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Concluding note

Solon Simmons and Richard E. Rubenstein

In early March 2020, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and world expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, gave an interview about the novel corona virus in which he said, "I don’t think that we are going to get out of this completely unscathed . . . I think that this is going to be one of those things we look back on and say boy, that was bad.1” What Fauci could see in the future we can all see now in our present. Boy, the global pandemic has been bad, and we are still unaware of the frill extent of its effects. In this volume, we have attempted to speculate about what the range of those effects has been, looking over the terrain of peace and conflict studies with an eye to providing rough forecasts in specific areas drawn from the varied forms of expertise assembled in this volume. What might happen in the space of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, what challenges, what complications, what reasons for despair, and what bases for hope?

As peacemakers, we feel obligated to err a bit on the side of hope but have worked with the small community of scholar/practitioners assembled here to channel that hope in realistic directions, given the scale of the tragedy unfolding before us. The short essays collected here cover a range of concerns typical in the field, from questions of social justice to great power relations and global hotspots, but throughout, the focus remains on a central tension implicit in the subtitle of the book, that between building peace and pursuing justice. Each of the authors struggles with the implications of a less than obvious yet inherent tension between these very practical goals of justice and peace, one stressing the wrongs of the past and their lingering force in the present, and the other the hope for the future and those innocents unfairly condemned to bear the consequences of our mistakes. Those prioritizing justice favor speaking truth to power even in the face of adversity, while those focused on peace emphasize finding common ground even with those who are most odious to us. This tension and its divisive implications are something that we in the peace and conflict field need to

Concluding note 131

make much more of. In fact, the peace scholar John Paul Lederach made this tension a centerpiece of his vision of the field in a provocative essay, “Justpeace: The Challenge of the 21st Century,” which he later defined as a process that decreased violence and increased justice at the same time.2

Promising as the convergence of the concepts of peace and justice sounds, it becomes increasingly clear that skills and strategies best suited to pursue justice are quite different and sometimes even directly opposed to the skills and strategies conducive to building peace. The former most often requires community mobilization, clarity of purpose, attention to the past, sharp distinctions between right and wrong, competitive strategy, and what Congressman John Lewis called, “good trouble.3” The latter is best served by public de-escalation, immersion in complexity, emphasis on the future, moral humility, a cooperative attitude, and what peace scholar, Howard Zelir has called "restorative practices.”4 As movements that predate the pandemic like #Blacklivesmatter and other anti-racism initiatives have shown, the practice of peace and the practice of justice can be as much at odds as complementary. It is hard for mass publics to maintain a restorative attitude in the face of global disarray, failed leadership, and a continuation of historic injustices. Things only become more complicated as society becomes infused with the varied and contradictory master narratives that once defined the separate spheres of human activity. One person's version of overcoming of injustice is often the other person's version of abuse of power, and the people best suited to getting an issue to the table may not the ones best suited to negotiating at the table. The goals of peace and justice can work together, but the essays presented here demonstrate the weight of the burden on conflict specialists to manage this founding tension of the field, pursuing justice as we build peace at the same time.

The contributors to this book make clear how conflict resolution after the pandemic will be further complicated by the size, scope, and complexity of the problems posed by the coronavirus plague. History teaches us that outbreaks of disease seldom change the world on their own but do accelerate processes already underway. For example, several of our authors suggest that the world order that came into existence at the end of the Cold War -an arrangement featuring a globally hegemonic United States supported by European and Japanese junior partners - will very likely give way to a more complex and multifaceted system, one in which the United States and Europe play important, but less dominant roles. What the new world system looks like is hard to predict in specific terms, but we can be sure that it will be more diverse in the range of cultural traditions on which it builds and will need to speak a language more inclusive than that used even by the aspirational leaders who established the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.5

Most important, it will become essential for those who hope to build peace while pursuing justice to better develop their imaginations as they apply to questions of economic justice and economic democracy. Whatever else the coming world order will bring, it will very likely involve negotiating a new or revised set of arrangements for the production, exchange, and distribution of goods and services, as well as a new set or relationships between public and private authorities. Rather than merely hiring neoliberal economists or international development specialists to apply existing knowledge in peacebuilding projects, the essays collected here suggest the need to cultivate new areas in the political economy of the world system, including a network of scholars and activists who can clearly point out how the current configuration of global capitalism leads to inequalities, ruptured identities, environmental degradation, and ultimately, the erosion of democratic politics itself.

