By Laurent Ladouce

Is world peace possible? How? At which cost?

Without denying the role of institutions, this paper wishes to stress the moral factor, i.e. the human responsibility. Neither idealistic (peace must triumph one day) nor realistic (we cannot abolish war), the present position is responsibilist: war and peace are not written in the stars, in statistics or in our genes. They depend on human free-will. Furthermore, war and peace are not decided by them, but by me, through my daily spirit of discord or concord. The question is not: ‘When and how can the world live in peace?’ but rather: ‘What shall I do, today, for world peace?’ 

In this respect, this paper supports the UNESCO and its promotion of a Culture of Peace. The Manifesto 2000 declares:  

Aware of my portion of responsibility (…), I make the commitment in my daily life, my family, my work, my community, my country, my region to:

  1. respect all lives,

  2. reject violence,

  3. liberate my generosity,

  4. listen to understand,

  5. preserve the planet,

  6. reinvent solidarity.[1]

These 6 points are not new, and the list is not exhaustive. The good news is the call to personal responsibility.



And yet, to create a culture of peace seems utopian and nonsensical at first. War has been a human reality for thousands of years and it is still the case today. Already in 1894, G. Vabert could write:


‘From the year 1496 BC. To 1861 AD, in 3 358 years, there were 227 years of peace, and 3130 years of war, or 13 years of war for every year of peace. Within the last three centuries, there have been 286 wars in Europe. From the year 1500 B.C until 1860, more than 8000 treaties of peace were concluded. The average time they remained in force was 2 years.’[2]


Vabert wrote 20 years before the beginning of World War I, which destroyed 10 million lives. Yet, in 1900, many believed in ‘progress’: democratic ideals, international trade, and cosmopolitanism would make war obsolete and impossible. The 20th century started with an optimistic mood abut war and peace. Alas, the 20th century was marked by two world wars, followed by the 40-year Cold War (1949-89). Terms such as genocide (Lemkin and Duke, 1944) and crimes against humanity had to be invented. They served to label a nature and scale of horror truly unprecedented. 


The most constant human activity has always, and everywhere, been warfare. In light of this hard fact, man  could well be called homo furiosus, rather homo sapiens sapiens. This is the reality. But if you were to ask any person, "Do you like conflict?", nobody in their right mind would say "yes". We prefer harmony, because it is a very important ingredient to our happiness. Confronted with the horror of war, Raymond Aron quoted Herodotus: ‘‘No man is sufficiently deprived of reason to prefer war rather than peace.’’ [3]




The contradiction between man’s craving desire for peace and the reality of war has led many thinkers to seek the cause of war in some disorder beyond our individual reach. For instance, Jean-Jacques Rousseau stated: ‘‘War is not a man-to-man relation. It is a relation between the State and the other State.’’ [4]


Yet, wars were fought much before the appearance of the modern nation-States. Even today, many wars do not clearly oppose sovereign States, but races or tribes within a State. Moreover, Samuel Huntington has showed that new conflicts may soon arise. They will not oppose States, but rather civilizations, whose worldviews oppose one another.[5]


Without dismissing Rousseau’s idea completely, we would rather follow Kenneth Waltz. In Man, the State and War[6], he set out to seek the key of the mystery of war in three directions: the human behavior, the structural dysfunctions of the States, and the rivalries among the various States. More explicitly, we would say that a fundamental contradiction within man fuels explosions of violence without, directed at others, which can harm and endanger their lives. When passionate explosions of violence are systematized, rationalized and justified, the phenomenon of war appears. The enemy is thus perceived as the figure whose subjugation or elimination will appease the collective fury[7]. A return to peace and ‘normal life’ will be possible.


Therefore, war has something of a perverted religious ritual. Its main function is to create collective catharsis.


Why do societies seek solutions to their problems in warfare, rather than through peaceful coexistence? Because of a perversion of the sense of sacrifice. Both the culture of war and the true culture of peace rest on the spirit of sacrifice, or giving one’s life. How do they differ then? the culture of war is asking man to die for his own people[8], whereas the culture of peace is asking man to live for the sake of others, even if others are not similar to him, are not his ‘neighbour’. The Greek language had three different words to describe love. Eros is craving: the subject sacrifices the object for his pleasure. Philia is the mutual attraction of a subject and an object, which brings them to practice mutual sacrifices. And Agape is unconditional or oblative love, where the subject is ready to sacrifice himself unconditionaly for the object, even if the object is still too ‘far’ to be naturally attractive. Should erotic impulses dominate our lives, we would be constantly at war with others. Philia brings some peace among people or countries which have something in common. But philia alone can only bring truces among enemy camps. The real possibility for peace is to embrace the other camp, thus making the first sacrificial step. 


