Year XLIII, 2001, Number 3, Page 208
THE LIMITS AND DILEMMAS OF PACIFISM
The outbreak of a war is unfailingly accompanied by a resurgence of the peace movement. Contrary to common beliefs, this is not a “normal” concurrence. Similarly, it is not “normal” that the pacifist reaction in the West is prompted only by conflicts that involve the Western world.
In reality, both of these facts are aspects of what might be defined “the scandal of pacifism” — the scandal of a pacifism that, on the one hand, seems able to demand peace only in the presence of a war in progress (which, by definition, must already have taken its toll in human lives), and, on the other, reacts in a lukewarm fashion to, and often ignores entirely, the never-ending succession of conflicts involving the “marginal” populations of the world, almost as though the latter belonged to a lesser mankind.
In neither circumstance is war itself called into question. What is actually denounced and decried are the individual conflicts that have been and continue to be a constant element in international relations, and the result, inevitably, is that war becomes an issue of guilt and innocence, goodness and evil. In other words, the quest is to establish “current” responsibilities, while the problem of the persistence of the phenomenon, and thus of its ultimate roots, is relegated in importance, thereby cultivating “the dream of eliminating war without destroying the world of war” (Mario Albertini, “War Culture and Peace Culture,” in The Federalist, XXVI (1984), p.15).
This attitude is the product of a world in which there exists no mechanism for preventing war; it is rooted, too, in the fact that war has been an instrument necessary for the affirmation of the values that have progressively emerged throughout the course of history. The affirmation of each new value demanded the overturning of an order in which that value had no place, and whose social framework was embodied by institutions that needed to be abolished and replaced with a new institutional structure (the rule of law, the democratic state and the welfare state) equipped with the mechanisms and instruments of government needed for the progressive realisation of the value in question.
The historical acquisition of these institutions has contributed to the transformation of the human condition, providing mankind with peaceful instruments for the realisation of values whose affirmation was secured within the sphere of war.
But while all this describes the management of the political-social reality within individual states, it does not yet apply in the setting of international relations, a setting still characterised by marked inequalities and in which power relations between sovereign states, and thus trials of strength, continue to hold sway.
These considerations enable us to consider with greater clarity a slogan often used by the peace movements: “There is no peace without justice”. If this statement is taken to mean that peace cannot be built in situations in which severe inequality or despotism prevail, then there can be no refuting it. The recent acts of terrorism can, to a large extent, be explained as the tragic revolt of politically and socially outcast peoples for whom religion, manipulated by leaders, is nothing more than a force of cohesion applied in a void created by the absence of any national cohesion.
But unless we endeavour to understand the root cause of war, we will remain trapped in the very dilemma that pacifists have never been able to resolve: the dilemma of the just war. Being a pacifist should mean being opposed to all wars, but anyone who accepts that peace cannot be affirmed without the prior affirmation of justice must also accept the need for a war that has precisely this end.
Moreover, the concept of the just war has also been extended to wars that are conducted in self defence. But what happens when there is a meeting of two “just wars”? What happens, in other words, when not only the war waged by the oppressed against the oppressors may be deemed just, but also the defensive reaction of the latter? In such a situation only one conclusion is possible: war is a necessity that must be accepted.
The attack on the Twin Towers illustrates, in fact, this contradiction: underlying terrorism there exists a problem, both political and social, of justice. But the question that we need to be asking ourselves — leaving aside the inevitable freedom crusade rhetoric of the American government — is whether, in the current international system, there can be a real and immediate alternative to the self-defence reaction.
In short, we are faced with a perverse mechanism whose very perversity is exacerbated by this latest form of war: indeed, terrorism, and its virtually uncontrollable instruments, will — in the face of increasingly widespread fear and a growing demand for a security that can be guaranteed only through trials of strength that will be regarded as inevitable, and even invoked — probably end up by throwing the peace movements into disarray.
Does this mean that we are faced with a problem to which there is no solution? Or is there, instead, a perspective from which we might understand and tackle the phenomenon of war, with a view to creating the conditions necessary for its definitive abolition?
It is not enough to decry war or to appeal to man’s better nature. A considerable section of the peace movement has repeatedly adopted this approach, which has been described as “probably a more dangerous attitude than that of the hard-boiled realist, who is solely concerned to avoid war if he can and to win it if he cannot” (Lord Lothian, Pacifism is not Enough, London, New York, Lothian Foundation Press 1990, p. 220). It is more dangerous because it feeds the illusion that the sphere of war is distinct from that of politics — and thus of power — and relies on a form of voluntarism that, by definition, excludes the possibility of any rational control of events or of socio-political phenomena.
