Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with professor Peter Stearns, author of PEACE IN WORLD HISTORY
Stearns: My assumption going in naively was that early humans must have participated in war rather frequently because that’s sort of our caveman image. In fact, it really looks like war as an experience was quite rare before the advent of agriculture.
Violence wasn’t rare. I’m not trying to redo our view of human nature. Murders were probably fairly common, but collective acts of violence take a degree of organization that probably was absent.
The most important thing is to realize that hunting and gathering people were accustomed to moving around and most commonly, when violence threated, they’d simply move.
Ingles: Let’s remind listeners then in general what was the impact of agriculture on all of this
Stearns: Well, agriculture certainly in some ways didn’t encourage war. War is bad for agriculture, but agriculture saw many people settle down, which meant that you couldn’t pack up and leave as readily if violence threatened. Agriculture generated surpluses which meant that there were settled targets for marauders to attack.
Agriculture ultimate generated states. One of the functions of states was protection, but unfortunately or at least inevitably, once states began to form protective forces, they began to think maybe they could use them for something other than protection; they could grab some other territory as well.
Ingles: What was going on in the earliest days of agriculture that might have given humans hope for being able to cooperate and battle those trends that you just described?
Stearns: Well, agriculture certainly involved a degree of coordination. For example, if agriculture is based on irrigation, it requires people to work together, it requires some development of a notion of property rights and laws. Agriculture certainly advanced the need for coordination.
Unfortunately, that need did not necessarily supersede the new opportunities for warfare, so it was a mixed picture. We know that some agricultural people valued peace. They constructed deities devoted to peace. In early days, even war itself was frequently interrupted for things like harvest because agriculture was so important, but the mixture was complicated.
Ingles: Now you of course note the development of the world’s dominant religions in your book Peace in World History and you set out three points that affect the history of peace and war about them. Could you summarize those?
Stearns: The religions introduced important new elements. Those three turned out to be the leading missionary religions, but some of the same comments would apply to some other face like Hinduism and Judaism. These major religions had three frankly contradictory potentials. On the one hand, they all expressed deep interest in peace. The afterlife was supposed to be peaceful, people were urged to commit to peace on this earth. Islam probably had the complicated initial message in this regard, but there are statements in the Quran that are very, very supportive of peace, so point one, the new religions encouraged more explicit interest in peace than probably had prevailed before them.
Second, the religions also however, the three missionary religions particularly, thought that they had identified the one basic truth. Their religion had the truth, other religions did not. They might nevertheless tolerate other religions. This varied, but the notion that you have the truth is probably not an approach that’s optimally conducive to peace.
Then finally, and this is an interesting aspect I think particularly for Buddhism, but it could affect the others; the new religions could, in essence, urge people to pay attention primarily to their own spiritual well-being, their own salvation and not be particularly interested in social issues of peace one way or the other. In other words, they could pull back (which was a comment that’s been particularly applied to Buddhism), not that they had become more alike, they simply were not interested in problems of this earth.
Ingles: That disparity, in some ways, has lingered even to some cases through to today I think some would argue.
Stearns: Oh, I think clearly. If you look at different national Buddhist approaches for example, the Japanese Buddhist tradition, partly because of the experience of WWII, is very peace conscious and very active whereas Korean Buddhism, which is equally interesting as a religious movement, doesn’t play much role in peace activities one way or the other. So yes, these disparities and tensions still exist.
Ingles: Peter, are there some characters in the history of some religions that you find especially fascinating that are not part of most people’s consciousness? Could you give an example or two that impressed you as you revisited or dug into the data here?
Stearns: Well, the ones that interested me most, perhaps predictably, were people who were not part of my own previous religious traditions. I’m very interested in somebody like the Emperor Akbar in India in the 16th century. He was a Mughal Emperor and, like some other leaders, he had an initial period where he engaged actively in war and it ended up disgusting him. So he turned unusually explicitly towards a pursuit of peace and toleration. He emphasized, although he was a Muslim, the importance of toleration for Hindus and other religions in India. He and his chief minister talked about the importance of harmonious relations with other states. I wish I could say that he set up a tradition that had lasting impact, but I don’t think he did. His successors increasingly ignored his advice, but he’s a really interesting figure and one that you just don’t expect in terms of superficial understanding of Islamic military traditions.
