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Ending War

by Howard Richards

Adapted by Rutagengwa Claude Shema

Regional Coordinator

Great Lakes Peace Initiative (GLPI)



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Ending War

-By Pr.Howard Richards,edited and adopted by Dr.Claude Shema Rutagengwa(*)

War has been a human institution and activity for a very long time. It has been important not just because it kills a lot of people, but also because it structures the other institutions. It has been one of the decisive causes shaping human life, and one of the decisive obstacles to improving it.

The latter is the main reason why we focus so much effort on transforming the prevailing war system and turning it into a peace system. If it were just a matter of killing people, there are a number of other things that cause more deaths than wars. War is distinctive because it is deliberate killing, breaking the bonds that should unite humanity in mutual respect and mutual aid. But, most importantly, war is crucial because it is in many ways an ultimate court of appeal. As Hegel suggested, when rights collide, force decides.

Nevertheless, there is a real possibility that war is coming to an end. There is some fact to outline some of the reasons why we can think that in the next few generations peace may become institutionalized. And at the same time we can try to outline some reasons why the peace movement may become a majority movement in the United States.

The Swedish International Peace Research Institute compiles annual statistics on wars which are published every fall in the Journal of Peace Research. They show that in recent times more than 90% of wars are civil wars. In addition to that, there are even ostensibly international wars, such as the war in Iraq, which have civil roots and would not happen without those civil roots. I do not believe World War II would have happened if the Weimar Republic had done a better job of dealing with Germany’s economic and social problems, even given Keynes’ plausible prediction that the Versailles peace imposed on Germany could not last. At least mainly, and in my opinion virtually entirely, those international relations theorists who still think war is a consequence of "anarchy" in a world where nation-states recognize no authority superior to themselves are out of touch with the world as it is.

I have to be careful not to ask the wrong question. I think "Why war?" is the wrong question. It is a question that is answered easily but not helpfully: Animals fight, humans are animals, and therefore humans fight. At least since the agricultural revolution, and at least since human population became dense enough that resources were scarce, the organized form of fighting known as warfare has been a human institution and practice. The right question to ask is, "Why is it so difficult to organize peace?" That is the conclusion Quincy Wright came to after completing his monumental study of the history of war. If war can be said to have a cause at all, its cause is that so far humans have not succeeded in organizing a peaceful world. Kant in his plan for peace proceeded from a similar premise: war is the natural status of humanity, peace must be instituted.

Enormous progress has already been made. The Charter of the United Nations drafted in San Francisco in 1945 to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war is a perfectly good plan for peace. It provides for peaceful means for the settlement of disputes, and it calls for solutions to the economic and social problems which make it virtually impossible to contain civil conflicts within the parameters of the institutions set up to resolve them peacefully. If the principles of the UN Charter could be implemented, they would work. Not only would they eliminate war, but they would eliminate the biggest reasons why war occurs. The UN has even provided us with a consensual cross-cultural code of ethics ratified by the nations: namely, its numerous official declarations on human rights. Recently, in the past few years, the UN has in fact made considerable progress in reducing the number and seriousness of wars, most notably in Africa. The reduction in war recently is not noticed in the US media, which tend to focus on the wars the USA is currently involved in. (I refer to the SIPRI data published in JPR.)

When I suggest that there are obstacles that keep the perfectly good plan for peace we already have from working, I do not mean to refer mainly to needed improvements in the UN machinery, such as giving India a bigger role, and such as bringing the IMF and the World Bank in fact and not just in name into the UN system. I mean to refer mainly to what I will call the constitutive rules of violence and exclusion. The UN is built on the foundation of what Immanuel Wallerstein calls the modern liberal world order established around the beginning of the 19th century, and it is a foundation whose constitutive rules need deep scrutiny and careful revision. When I say it is a perfectly good plan for peace I mean it is headed in the right direction –peaceful settlement of disputes, rational and benevolent social and economic institutions. I do not mean to say it can actually achieve peace without a paradigm shift to a culture of peace. Such a shift is needed –as several official UN declarations say—in order actually to carry out the UN’s stated good intentions.