The recent history of Europe illustrates this point. The military conquests of the French Napoleon and the German Hitler were both erotic attempts to solve the European question: the hegemony of a central power was seducing other nations, and sacrificing them to its desires. The hostility of Germany and France explains much of the two world wars. After World War II, and the division (‘sacrifice’) of Germany, the two enemy nations became a ‘couple’: De Gaulle and Adenauer, Giscard d’Estaing and Schmidt, Mitterrand and Kohl personified this philia. A hostility which had devastated Europe changed into a friendship which was beneficial to part of Europe. Until 1989, the scope of the Franco-German love could only embrace ‘lovable’ nations of Western Europe. Based on the sacrifice, and weakening of Germany, the philia between Bonn and Paris extended to six nations, then 9, then 12. The counterpart of this Western philia, was the friendship of the Warsaw pact centered on the hegemony of Moscow. Philia among West Europeans was possible provided they could ‘hate’ the other camp, and vice-versa.


After the 40-year ‘sacrifice’ of Germany ended, tensions appeared between Germany and France. As the French writer François Mauriac cynically said: ‘‘I so much love Germany that I prefer to have two of them.’’ The end of the German division, the collapse of the Soviet empire, made the French situation uneasy for a while. Would the Franco-German honeymoon disappear? Thanks to the sacrificial energy accumulated for decades, the march toward the unity of Europe received a new impetus. Several treaties accelerated the integration of Western Europe. Borders are now abolished within the Schengen area. National currencies, these attributes of national sovereignty will soon be sacrificed. The Euro will circulate in 2002.


We are now in a situation where the ‘Franco-German axis’ may offer a sacrificial solution to the European question. If these two nations aim at becoming the father and mother of Europe, they will have to make more sacrifices. The times when Europeans were ready to die for their nation will be over. They will be ready to live for Europe, from Brest to Brest-Litovsk, from Helsinki to Lisbon. German and French leaders now discuss how many sacrifices they are willing to accept and require from their partners.


As Durkheim had observed in the 19th century, no society can exist unless its members are willing to make sacrifices on behalf of one another. Hence, according to Durkheim, altruism is not merely an agreeable ornament for social life, but rather its fundamental basis.


In other words, there is an innate desire of human beings to live for the sake of a greater whole - the family, the clan, the region, the nation, mankind: all these levels are a projection of the ideal self. By having greater and greater objects of love, we magnify our heart, and thus our human potential and value, our capacity for joy. When figures of authority within any given community – parents, teachers, leaders – cannot educate and channel this self-projection, frustrations accumulate like steam, making societies mature for social disorder, civil war or war against other nations.





After 1945, there were attempts to channel the national ambitions and energies into constructive directions. Aware that the Japanese had showed an abnormal capacity for sacrifice in wartime, Mc Arthur believed that the same energy would serve peace and prophetically declared: ‘‘The energy of the Japanese race, if properly channeled, will enable a vertical, rather than horizontal expansion.’’[9]


In other words, what had caused a global disaster when Japan tried to promote herself by dominating colonies and sacrificing them, might be achieved peacefully if Japan was to elevate herself and create a model to be followed. As a matter of fact, the sphere of co-existence and co-prosperity that Japan sought to achieve in the Pacific centered on herself and through the bloody sacrifice of colonies, is more or less what a growing number of Asian leaders, inspired by the model of Japan, try to realize through the mobilization of Asian values.


Furthermore, the three recommendations of Emmanuel Kant in his treatise Perpetual Peace, have been gaining ground in the international community. Let us give a brief summary of Kant’s ideas:


1. The Civil Constitution of each State should be republican. (the government is based on the rule of law and is the common business - res publica - of the people). For Kant, the central criteria of republicanism is the rule of law, rather than simply the majority rule.

2. The people’s rights should be based on a federation of free States. (Rather than a world State, which Kant feared to be despotic).

3. The cosmopolitan right should be limited to a universal hospitality.[10]


Kant believed that peace could be gradually extended. The first step was for States to become Republican. As a second step, all Republican States would join a federation. One day, this federation would embrace all States of the earth. Kant believed in the possibility for men to act responsibly as moral and rational beings transcending their passions. He foresaw the gradual emergence of a cosmopolitan mind transcending national boundaries.


