Peace and Freedom

by Krisztina Sajber


I would like to express my thanks
to Gábor Hamp, for the encouragement and support he assisted my essay with,
and for persuading me of writing about the subject I am most interested in;
to Botránk and my family;
and to Nóra Hegyi, for our discussions.

1. Introduction

The word “peace” has become one of the most frequent words used in our wishes, signifying the increasing desire in mankind for all the different things “peace” has come to mark: for a peace of mind, for a harmonious life, for agreement with other people and for repose. This essay, however, deals with only one specific meaning of peace: with freedom from war, thus with peace in a political sense. Political peace, in spite of attempts by many national governments and international organizations, is still not arrived at. The fact that presently there are wars going on in Somalia, Rwanda, the Curd territories and Columbia implies that the world still does not seem to be able to treat conflicts effectively enough to ensure peace.

Nevertheless, the mostly unsuccessful attempts of the international community to resolve military conflicts should not be attributed to unwillingness to check wars globally. There are hardly any people who enjoy wars, and that in spite of this there have been many examples for them suggests that the reason behind them is more urging than the consideration of the welfare of mankind. There must exist something superior to the disadvantages of wars, this being the motivation for them is the value, human characteristics or desire that we have to renounce or put an end to in order that we arrive at a firm, global peace.

Accordingly there is a price we have to pay for peace: we have to give up for peace what has served in the course of history even as a motivation for wars and with them the many loss of lives, destruction of property and restriction of human freedom, well-being and security. The practical steps towards peace will have to be taken in accordance with the nature of this motivation: whether it is a consequence of moral values, inadequate organization of people, human instincts, the interest of a group of people or the coincidence of historical factors, just to mention a few alternatives. The nature of the motivation will also decide whether the impulse for war, up to this point superior to the desire to live in peace, could ever be surrendered, and whether peace could ever be established.

If freedom, a highly held human condition, the concept of which is used in this essay in the sense of absense of constraint, is to be abandoned in exchange for peace, the establishment of a global peace on Earth is made difficult, if not impossible, by the restrictions it requires. Thus this essay, instead of talking about peace from the point of view of motivations leading to warfare, sets out to analyze the relationship of peace and freedom, looking for a solution to arrive at permanent peace without the restriction of freedom. The essay will present different proposals for how to establish global peace, starting with the current solution, the peace provided by the International Nations Organization, then stating the proposals of Bertrand Russell, Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi, and finally offering a solution based on that wars come into being because of the obedience of people to the policies of their national governments.

2. The Problematic Current Alternative

The contemporary political solution to resolve military conflicts, the United Nations Organization, is based on the theory that an international organization, if given appropriate authority, could prevent nations from engaging in wars. If this world organization is to succeed in controlling all its members, it must prescribe the resolutions they must adopt, the foreign policy they can follow and possibly even the internal policy of some states in which civil wars must be avoided. In other words, some extent of the national sovereignty of the participants of this world federation must be resigned in favor of peace. To expand it on a more general scale, the nations taking part in the world federation established to provide permanent global peace give their national freedom or sovereignty in exchange for peace.

The method of establishing an international organization to conserve peace therefore cannot succeed unless all the nations are willing to surrender their sovereignty to the world federation. There are unresolved problems inherent in this idea of a world federation, theoretical like whether the nations thus united to preserve peace have the right to engage in a war against an unambiguous aggressor like Iraq, as well as practical, for example which demands such an organization should consider just when resolving debates between member states. The gravest problem, however, is the choice the world federation implies: member states have to choose between conveying their right to independent policies to the international power, or risking war, which their foreign policy might also avoid.

Therefore the most problematic aspect of the world federation as a guarding power from war is that it makes a choice between peace and freedom necessary. The failures of the UN suggest that national sovereignty and peace are in conflict: the one of them unconditionally excludes the other. Furthermore, such a world organization could embark upon personal freedom in order to maintain peace as well; peacekeepers for example in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have already restricted the freedom of civilians living under their supervision in order to prevent the military conflict of warring sides. The analysis of why the United Nations Organization is not able to provide peace globally is beyond the scope of this essay, however according to what was above stated it is apparent that the fact that this international organization requires the participant countrys’ freedom for checking wars contributes significantly to the UN’s lack of power and ability to provide global peace.