Leo Tolstoy was among the first to notice the constitutive role of violence. He was not the inventor of nonviolence –it has many historical precedents—but he wrote and put into practice one of its clearest rationales. Tolstoy was the greatest single source of ideas for Gandhi, as the British suffragettes were Gandhi’s greatest single practical example.

Tolstoy was born into a nineteenth century Russian upper class that was at the same time a military elite and a landowning elite. Russia was organized in such a way that the great majority of the people labored and long and hard while living in poverty. A few did little or no work while living in luxury. Capitalism had made enough progress in Russia to destroy the old forms of communal landholding, but not enough to replace the landowning aristocracy with an industrial bourgeoisie. The systemic imperative to minimize costs and maximize profits meant that workers were systematically pressed to produce more and consume less. When they resisted their increasing oppression, the Russian military was called in to beat them and to kill some of them in order to terrify the rest of them. Part of Tolstoy’s book The Kingdom of God is Within You consists of eyewitness accounts of the savage repression of Russian peasants by the Russian army. Tolstoy drew a logical conclusion: violence is the problem, nonviolence is the solution.

Nonviolence is not a lukewarm radicalism. It is not the radicalism of those who want to change the world but only halfheartedly, so that they stop whenever changing the world requires the use of forceful means. It is the conviction that violence is not only what supports the system and keeps it in place. Violence is the system. If the set of possible institutional arrangements shrank to the size of that subset which consists only of those institutions which could be established and continued without violence, then our institutions would be much different and much better than they are.

If one is tempted to employ violence in the expectation that by violent means some desired result X would be achieved, then X may and may not be achieved. What is almost certain is that there will be more violence. If violence is the system, then the system will be reinforced by violence, and can only be changed by building a world where there is more nonviolence.

Tolstoy reasoned specifically that if the soldiers did not beat and kill the peasants, then the severe exploitation of the people who worked the land by the people who owned the land could not continue. In fact, he found ready to hand an argument for persuading the military to stop killing the peasants. In Russia in the 19th century almost everybody pretended to be Christian, including the military officers and the foot soldiers under them. If Christianity could become a practical way of life then violence and therefore oppression would cease.

For Tolstoy the first and indispensable means for making the message of peace practical was sincerity, as for his follower Gandhi the indispensable means to peace was truth. Tolstoy’s revolution began by setting a good example. He gave up his wealth; he went to work in the fields alongside the peasants, joining the tent-maker Paul the Apostle, his contemporary John Ruskin, and anticipating Mao Tse-tung in putting into practice the proposition that physical labor is an indispensable component of a good life. He changed his diet to make it more like what the poor could afford, i.e. more like what everybody could afford if there were justice. He never managed to lower his standard of living to the level of an average Russian peasant, but he achieved enough to make his point. If violence is to be renounced as a means, then whatever can only be obtained and retained by violence must be renounced as an end.

Tolstoy anticipated Gandhi in tending to think that the kind of world that could exist without violence would emphasize local self-sufficiency. People would own their own tools, support themselves, and help their neighbors. Nobody would exploit anybody. Their writings echo the practical contrast found in John Woolman’s journal between his own life as a self-employed tailor in small-town Quaker Pennsylvania, and the system he condemned in the southern states based on slave labor used to produce cotton and tobacco for international markets.

I said earlier that the Charter of the United Nations outlines a perfectly good plan for peace, or at least a plan headed in the right direction, but evidently the United Nations is not a nonviolent organization. Its philosophical roots are more legal than religious. It is an institutionalist project; it is a Kantian project; as can be seen in the Kantian language of the Charter itself and its accompanying Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Rather than renounce violence altogether as a means for building a peaceful world, the UN postulates the viability of Kant’s affirmation that the ethical force of the law can become so strong that its spiritual (geistliche) force is equivalent to a physical force. The world organization is supposed to do at the world level what democratic nation-states are supposed to do at a national level; namely, to exercise a governmental monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, and to use violence only for the legitimate purpose of assuring liberty and justice for all. The UN’s principles have been verified to some extent by recent research tending to show that democracies do not fight other democracies (although that research has several methodological flaws and limitations).