How far have Kant’s ideas been implemented? There are various opinions about this. Idealists contend that the twentieth century has seen the triumph of good will through pacifist manifestos, non-violent theories, universal declarations of human rights and so forth. Today, we observe a tendency of democratic nations to join in regional organizations, the most sucessful of these being the European Union, soon able to absorbe former enemy nations of Eastern Europe. After 1945 Japan and Germany embraced the democratic values of the winners, and became powerful partners in the G7. From 1960 until 1975, almost all the former colonies had gained their independance. After 1989, most East European nations have enjoyed a gradual transition toward democracy. Democracy  and regional cooperation is also gaining ground in Latin America. In Asia, the ASEAN has been able to incorporate Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma. Even in Africa, the two giants of South Africa and Nigeria are giving consistent signs of exemplary transition toward a democratic order.


These institutional changes are necessary for world peace. Such positive results cannot but inspire hope for a more peaceful word.

Yet, external and institutional transformations are not enough. Cynical or skeptical minds would point that the good will of the 20th century did not prevent two world wars which engulfed millions of lives. Moreover these world wars started in Western Europe which had cultivated the rationalist humanism of Rousseau and Kant. As George Steiner put it:


Buchenwald is located a few miles from Goethe’s garden. I heard that in Munich, during World War II, from the entrance of the concert hall which was programming a superb cycle on Debussy, one could hear the shouts of the deported people screaming in the trains to Dachau. The promises of enlightenment have not been held. Libraries, museums, theatres, universities can blossom and prosper under the shadow of concentration camps. We now understand: culture does not make you more human. It can even make man insensitive to human misery.[11]


Actually, the most skeptical about perpetual peace through democratic institutions would be Kant himself. Kant’s sense of duty’s was strong: what man ought to be and ought to do occupied his mind. But he also knew that the spiritual progress of mankind is slow. We would expect Kant to see war as an absolute evil, but his human wisdom was rather inclined to see the phenomenon of war as a necessary evil, as long as man is not able to act as a free and responsible person. He thus wrote:


Let us thank nature, for vanity competing with envy, for the insatiable appetite of possession or dominion. Without these, all the excellent and natural proclivities of mankind would be somehow in eternal slomber. Man wants concord but nature knows better than him what is good for its species. [12]


Kant’s position is then balanced: external transformations are necessary to bring world peace. But they are not sufficient. They should be acompanied by an internal reformation:


This very fear of war forced heads of State to have a deeper consideration for mankind. Therefore, given the degree of culture at which mankind has arrived, war is an indispensable means to elevate men still higher. And it is only after the advent of this culture that an eternal peace would be salutary, and would thus become possible.’[13]



Most people hate war. Yet we keep thinking that war is in the nature of man because it is in the nature of things. A true culture of peace must show that war is not a natural phenomenon, a law of nature. War is a human phenomenon. Yet, it reveals man’s alienation, rather than his nature. Our alienation appears in some false ideas expressed in language. A culture of peace should first remove these obstacles.


The semantic obstacle

The first obstacle is semantic. We never define health as the absence of sikness. But most languages define ‘peace’ negatively, as the absence of war or conflict. Languages perceive strife and war as the normal and natural attributes of the human condition.[14] This is even more true with encyclopedias. Almost without exception, they say nothing at the entry Peace. Informations about peace are available only at the entry called War and peace. This proclivity of languages, in almost every culture, to ‘declare’ war rather than peace is frustrating when one wishes to promote a culture of peace. It seems to deny the sentence of Baruch Spinoza: ‘‘Peace is more than the absence of war.’’ 


This negative definition of peace is consistent with etymology: for the Romans, pax could only result from a mighty power imposing order and tranquillity after conquest. Today, this definition of peace still inspires international relations. Heads of State, militaries, diplomats, see the world as it is, as it has always been, not as it ought to be. Without denying the aspiration of the human heart for concord, they see that this beautiful concord remains a spiritual ideal without any earthly fatherland. In the present state of world affairs, their job is to provide security from war through the balance of power, and hence the hegemony of some powers.


The obstacle of facts and statistics

The second obstacle is the power of the statistics. It is a fact that human history has enjoyed one year of peace for 13 years of war. From this fact, we may empirically induce gloomy conclusions for the future. The negative definition of peace of our languages seems to faithfully reflect the reality of our human experience. We say that peace is just the absence of war, because it has been our experience so far.


The epistemological obstacle

We arrive at the conclusion that the greatest obstacle is that we do not see the reality of peace. As Pierre Hassner writes, ‘There is no shortage of formulas which ontologically found the primacy of war.’[15] The most famous of these justifications is probably the dialectics of Heraclitus, who wrote: ‘‘1. War is the father of all and king of all 2. If strife among the warring elements in nature was abolished, nothing would exist. 3. All things come into being and pass away through strife.’’


