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Dieter Senghaas

Is There Any Future For Peace?


From the periodical of the Catholic Academy in Bavaria
'zur debatte', 7/2006, P. 21-23


    Which are the conditions of a durable or lasting peace, of a peace that reliably counters the danger of a relapse into violent - in borderline cases military - clashes on interest- and identity conflicts? Immanuel Kant in 1795 named basic conditions for such a peace. They were the starting-point for Professor Dr. Dieter Senghaas's evening lecture on 19 October 2006. He described social processes of change and the problem situations resulting from them. He dealt with the preconditions of peace, and also with currently disputed questions, such as policy of peace and global perspectives of peace. The paper is made accessible by "zur debatte".


In the year 1795 Immanuel Kant published his famous "philosophical sketch" Zum ewigen Frieden, usually in English translation published under the title On Perpetual Peace. The state of peace among men, so the Königsberg philosopher wrote, is no natural state. For the natural state among men is rather war; well, not necessarily the outbreak of hostilities, rather their everlasting threat. In view of this situation the state of peace was to be formally instituted - this is the famous formulation of Kant. To bring peace about begins within states and societies, continues between the states and at last on the level of the world-wide society or mankind as a whole. As is well known, it was to these three levels that Kant's constructive considerations on the architecture of a - as we would name it today - lasting or enduring peace referred to; that is a peace where the relapse into violence or into wars does no longer exist, so that one can speak of a zone of stable peace, as we observe it today in the community of the EU-states.

Let me present some systematic observations to the first of the levels mentioned, i.e. to the conditions that make internal peace possible; but - although setting this main focus I additionally aim at drawing some consequences for the two other levels, in particular for the level of mankind. That I thereby bring up for discussion only part of the complex and multi-dimensional peace problems, which are today far more complex than at Kant's lifetime, goes without saying.



The necessity to deal in peace studies once more with the conditions of domestic resp. social peace has to do with the profound changes which the western world has already undergone since the second half of the 18th century at the latest, but the other parts of the world above all in the past century, and especially in the past decades since the end of the Second World War. When Kant published his peace paper the world, also Europe was still to a large extent moulded by rural societies. This gradually changed in the 19th century. But only the bygone 20th century though little is spoken about this - will go down in history as the century of deruralisation ('Entbäuerlichung') overcoming the rural character of the world. Today most people no longer live under conditions of a self-sufficient economy, but in nation-wide economies with dramatically increasing world-economical relations. Developing countries are not excluded from that trend, although clear gradations continue to exist, e.g. between the newly industrialized countries of Eastern Asia (NICs) on the one hand and Black Africa on the other hand.

Why is this apparently banal social-statistical circumstance of importance, even of importance for the peace problem? In contrast to rural communities in the traditional-rural framework these new socio-economic surroundings result in a tremendous extension of man's intellectual and emotional horizon and radius of action. What is more, the urbanization accompanying the structural change condenses the communication; and for the first time in world history the mass of human beings can be organized politically. Moreover a simultaneous alphabetization on mass basis leads to a widespread mobilization of intelligence, that is to say, to a mental emancipation and to a revolution of abilities. Thus man's general level of competence rises dramatically. A transformation takes place, a conversion: "from ignorance to awareness, to a connection with the world", as some years ago a nun working among the poor of the Indian society aptly formulated (FAZ, 6 January 1998). So, in contrast to the traditional society the chance of social advancement and upward mobility is given. Furthermore the trend of life expectancies and life-styles likewise becomes world-wide comparable thanks to the in the meantime world-wide spreading media. Possibly today global demonstration effects via media are even more effective than the globalization of the economies.

