modern nation-state, peace, political theology, Rowan Williams

Peace Defined

This is part of a study in theological language, the rest of the posts can be found here.

Also, the significance of this post on September 11 has not escaped me. I hope you notice it as well. The timing was not originally planned this way when I started the series, but still, it is a happy accident that I am happy to oblige.

I want to begin with what peace is not. Peace is not silence or a cessation of violence brought about by coercion or elimination of competition. Take for instance Phocus:

I am sorry, but you are a loon. You spin thoughts in your manufactured reality and occasionally consider one or two to be worth spewing onto this site. You write…”Instead of war producing peace, war is now mostly understood as a violent oppression from which good does not come from — instead, good comes in spite of such an evil.” Where to begin…and once begun, where to stop? Your lack of learning is stunning. Please study the last world wars…from start to end, and try to do this study without bias.

There are two sides to a war. One is evil, the other peaceful. If the peaceful fail to rise up and stop the evil, evil blurs into oppression, lack of freedom, and death to those who do resist. The free men and women of the world smashed Hitler’s Germany and Japan. Once these evils were stopped, the world dressed the wounds of the broken nations and then gave them back to the people.

There is one way to have peace. You get peace when the peaceful win. Period. Any other outcome…promises more war. The human spirit longs to be at peace. You get peace through strength.

Hopefully, you will grow into your obviously functioning brain and gather logic based on knowledge and facts rather than theory. If you are under 30 and not a liberal, you have no heart. If you are over 30 and still a liberal, you have no brain.

Now, I do not want to interject the… simplistic understanding of Phocus for all who claim good in or from war and violence (a straw-person argument) and nor am I seeking to legitimize Phocus’ inane ramblings, but he or she does accept a few fundamental assumptions that I am ultimately seeking to address: one that peace is the result of “stopping” evil and two, that therefore peace is attainable by violence.

Peace is not the elimination of the other. It cannot be. That isn’t peace between people because it is first not justice, it is the prosecution of death upon one group by another group. State and society can only rid the world of an existence or exact punitive violence that it calls justice; however, true peace requires true justice, not slaughter. And in fact, at least some justice work is a form of peace-making. However, those that claim a monopoly on justice, the state, or market, or cosmopolitan society, cannot achieve a full sense of justice — putting relationships aright.[1] In a word, redemption, not a malformed catharsis. In fact, even the church today as the mission of the basiliea of God cannot achieve full justice. Metz makes note that reconciliation cannot actually be achieved between Jews killed in the Holocaust and the Germans who designed and implemented the programs because both are dead (as is the case in 9/11 or some of Darfur or some of Iraq, etc.). We live in the aftermath of irreconcilable generations and only God can enact a full redemption.[2] But despite the short coming of the church, nevertheless, it is formed by the memory of Christ and eschatological hope and can therefore seek a true sense of justice, and therefore seek real peace. And if we act right, we can participate in making space where the basiliea breaks in and creates a social space of peace.

Peace is also fundamentally a conversion and discipleship — from swords to plowshares and lions laying with lambs. Quite simply, evil, or evil acts, is a warped sense of peace: it is not redemptive but seeks to convert or eliminate. Therefore, actions such as torture are violent conversions and the antithesis of peace. Torture is the re-narration of a person by destroying a human being — a fundamentally abusive relationship, while peace is instituted from the righting of relationships (justice) and is maintained as we treat each other as part of creation through the grammar of Christological, divine love.

Since peace is not the result of the elimination of the other, and indeed may be the exact opposite, peace comes in spite of such attempts to eliminate the other. Peace is something we do. Peace is something we live in. We live together in peace by living within the community of God. In the end, peace is the refusal to use evil for “good” (although such good then lacks any ability to be a true good). Peace can exist in the face of evil as the rule of God exists in an evil world.

The most significant questions I think that follow are: “Can peace exist today?” and “If the state or society cannot actually achieve true peace, what is there to do?”