The UN Charter did not call for abolishing national armed forces, but in principle it made their abolition unnecessary, because it provided that armed forces were never to be used against other nations without UN authorization. The authorization was always to authorize police actions that would enforce legitimate law, not aggressive actions that would break legitimate law. Of course armies were never supposed to be used at all against their own civilian populations --a supposition whose recall can only bring tears to the eyes of Latin Americans.

I said earlier that the main obstacles that keep the perfectly good plan for peace we already have from working can be called the constitutive rules of violence and exclusion. I have been reading Tolstoy as one who like Gandhi and Betty Reardon and Walter Wink and others sees violence as constituting the system. It makes the system what it is. It makes our world what it is. Our world is made what it is by violence as the rules of chess make chess the game it is. Without the rules that prescribe what is a pawn and what is a rook, and how they and the other pieces move on the chessboard, there would be no such game. Without violence there would be no such world as the one we have. Kant, and following Kant the United Nations, make the plausible claim that where peace has in fact been achieved –and Kant was able to point even in the 18th century to areas of the world that were living in peace where formerly there had been incessant war—peace had been achieved by establishing the rule of law.

Unlike Tolstoy, who reasoned that if there were no soldiers there would be no repression, Kant reasoned that if all soldiers were law-abiding there would be no repression. According to Kant, the honor of the soldier does not consist in his ability to kill, but rather in his willingness to die to defend the law. Notice that the feasibility of Kant’s plan for peace, and consequently the feasibility of the United Nations, depends on a psychological premise; it depends on what the psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg and others call moral development. It depends on people being able, as Kant put it, to act on moral maxims. In more contemporary terminology, it depends on social integration; it depends on the existence of subjects who have a sense of belonging to a community, and who identify with its norms and act on them; and it further depends on those norms being functional ones, ones that do not lead to violence and exclusion, but rather to cooperative problem-solving. Notice that there are thus two levels to peace-building: at one level, the excluded are included; at another level the structure they are included in is reformed so that it is functional and not dysfunctional.

My next point has to do with the second level. It is that the constitutive rules of exclusion are found, tragically, in the law itself. It is not that the institutionalists are wrong to say that institutions can cause peace. It is that the particular institutions we have divide the world into haves and have-nots. I am not saying that ending poverty would produce peace. The culture of violence is too deeply entrenched for even general prosperity to end war easily or quickly. We would still have what Wink calls the myth of redemptive violence even if we were all rich. I am also not saying that we need more so-called anti-poverty programs. Most of them rely too much on job training; on loans and advice for starting microbusinesses; and, generally, on promoting what is called "development." They are trapped within a dysfunctional paradigm, often training people for jobs that do not exist and promoting sales to buyers who do not exist, and usually deluded by anecdotal evidence used to reason falsely that since the beneficiaries of certain programs got jobs and found customers world poverty could be ended by creating more similar programs.


What I am saying, nevertheless, is that building peace includes as part of its foundation building economic security for everyone. Peace is not a Pareto optimum. We cannot say to the rest of the world that from now on everyone will stop fighting, while we keep our standard of living and they keep theirs. The excluded do not peacefully agree to their exclusion, neither globally nor locally. Indeed I would make the claim that the challenge of our times, the challenge of the peaceful social integration of the excluded, is similar at every level, and that it will not be solved at the global level until it is solved in most neighborhoods at the grassroots level. As Victor Hugo said, every criminal is engaged in his or her own private coup d’état. The criminal defies the regime on a small scale, as organized political rebellion defies it on a large scale. In the world today we see uncontrollable waves of crime sweeping over the continents, matched by equally uncontrollable waves of mass imprisonment and mass punishment, as the multitudes who lack opportunities to remake society on a large scale remake it on a small scale, stealing a laptop here, an SUV there, a purse here, a wallet there.

