Introducing his discussion on the particular bespoke nature of the ‘Liberal Peace’ in Northern Ireland (The Liberal Peace at Home and Abroad: Northern Ireland and Liberal Internationalism, 2009) Roger MacGinty uncritically accepts Michael Howard’s assertion that peace itself is a social construction, and so continues to develop his discussion adjuring his readers to agree that this peace “must not be regarded as a neutral concept or blindly accepted as normatively good.”

Michael Howard reminds us how peace is a social construction. Rather than a utopian state of nature to which we revert in the absence of warfare, peace is invented and reinvented by power-holders to suit each context.
The Invention of Peace: Reflections on War and International Order, 2000

It is only right that we should be queasy with such a reduced definition of peace, and indeed, by extension, such a negative and profoundly bleak anthropology. Perhaps in the conceptual economy of a tactician and military historian – such as Howard is – this state of pacification for the sake of political and strategic expedience makes sense, but it is at an extreme remove from the transcendent notion of the irenic peace of future hope and religion.

Irrespective of this qualm, we can at least appreciate the nuance in the discussion of this peace as an endpoint of conflict resolution and the utopian peace of myth and theology. The former; Howard’s invented and reinvented peace of Machiavellian power-brokerage, is not the intuitive peace of a positive anthropology but a mere social reality free from violence and the threat of violence. It assumes a social Darwinism to be the default setting of human community, and perhaps this says more of the mentality of the power-holders than it does of authentic human nature.

Ignorance and fear, ignorance caused by fear, that’s where all the evil comes from, that’s where your violence comes from. The person who is truly nonviolent, who is incapable of violence, is the person who is fearless. It’s only when you’re afraid that you become angry.
Anthony De Mello, Awareness

The latter peace speaks more of a human nature which is essentially peaceful yet distorted to violence by ignorance and fear – both of which, incidentally, are instruments by which the powerful rule.

Jason Michael
Blog Author


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