The Invention Of Peace And The Reinvention Of War: Reflections on War and International Order Paperback – 23 Apr 2001
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"War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention," claimed Sir Henry Maine in the middle of the 19th century. In his short, polemic book The Invention of Peace: Reflections on War and International Order, Michael Howard develops Maine's argument, and while not completely endorsing it, he convincingly argues that peace "is certainly a far more complex affair than war".
At just over a hundred pages, The Invention of Peace is more of an essay than a book, and its massive historical sweep will undoubtedly irritate some readers. Beginning in 800 AD, when war "was recognised as an intrinsic part of the social order", to 2000 AD, where "militant nationalist movements or conspiratorial ones" suggest that in the near future "armed conflict becomes highly probable". However, Howard's credentials for writing this type of macro reflection on war and international relations are impeccable. Having fought in Italy during the Second World War, he has held several chairs of History and War Studies, and remains the President of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. His many books include War in European History and a translation of Clausewitz's classic On War. With such qualifications it is hardly surprising that Howard remains tied to the beliefs of the European Enlightenment, whilst also acknowledging that "the peace invented by the thinkers of the Enlightenment, an international order in which war plays no part, had been a common enough aspiration for visionaries throughout history, but it has been regarded by political leaders as a practicable or indeed desirable goal only during the past two hundred years". As Howard thoughtfully picks his way through the complex negotiations throughout European history which led to the brief eruption of peace into an otherwise uninterrupted state of war, he hopes that "Kant was right, and that, whatever else may happen, 'a seed of enlightenment' will always survive". Let's hope that he's right. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Michael Howard has been Professor of War Studies at King's College, London, Chichele Professor of History of War and Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, and Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale.
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Howard's tone throughout remains refreshingly apolitical. He writes as a scholar, deliberately avoiding the easy stridency his subject offers: how *should* we "invent peace?" Where did our ancestors go wrong? Instead, he simply surveys the landscape and allows readers to (gasp!) draw their own conclusions. This is not to suggest the work lacks recommendations; rather, that they appear pithy and well-reasoned, not sonorous and repetitive. Howard could teach his fellow academics a few lessons about writing for an educated popular audience.
Befitting these methods, the book's style is crisp and concise. Quoting one of the author's best points serves as excellent evidence: "World order cannot be created simply by building international institutions and organizations that do not arise naturally out of the cultural disposition and historical experience of their members." Rarely have I seen a better point made in a single sentence; in a seemingly single stroke, Howard crushes the myth that the U.N. (his obvious target) can somehow impose order on unwilling populations. How many millions of dollars-not to mention thousands of lives-could have been saved by heeding this sage advice?
Though his historical survey generally supports these points, Howard has actually written more an essay than a book. No major fault in that; I learned more about the historical signposts of peace-the significance of Westphalia, the treaties of Vienna and Berlin-than any university has told me. But covering 1200 years of war (and around 300 of stumbling peace) in a little over a hundred pages feels thin-Sir Michael's pedigree notwithstanding. Even leaving the thin treatment of history aside, a richer development of his major points-like the one quoted above-would have been more than welcome.
But these faults pale next to the book's lessons. Anyone concerned about the prospects of peace in our increasingly interconnected world will derive huge benefits from this read. The author's call should especially be heard by those attempting to impose order on a worldly scale (certain groups in New York and The Hague come to mind, along with increasingly powerful non-governmental organizations); this book provides ample evidence for reconsidering their methods-if not their very charter.
The first chapter starts at the crowning of Charlemagne in 800 AD and reaches up to the outbreak of the French Revolution; the second chapter goes up to the end of the Great War; the third chapter discusses the ideological conflicts of the twentieth century up to 1989; and the last chapter outlines some of the author's thoughts on what the future might hold in the quest for peace.
One of the book's drawbacks is that is often assumes prior knowledge: certain historical events are simply mentioned without background information (philosophies and ideologies, on the contrary, are thoroughly explained). A second, and more serious, drawback is the book's inexplicable starting point, with excludes both the Roman Empire and the era of Alexander the Great. Finally, the author has no notes or bibliography; for such a work, a "suggested reading list" or "selected bibliography" would have been greatly appreciated.
Still, the book is splendid and will appeal both to the expert and the layman. And its ultimate message, that peace is neither natural nor guaranteed, should be taken at heart by scholars and politicians alike.
Naturally any reasonable thinker could deplore the sweeping generalizations inherent in any condensation of world history and its ideological signposts into 113 ridiculously short pages. Then again, the distillation is potent and leaves a powerful impression, difficult to refute.
Beginning with the American and French Revolutions, a number of different ideas began to be experimented with in alternative to the traditional aristocratic grip on power, with warfare a limited, almost mere game. The defense of such traditionalists fell under the umbrella of the Conservatives. Some of the alternatives, under the umbrellas of Nationalist, despite being radical in their inception, slowly inverted into alignment with the Conservatives, ultimately leading to the Nazis, while the variety of Liberal forces took their darkest form in the Soviets. The branch of Liberal ideological heirs to the American revolution, however, formed the root of the educated professional class who have risen to cross national boundaries in their common, rational search for peace, and form the best hope of peace actually reigning among nations: "A genuine global transnational community with common values and a common language... Does not this at last provide a firm foundation on which the architects of peace can now at last build a new world order?" (pp. 108-09)
Modern, liberal democracy is no cure-all, however: in much of the world, "Capitalism, or the rule of the market, is effective only when practised by communities where there already exist stable civil societies held together by efficient bureaucracies and common moral values, conditions that the market itself is powerless to create. Democratic elections have often had the effect of destroying such social cohesion as already existed." Echoing Fareed Zakaria, it's hard not to take a second look at this conjecture given today's events.
The greatest remaining enemies to peace in our age, after the Cold War, are identified as religious/dogmatic scholars and unemployment - providing a toxic mix of boredom and its worst exploitation - another telling diagnosis from before 9-11. "There is something about rational order that will always leave some people, especially the energetic youth, deeply and perhaps rightly dissatisfied. ...Militant nationalist movements or conspiratorial radical ones provide excellent outlets for boredom." (pp. 112-13) Even allowing for the rightly dissatisfied, though that is accurate as far as it applies, is terribly generous as applied to the world in general.
Sir Howard is not wanting of a solution: "The estblishment of a global peaceful order thus depends on the creation of a world community sharing the characteristics that make possible domestic order, and this will require the widest possible diffusion of those characteristics by the societies that already possess them." As for those characteristics, going beyond institutions and organizations to include cultural dispositions, "Their creation and operation require at the very least the existence of a transnational elite that not only shares the same cultural norms but can render those norms acceptable within their own societies and can where necessary persuade their colleagues to agree to the modifications necessary to make them acceptable." (p. 105) Peace and democratic freedoms cannot merely be imposed from outside; they must be made to evolve palatably from within.
In the end, Howard is pragmatic but optimistic: On one hand, "Peace, as we have seen, is not an order natural to mankind: it is artificial, intricate and highly volatile." On the other hand, "whatever else may happen, 'a seed of enlightenment' will always survive." And hopefully, after all, continue to grow.
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