Give Peace A Chance

The editors of The Question of Peace in Modern Political Thought argue that peace has received more attention from philosophers than is often admitted, but they don’t think that it’s received nearly enough attention. Their collection aims to address that gap with essays on Luther, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Benjamin, Derrida, Habermas and others.

The essays, of course, discuss many intriguing dimensions of peace: the triumph of fear over honor in Hobbes’s concept of peace, Rousseau’s suggestion of a European Union that he believed to be impossible, or Heidegger’s commitment to a peace founded on violence, or the ambiguity of Habermas. But the editors begin from assumptions that need to be questioned.

Separation of church and state is a very good thing in the editors’ view because it detaches the inevitable violence of politics from “higher causes” that are religious in character. One empirical rejoinder to this is that “secular” states have found plenty of higher causes to pursue, and have pursued those causes with unprecedented violence. Another empirical rejoinder is that the church has been an agent of peace, so that protecting the state from the church’s influence protects state violence from a force that may serve to moderate it. (I don’t deny that the church has also, tragically, been a promoter of violence.)

Theologically, an investigation of secular peace involves a pursuit of peace-without-Christ, who is the Prince of Peace. It is an effort to establish a peace that doesn’t need the gospel of peace. Or, it is an alternative gospel of peace, which is no gospel at all because, like the gospel of the Galatian Judaizers, its good news is established by the works of law – by the fostering of international institutions, rules, procedures, and courts. Against Hobbes, the good news is not that fear trumps honor but that perfect love casts out fear.

Perhaps the essential problem is with the effort to investigate peace as an issue of political philosophy, rather than of philosophy or theology per se. Can we hope for practical peace if we hold to an ontology of combat (as Heidegger and his followers do)?

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