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International Order

The Greek And Roman World, The Medieval Christian Conception Of International Order, The New World In The European International Order

The image of a peaceful, orderly world where men and nations resolve their differences without war, where the lion lies down with the lamb, has haunted humankind for millennia. Roman law expressed the gulf between the ideal and the reality concisely by contrasting the condition of man living under the ius naturale, the natural law, a world of peace and harmony, with the human condition as it actually was under the ius gentium, the law of nations, a condition that included war and conflict. The very creation of government at the lowest level was the beginning of efforts to create order at least within a small area, to establish an order within which people could live peacefully with one another by accepting a set of rules that shaped their relations with one another. At the next level, there is the need to create rules that enable neighboring societies to get along with one another. At the ultimate level, there was the desire to create a peaceful world order that would bring all the nations of the world into a peaceful, harmonious relationship.

In the history of the Western world, there is a long tradition of attempts to create some kind of international order. One of the major obstacles to the creation of such an order stemmed from the fact that ancient political thought identified the small, independent city-state as the ideal environment for the development of the human personality. The freedom associated in theory with life in the city-state, however, posed a threat to order because of the wars among these states. On the other hand, there were empires, powerful states consisting of a ruling group dominating a number of conquered societies and maintaining order but at a price that the Greeks would not accept.

From a modern perspective, the Greek world, violent and even chaotic as it often was, was superior to the orderly Persian world because it was associated with freedom, democracy, and creativity. Yet the golden age of Athens ended in a disastrous war, and the age of creativity and democracy died with it. A lesson that the Greek experience might teach is that empires last longer and maintain an orderly world longer than small city-states can, but they do so at a price that many would deem too high.

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