Heraclitus saw the phenomenon of war in the nature of things, and even as the ontological foundation of natural laws. These phisophical insights regained a certain power in the 19th century. Social Darwinists, led by Herbert Spencer, claimed that this human reality was natural and is an example of the process of natural selection and the survival of the fittest, which occurs in the natural world. Capitalists and others used this theory to justify exploitative behavior and human selfishness. Today, however, evolutionary biology understands survival of the fittest as a more subtle concept. In studying animal behavior, biologists find that animals employ cooperation, altruism and even self-sacrifice as effective strategies to survive, attract mates and raise offspring. We thus cannot simply dismiss human conflict as something following the dictates of natural law. Instead, we are challenged to investigate its fundamental causes.


In an article called “When nature becomes moral”, Belgian psychologist Vinciane Despret noticed:


A world where a severe competition was predominating, and even the fight of all against all, is now replaced by a nature which, on the one hand, seems to avoid violence, and on the other hand, seems to be more and more organized under the sign of alliances and cooperation.[16]


Violence is a crucial issue. Many have justified the human tendencies for homicide and suicide as reflecting a so-called law of the jungle in the animal world. But ethology has showed that violence among animals of the same species is highly codified and ritualized. When males fight one another over females, they almost never kill each other. Furthermore, a hierarchy exists among animals, which does not allow for fights. After hunting, dominant lions or chimpanzees eat first, and then others share the rest of the food. Commenting the recent discoveries in ethology, Mrs Despret humorously commented : ‘altruism, then: a law of the jungle?’


The culture of war says: ‘Man is a wolf for man’. The real wolf however, is a wolf for the sheep, not for the other wolf. Actually, wolves are known for forming stable and peaceful societies. It is only in the human world, and due to man’s alienation, that man is a wolf for man .



Ontological elements

The ghost of Heraclitus’ dialectics has haunted our political philosophy for centuries. It reappeared in the writings of Machiaveli (The Prince), Hobbes (Leviathan), and Clausewitz (Vom Krieg). These writings have shaped our modern Realpolitik. As children of Heraclitus, we keep saying:  ‘if you want peace, you should prepare war’ (Si vis Pacem, para Bellum) ‘man is a wolf for man’ (homo homini lupus), and ‘war is the continuation of politic through other means’(Clausewitz’s most famous sentence).


In the Renaissance, Erasmus criticized the Heraclitean Dialectics and wrote Anti-Polemus. He said war was against every purpose for which man had been created. Man is born not for destruction but for love, friendship and service to his fellowmen.[17] The Plea of Erasmus is highly commendable, but is too gentle. Erasmus wanted the human nature to dislike war, but what about nature? His ethics of peace had no ontological foundation. In the 20th century, Gandhi had intuitions of a unified theory of peace, which would embrace both natural (or cosmic) phenomena and social phenomena. Like many other mystics, he perceived the power of love to be the ultimate force pervading all realities. In his view, non-violence meant more than resisting evil. It was the force of truth (satyagraha) or the force of true love. ‘‘The path of peace is the path of truth … Whoever says the truth cannot remain violent very long.’’ (Gandhi, War and Peace, 1926).


Actually, what causes conflicts? A perversion of and alienation from the laws of nature. A most common law of nature can be called the origin-division-union action. In other words, from a common origin, two distinct elements appear. They enter a common interaction, which we call the give-and-take action between the subject and the object. Out of this give-and-take action, energies appear to bring a result which manifests the common purpose of the concurring elements. The solar system, for example, seems to have appeared after detaching from the original galaxy. The planets all turn around the sun in the same direction, and the moon turns around the  earth. The sun, the earth and the moon exist and interact in harmonious subject-object relationships, within a system. Thanks to these fruitful and harmonious interactions, life could appear and multiply on earth. We know that life has appeared simultaneously from a same origin and with the two complementary forms of the animals and plants, which live in symbiosis. The animal and the plant world have all kinds of mutual exchanges.


The principles of common origin, reciprocity among partners and mutual interaction to attain a higher goal, which operate in the natural world, are also the basis of the ethical law. Peace becomes the normal situation among people and among nations as soon as the basic ingredients necessary for harmonious interaction between two or more beings are active: clear subject-object roles (i.e., one initiates while the other receives and responds), giving must precede receiving and a higher common purpose which both strive to realize. If any of these ingredients are missing, conflict will be the result. For example, if both sides seek to take the initiative or, conversely, both want to receive before giving, there can be no harmony. The same is true if neither side can find common purpose with the other, but both pursue their own individual purposes. Generally speaking, these ingredients are consistently present in the interactions which occur in the natural world, but are often missing in human interactions. This is because people often reverse the proper relationship between their dual purposes.


