Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas

By David Cortright. Cambridge University Press, 2008, xii, 376 pp.

By Sergei Plekhanov (reviewer) | 2010-01-01 12:00:00

This is a must read for peace activists: a review of the theory and practice of peace in modern world history provided by a veteran of four decades of struggles against war and militarism. David Cortright starts his remarkably comprehensive study with a poignant observation:

“Throughout history the cause of peace has been on trial, standing like a forlorn defendant before the court of established opinion, misunderstood and maligned on all sides “ (p.1).

The author sees himself as a defence witness in that trial, determined to set the record straight. His deep conviction is that peace works, and that the cause of peace has become more compelling than ever after the most violent century in human history has so powerfully demonstrated the futility and criminality of militarism. He seeks

“to forge a synthesis among peacemaking traditions giving the principles of nonviolence cardinal importance. This synthesis incorporates advances in the theory and practice of international peace-building, while also drawing from the contributions of democracy theory, feminism, socialism and human rights.” (p.20)

After a systematic examination of all significant ideas and movements for preventing war and building peace, which have arisen since the early 19th century, Cortright reaches several important conclusions. First, all or nearly all major initiatives by governments over the past two centuries which have helped the cause of peace originated in the peace movements – this is a finding which should encourage peace activists to redouble their efforts to exert pressure on political leaders.

Second, the past decades have seen unprecedented development of the body of thought and practice focused on alternatives to militarism – development which should endow peace movements with greater political clout in the years to come.

Third, the cause of peace-building and peacemaking (Cortright prefers these terms to the term “pacifism” which he regards as too vague and often misunderstood) has become inseparable from the struggle for justice, human rights, and democracy. The book is informative, inspiring, and highly relevant to the tasks of the unfolding new round of struggle.

Reviewed by Sergei Plekhanov, a political science professor at York University

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2010

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2010, page 30. Some rights reserved.

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