Peace as War

By Polat, Necati | Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, October-December 2010 | Go to article overview

Peace as War


Polat, Necati, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political


This article seeks to reimagine peace against the backdrop of a Foucauldian understanding of politics. Most conventional accounts are based on a sharp distinction between war and peace and alternate between two broad positions; namely, peace as absence, the absence of war, and peace as presence, as an essential condition. These two visions of peace are often assumed to have found their classical statements in, respectively, Hobbes and Spinoza. The article resists such a binary treatment, bringing Hobbes and Spinoza close together through Spinoza's view of peace as potentia and Hobbes's view of war as process. The result is one that seems to vindicate Foucault: peace is war. KEYWORDS: peace, war, agonistic politics, Hobbes, Spinoza, Foucault

Politics as warfare, as unending and irreconcilable conflict, has been a theme incorporated in the corpus of critical thinking about the order of states in modern forms of politics through at least two separate strains of work--one that is, roughly speaking, Foucauldian, and the other Schmittian. This article seeks to integrate thinking about peace in the prevailing international imagination into this conflictual notion of the political, with the aim of contributing to an emergent critical understanding of peace. Peace research and conflict studies, with a large scholarly community of sustained interest in peace, seem to have failed to absorb a critical dimension in thinking on peace informed by a postpositivist awareness. For a brief period from the late 1960s, a number of significant calls were extended to the research community by members of that community, urging work toward a much needed demystification of the basic assumptions and practices of research in the area. (1) The pleas, to be repeated in long intervals during the decades that followed, (2) appear to have fallen on deaf ears in a field seemingly confident in its routine research activities.

Recently, a more critical outlook on peace has come forth as a feasible project within the broad framework of the thematics of international relations, forming "the missing link," in the words of Oliver Richmond, in the overall study of global politics. (3) Instructed by an existing body of critical work on international order sensitive to violence in its many forms, (4) this new focus on peace has been crucially supported by the growing research on power in making sense of international politics aroused by Foucault. (5) This initiative for a new and critical understanding of peace should be expected to take on board also the assessments, new to international political scholarship, of the established, liberal presuppositions of harmony, of a false consensus of peace, inspired by the concept of the political associated with Schmitt and Arendt. (6) This understanding of politics as warfare, key to a critical appraisal of peace, forms the backdrop of the discussion in this article, seeking to move thinking about peace beyond established conventions. Conventional thinking, as is well known, alternates between two broad positions on peace, one that is negative and the other positive. The former, predominant position, which considers war as built into the architectonics of the system of states, defines peace as the absence of war. Peace in this view is a mere appearance, a front, a playful moment, a mimetic act, that emerges when the "real thing" in the life of states, conflict, is somehow blocked. Hence, poles apart from an "essential" state of being that is autonomous, selfsame, and unmediated, peace is looked on as only a contingency. The distinction between the real thing and a mere appearance, that which is essential and that which is contingent, is the distinction between presence and absence in the Derridean parlance, a binary that Derrida finds at the heart of the Western philosophical tradition--what he calls the metaphysics of presence. (7) The tradition, according to him, fails to appreciate the intricate network of relations behind meaning structures in each and every instance of signification. …

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