3. Three Alternatives in Connection with the Conflict of Peace and Freedom Put Forward by Bertrand Russell

As the historical context around him, Bertrand Russell’s views on political and social philosophy changed too. The constant element in the three solutions is the reason Russell attributes wars to, and this reason is to be found in human nature. “It is the nature of man to be in conflict with something”, he asserts. The conflicts of man could be of three types: conflict with nature, with other man and with himself. According to Russell, these three conflicts are in fact the three stages of human evolution; to attain political peace mankind has to reach the third stage, when each of us conflicts solely with himself.Anarchy

Bertrand Russell’s first solution to maintain world peace involves the maintenance, and extension of freedom. Peace could be achieved by the “substitution of orderly government for anarchy”. By decreasing the authority of the State over people, and thus increasing individual freedom wars could be avoided.

Although wars are fought among individual citizens, they are rather the conflicts of nations or states. The authorities of the warring nations create a sense of belonging together, which unites people into a community, and compels the members of the nations to go to war for common war aims. Thus, if the authority of states is substituted by anarchy, wars will not exist due to lack of united warring nations. Moreover, Russell believes that common men go to war to eliminate the “unadventurous and dull” aspects of their lives. By the extension of their freedom and their opportunities in anarchy their instincts could be applied to activities other than warfare.

By his first argument Russell offers a solution that shows the choice between peace and freedom unnecessary. Theoretically the road to peace he suggests involves the coexistence of freedom and peace. But, although anarchy would ensure peace by checking the cause that led to wars until this time, the authority of the State, it does not exclude the possibility of future wars. Even if people live without authority, they still could organize and unite themselves into warring sides, and given Russell’s belief in that the impulse for conflict is inherent in human nature, such an outcome is rather probable. Anarchy, thus, would not result in preserving both peace and freedom, but is rather freedom gained at the expense of peace.

An International Power with Unrestricted Sovereignty

The second way Russell suggests to world peace is an international authority, a force that would unite nations so that war would be impossible to evolve. This second solution would require the national sovereignty of the states for a global peace, therefore it would restrain the freedom of nations in their international affairs.

Besides that it develops a sense of belonging in individual citizens, national sovereignty contributes to the development of wars by promoting political interests (the international conflicts and war aims of the nation) to human values. A soldier, for example, takes part in the fighting to kill the soldier of the enemy because of his commitment to the interest of his nation in foreign affairs, while the soldier of the other nation wants to kill him for the same reason. However, no matter which soldier survives, civilization loses a human being. If the nations arrived at an international organization with unrestricted sovereignty worldwide, international conflicts could be handled as internal disputes in today’s countries are dealt with, and therefore permanent peace could be established.

With this solution Russell would sacrifice national sovereignty, specifically the right of nations to pursue an independent international policy, for peace. As the independent international policy of the states, which is the foreign policy of the groups of human beings states consist of, would lead to conflicts because of the nature of human beings, the sacrifice is well worth the peace gained for it. However, to inhibit the impulse for conflict among human beings, the world federation would, at least for a time after its establishment, rule by

physical power, and this would restrict the individual freedom of human beings too. An example for how Russell imagines this international super-state would be a Nazi state which had succeeded in subduing the world. Peace provided by such a military world-power would not bring happiness to human beings, so it is questionable whether it is the right choice in this confrontation of peace and freedom. Russell’s second solution, nevertheless, suggests the loss of freedom, by which peace could be maintained.

Political Neutralism

Russell suggests a third possibility that would ensure peace, without involving the conflict of peace and freedom. He suggests that belligerents should approach peace with the help of neutral powers. I mention this possibility to illustrate that in Russell’s system of thinking the solution that lacks the choice of peace or freedom is not successful in resolving military conflicts.