It can exist, as much as the rule of God exists. It has just been a mistake to redefine peace in light of what the state can achieve, especially ever since the Enlightenment claimed it could save the world, as it used the false narrative of “The Wars of Religion” to justify its existence for mediating a peace.

However, all I think is not lost in terms of the state. As suspicious as I am of the state, there are ways of calling the state to be more than what it wants to be. Although this will put the state in tension with what it claims it can do — gather everything subject to it — nevertheless, the future calls for the state to recognize its boundaries. As the state is now, it is too restrictive for a pluralistic society that recognizes multiple relationships to communities within each person. Rowan Williams has begun to show the way. In his controversial speech on Sharia law and the need for the state to allow some community governing, one could also read his speech as talking of the Christian community as well. Ultimately Williams calls for the state to be more flexible, and to give up some of what it claims a monopoly on, so as to allow faithfulness without grand eruption by the faithful in the face of a lying, totalitarian state. However, sadly, it is not in the nature of the modern nation-state to recognize many of its own boundaries, rather it speaks only of reasonable accommodation of other systems within the state. We would have a very different state if its notion of “peace” was re-examined. Finally, perhaps the state would begin to point to true peace (and therefore towards the rule of God), rather than claiming the state can achieve peace itself. But this it will never do. However, the church will, insomuch as it works for redemption and the basiliea of God on Earth.

Edit: After some thinking and critique from Halden, I’ll succintly define peace: living out and participating in the continuing redemption by God through grace and love.
[1] I’d like to quote at length from J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account (pg. 64) that calls into question even the very grammar and policy/action of the state, and therefore its warped or insufficient sense of justice:

The Principle he isolates is this: “Politics is the continuation of war by other means.”

This principle, Foucault tells us, represents the inversion of the principle enunciated by political philospher Karl von clausewitz in his 1827 work, von Kriege (On War), in which he states that “[war] is a continuation of policy by other means…. War is not merely a political act. but a truly political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.” Understood in this way, politics as the instrument of peace–the means, that is, by which peace is maintained–is the norm war, therefore, represents a state of political exception, the unusual condition resorted to from time to time to reach the objective of peace. Foucault notes, however, that with this principle Clausewitz was himself inverting a prior axiom: namely, that war, the condition of bellicosity, is in fact the norm and that politics is simply the continuation of the norm of war, but by other means.

Thus, with his inversion of Clausewitz’s axiom that “politics is the continuation of war by other means,” Foucault sought to make two claims–one explicit, the other more implicit but no less important for his work. On the one hand, he was claiming to return to a principle that “existed long before Clausewitz” and to take it with deft seriousness. Yet he was also more implicitly claiming that Clausewitz’s principle renders thematic the fact that modernity functions under a perpetual state of exception or emergency, the uninterrupted condition of the crisis of politics. Indeed, the state of exception or emergency–namely, the condition of war–is modernity’s inner analytic, its syntax and grammar.

[2] This is how I believe we should understand God’s judgment, but that is a bit of a tangential question right now.


3 thoughts on “Peace Defined

  1. Perhaps the line is a cliche by now, but this reminds me a lot of Bonhoeffer’s talk of peace being the “opposite of security”:

    “How does peace come about? Through a system of political treaties? Through the investment of international capital in different countries? Through the big banks, through money? Or through universal peaceful rearmament in order to guarantee peace? Through none of these, for the single reason that in all of them peace is confused with safety. There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won where the way leads to the cross. Which of us can say he or she knows what it might mean for the world if one nation should meet the aggressor, not with weapons in hand, but praying, defenseless, and for that very reason protected by ‘a bulwark never failing’?” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Church and the People of the World

  2. The free men and women of the world smashed Hitler’s Germany and Japan. Once these evils were stopped, the world dressed the wounds of the broken nations and then gave them back to the people.

    Oh dear. We’re still waiting for the free men of this world to smash the USA of George Bush.

  3. Pingback: Pacifism in Light of Freedom, Justice, Solidarity, and Peace « flying.farther

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