A consequence of the violence made inevitable by the constitutive rules that divide the rich from the poor, is employment in the fields that can broadly be named as law enforcement, counting as law enforcement everything from Caroline’s cousin’s job as a police patrolman on the UC campus in Boulder Colorado, to my nephew’s job as a machinist on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. If your family is like my family, there would be more people in it without jobs if there were not so many people being paid to fend off the multitudes who are physically challenging the status quo. My nephew on the aircraft carrier is actually the success story in his family; he had enough self-discipline to make something of himself, while his brothers studied less diligently and drank more beer. My family illustrates why I think the peace movement is necessarily a minority movement in the United States today. When so many people are making their living by participating in the war system, it is not likely that a majority will hunger and thirst after a peace system. If you are willing to accept the methodological premise of food ethics, that the ways in which people meet their basic needs strongly influence everything they do and think; and if you are willing to accept the psychological principle of cognitive dissonance, which tells us that the parents of a child fighting in a war are not likely to believe their child is fighting senselessly for no purpose, then you will conclude that ending war is not likely to be the majority’s ideal in America today, however much the majority may think a particular war is being mismanaged. If you accept my premises, you will be a pessimist, and you will not become an optimist until you see how peace can be perceived by the majority as their chance to make a good living. As it is now, the constitutive rules of the system determine that keeping down the rebels is one of the main ways to bring home a paycheck.

(If you need a quick review of the concept of "constitutive rules" I suggest that you take a look at The Dilemmas of Social Democracies by Richards and Swanger.)

But it gets worse. It is not just that people in high places make mega profits from the war system; it is not just that people in low places find that social disintegration creates employment opportunities; it is not just that even well-intentioned idealists, guidance counselors and social workers and psychologists make their living from a system which creates a permanent underclass; it is that the entire economy maintains some semblance of stability –to the extent it is stable at all—from the contributions of the war system to bolstering aggregate demand. This is Keynes’ analysis: full employment is rare and of short duration; producing more than can be sold is the rule and not the exception. Therefore the government must take measures to make aggregate demand greater than it would be if the free market were left alone. As Michael Kalecki and others have shown, in the USA the only realistic way to stabilize its economy is with a warfare state. We all benefit from the warfare state, even the pacifists and the conscientious objectors, whether our paycheck comes directly from keeping the rebels down or not. It gives the USA certain international privileges, and the jobs and profits it creates benefit indirectly even those of us who do not hold those particular jobs or collect those particular profits.

If you read Richards and Swanger you will learn that Keynes only scratched the surface. He showed clearly enough that money plays too many roles in modern liberal society. It is a medium of exchange and a store of value and a means for keeping rational accounts, and these three roles get in each other’s way. One important problem is that when people use money to store value they take it out of circulation, which on the whole tends to mean that somebody is not selling their product. But these phenomena are consequences of something more fundamental: the cultural structures, the constitutive rules, the legal framework that the West inherited from the Romans. In the end, as all fans of Ishmael know, what we need are not just new policies but new paradigms.

Now it is time for me to tell you why I think there is a chance that the successful institutionalization of peace may happen. A war economy is a two edged sword. On the one hand, war generates economic activity. On the other hand, wars drive nations bankrupt. Historical studies of arms races show that they end in war or in bankruptcy, or in both. Welling can tell you more about the fall of the Soviet Union than I can, but I know, or at least believe, enough about it to say that not only does it illustrate that Ludwig von Mises was basically right to say that without a capital goods market it is impossible to organize an economy rationally, but that it also illustrates that systems change when the expense, the repression, and the inefficiency connected with continuing military confrontation become unbearable. At this point the USA, and hopefully the world, may be getting ready for system change for similar reasons. With a six trillion dollar national debt, with an economy based less and less on producing tangible goods and more and more on producing what is called "security," the American people may be getting to the point where they are ready to give peace a chance.

That is why I say that the peace movement may become a majority movement. The kind of world that could exist without the war system might become the kind of world most Americans want. Instead of asking, "When and how can we get out of Iraq?" (a question that presupposes that the war system would otherwise continue), and instead of asking, "Who is to blame?" (a question that presupposes that if people did not misbehave the existing cultural structures would work well enough), more Americans might ask, "How, in our new circumstances and condition, can we organize our institutions to meet human needs sustainably?" This question is not much different from Tolstoy’s and Gandhi’s questions about what a world that could be sustained without warfare would be like. Working to answer it could put the peace people, the green people, and culturally creative people generally in the position of offering answers to the questions the majority would be asking. But do America’s cultural creatives have answers? Rephrasing the question to flatter myself and you, do we have answers?