According to Russell’s argument the reason why warring powers do not resolve to peace is psychological: namely that it would show them weak. Neutral powers could convince the belligerents of the futility of war without appearing coward, and since they are neutral, without their intentions seeming partial.

There are some contradictions with Russell’s principles in this argument. Since war originates from the nature of man, it is improbable that neutral powers would be able to apply reason successfully in favor of peace. Besides this, as Russell suggested in his second solution, the maintenance of peace needs military force, and in case of war the neutral powers are not in a position of influence over the warring powers.

The conflict of Peace and Freedom

The disadvantages of Russell’s theories are due to the necessity of choice between peace and freedom. Russell based his theories of how to achieve global freedom on his views about men, who are directed by their instincts to engage in conflicts. This implies a conflict between human nature and human values, or between what human beings do and what they consider worthwhile to do. If they want to live in peace, their instincts must be inhibited, and thus their freedom restricted. However if they are free to do what their human nature dictates, they cannot check wars. The conflict of peace and freedom is thus a consequence of the impulse for war, of human instincts that lead to war. If we consider human nature responsible for wars, therefore, peace is in conflict with war. As a conclusion, either the motivation for wars are not in human nature, or the achievement of global peace in fact requires the sacrifice of human freedom.

4. Leo Tolstoy’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s Alternative That Does Not Involve the Conflict of Peace and Freedom

Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi found the origins of wars, contrarily to Russell’s theory of an inborn impulse for conflict, in the social organization of human beings, blaming the groups people form: nations, parties and social classes; and the interests of these groups: the political, commercial and social interests, for war. They considered these motivations artificial impulses, which modern civilization produced in people. Therefore their solution is basically the dissolving of artificial groups, and thereby the termination of artificial interests. Tolstoy and Gandhi advocated the practice of non-violence to prevent warfare, and because this solution is widely considered as a neglection of the laws which govern civilization, their views are called utopian pacifism. Nevertheless, the solution utopian pacifists offer is one that treats peace and freedom not as values excluding each other, but rather as ones achieved together.

Leo Tolstoy: Consciousness

Tolstoy viewed force as a basis of modern civilization. The social and economical development that lead to 19th century civilization corrupted the originally ethical considerations of people as it promoted economical and social interests, and enabled the advocators and practisers of capitalism, imperialism, nationalism and authoritarianism to dominate the world. Those who gained power through denying the original ethical values had to maintain their rule over the uncorrupted majority of people by means of force.

The use of violence, in Tolstoy’s opinion, enslaves people. Armies are used to oppress individuals’ opinions and actions that contradict to the interests of the ruler groups, or to conquest foreign land and expand the rulers’ power. Violence is therefore used because it conserves the modern material world: the State, its institutions and the rule of powerful classes over those without power. Modern civilization is a circle of violence, where the condition of participation is the use of force. Therefore Tolstoy saw the road leading to peace in the denial of the values of modern society by resolving to non-violence and practicing individual consciousness.

According to Tolstoy, individual consciousness, which for him meant the practice of universal love as well as a comprehension of life, will lead to human freedom. If people promote their individual consciousness to the interests of modern civilization, they will separate from the circle of violence: by practicing non-violence people cannot become part of the material world. If nobody provides force to the rule of those whose power need to be maintained by force, modern civilization and its corrupted morals will loose their basis.

Mahatma Gandhi: A Search For Truth

Mahatma Gandhi’s views on individual pacifism were almost identical to Tolstoy’s. Gandhi, however, expanded the pacifist theory, an individual approach, to an international scale. He suggested that peace would be achieved if all men substituted their egoism by altruism. Egoism, the serving of individual and national interests is characteristic of modern society. If it is replaced by altruism, the serving of the interests of all other fellow creatures, harmony and peace will be realized.