I’m also deeply impressed, and to some extent we’ve already implied, with some contemporary Buddhist leaders such Dr. Ikeda in Japan who are unusually explicit about the importance of peace. I hadn’t heard of some of these people before I became interested in this project, but they’ve persuaded me of the importance and the potential in specific efforts at peace in the contemporary world.
Ingles: Dr. Stearns, where is the beginning of the idea that states’ secular government could override religious influence and promote peace as simply a choice that benefits all. I’m know I’m asking for a crash course here, but maybe you could direct us to the top of that idea.
Stearns: Okay, well I think there are two answers to the question and I’m still puzzling it out to some extent. The notion that specific states associated with one religion is, I think, not actually all that traditional.
Rome for example, although it had a civic religion, the Roman Empire was widely tolerant. It broke down a bit when it came to Jews and Christians, but for many other religions, early societies, early states, embraced a pluralistic approach because their goal was political survival not religious conversion.
I think it was the advent of religions that were more bent on identifying a particular universal truth that pushed states more towards a systematic intolerance which comes up certainly in Christian Europe during what are commonly called the Middle Ages. It comes up frequently in Islam. It’s less common in Buddhism.
You get movements against this trend. I’ve mentioned Akbar, the Islamic tradition, Muslim rulers who believed that tolerance was important without abandoning their own religious beliefs.
Then certainly in Europe, the Treaty of Westphalia in the 17th century, which essentially ended the religious wars in Europe, was a treaty born of exhaustion. It was a treaty that said fighting is getting us nowhere. We still believe our religion is the only true one, but we’ve got to admit that we’re not going to win this war and we have to find a way to accommodate other belief systems. That was a turning point in European history that’s fairly familiar. It was the result of over a century of recurrently brutal war. It wasn’t a joyous embrace of toleration for the good of humanity, but I think it did have lasting consequences in reducing religion as a war factor in Europe itself.
Ingles: Now there’s so little recorded about the history of indigenous peoples of the Americas before European contact with them in the 15th and 16th centuries, but what stands out about what the historical record has shown about those societies that contribute to an understanding about humans and peacemaking?
Stearns: Well, obviously they varied. The most obviously examples of Native societies where organized states emerged were pretty violent and pretty aggressive.
The Aztecs for example were a notoriously warlike people that imposed conquest on a number of minority groups in Central America.
It is also interesting that a number of Native groups developed an unusual commitment to peace, an unusual effort not only to avoid war, but even to discipline the development of anger in their own community.
You have, perhaps inevitably, (this is part of the human laboratory) some stark contrasts in the Native American traditions that point in diverse directions.
Ingles: You do mention the Confederacy of Iroquois tribes. You write about some mingling of European ideas and local peace initiatives in North America.
Stearns: Right, the Iroquois tribes did work out although they were warlike up to a point. They channeled their aggression as careful as they could against outside groups. They did develop an interesting set of understandings within their own communities that inhibited warfare against kindred tribes.
Ingles: You mentioned William Penn and the Quakers reaching out to Native Americans a bit. There were other examples, but you call them short-lived. I wanted to ask you about this quote: “The Americas in the early modern period contributed nothing very durable to the history of peace.” I want to be clear about what is the early modern period.
Stearns: The early modern period for the Americas runs essentially from the advent of Europeans; Columbus’ discovery and the advent of Europeans through the middle of the 18th century. The ending point is not decisively determined, but a convenient ending point is the Seven Year War that ran from 1756 to 1763.
My statement is basically the overarching fact of this period in the history of the Americas is European violence against Native societies.
There were some interesting movements towards peace as well including, as you suggest, William Penn’s interest in Iroquois peacemaking traditions, but this was a period of considerable violence and the American colonies were established on that basis.
Ingles: What role do documents like the Constitution and Bill of Rights have in the long arch of peace?
Stearns: Well, the Bill of Rights certainly was part of an interesting new wave of thinking derived essentially from the Enlightenment that argues that human beings have certain rights simply because they’re human beings. The American formulation was “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” Some people would put “property” into that mix. This was a potentially strong, innovative statement that people, just because they’re people, regardless of their other attributes, should be given respect and dignity. The rights obviously pointed (among other things) to religious toleration and they could point to a wider set of alternatives to warfare on grounds that war was one of the most fundamental denials of rights available.