Thus out of traditional ways of life societies arise which can be politicized and are in fact politicized. In them traditional identities become contested. "Truths" can no longer be defined beyond doubt. Conceptions of justice are multiplied, just as interests. In view of the many and diverse order-political definitions and projects the question what a "good society" is, has become a disputed issue. The "tranquillitas ordinis" (peace by order) about which - in the surroundings of a traditional society - once Augustine and correspondingly many other authors wrote, can no longer be nailed down. There arise - seen from their structure - conflict-laden, should the occasion arise violent-pregnant societies that - if they are not forced by dictatorship or despotism - can no longer be reduced to a common denominator. But under such new socio-economical and socio-cultural conditions also dictatorships and despotisms are sooner or later doomed to failure. For plurality is insurmountable. The politicization of identities, truths, interests and conceptions of justice is irreversible. The consequence of all this is that meanwhile the demand for political participation can be heard in any corner of the world.

If social, economic and cultural arguments present themselves as political, and political arguments as social, economic and cultural ones, we face fundamental politicization. And thus for some decades in many societies the question of coexistence in spite of a fundamental politicization has come to a head. The alternative to coexistence is - in extreme cases - civil war, as today's political experience teaches us every day anew.



But how does one escape civil war in societies that are thoroughly politically mobilized? How can peace be brought about under such conditions? The reorganization of the world just characterized happened first as consequence of the agrarian and industrial revolution since the middle of the 18th century in the western and northern part of Europe. For that reason here the problems just outlined - coexistence in spite of fundamental politicizing - became acute at the earliest. And here also some results of handling these problems can be observed most easily. Above all six conditions for a civilized, i.e. for a long time violence-free handling of inevitable conflicts must be stressed.

To be mentioned is first of all the legitimate power monopoly of the state, i.e. the protection of the legal public order. It is of fundamental importance for any modern peace order. Only the "disarmament of the citizens" forces them to settle their identity- and interest conflicts with arguments and not by force. Only under such conditions potential conflict parties are forced to an argumentative discussion, and thus to deliberative politics in the public area. The dramatic meaning of this matter becomes evident where the power monopoly breaks down and a rearmament of the citizens takes place, that is to say when feuds and warlords arise again, as it can be observed in the militant conflict spots in many places in the world.

But the power monopoly, secondly, requires control founded on the rule of law, if it is not simply to be the expression of arbitrariness. Without such control, which is the quintessence of the modern constitutional state, the power monopoly would be nothing else but a paraphrase for dictatorship, i.e. the rule of the strongest. The rule of law prescribes the rules of the political process of shaping public opinion and forming political demands as well as finding political decisions and enforcing laws. Apart from general principles as they are laid down in catalogues of fundamental rights, these rules are of fundamental importance, just because people in politicized societies usually do not agree on substantial points of controversy.

The third essential condition for internal peace is the control of emotions or the affect control, which arises out of many kinds of interdependences. Modern societies are differentiated in many different ways. In people's various "role plays" there is a wide range of human loyalties. Varied role-specific demands, so conflict theory and everyday life experiences teach us, lead to a fragmentation of the conflicts and to a moderation of conflict behaviour, to a taming of the affects, because without the latter living together in complex societies would not at all be conceivable.

On the other hand however, just in view of an essential control of emotions, fourthly, democratic participation is necessary. For, where people cannot interfere in public affairs, be it for reasons of legal or other discriminations, a "Rechtsunruhe" (Sigmund Freud) (unrest about the legal public order) develops, at worst a build-up of conflicts, which in societies apt to politicize can become a place that produces violence. Hence democracy as the foundation of building up the legal public order - widely considered to be legitimate - is not a luxury in societies modernizing themselves but a necessary precondition for peaceful handling of conflicts.

But, fifth, such handling of conflicts in politicized societies will only last long, if there are constant endeavours towards social justice. Modern societies are predominantly oriented towards capitalist market economy; in dynamics inherent in this system continuously produces inequality. If this dynamic toward inequality is not constantly countered, explosive social cleavages develop in the societies. If there are not such continuous efforts for distributive justice, the disadvantaged people will question the credibility of the state founded on the rule of law, since its rules are no longer felt as reasonably fair. On the other hand such serious efforts to build up social justice and fairness supply the constructive handling of conflicts with material substance; by such efforts public institutions are backed with legitimacy.

