Peace and the State, Joseph Fahey

When I became Director of the Peace Studies Institute, in 1974, at Manhattan College, the first person that I sought to hire was Ies Spetter, as an adjunct professor of Peace Studies, which he remains to this day, though health has been a problem with his teaching every semester. I recall going to the Christian Brothers and saying that I proposed to hire this local leader to the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture, and they said, Well, that’s fine, just put down his religion on the application form. They said, Is he Catholic? I said, I don’t know, I don’t think so. They said, Is he Protestant? I said, “Well, he’s a bit of a protester;” Is he Jewish? Well finally, I said, “He’s a Humanist.” And they said, “What’s that?” I actually had someone say that to me,”What’s that?” Well, I’m glad to be among fellow Humanists today.

What I propose to do this morning is to do a bit of history, mainly Western history, and frankly also Christian history, to put the context of the church – rather, of the state: that may have been a Freudian slip – the state and peace in some historical context. I unfortunately have not spoken to the alleged respondents – they are not respondents, they are also fellow presenters – and I think that they might make some more contemporary comments, at least I hope they will. If not, I’m sure we’ll have time for that in our discussion.

When we look at the history, at least in the Western world, I suppose, although I’m no expert by any means in Eastern history or African history or the history of the Native Americans, however research by peace studies people, anthropologists, historians and others tell me that historically there have been four major responses to the issue of the state and peace and to some extent they repeat themselves in a cyclic way. The appear in almost every culture at every time. Those responses classically have been pacifism, a just or limited war, a crusade, and fourthly, the desire for world community.

Four basic responses, and certainly in my own research, which I say has been largely the Western history, etc., they are abundantly evident at every time, in every country, among every culture, and even in every religion.  People sometimes unkindly like to say that the very first response we see, for example in the Bible, to the problem of the state and peace, or war and peace, is that of the Crusade. In fact that’s not true. The first response we see is much more along the lines of a limited war – just war in the Book of Deuteronomy, and it’s later that we see some crusade, and obviously we also see the pacifist tradition in ancient Judaism as well as the desire for world community with prophetic literature. We also see it as you know in the so-called pagan world. One of the stories I love to tell my students is how in the ancient world, two very diverse groups were pacifists: one group was the Epicureans, people who made their fundamental ethical premise that that is virtuous that is pleasurable, and that is sinful or evil which is painful – an ethical premise I am often tempted to embrace, I must say, as I suspect some of you are. They opposed war and violence simply because it was not pleasurable, because it was painful and it violated their desire for other higher points of pleasure.