Two Historical Examples:

Of course, examples borrowed from nature and from the field of ethics are important for the creation of a culture of peace. But we also need concrete examples drawn from history.


Two historical examples may illustrate the origin-division-union action: Jews and Arabs have a common ancestor, Abraham. A remote cause of their fight is the division between the two sons of Abraham: Isaac, the ancestor of the Jews, and Ismael, the ancestor of the Arabs and Muslims. Later, the children of Abraham were further divided among Jews and Christians. Throughout history, the relationships among the three branches of the same monotheistic trunk have not always been hostile. A remarkable example of a fruitful subject-object relationship was in Spain, before the Reconquista. A brilliant culture emerged in Cordoba, sometimes called the Mozarab culture. It synthesized the Muslim, Jewish and Christian cultures. The Jewish Maimonides and the Muslim Averroes, both citizens of Cordoba, worked fruitfully to elaborate a synthesis between the Greek humanistic philosophy, and the monotheistic revelation. In 1948, The Jews were given their own State of Israel, surrounded by Arabo-Muslim States, with the Blessing of Christian nations. Despite the terrible conflicts which have marked the past 50 years, the international community should continue to seek responsible solutions for this tragedy. A reconciliation of the separated children of Abraham around the city of Jerusalem is not just a local concern, but is a vital issue for mankind. On two occasions, sacrifices brought successful results : the peace intiative taken by Sadate in 1977 resulted in the Camp David agreements signed by The Israel leader Begin, the Arab Sadat, and the Christian Carter. A similar ceremony took place later with Rabin Arafat and Clinton. This is the pattern to follow for future progress.


Another example of the origin-division-union action is the history of Western Europe: in 800, Charlemagne was crowned as Roman emperor. The Carolingian Empire, with Aachen as its capital, was a federation, whose influence almost coincided with the six founding States of the European union: Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Luxemburg and Netherlands. The quarels among the grand-sons of Charlemagne largely explain the end of the Carolingian idea, sealed by the Treaty of Verdun in 843. This treaty gave birth of the twin brothers of Western Europe: France and Germany. In the modern times, the growing hostility between Germany and France, the two enfants terribles of the common ancestor Charlemagne, reached apocalyptic proportions[18]. The city of Verdun became the theatre of this apocalypse. Where the Carolingian Emopire had been cut in 843, there took place the main battle of World War I. 700 000 soldiers died there, half German and half French. In 1984, a ceremony took place in Verdun: Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand joined their hands. Today, the city is an international city of peace, like Hiroshima in Japan. An international museum of peace invites people to reflect on war and peace. As we suggested earlier, the reconciliation among Germans and French is not an end in itself. Their mutual interaction should serve a higher goal, which is the building of Europe, i.e. the original mission of the Carolingian empire.



Everything has an individual purpose, by which it maintains its own existence. Yet this is not its ultimate purpose. Every being is meant to exist for a purpose greater than itself. As human beings, for instance, we need to maintain our health in order to serve society well through our work. These two purposes are both very important and complementary. Part of the challenge of life is learning to develop the proper relationship between them.


With the laws which we just expounded (the origin-division-union action and the complementarity between the dual purposes), we reach a positive definition of peace. As we said earlier, most definitions of peace are negative. Most but not all. Significantly, the deepest definition of peace is positive, and combines ontology (the laws of nature) and ethics (the laws of the human society). It is the definition of Augustine:


The peace of the body is the harmonious agency among its constitutive parts; the peace of the instinctual soul is the well regulated rest of its appetites; the peace of the reasonable soul is the good coordination of thought and action; the peace of the mind and body is a well-ordered life and health of the animated being; the peace of mortal man with God is the well ordered obedience in faith under the eternal law; the peace of men is their well-ordered concord; peace in the house is the well ordered concord of its dwellers in commandment and obedience; the peace of the city is the well ordered concord of the citizens in commandment and obedience; the peace of all things is the tranquillity of order (tranquillitas ordinis). Order is the disposition of equal and unequal beings, giving each one its appropriate position.[19]


The Augustinian definition of peace, which reflects Western metaphysics, is echoed by the Chinese definition of peace. The Chinese characters for Heiwa mean harmony and equality. According to Professor Hu-hsiang Fung, both are inseparable. When harmony is destroyed, strife appears, whereas if equality is destroyed, unfairness appears. Moreover, harmony and equality are necessary and sufficient conditions for peace. Harmony without equality cannot stay long and is unstable. On the other hand, equality without harmony is rigid and non-spontaneous. The cause of harmony in Confucianism is humanity, ‘this means sympathy and empathy.’ Furthermore, harmony is not static, but includes ‘the rhythmic operations of Ying and Yang designate the continuous process of change in the universe, forever manifesting the Tao.’[20]