The big peace movements of the early twentieth century never shied away from these questions of political economy. It is time that those of us who grew up in the shadow of the Cold War get over our own fears of ideological polarization and anxieties about our tendencies to innumeracy in order to bring fresh perspectives to a series of interrelated festering problems.6 As Thomas Piketty has argued, one can think about economics without subscribing to fantasy abstractions that have little bearing on how businesses are run or international agreements are negotiated, relying instead on the techniques of empirical social science both quantitative and qualitative.7

This last point, which we might label the question of capitalism, runs through this volume in some ways clear and some ways hidden. It seems fair to say that those of us in the field of peace and conflict studies feel more comfortable speaking about ethnicity than we do economy, colonialization than capital, but even so, we all know that each of the conflicts we study can be fitted into some larger pattern of social evolution that has something to do with the intersection of money and power. Even the most strident critics of what has been called the neoliberal peace seem to shy away from this question of capitalism itself, the very engine that runs the world, perhaps for fear of seeming too radical or even naive. But the very scale of the tragedy of the pandemic, especially if it is part of an Antliropocene transformation that will bring along changes in climate like those already on display, will force those of us who care about peace and justice to enter into economic affairs from the perspective of morality and justice.

As many of us have noticed, interest in conflict resolution has become worldwide, and the pandemic will only drive that interest, while people increasingly wonder what kind of peace comes after this unmistakable turning point. Those interested in peacebuilding will therefore find themselves consulting philosophers of history and society like Giovanni Arrighi, whose

Concluding note 133 magisterial sociological history describes the mechanisms and cycles of stages of accumulation in the development of the world system, beginning in the fourteenth century? World capitalism never ended in communist revolution and is not likely to do so now, but it was integrated into a broader institutional arena in which moral conversations and institutional constraints played a critical role. What the next step in this development will be will depend upon a conversation that is just beginning, but in which conflict and peace scholars can play a creative facilitative role.

As we expand our imaginations and embolden our practice, we will have to keep in mind a central tension for the field - that between pursuing justice and building peace. This tension will force us to engage in a wider set of considerations that touches on social movements and adversarial politics, drawing us directly into the space of disciplines not traditionally associated with peacemaking and conflict resolution. As the world reels, buffeted by disease coupled with a democracy deficit playing out even in the core of the world system, peacemaking seems as much a necessity for the world’s most privileged and powerfill nations as for those sometimes denigrated as "failed” or "failing” states. One prediction we feel quite confident to make is that the pandemic will only increase the demand for a "justpeace” and those who know how to build it.


  • 1 ‘“You Don’t Want to Go to War with a President’,” news/2020/03/03/anthony-fauci-trurnp-coronavirus-crisis-118961.
  • 2 John Paul Lederach, “Justpeace - the Challenge of the 21st Century,” www. mrap/wp-content/uploads/2016/11 Peace-Building-Theoretical-and-Concrete-Perspectives-LitReview.pdf; Lederach, The Moral Imagination.
  • 3 Lewis and D’Orso, Walking with the Wind.
  • 4 Zelir, The Little Book of Restorative Justice.
  • 5 Glendon, A World Made New.
  • 6 Gittings, The Glorious Art of Peace.
  • 7 Piketty, “Capital in the 21st Century.”
  • 8 Giovanni Arrigh, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origin of Our Times (London: Verso, 2010). Other thinkers whom peace and conflict scholars may want to study include Immanuel Wallerstein, Samir Amin, and the fourteenth century Arab philosopher, Ibn Khaldun.

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