It was no accident that the same spirit that led to the American Bill of Rights resulted in, to my knowledge, the first recommendation that a government set up a Department of Peace or a Ministry of Peace. That was a suggestion of Benjamin Russian in the 1790s, but it didn’t happen.
This new kind of progressive thinking did connect to a really interesting surge of anti-war sentiment in the late 18th and particularly the early 19th centuries.
Ingles: You write that “the long 19th century” (and you write it that way) was not a good one for peace. Is it long because WWI seemed to be a result of 19th century trends? Is that why they call it the “long century”?
Stearns: Well, the term is not mine. It comes from the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, but “long 19th century” is basically a statement characteristic of the 19th century which began to emerge in the final decades.
In the 18th century is when you get the Enlightenment we’ve just been talking about. It’s when you get the first stages of the Industrial Revolution. They extend all the way to WWI. You’re talking about a period that’s upwards of 150 years long, so the “long 19th century” simply meant to say that the 19th century is the core, but you have to go a little bit before and a little bit after to capture the major trends.
Ingles: You also write that this period indisputably played a major role in the history of peace. The details are in your book, but what really does stand out?
Stearns: Well, I was most impressed partly because it was new to me and I was embarrassed that I didn’t know as much about it as I should have.
The proliferation of peace ideas and peace movements from the 1790s onward is really absolutely extraordinary. You get peace groups springing up in the United States, in Britain, in virtually every Western country. They agitate for peace. They petition governments. They urge not only religious toleration, but they try to oppose the growing excesses of nationalism.
With these movements, it’s easy to dismiss them because they do not lead to peace. They do begin to encourage institutions like the Court of Arbitration in The Hague at the end of the 19th century. They begin to encourage the idea that maybe some international political linkages could form that would make conflict less inevitable.
These are not simply idealistic movements with no concrete result. They have not ended war, but they have ultimately helped generate institutions that we still rely on, that we increasingly rely on to try to avoid the necessity of war. I think the movement is really significant.
Ingles: In your epilogue, you pose a number of these questions that I mentioned, among them this one: “Why can’t peace advocacy take its place alongside the promotion of human rights pressing citizens and governments alike to shun war in favor of other means of resolving conflict?” You pose this question as a challenge to the young people of world now.
The thing that came up for me as a nearly 60 something reader is what is to suggest that peace as priority will be carried on by youth into adulthood any better than the Baby Boomers did? There is more evidence of peace commitment and anti-war sentiment in the streets from the 1960s than maybe even today and I’m wondering what your take on that is.
Stearns: Well look, I think that’s true. I wrote this book, among other things, because of the conviction that American society has become too complacent about militarism. We’ve learned how to conduct wars that don’t impact the majority of citizens in their daily lives. We’ve learned how to compartmentalize. The net result of this is that we are at war one way or another more years than not in the past 25 years and to me, that’s deeply troubling.
I’m not trying to get on the political soapbox here, but we need more opportunities within the United States to see peace as a desirable goal. It has fallen out of our political rhetoric. We talk about security, but we don’t talk about peace.
I think the opportunity to encourage younger people to think of peace as a goal that ought to be sought at least as fervently as environmental quality, I think that’s a desirable message, even if it’s a political one.
I think other societies frankly have become less militaristic than we are and I think peace discussions in several other societies, obviously Japan and Germany that have strong peace cultures now. But I think peace discussions in other societies are more frequent and more possible than has become true in the United States and I think that’s a national issue that we need to be willing to address
Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with scholar Antony Adolf, author of PEACE: A WORLD HISTORY
Adolf: If you look at how history is written and historiography is written, it tends to be a series of wars. All the dates that are given are histories of wars and the treaties that came after and that gives a really skewed view of history. It’s a negative view of history that sees wars as the main punctuations and completely overlooks the long or short periods of peace in between them and what really constituted those periods. It’s that shift that I thought to elaborate in the book; how can we focus on the periods of peace in between the wars rather than wars being the main punctuations of history.
Ingles: Right and you’ve written that people living peacefully through most of time is a fact otherwise we wouldn’t be here now talking about it.