Gandhi imagines international politics working similarly. He even advocated nationalism, since a nation in the future world would practice altruism: the group of people constituting nations would reject their passions to seek their interests and advantages in international politics, just as they do in their private lives. Gandhi therefore imagined “a world federation established by agreement”, which would work as harmoniously as people can live together at an individual level, without restricting their national sovereignty

Apparently Gandhi’s theory also requires human freedom in exchange for peace. But Gandhi emphasizes that the rejection of egoism and competition must happen of free will: “so long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there

is no solution for him.”, he wrote in his autobiography. Altruism, if arrived at of free will, puts an end to rivalry, competition and individual interests, and since each individual considers the well-being of all the others, their free acts will result in ultimate peace.

5. Peace and Freedom Not in Conflict

Tolstoy and Gandhi offered a solution in which the motivation we have to check in order to avoid wars is not freedom, but the pursuance of egoistic, artificial interests. Since the utopian pacifists based their theory on that people are basically good, and if their freedom is not restricted by artificial interests they will act following ethical principles, practicing altruism instead of serving their own interests, their solutions do not include the conflict of peace and freedom.

The similarity of Russell’s solutions of establishing peace to the utopian pacifist’s suggestions is well recognizable. Leo Tolstoy urged individuals to separate from and thus abolish the power of the ruling classes, Bertrand Russell proposed that anarchy will suspend conflicting national interests which lead to wars. Both Gandhi and Russell imagined an international organization that would provide peace on the Earth, but Gandhi’s organization was a federation arrived at of free will, while Russell’s utilized force to ensure global peace. Because Russell attributed wars to a human instinct his proposals contained a necessary choice between peace on one side and freedom and the interests of modern civilization on the other. Warfare was due to the interests of modern civilization according to the utopian pacifists, and therefore in their alternative peace and freedom confronted with the interests of modern civilization. Accordingly, the conflict of peace and freedom in the solutions of Russell and the utopian pacifists depends not on the methods they propose, but rather on reasons they ascribed wars to.

6. Another Alternative Lacking the Conflict of Peace and Freedom

The Reasons Leading to War

Until this point two reasons for warfare were mentioned: an inborn human instinct urging men to be in conflict with something, and the historical organization of people into nations with opposing interests. If an instinct prompts human beings to engage in wars, their freedom must be sacrificed in order to achieve lasting peace. If a product of the development of civilization, like the evolution of nations and other communities, leads to military conflicts, the freedom gained through the discontinuance of this sort of civilization will establish peace.

There are psychological evidences that one of human beings’ instincts urges man to behave aggressively. However the search for peace present in human history suggests that human beings are willing and able to subdue this instinct. On the other hand, this instinct can be directed against anything else, and does not necessary lead to killing and conquering other human beings. Moreover, in a war soldiers cannot act according to their instincts. They are organized into armies, and subdue their instincts to commands even more than civilians do. The human instinct for aggression therefore does not explain wars.

The interests promoted in the name of nations neither lead to war directly. According to the utopian pacifist argument, the formation of nations create an artificial barrier among people: due to the existence of nations people are assigned to groups they do not necessarily belong. This way their personal interests, the aims they themselves feel worth to be achieved, might be different from the interests of the nation, which are the aims the nation as a group of people opposed to another nations wants to realize, let such interests be policies decided upon by the leaders of the nation or by the consent of the majority of the population. These policies, however, can be represented in negotiations and resolved by other peaceful means. Therefore wars come into being not as a result of the existence of nations, but of the ability of nations to wage wars, which ability is conferred on each nation by its members, who provide soldiers, material and ideological support to the war effort. Thus another reason for war can be formulated: wars are due to the commitment of individuals to the war of their nations, or to the obedience of individuals to the command given in the name of their nation.

The Alternative Based on That The Reason For War Is Obedience

If wars are due to the obedience of a nation’s citizens to measures given in order to achieve policies considered national interests by warfare, the motivation people consider superior to the horrors of the war is obedience or commitment to a group – a nation, a race, a social class- they belong to. However people belong to groups basically for the advantages such groups provide: basically because the opportunities resulting from organizing a community makes their lives easier. Fighting in a war does not make their lives easier, moreover the security their living in a community provided was originally a major reason for people settling close to each other and establishing ties among themselves. Thus, warfare contradicts to the ideas leading people to form nations and their reasons for joining into such groups.