The UNESCO, at the beginning of the new millenium, solemnly invites each of us to be a peace-maker in his daily life. It is a good news, as we said earlier. We must practice the culture of peace, and then support our governments to do the same. There was a time, not long ago, when the honor to go to war, to shed one’s blood for one’s country, on the battlefields, was democratized. Every human being, by virtue of his being a sovereign citizen, had the sacred right, and the sacred duty, to be a soldier. This democratization of ultimate sacrifice resulted in the massive slaughters of the 20th century, whose prophet was Clausewitz. Today, we need a Clausewitz for world peace, and not for world wars. We need a founding thought for irenology, not for polemology. The cornerstone of the new thinking will be the democratization of the noble and sacred task of peace-building. This task requires more sacrifices than the bloodshed of our ancestors. But they have to be the sacrifices of love, not of blood. Now has come a time, when the honor to go to peace, to give one’s love to one’s country and to all nations of the earth, on the peacefields, will be democratized. Every human being, by virtue of his being a sovereign citizen, has the sacred right, and the sacred duty, to be a peacemaker.


To be a person of mature character requires learning how to give priority to the whole purpose. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our personal purpose or desire. It means learning a way of life in which we are concerned about others, trying to contribute to a greater whole. We call it unselfishness. Problems arise when we put the individual purpose above the whole purpose. Someone who does this consistently is a selfish person. When our personal gain prevails upon the well-being of others, we quickly find ourselves in conflict with others, and with society. Selfishness is the essence or beginning point of conflict.


Conflicts in a family, for instance, usually happen over issues of infidelity or money, when one of the family members places his own happiness over that of others. Conflicts in a society occur when one group or nation pursues its self-interest over the greater good. For instance, colonial powers invested a lot in their colonies, but it was mostly for their own sake, and this caused resentment and conflict among those colonized, which remains even today. In most cases, they could not go beyond an erotic love for their colonies ; few, if any example show a relationship turning into philia.



Unselfishness means living for others. This is the basis of goodness. Qualities of character, such as humility, self-control, service to others, forgiveness, generosity and fair-mindedness all reflect the attitude of living for others. People who demonstrate such qualities are recognized and honored in every culture. The quality of living for others is motivated by an ethic of altruism. It is characterized by the whole purpose prevailing over the individual purpose. It is the base for lasting, harmonious relationships and is the foundation for peace. Selfishness is the opposite. It is the basis of evil. It means living for oneself at the expense of others. There are certain vices that are universally condemned, like arrogance, lust, exploitation, vengeance, greed, and prejudice. They have one common characteristic: They reflect an egocentricity which places the self at the center of all thought, feelings and actions. This leads to attitudes and behavior that promote conflict: anger and jealousy, infidelity and promiscuity, disrespect and rebellion, finally, violence, murder and war.


It is interesting, however, that though many people exhibit these characteristics, nobody likes to consider themselves a selfish or evil person. Selfish people often pretend that somehow they are good, creating elaborate excuses to justify their evil deeds. This suggests that the unselfish side of ourselves is the more deeply rooted aspect of our nature. We recognize that unselfishness and goodness is the norm that we should live up to. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote:


Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there uprooted small corner of evil[21]


No one is completely selfish, and no one is completely unselfish. We are a mixture of both natures. In our life process we are dealing with this kind of internal struggle day by day. One part of us wants to do good, is concerned about others, and is ready to give of ourselves. But at other times we find ourselves not caring about anything, and do whatever we want. This inner conflict has been with mankind throughout history.


Conflict does not originate somewhere in society, dividing individuals, families or social groups. It originates within each individual. We seem to be divided against ourselves. And because conflict has its root in the individual, peace and conflict resolution should also start within the individual. Peace starts when each of us develops his character and virtue, as Spinoza stated:


Peace is not the absence of war, it is a virtue which has its origin in the force of the soul, since obedience is a constant will to do what should be done according to the common law of the city. A city where peace is based on the inertia of its subjects deserves to be called servitude. When I say that the best State is where people live in concord, I say that people live a truly human life, a life not defined by blood circulation and other functions common to all animals, but mainly by reason, virtue of the soul and true life.[22]


When selfishness prevails within the individual, then conflict starts in the family. When selfishness prevails within the family, conflict starts in society. When selfishness prevails in the nation, a world conflict may be started, as we have experienced in the 20th century.