I think we do. America is honeycombed with religious minorities, political minorities, and philosophical minorities. It is a country with a counter-culture, indeed with a whole series of counter-cultures. Every day somebody proposes a new social paradigm; there are now more proposed paradigm shifts being advocated in America than there are states in the union. It is just possible that a coming historical crisis will not just make it intellectually clear that the warfare state is no longer possible and never was desirable, but will also make it practically clear that people will have to produce and distribute food, clothing, housing, water, healthcare services, and the other necessities of life in different ways –I do not say "new" ways, because for the most part we will be backing into the future by rediscovering the wealth of cooperative practices to be found in our past, and I do not say "way" in the singular because once we rule out a single centralized command economy, and once we rule out leaving everything to the market, it follows that a peace economy will be mixed and diverse. There is room for many paradigm shifts, but one thing they all need to do is to correct some basic faults of the presently dominant paradigm: namely, the faults that divide and exclude.

What do I mean by a peace economy? Taking a page from Durkheim, I mean one that achieves the social integration of the excluded. If I am right in seeing the most important difficulties that make the good intentions of the United Nations hard to carry out in practice as rooted in the constitutive rules of the modern world-system, if I am right in saying that our public institutions are built on a foundation of private law whose constitutive rules imply violence and exclusion, then our task is inclusion. It is bringing people in. It is agape, an ancient Greek term originally meaning "welcome." I want to believe that at the same time we learn better ways of cooperating and sharing, and just because we learn them, we will have enough social cohesion, and enough capacity to carry out rational plans together, that we will be able to reverse the destruction of the biosphere. Solving the social problem makes it possible to solve the ecological problem. Without learning how to solve the social problem the ecological problem cannot be solved, no matter how much people learn about the physics, chemistry, geology, and biology of our currently self-destructive behavior. Otherwise put: to save mother earth, we have to learn how to change the behavior of our own species.

Solving the social problem has many names, and I am preferring today a name Emile Durkheim’s work suggests: social integration. Solving it is the missing key to ending war. Today we know a great deal about conflict resolution. We know a lot about psychology. We know a lot about sociology and about social economics. We know a lot about building community. We know that for many people their identity and their community are defined by whom they fight, by who the enemy is, so that integration on one level is disintegration on another; for example my nephew became socially integrated as a successful young man at the same time he became a participant in the dysfunctional violence of global disintegration But what I am saying is that the missing key to ending the war system is not to be found by learning how to transform dysfunctional communal identities; we are already making great progress in learning how to do that. Nor is it to be found in proposing a reasonable peace plan for Palestine, or for Iran, or for Afghanistan. Landrum Bolling, Johan Galtung, and others have already proposed reasonable plans. What reasonable settlements would be like is among the knowns, not among the unknowns. How people of diverse ethnicities can live at peace with one another is not among the unknowns either, and as peace research advances it is better known every day. We know a lot about how to overcome prejudices and stereotypes, about how to negotiate and about how to reach agreements. We are in more ways than one on our way to building a world without war, which is to say, a world where war is not the last court of appeal that makes major decisions about who gets what. I am suggesting that the main missing ingredient, what is mainly missing to be able to imagine and to build a world at peace, is cultural creativity that works at the deep level of revising the basic cultural structures that shape the global system, which is actually the modern European system expanded to become the modern world-system. Creative viable alternatives have to be made more visible than they already are, in theory and in practice.

We need to make inclusion and cooperative problem-solving more visible in theory and in practice. In Galtung’s language, we need more "associative" relationships.