It cannot be advantageous for the members of a nation that their country wages a war. Their security and properties are endangered and their personal freedom is restricted. There are no such aims that are advocated or considered to be the nation’s interest to be achieved by warfare, and are at the same time personally advantageous to the individuals constituting the nations. An aim which is advantegous for an individual should be something that improves his or her life if achieved. However such an aim of individual interest is not something for which one is ready to die, because an individual interest achieved at the cost of one’s life does not make sense. Therefore -though aims of national and individual interest can coincide-, since the war aims of a nation require from a certain number of individual soldiers the sacrifice of their lives, it is impossible that an aim of the nation which is to be achieved by warfare is simultaneously the individual aim of the members of the nation.

To check wars, therefore, people should deny obedience to their communities in case it is in a military conflict with another community. Since they formed nations for the manifolds advantages of such communities, they should not be commited to their nations contrary to their individual interests. The alternative, therefore, by which peace could be achieved, is an individual introspection of one’s interests in case of wars. Global peace could be arrived at if the members of every nation denied following aggressive military policies, not commiting themselves to their nations in case it engages in warfare.

The Conflict of Peace and Freedom

According to the solution based on obedience as the motivation for war, peace is not in conflict with freedom, since the refusal of obedience to a warring nation increases the personal freedom of individuals. The supposition of what the reason for wars is, nevertheless, plays a different role in the conflict of peace and freedom in this solution from that in Russell’s and the utopian pacifists’ argument. In their alternatives, the conflict of peace and freedom depended on their presuppositions about human nature. In this alternative the solution itself provides freedom, as it urges people to act in accordance with their free will and their interests recognized independently from the nation, and thus avoid war.

7. Conclusion

Consequently, there is a way of achieving peace without the restriction of freedom, since people’s denial of commitment to the war aims of their nations do not limit, but even expand their freedom. However it should be noted that the peace this solution and the solution of the utopian pacifists offer restricts the freedom of nations to act in the name of their members, and thus limits national sovereignty. All the solutions mentioned in this essay include the restriction of national sovereignty, and this conclusion will have to be maintained as long as wars are fought among nations.

The practical consequences of the above conclusion can be applied, once more, to the United Nations Organization. Following from the above conclusion, another source of its failure can be determined: its basing of power on the consent of the leaders of nations, who are, generally speaking, eager to keep up national sovereignty rather than personal freedom. According to the conclusion, peace which does not restrict freedom should be approached individually. The practical difficulties of this solution, however, must also be noted: peace can only be the result of the rational introspection of all people on Earth.

Finally, the limits of this essay must be mentioned. From the diverse proposals for establishing global peace only two were discussed, although those two represented the two major tendencies prevalent in the philosophy of peace: the two approaches based on human instincts and social circumstances as reasons for wars. More importantly, it should also be taken into consideration that this essay was written in the 1990s, from the point of view of a writer who formed her concept of wars after studying modern warfare, especially the two world wars. This is why the proposals offered in this essay might appeal less to the wars of the past and the future. 


1. Atkinson

2. Brock, Peter Twentieth-Century Pacifism.

Van Nostrand Reinhold Company: New York, 1970

3. Goellner, Aladar A Short Outline of Fundamental Issues of a Modern Political Science.

John F. Holman & Co. Inc.: Washington, D.C., 1970

4. Horowitz, Irving Louis The Idea of War and Peace In Contemporary Philosophy.

Paine-Whitman: New York, 1957

5. MacMillan Encyclopaedia?

6. Russell, Bertrand: Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare

Simon and Schuster: New York, 1959

7. Russell, Bertrand: New Hopes for a Changing World.

Minerva Press: New York, 1968

8. Russell, Bertrand: Which Way to Peace?

Michael Joseph Ltd.: ?, 1936?





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