Of course, there are times when fighting becomes necessary. We have a responsibility to defend our family, our nation, and ourselves when they are unjustly attacked. But this in itself does not resolve the conflict, because it does not resolve core issues. Even if the righteous side wins, the cause of fighting usually remains and the victory from one side may prompt vengeance from the other side. Sometimes after a conflict there is a settlement: Two nations tired of war may conclude a peace treaty. A husband and wife caught in an argument may settle for an agreement. However, a settlement does not necessarily mean the resolution of a conflict, especially when one of the parties agrees under pressure. It may not prevent a longer and deeper conflict from resurfacing later. If a husband brings his wife to submit through his masculine authority or his financial power, he may in fact lose her heart, and be faced with a much more serious challenge to their marriage in the future.


Settlements Alone Do Not Resolve Conflicts


A good example is what happened after World War I. In that war the Allied nations defeated the Central powers, then demanded reparations from Germany, the leading Central power, as repayment for the material destruction it caused the Allies. This demand generated so much economic difficulty and hardship in Germany, that somebody like Adolf Hitler could come along and play upon the resentments and wounded pride of the German people to build fascism. The ultimate consequences of that was World War II.



As stated earlier, both the culture of war and the true culture of peace are based on sacrifice: the sacrifice of blood on the one hand, the sacrifice of love on the other hand. The sacrifice of love means the readiness to go beyond ordinary love, eros and philia. As long as we love those who are lovable, who resemble us, we may not go beyond peace in one nation, or in one region. A true culture of peace should embrace the following motto: I should unite my mind and my body to live for the sake of my family. Husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters in one family should unite to live for the sake of their neighbours. The city hall, the community leaders and all the citizens should unite locally to live for the sake of their region. The central governement, the administration and the regional powers should unite and live for the sake of the nation. The nations of a given region should cooperate and unite to live for the sake of the continent. And all the continents should unite for the sake of world peace. This expansion of love should is not something artificial, which negates the human nature. Human beings are fundamentally beings with heart, and we can define heart as the irrepressible impulse to seek joy through loving and being loved. The impulse of the human heart is absolute and infinite. History shows that those who were able to love mankind reached a much higher level of felicity and bliss, than those who only loved with ordinary and selfish feelings. From early childhood, human beings should be taught to see mankind as an extended family and to see their own family as a microcosm of mankind.


General Sherman said that war is hell, or pandemonium. In reality, wars sometimes bring an end to a more terrible hell, which is selfishness. When there was no other solution but war to bring and end to slavery in the United States, the civil war broke out. It did not bring the ultimate solution, and that Martin Luther King had to launch another crusade, one hundred years later, to break the walls between white and black people in the USA. Today, the ‘war’ for reconciliation is not finished, and it will need the same ingredients that King was able to mobilize: altruism, altruism and more altruism.


Likewise, lasting peace is about to be sealed among countries which have been the most violent throughout history: the European nations. The hatred among Europeans deflagrated into two world wars, bringing mankind directly into the nuclear age. In other words, the failure of Europeans to solve their continental problem brought the nightmare of civil war to all of humankind. Will Europe be satisfied to become a fortress of peace, or will it use the energy of peace to become a more serving, more generous, and more responsible continent toward the rest of the world? Will Europeans feel responsible to repair as much as possible their wrongdoings of the past?


The culture of peace must encourage citizens to embrace a responsible and altruistic way of life. Scholarly research will be helpful, to show the correlation between altruism and peace. One such research was started by a couple, Drs Samuel and Pearl Oliner, both teaching at the Humboldt State University of California. As founders and researchers for the Altruistic Personality and Prosocial Behavior Institute, they conducted a survey on people called the rescuers, i.e. people who risk their lives to rescue Jewish people from the Shoah during World War II. Their book, entitled The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe (Free Press 1988) was a landmark for the creation of a culture of peace. Convincing evidence was brought to show that peace-making is not fundamentally a matter of impersonal institutions, but of personal commitment. In an article published in march 1991, they wrote:


What, then, can rescuers contribute to an understanding of how to promote peace? What they can tell us is something about how a sense of responsibility with respect to other’s welfare develops, even when such ‘others’ include ‘outsiders’ and stangers. Then can also inform us about how this sense of responsibility becomes a passion, strong enough so that self-survival assumes less importance than some ultimate good and the consequence of which is a self-transcendant behaviour. This impulse, we believe, is essential for the inhibition of war and the cultivation of those social conditions which are most likely to result in peace. Survival of the global village will require more than the absence of war ; it will requirte nothing less than the readiness of those who live within it to behave alruistically. [23]