Adolf: Yes, it’s a joke, but it’s not a joke; the fact that if it wasn’t for the peaceful people and the people who actively sought peace or passively sought peace and didn’t realize that they were doing it, people who just live peacefully, we wouldn’t be here to have this very interview. The world wouldn’t exist as we know it and we wouldn’t have the lifestyles that we do today, positive or negative.
Ingles: What is the consequence of not making the study of peacemaking a foundation of our history education?
Adolf: Again, I think it gives a very skewed view of history and it focuses on the destructive capacities of humankind rather than their proactive capacities. It’s a dangerous way of looking at history to see only the warfare and the conflicts and the enslavements and the genocides. It’s a very pessimistic view of history. By focusing on the peaceful side of the narrative of history, in local and national and global senses, we get a fuller view of history and also a more positive view that can be built on rather than one that just needs to be negated.
Ingles: You know, it makes me think of that oft quoted George Santayana line that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I’m wondering, in this case, if all we remember is war, are we not bound to repeat it as the solution to conflict most often heralded?
Adolf: I would definitely agree with that and I would also say that that’s one of the main reasons why we need to remember the peaceful times too is because we want to repeat those. We don’t want to repeat the war-torn times. We want to repeat the peaceful times and so by studying those, we’re more likely to repeat them.
Ingles: Now your book is a fascinating timeline throughout history that I want to go back and pick a few moments from, but I would like to start at the end of your book, your epilogue entitled, “The Puzzle of World Peace.” So as not to bury the lead as it were, let’s talk about your pyramid of peace a little bit. The last 15 pages of your book which you call, “Your small contribution to the history of peace thought,” tell us a little bit about it. You base it on Abraham Maslow’s pyramid and paper A Theory of Human Motivation. How would you summarize that in a minute or two; your thinking on this and how it relates to the Pyramid of Human Needs?
Adolf: As you said, it’s based on Maslow, but it takes it in a more social sense. Maslow took his Pyramid of Human Needs as the individual.
In the Pyramid of Peace, what I try to do is look at it as a more social and collective sense, social being within a group and collective being between groups.
The different meanings of peace that need to be built upon for world peace to be achieved are (from the bottom) corporeal and includes things like education, healthcare, shelter, sanitation and nutrition.
The second is sanctuaries; minimal harm against nature, minimal state harm, minimal structural harm and minimal interpersonal harm.
Then there is also socioeconomic peace which is reduction of wealth disparities, of a nation of discrimination and full and free employment.
Then there is inner peace which is spiritual and intellectual attainment, recognition and respect and quietude and plenitude.
That brings us to world peace which is ongoing investigation in critical dialogue, incentives and deterrents and the [inaudible] law.
That’s the summary of the pyramid and it’s a way that we can adjust our behavior as societies to see what we need to do next to achieve world peace.
There was actually a study done following my book on using the pyramid to evaluate different peace levels of different societies.
Ingles: Well, you write at the end of the book that the world history of peace, if it teaches us one thing, it teaches us that in essence, there are many world pieces and forcing them into a static one is not the answer. I think you are starting to describe that, but say a little bit more about that.
Adolf: It’s really the world view that came out of the cold war that there was one version of world peace that needed to be imposed upon the whole world whether it was communism or capitalism. It was that one view of peace that needed to be imposed upon the whole world that was the driving force of many national policies.
What I tried to do is express that it should be in “pieces.” The pun is intended of course. We need to be more localized. The meanings of peace that is in Canada for example compared to Zanzibar are very different. If you take Syria as another example, what does peacemaking and peace mean in those countries and how can they be pieced together again? That’s the other big question. It’s not the imposition of one kind of peace onto the whole world. It’s really an organic view where you take it from the ground up and you say; okay, how can peace be developed here and now for individuals, groups and between groups.
Ingles: You drive down into the detail of history of different parts of the world. Chinese history is one example. You turned up some real philosophical gems like in Confucius’ imperative philosophy for peace which appears on page 68. Would you read that for us so we can all drink that in a bit?
Adolf: Sure. This is directly from Confucius and it’s related to his philosophical imperative of peace. “When the world is investigated, knowledge is extended. When knowledge is extended, wills become sincere. When wills are sincere, hearts are redressed. When hearts are redressed, individuals are cultivated. When individuals are cultivated, families become harmonious. When families are harmonious, states become orderly and when states are orderly, there is peace in the world.”
