I wouldn’t have thought it necessary to weigh in on the civil unrest sweeping across the U.S., and now across the entire western world. I’d have thought it almost analytic that people who are pissed off, and are taking their pissed off-edness to the streets, have good reasons to be pissed off. So I see no need to virtue signal my solidarity with their pissed off-edness, except to say this:

The detritus of the Norman conquest of England is imperceptible now, but it lasted well into the 1400s. Why should we be surprised that European colonialism, and black slavery in America, might take another century or two for grievances to be, like those of 1066, too distant to be worth mentioning?

But it’s the rhetoric of the unrest that has drawn my attention here. And most especially the insistence that there can be “No Peace Without Justice.” I don’t question the sentiment. But I’m curious about what parsing it might reveal.

For example, is No Peace Without Justice the view that peace and justice are inseparable? It would seem not. When there’s not enough stuff to go around – especially if it’s food stuff – two tribes or nations have no choice but to go to war over the resources that are inadequate to share. There’s no peace. But neither is there any injustice. And so if justice were simply the absence of injustice, it would follow that there can be justice without peace, and so likewise peace without justice. But it doesn’t follow because justice is not simply the absence of injustice. So if it isn’t that, what is it?

As just noted, “When two men [sic] desire the same thing which nonetheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies. And to this end, which is principally their conservation, but sometimes their delectation only, they endeavor to destroy or subdue one another.” From this competition, Hobbes continues, “proceedeth diffidence, and from diffidence war.” “All other times,” says he, almost as an afterthought, “are called peace.”

So by definition, you and I are at peace if and only if we’re not “endeavor[ing] to destroy or subdue one another.” But we’re not “endeavoring to destroy or subdue one another” if and only if we do not “desire the same thing which nonetheless [we] cannot both enjoy.” That is, either we do not desire the same thing, or else we do but we can both enjoy it.

Imagine we’re both vegetarians and so we’re not fighting over this sirloin roast. It would be odd – would it not? – to say our not fighting over it is just. Justice seems to involve the overcoming of the aforementioned “endeavor to destroy or subdue one another,” notwithstanding we “desire the same thing.” So imagine instead we’re both carnivores, but we agree to share the roast. Then and only then does it make sense to say that if one of us violates the agreement he does the other an injustice. So by justice is meant, as Hobbes puts it, the failure to “keep one’s covenants made.”

So the question is, can one of us violate his covenants made with the other to share what we both desire without our returning to a state of war? It won’t do for the Buddhist to say the better man need simply cease to desire what he erstwhile did, because if it’s no longer the case that they “desire the same thing”, the agreement is superfluous. Nor will it do to say that my rightful share isn’t worth the risk that attends going to war, because that just means I’m waiting for weather more favorable to my chances.

So unless we’re talking about a complete invertebrate – too invertebrate even to defend those under his care – the answer is no. There is no peace without justice. At some point the aggrieved party will rise up. At some point discretion will cease to prove the better part of valor. It happened in the Warsaw Ghetto. It happened in Gaza and Ramallah. And it’s happening on the streets of Minneapolis, Seattle, Washington, and New York.

As with any Intifada, these moments of valor eventually exhaust themselves. But even if they leave things just a little bit better than they were before, it’s to be remembered that it was in little bits like these that no Brit today knows how many of her ancestors were Celt or Norman. But more to the point, she doesn’t care.

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy

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1 reply

  1. No Peace Without Justice is not a sentiment. It is a threat. It means “We won’t give you peace until you give us justice.” Sounds like an offer to create a peace for justice covenant, a covenant with the sword. But covenants require three conditions.

    1. The offeror must be clearly identified. So who is the “we”?

    2. The offeree must be clearly identified. So who is to give the unspecified “we” justice?

    3. What is to be given in exchange by each party, in what time, must be clearly identified. What kind of peace in return for what kind of justice, how soon?

    Since none of these three conditions exist, we have to look at the offer differently.

    A threat of no peace (i.e. violence or war) until certain conditions are met is scary. But there may be a solution: do what is demanded so that “no peace” becomes “peace”.

    What is demanded is justice. Justice, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If my ancestors were deprived of their land by your ancestors and I throw you off what is now your land that’s justice to me, but perhaps not to you.

    So what is meant by “No Peace Without Justice”? We will let you know once we figure it out. In the meantime, it’s fun to keep you guessing.


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