If there are in public fair chances to articulate one's identity and to balance different interests, it can be assumed, sixth, that such an arrangement of handling conflicts is reliably internalized, and thus the ability to handle conflicts by orientating oneself towards compromises - including the tolerance necessary for it - will become an obvious standard of political action. The power monopoly, the rule of law and democracy - brief and succinct: the democratic constitutional state - embodies itself in the political culture. The culture of constructive handling of conflicts thus becomes the emotional basis of the society. The material benefits ("social justice") thereby prove to be an important bridge between the institutional structure and its positive emotional protection ("public sentiment"). Corresponding "ligatures", to use a term of Ralf Dahrendorf, develop i.e. political-cultural connecting forces resp. socio-cultural depth connections. 



The political culture of constructive handling of conflicts does not stand at the beginning of the development of modern coexistence. It is rather a late product in the historical process. And - like the other five components - it had not been traced out in the traditional old-European culture. On the contrary: The development of each individual component can rather be interpreted as a result of reluctant behaviour. For historically regarded, disarmament over centuries as a rule was the result of victory and defeat in elimination fights: The stronger triumphed over the weaker, a higher instance over the subordinate. The rule of law had its origin in historically contested compromises wrested from the conflict parties - compromises that naturally were not loved. In fragile power situations they were often understood as no more than a temporary concession that could be revoked. To the control of emotions, i.e. the restraining of passions and emotions, applies: Self-determined life in reasonable small areas and relations was always preferred to integration into systems with inherent dynamism, i.e. into self-referential functional systems, as is said today, that develop a momentum of their own. At the latest since Freud one knows that the control of emotions is determined by the imperatives of the reality principle and not the pleasure principle, hence it does not come into being without a substantial measure of sublimation.

Besides, the struggle for the extension of participation took always place against strong defensive fronts, just as the quarrel over just distribution and fairness in a world of system-inherent inequality. Political sharing and distributive justice had to be wrested from the respective status quo powers. And finally a culture of constructive handling of conflicts came only into existence under lucky circumstances, in so far as the aforementioned components of the civilizing process individually became powerful realities in history, moreover strengthened each other mutually and at last established themselves also emotionally. Only under such extreme preconditions the civilizing of modern conflict, and thus the in principle violent-free settlement of conflicts in the surroundings of a fundamental politicizing became probable.

So the civilized settlement of conflicts under dynamic social conditions can only be understood as the historical result of many concrete conflicts, which in the European context took place in a certain order corresponding to the above explanation. The result is a construct of handling conflicts peacefully ("civilization hexagon").


BOX 1: Civilization Hexagon


monopoly of force



rule of



hexagon of civilisation


and affect control


social justice
and equity





It has constitutional, institutional and material dimensions but is also moulded by specific mentalities and is altogether - one must stress this emphatically - an artefact of the civilizing process. For it can be argued plausibly that the facts marking fundamental politicizing in emancipated mass societies, as for example the claim to absolute authority (monarchy, papacy), the concentration on particular interests, the underlining of one's special identity, the claim to possessive individualism, lobbyist drives etc., suggest themselves and are, as it were, "natural" while on the other hand tolerance, sensitivity for rules, moderation, division of power, readiness to compromise, the sense for more than one's own interests are rather "artificial", that is the result of laborious collective learning processes. All these achievements of civilisation of broad effect were also in Europe won against the own old-European tradition moulded by the system of estates and against the as developing in the 19th century modern class society - and in conflict with both of them. Accordingly the democratic constitutional state of the present time is not the result of culture-genetic prefiguring. It is rather the expression of a series of innovations, and in the context of two and a half-thousand-year-old European history only the result of the most recent development.



