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The Modern West

The peace concept in the Western tradition from this point onward changed very little in meaning. In the modern period, however, a humanitarian ethos largely replaced the once Christian foundations for valuing peace, but the growing interdependency of nations also produced new concerns about the survival of human existence. By the eighteenth century, many intellectuals opposed the unreasonableness and barbarism of war, and as a result, construed peace as a rational pursuit by enlightened peoples. The philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), in his Perpetual Peace (1795), argued that a world order built upon reason and prudence, which is basically enlightened self-interest, will produce a peaceful society, and bring with it all that is good. The nineteenth century witnessed few large-scale wars in Europe, leading some to believe that Kant's admonition had become a cultural reality. Attempts at balances of power up through the early twentieth century seemed to prove that the West had found the practical solution to the problem of war, and that temporal peace could be realized and perpetuated by sophisticated diplomacy and the careful and humane study of international politics. This rather hegemonic view of peace recalls the ideas of Aristotle and of later officials of the Roman Empire, both of whom believed that empire—that is, rule by a presumably superior civilization—was best positioned to ensure peace. Peace took on the additional nuance then of a planned arrangement for cooperation among nations, even as its moral and practical elements remained prominent.

World War I, the rise of fascism, and the development of nuclear and atomic weapons, all in the twentieth century, left the West once again arguing for peace more from an ethical stance. Since diplomacy and international institutions devoted to peace (such as the United Nations) often fail to prevent wars, the survival of humanity may depend more on people recognizing the moral necessity for keeping peace. This outlook tends to reduce the peace idea to its most basic meaning as the guarantor of continued human existence, a good for which there is universal agreement and support across cultures.

By the early twenty-first century, especially in Western societies, the concept of peace was most often linked to notions of justice and fairness. The modern ethical paradigm for peace espoused by most pacifists assumes that only when economic and political inequities are minimized or eliminated can we provide a basis for real and lasting peace and the consequent guarantee of prolonged human existence. Many contemporary intellectuals, such as Peter Brock, Peter Calvocoressi, Martin Ceadel, Michael Howard, and Charles Chatfield, have explored creatively the implications of this connection and have tried to offer specific and practical means for achieving true justice and, successively, peace.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Overdamped to PeatPeace - Ancient And Early Christian West, Western Middle Ages, Renaissance And Reformation, The Modern West