One remarkable insight of their article was to show the necessity of a growth of the human heart and character from erotic attachment to philia (reciprocal love) and then to agape (unconditional love). They stressed that a good harmony among these different levels of love was a key for well-being and world peace:


Those who learn to prize only their intimates may eschew all responsibilities toward others, even dehumanizing them so as to justify their detachment. Those who relate only to a universal unknown mankind are susceptible to ideologies which may inure them to the fate of real people. In the service of an abstract mankind, real people can become dispensable objects. We proposed the attribute extensive to secribe people who are rooted in both particular and inclusive relationships.[24]


But where do we cultivate the altruistic personality? Where do we find a warm intimacy, but also a will to extend onself to others, including strangers? Among the several propositions offered by the authors, the first one deserves special attention. It says that solid family relationships which promote interpersonal closeness, responsibility and caring for others, are conducive to altruism and peace.


Family expectations of (…) rescuers tended to be high, particularly in relation to values of responsibility, self-sufficiency, and caring for others. With respect to parental emphasis on such values, resucuers generally differed significantly from nonrescuers. We infer from this that public policy needs to be directe toward strengthening warm, supportive parental relationships with children. However,  since such experiences are likely to be critical for the society at large, they cannot be left to families alone. Social institutions, including the scholarly and religious institutions, as wel as publci wlfare agencies, need to be copartners in this endeavour.[25]


To conclude this paper, we suggest that the individual commitment is the soul of a culture of peace. Sound institutions, particularly democratic insitutions as advocated by Kant and others are the body or external form of the culture of peace. The family is where soul and body unite. It is the place where the flow of love springing from the inner world of the individual is channeled and given a structure to extend to the outerworld.


[1] Manifesto 2000 for the Culture of Peace and non-violence, march 4, 1999. See

[2] La Revue des Deux Mondes, avril 1894, Paris

[3] Paix et Guerre entre les Nations, 2e ed. Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1984.

[4] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Le Contrat Social, Livre I, p. 4

[5] Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations

[6] Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State and War, New York, Columbia University Press, 1959

[7] The German and anti-nazi filmmaker Fritz Lang illustrated this phenomenon in two masterpieces : M (1932) and Fury (1936). This reflection is also the center of Stanley Kubrick’s production. 

[8] In Einsenstein’s Alexander Nevski (1937), Prince Alexander (Nicolas Therkassov) says to a coward Russian soldier: « If you are not ready to fight on the enemy land, you are unworthy of the native land »

[9] General Mc Arthur, August 16, 1945, broadcast speech to the American people, from Tokyo

[10] Emmanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace, 1795, trans. H. Nisbet in H. Reiss (ed.) Political Writings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2nd ed ; 1991.

[11] George Steiner, Culture does not make you more human, interview in L’Express, 28 dec 2000, p. 8-9

[12] Emmanuel Kant Ideas for a universal history from the cosmopolitan viewpoint, 4th proposal.

[13] Emmanuel Kant Hypothesis on the beginnings of human history, final remark

[14] Peace is  ‘‘Relations among people who are not in conflict’’ and ‘‘the situation of a nation, a State, which is not in war’’ (Dictionnaire Robert, France) or ‘‘Freedom from disturbance or agitation. Specifically, absence or cessation of war.’’ (Encyclopedia Britannica)

[15] Pierre Hassner, Guerre et paix Dictionnaire de philosophie politique et morale – Ph. Raynaud & St. Rials PUF, Paris, 1996)

[16] Vinciane Despret, Quand la nature devient morale, Sciences Humaines Mars 2000, p. 28

[17] Erasmus, Anti-Polemus, the Plea of Reason, Religion and Humanism (1510).

[18] The Spanish writer Blasco-Ibanez, in his novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1916), illustrated this tragedy. In the novel, the patriarch of the Madariaga family will see two of his descendants (his seed) fighting one on the French side, the other on the German side. Vincente Minnelli adapted the novel of Ibanez in the context of World War II (The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1961, with Glenn Ford, Charles Boyer and Ingrid Thulin)

[19]  Augusine, The City of God, XIX, 13

[20] Professor Hu-hsiang Fung, Tunghai University, R.O.C., in A New Concept of Peace from the Confucian Viewpoint – Vision for Peace in the Eighties, Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on World Peace, Korea 1992)

[21] Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Gulag Archipelago

[22] Baruch Spinoza, Political Treaty, chapter 5)


[23] (Pearl and Samuel Oliner, Dr Mary B. Gruber, Altruism and Peace: Some propositions based on Gender and Cross-cultural comparisons, International Journal on World Peace, march 1991, p.37 )

[24] op.cit. p. 38

[25] op.cit. p. 38