What in Europe had to be learned laboriously and agonizingly by trial and error, on ways, detours and also wrong ways - tolerance as solution in view of a pluralization that was first felt to be a threat -, will in other parts of the world be repeated certainly not in detail but in principle. In view of the spreading fundamental politicization in consequence of the quoted world-wide observable change of traditional societies into socially mobile ones, one can also there less and less postpone to cope with the problem of coexistence. But as little as once in old Europe, these modern problems, the modern conflict, is as well not provided for in the traditional culture of the non-European cultural areas. Also their conception of themselves was on the whole oriented towards a "cosmos-centred" world-view. In it - particularly in the forms of high mythology - cosmos, society and men were understood as a unity. This was, as in all traditional societies, imagined as a well-established and well-formed hierarchy. Its architecture was thought to be static. In it also the actors' roles and the rules of the game were fixated. The idea of cycles determined the historical conception of oneself, which in reality according to today's understanding was not historical, for the cycle - similarly as the events in the yearly rhythm of nature or of the occurrences in the political area (rise, bloom and fall of the structures of empires) - time and again returned to the same starting point. The idea of a plurality of truths was inconceivable.

When under such premises especially the political community and power hierarchies appear as an organic unity, then conflicts are actually considered to be dysfunctional. As in old China, but not only there, they are understood as the "great unrest under the sky", as starting point of an already existing or threatening chaos. Critical thinking is then understood as contribution to overcoming just this chaos, as chaos mastering strategy that aims at re-establishing the "cosmic order". For the requirements of coming to terms with the modern coexistence problems such conceptions are no longer helpful. That is why by the force of circumstances also in the remaining world, just as in the Europe of the past 200 years, new up to-date perspectives of handling conflicts and with it new up to-date formulas and forms of internal peace are to emerge.

But in contrast to the western development the collective learning processes in the non-European world are not only determined by respective social and cultural changes there and then. They are also determined by the previous development within the West. This implies substantial additional problems. At present four types of reaction can be observed in the non-European world:

The first reaction can be called modernistic imitative. It accepts the challenge of the west as well as its experiences and "proposed solutions". It understands the western world as model and fights against the burden of its own tradition, including the own traditional culture. In the first half of the last century there were such orientations in many places, also in China; they did not, at that time, exert historical influence in the culture and history of those countries. But today in two of the four developing countries of Eastern Asia, Korea and Taiwan, they are of decisive success. Here out of broadly effective successful young industrialized countries "newly democratizing countries" arise. In spite of all local colour their political culture in foreseeable time will hardly differ from that of western countries.

Where radical modernizing changes take place and the problems of coexistence become virulent, there also upholders of different orientations appear on the scene: the traditionalists, also reactionaries, generally however the conservatives. It is their intention to stop resp. turn back the wheel of history, in any case however to stop modernization. This type of reaction can be observed everywhere in the world, where western modern spirit and tradition meet each other. Mahatma Gandhi could be quoted here as an especially gentle example of this type of reaction, because his philosophy was orientated towards the village, anti-commercial and egalitarian. It planned small units and for that reason favoured a direct democracy, orientated towards consent in a reasonably small area.

Where radical changes take place there are also conceptions of modernity cut in half. Its advocates lean on the western know-how, but want to keep away all other mental influences. Japan since the 19th century successfully pursued such a project; in the 20th century the 'really existing socialism' remained without success. The so-called "Singapore school" - including the "Asian values" massively propagated by it - recently became prominent for such an orientation towards modernity cut in half, Islamic fundamentalism too. But the political problems of a society that becomes more and more complex and plural - be it in Singapore, in China, in the wide field of Islamic societies or in other places - are not brought any closer to a solution with the help of such an order-political program, least where one tries to go to work with theocratic remedies of Islamic provenance. By the latter efforts analytically fascinating parallels are demonstrated, but also the futility of the "theocratic counter-revolution" against modernity, as it could be seen also in Europe (especially in France) in the first half of the 19th century in reaction to the French Revolution. In this political view pluralism was and is seen as an immoral and community-destroying idea, as a sign of value and culture decay, as embodiment of moral blindness ("jahiliyya"). While unrestricted, religiously motivated rule was and is seen as up-to-date.