Ingles: Why did that passage speak to you so much that you wanted to highlight it in your book?
Adolf: I think it goes back to what I was calling the organic view of peace. Peace has a foundation in our individual lives and grows out from there. If we foster inner peace, then we can develop peace in our families. If we foster peace in our families, then we can develop peace in our societies. It’s a really progressive and simplified way of looking at how we as individuals can have an agency in creating peace for ourselves and our society.
Ingles: You start to see the beginnings of writings about global markets and free trade and international trade that you talked a little bit about before. John Stewart Mill is one that you highlight who was writing in the late 1800s that international trade was the great guarantee of peace in the world, a great permanent security of uninterrupted progress of ideas he wrote.
Again, a lot of people hang their hat on these ideas today, but it seems there is always something that eludes each philosopher or each succeeding generation about unintended consequences of these trades and free market forces in terms of developing peace. These days you might say jobs shipped overseas or livelihoods taken away inside some of the trading states.
Would you agree that there always seems to be a good idea followed by a period of correction courses that try to fine-tune what somebody is so certain is a good idea to balance the world and to help promote peace?
Adolf: I think it’s important that peace and peacemaking have always been an iterative process. There has never been one be all and end all statement about peace or way of making peace that has defined the word. It’s one movement and then, like you said, corrections to that movement and then another correction to that movement.
Ingles: I do want to allow you to make mention of this in some way because it’s such a huge part of, I would say, more recent history and by that I mean the last 300 or 400 years; you make an effort to find some useful strains of peacemaking in the history of colonization and imperialism, but you yourself suggest that it’s a hard sell to look at that history in any positive light because there was great suffering among indigenous populations around the world. Where did the light shine through it all in helping to define peacemaking in the future through that period? Was it merely mostly a case of “don’t do it this way ever again”?
Adolf: There is a tendency, and understandably so, to see colonialism and imperialism as purely negative forces and things that we need to learn from in the negative, but that takes away from the fact that colonialism and imperialism shaped the way that peacemaking is done today. Between the empires, how they made and maintained peace is very similar to today how they make and maintain peace. Learning from their mistakes, but also from what they did right, that’s what I tried to focus on in the book.
Ingles: What would be an example or two of what they did right? I think, as you say, most people think of the thumbnail definition of colonialism and imperialism in a very negative way.
Adolf: I think [Bartolomé] de las Casas stands out in that history as a great experimenter of how we can use the colonial framework to foster peace rather than take away from it, how we can use indigenous knowledge in combination with the imperial knowledge to advance both rather than imposing one on the other. [Bartolomé] de las Casas is a major figure in that.
Ingles: I guess at the beginning of some of these colonial and imperial insurgences you can find some examples of good intentions that quickly went awry, good intentions of what you just described beginning that were often hard to maintain.
Adolf: Yes, it’s an initial spark that often goes out eventually and I think that comes across in colonialism and imperialism a lot. There were these movements within it that tried to use it as a positive force but were put out by the imperial forces themselves. It is maintaining that that the anti-colonialists were so successful in because they had a focus of resistance whereas the forces within imperialism, they were working within the grain and that’s what the difference between the two and how they worked made the most difference.
Ingles: Now Antony Adolf, you’re very interested and moved and committed to this topic, but I was imagining as you researched it and wrote about it, like this chapter on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and the Reformation, you seem to be able to link something of a daisy chain of peacemakers. You just keep writing and keep passing on the notion of peacemaking to each other. Many of them are persecuted, imprisoned, some killed. What is it like for you as a researcher to connect to these stories of determined peaceful philosophers over the years? What does it feel like to delve into the people who were talking about this centuries ago and trying to move it forward?
Adolf: That’s one of the things that amazed me as I researching and writing the book; that inspirations that one generation of peacemakers got from the other, not with just from one to the other, but across centuries and across millennia. It’s that connection between different kinds of peace and peacemaking brought into the present that really inspired me to write the book.
The fact that there was not so much literature on pro-peace activism was the initial spark, but what pushed me through the research was realizing that this continuity between the different generations in which this book participates is the inspiration and resilience that comes through. That really inspired me to push through ten years of research that it took to write the book.
Ingles: I’ll bet that leaves you feeling like you could at least be a small part of that chain.
Adolf: That’s what I’m hoping at least, yes.