It is not voluntaristic, on the contrary, to affirm the need to submit the sphere of international relations to the choices, and thus also to the will, of men. “The objective of peace, which implies the wish to control, in the general interest, the politics of all states, and not just that of one’s own, turns international politics into an autonomous object of human will. In all other circumstances — wherein each is concerned with controlling directly the politics only of his own state — international politics depends, above all, on the level of conflict between states, which is to say on a factor that overrides the will of everyone.”… “Only the theory of supranational government — based on the awareness that relations between states can be controlled, and that there are means that can be used to end conflict between them — views international relations as a process built by men and subject to the choices of men, and thus as an activity whose cause is well known and can be explained perfectly without plumbing the unfathomed depths of the human soul or drawing upon theories that claim to explain it. From all other perspectives, the conflict between states appears fatal and international politics — with its traits characteristic of war, of trials of strength, and of the unequal distribution of power in the world — appears in one respect the consequence of an immutable human inclination that lies outside both our control and our conscience, and in another a realm within which it is possible only to know historically what has gone before and to adapt human conduct accordingly, but not to plan what should preferably occur” (Mario Albertini, Il federalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1993, p. 144).
Thus, the affirmation of peace advances at the same rate as the creation of constraints that human will cannot override, and that are based on the establishment of juridical relations between states. What is needed therefore is gradually to transform areas of potential war into areas of internal peace, by increasing the dimensions of the state through the only institutional instrument that, without recourse to wars of conquest and through democratic procedures, allows this enlargement, i.e., through the federal state.
This answer to the problem of peace is, at the same time, the answer to the problem of justice. Justice is a value that, following its historical affirmation through the instruments of war, it has been possible progressively (albeit still incompletely) to realise within those states that have consolidated the sphere of statehood and introduced decision-making and governing mechanisms capable of assimilating and responding to the needs and requirements that brought it to the fore.
Internationally, however, given the lack of a single state framework, and thus of decision-making and governing mechanisms that might allow inequality to be tackled peacefully and democratically, the “realisation” stage has yet to be entered, and justice continues to be subject to the iron laws of the “world of war” — a world in which the pacifist dilemma can never be resolved. A solution to it will be found only by starting out on the road towards international democracy — by moving, through the federal unification of vast regional areas, towards world unification. The pacifist slogan should thus be turned around. The cry should be “There is no justice without peace”, because only peace can create the conditions, material and in power terms, in which justice can be realised without recourse to the instruments of violence.
The need (increasingly linked to the need for world security) to implement major development plans targeting backward areas cannot be divorced from the need to create areas of peaceful stability. A true and responsible pro-international justice policy implemented by the advanced nations of the world must therefore constitute more than a transfer of resources and investments. Such a policy should be concerned, above all, with creating a basis for peace by promoting the parallel unification of the areas of the world that, left to their own devices (both politically and economically), would continue to generate instability and to constitute hotbeds of war and terrorism.
A policy of this kind might generate accusations of “imperialism”, albeit (not being based on violent means) a kinder form than that seen in the past. In actual fact, in a world that can be seen as a community of destiny, but not yet as a single and democratically managed political community, the adoption of this policy would be tantamount to a shouldering of responsibility. The alternative — acceptance of the fragmentation of vast world areas into small and medium sized sovereign states — would only perpetuate “the world of war”, a world in which the shouldering of responsibility would ultimately mean the use of violence in response to violence.
Herein lies the great example that a united Europe, with its history of decay prior to and rebirth after the Second World War, can set before the rest of the world. American aid, accompanied by the development of the process of unification, made peace among the continent’s nation-states, and their economic rebirth, possible. If a European federation is created, it will be in a position to acquire the independence needed to shoulder, in its turn, its responsibilities vis-à-vis the rest of the world. It will have to do this in a world that continues to be divided, and it will therefore continue to find itself subject to the principles of the raison d’état that, within its own confines, it will already have overcome. But its history and its drama (which indeed reflects the drama of the world) will undoubtedly condition its choices, just as its “political-cultural identity, that has risen to become the political culture of the unity of mankind” (Mario Albertini, “L’identità europea” in Il federalismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1993, p. 290) will influence the destiny of the entire world.