However when modernity and tradition meet and changes arise, socio-political innovations are necessary also in the non-European world. As little as they were predictable in Europe, so little can they be prognosticated within the non-European area. As far as the future history of conflicts is concerned the inner-European experience will be repeated: As soon as traditional cultures are confronted with social mobilization and therefore with phases of modernization, which means societies go through a structural and consequently also through a mental change, just these cultures with inexorable inevitability get into conflict with themselves. Politically the quoted typical reactions articulate and organize themselves simultaneously. A "clash within civilisation" develops. Out of it the collective learning processes for living together arise - or also problematic abortive developments.

It is not to be assumed that in the European western area such innovations of the modern age, regarding the handling of problems of coexistence, are completely exhausted. The thesis of the "end of history" was based on this assumption. On the contrary, in the coming decades four fifth of mankind as a rule will have to experiment against their will with the issue of how to find anew and at the respective place appropriate answers to the problems of social mobilization and fundamental politicization. It is unlikely that the answers that finally prove to be a success are found abstractly on the drawing-board. The solutions that finally prove to be able to take the weight of the arrangements for coexistence, and thus of internal peace, will come into existence as unintended consequences of political conflicts. Hence non-European societies will not be spared by the laborious, painful and manifold conflict experience of Europe on the way to the democratic constitutional state, its institutions and its ethos. The current and the foreseeable quarrels are comparable to the earlier European procedure, although their results could be different, above all if genuine innovations should really come into being. But just in the latter case the result would not reflect the depth dimension of the traditional culture but something new - contrary to its own tradition and yet dyed into it.

Pluralization as perceived threat and an institutionally secured as well as emotionally embodied tolerance as solution: That is, regarded world-wide, one of the greatest challenges of mankind in the 21st century, no less important than the looming world-wide environmental problems. A review on the 20th century makes clear the explosiveness of the problem. In it "alternatives" to tolerance were gone through in many different, barbarian gruesome ways: exclusion, ghetto, apartheid, expulsion, "ethnical cleansing", genocide and above all civil war in many variants, wars and world wars.

In view of the fact that pluralization is irreversible the search for order-political normative, institutional, material and mental conditions of coexistence within societies remains right at the top on the agenda. Hence internal peace is not a problem of marginal importance but it has become a virulent and central problem of man's existence - in view of the whole world more than ever before. For even in the last corner of the world the traditional orders, taken as matters of course, break away. That is why conflicts over orientation - in a mixture of power struggle and "Kulturkampf" (clash within civilisation) - are inevitable. These conflicts become aggravated in case of intensifying chronic crises of development, what at present can be observed all over the world. But wherever processes of development are to some extent successful, conflicts of this kind can be cushioned, moderated and turned constructive. For in this case those learning processes are made easier that help to develop the ability to cope with conflicts of any kind by means of constructive politics.

Different from many parts of the world in this country, Germany, and in our direct European neighbourhood a "clash within civilisation" that could shake the political order is not to be expected in the foreseeable future. But also our political order - socially integrated and today accepted to a large extent - is not under all conditions unaffected by crises. That's why the civilization of the modern conflict depends on many conditions - so my observation at the beginning. Hence is remains a not ending challenge - an unavoidable political task without the accomplishment of which peace agreements beyond the individual states and societies remain fragile, not to mention the chances of success for lasting global governance.


A more comprehensive book-length discussion of the issues dealt with in this lecture will be available in summer 2007 under the title Dieter Senghaas: On Perpetual Peace. A Timely Assessment, Oxford/New York: Berghahn Books, 2007


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