on their Roman Citizenship. The “Holy Roman Empire”, which lasted from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century, can be seen as an attempt to recapture that union amidst the multiple ethnic and language groups that constituted continental Europe.

Numerous saints from the 4th to the 19th centuries not only idealized a united world but prophesied the eventual coming of a “Great Monarch” who would finally bring peace to the nations. Such a being is, of course, unimaginable in our less monarchical era. Instead, we encounter the ideal of a “global village”, electronically interconnected, united by trade, educational and cultural exchanges. But a strictly political New World Order, even under some non-monarchical “democratic” leader, is for many of us not only unimaginable but an object of fear. We tend to think of something like the great world leader, Julian Felsenburgh, who arose toward the end of Robert Hugh Benson’s novel, The Lord of the World (a book recommended by Popes Benedict and Francis).

2. Federations

In the 18th century, philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, for whom the “whole civilized world” boiled down primarily to Europe, looked to the possibilities of federation as the key to the attainment of perpetual peace among nations. The vision of Rousseau and Kant finally attained some realization in the aftermath of World War II, as European countries began with an economic organization, expanded and developed defense and political cooperation in 1993, and developed a common currency in 2002. But the European Union hasn’t arrived at a federal government after the pattern of the United States but is more accurately similar to early America under the Articles of Confederation prior to federation.

In the world as a whole, the League of Nations was, and the United Nations still is, a loosely knit confederation, falling far short of the federative ideal. If the UN had true executive power aside from the Security Council, it might be an approximation to the “Great Monarch” idea, with the UN Secretary as a non-monarchical replacement. But who would desire that? The UN, in reality, is plagued by the existence of members who are opposed to democratic principles, even after having signed the Universal Declaration of Rights. The solution on the horizon seems to be a new more selective union of truly democratic nations — but with that, a global perspective would be left behind.

3. Sublimation of Human Aggressiveness

During the 20th century, we received clear evidence that the sense of injustice can cause wars. The German resentment of the harsh armistice at the end of World War I is frequently cited as a significant cause of the events that led to World War II, and the Japanese resentment of trade wars and economic sanctions was an important factor leading to their momentous decision to attack Pearl Harbor. Current politicos, including President-elect Trump, are optimistic that they can harmonize trade and overcome deficits between nations by the use of tariffs, currency incentives, and other forms of leverage. Hopefully, fairness rather than one-upmanship will rule their negotiations. We’ll see. Otherwise, we might begin wishing for that prophesied Great Monarch to oversee such operations and prevent wars.

4. Social and Economic Justice

 What to do with human aggression, especially with youthful idealists whose energy is often channeled into destructive pursuits? In Germany, Austria, and Denmark, young people are drafted and offered the option of community service and foreign-aid options for those who do not want military service. This may offer a model for countries overstocked with youths looking for purposeful engagements. Certainly, the Olympic Games have provided for our world a less dangerous outlet for aggressive competition and the well-nigh universal interest in soccer (except in the U.S.) has had similar socio-psychological benefits. But probably the best advice comes from Sigmund Freud, who in Civilization and its Discontents points (of all things) to marriage as the most time-honored “method” for channeling Eros to counteract the human love of aggression.

5. Religious Awakenings

 It is a truism that religious divisiveness has been a major catalyst to war-making. Major attempts to create harmony among religions include the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Ecumenical Movement, which received a major impetus from Vatican II during the sixties. But the World Council of Churches suffers from the immense fractures of denominational Protestantism, united largely by their suspicion of, or opposition to, Catholicism. The ecumenical efforts of Vatican II can be understood as a noble attempt to finally unite Catholics with Protestants and the Orthodox. But the massive changes incorporated in Council documents and liturgical renovations, designed to attract Protestants and make them feel at home, have been completely unsuccessful, in spite of the refusal of the present Pontiff to “shake the dust off his feet.” With the Orthodox, who have maintained the Apostolic succession and the Sacraments, there is more hope – especially if the pleas of Our Lady at Fatima and Our Lady of Soufanieh (appealing for Catholic/Orthodox reunion) are heard. It goes without saying that the overcoming of the Catholic/Orthodox schism would be a major harbinger of peace for the world.

During the Cold War, it was thought that the way to avoid World War III was MAD, “mutually assured destruction.” This was a paradoxical tactic, based on the premise that no nuclear power would be willing to risk retaliation which would bring about its own destruction. But building up stockpiles of nuclear armaments will not help to maintain peace if there are suicidal world leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who might be willing to tolerate the destruction of themselves and their country to bring about a religious Armageddon. Certainly, the specter of out-of-control Islamism hovers over current aspirations for world peace. Christian reunion would offer the greatest hope for overcoming this insufficiently recognized religious menace, but there is no simple solution, and every approach in the peacemakers’ toolkit will still be required, with perhaps some divine assistance, as in days past at Lepanto, Tours, and Vienna.

Our Lady of Fatima promised, “Russia will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to mankind….” To “mankind”? Sounds utopian. Short of a relatively instantaneous worldwide miracle, it seems inconceivable. But Our Lady may be planning on some human assistance.

Guest Contributor: Dr. Howard P.Kainz is emeritus professor of philosophy at Marquette University. His most recent books include Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), Five Metaphysical Paradoxes (The 2006 Marquette Aquinas Lecture), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).

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  • Tim J

    Faith and effort create a culture, and peaceful cultures change the world. Peace. Leaving the house and having a negative thought about the neighbor and letting it pass. Not allowing the thought dwell. Allow Meryl Streep’s comments and Hollywood antics pass, everything they do to make you uncomfortable – let it pass. When you think the world is going to end for any given reason, let the thought pass – the faster the better. Bills will come, financial trouble part of life, it will pass. Homes will expand with children, and then their marriages to people who disagree with you, and grandchildren who sometimes behavior poorly. Getting older isn’t easy. A real peaceful culture is possible, through effort and faith. This changes the world.

  • james

    And then there’s the ‘peace to men of goodwill’ which suffuses through millions of people world wide.each
    and every generation.

    • Howard Kainz

      The “catch” is when men are of not of goodwill. Immanuel Kant thought that if you had the right kind of republic, even “a nation of devils” could be orderly and peaceful. There has been a lot of optimism about that single and simple “solution.”

    • james

      It really boils down to the truism ‘if you want peace work for justice’ – of course this does not take into account the criminally deranged. If you need a license to sell hot dogs on the street corner to assure compliance with health and safety how much more in the way of assurance
      do we need to make sure parents are raising their children with societal integration as the goal. The hand that rocks the cradle should at least be registered for liability. The liberal agenda went way overboard in their quest to insure a just society by tossing its twin
      ( responsibility) to the wind.