With respect to any basic human problem, for example water supply, employment, inflation, alienated youth. …. and so on, there are really only two kinds of outcome possible: the first kind is solving the problem; the second kind is violence. Solving the problem implies including people in access to resources, in dialogue, in cooperative action. Violence should be viewed not as redemptive but as a confession of failure. It confesses that in coping with our problems we failed as humans; we regressed to forms of interpersonal behavior that are less cultural and more physical, more characteristic of other species than characteristic of our own.

By making peace more visible in theory and in practice we show that the glorification of political violence is just a tradition that has prevailed ever since the advent of patriarchy and the beginning of class-divided societies with the agricultural revolution. Just a tradition. A particular strand of the glorification of war tradition may define our identity by defining our enemy but it is still just a tradition. It is not destiny. It is not a logically or physically necessary feature of the human condition. We can envision peace as a possibility we because we can think outside the war tradition. We can be the change we want to see because we can live outside the war tradition.

It is not easy to make a peace system theoretically visible because, as Immanuel Wallerstein has shown in Unthinking Social Science, the principal social sciences were formed about the beginning of the nineteenth century as part and parcel of the world-system that prevails today. The standard social sciences tend to take as granted the basic constitutive rules of modernity, and therefore unwittingly the violence and exclusion they imply. Institutions are treated as objects of study, as phenomena to measure and to explain, more than as social realities to deconstruct and reconstruct. Economics, for example, tends to erect elaborate mathematical theories on the foundation of the legal categories that define ownership, contracts, prices, debts, money, and other discursive practices of our culture. The normative framework, the cultural structure, defines the objects of study, but many academics do not see that; they operate within the dominant paradigm, doing what Thomas Kuhn calls normal science. Fortunately, however, there are also many scholars who see the social sciences in an anthropological perspective, in a perspective informed by the history of religion, in a perspective informed by the history of philosophy, ….. There are people in the academies who see our world as one possible world among many, relativize its categories, and chart growth points toward a viable future.

Making peace visible in practice is often easier than making it visible in theory. There are four secrets to it, which I will tell you now so you will appreciate the value of your education: they are group houses, bicycles, brown rice, and lentils. My friend Enrique Martinez, the head of INTI, a national adult education system in Argentina, makes the same point differently: in every barrio in Argentina people should work together to be sure everyone has food, housing, and health care. Then whatever happens to the Argentine economy, whatever happens to the global economy, people will have their basic security at the neighborhood level.

In general, there is good news in the south. It is encouraging to study peace building in the southern cone countries and in South Africa. It is encouraging to study what Caroline calls post-military societies, ones that have gone through civil war and have come out of it determined to deepen democracy and to build cultures of peace. What I try to show in my current book on Rosario, Argentina, is that another world is happening. It is one of the places that show ways to be practical, to be non-confrontational, and at the same time to transform the constitutive rules.

Now you have heard in super-abbreviated form, in a nutshell, my views on how and why to end war, on what you and I can do to end war, and on how the peace movement can become a majority movement in the USA. Concerning this last point, it may not be obvious to everybody that it is possible to engage mainstream America, to speak to the majority’s concerns, to participate in discourses that the millions understand; and at the same time to facilitate a deep culture shift from a war system to a peace system. It may not be obvious to everybody, but it will be obvious to you, because you have all taken Earlham’s Methods of Peacemaking course. In general, I think I am telling you what you already believe, and recommending that you continue to do what you are already doing.

In closing, I think I should say that we may be wrong and we may be misguided. We may be mistaken together to the extent that our views are the same, and we may be mistaken separately to the extent that our views differ. Everything I have just said may be false. What I am doing for peace and what you are doing for peace may not be the right things to do. The saving grace of these remarks is, nevertheless, that they are, or soon will be, open to public view, waiting in cyberspace for anybody anywhere on the planet who volunteers to criticize them. My views may be false but they are not incorrigible. Everyone has a standing invitation to correct them. I assume that the same is true of your views. I hope we will be able to stay in touch in the coming years, at least through the miracles of contemporary information technology, and that we will be able to continue to seek truth with each other’s help, and with the help of anyone else who comes forward to join us, and that we will continue either together or apart to do whatever according to the best of our present knowledge will make the way the world is more like the way the world should be.