Vincent Ferraro, "The 'Seed of Enlightenment' and Humanity's Future," International Studies Review, Vol. 4, Issue 1 (Spring 2002), pp. 143-148.


The Invention of Peace: Reflections on War and International Order, Michael Howard, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 113 pp., cloth (ISBN: 0-300-08866-3), $15.00.

The World at 2000: Perils and Promises, Fred Halliday, (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2001), 170 pp., cloth (ISBN: 0-333-94534-4), $65.00

The end of the Twentieth Century was one of the most pivotal periods in human history-a period of unprecedented change and one in which the European order which had dominated world affairs since the end of the 15th Century came to a critical crossroad. At the beginning of the 21st Century, we cannot discern whether that world order will persist in some recognizable form, whether it will be replaced by a yet-unspecified new world order, or possibly whether it will simply disintegrate without being replaced at all. These two authors attempt to provide some markers for an analysis of the future. And they do so first by assessing the successes and failures of the European order, asking a very basic and straightforward question: to what extent did the European system, based upon liberal institutions, deliver on its promise of political stability and economic prosperity? Both Howard and Halliday then speculate on whether the European system can or will ever realize its aspirations of peace in the future.

These questions are reasonably asked because at this moment of time the European order has reached virtually every part of the planet, a circumstance quite emphatically unique in human history. Other historical orders, such as the Roman and Mughal Empires, were decidedly local even though most typically claimed an ideological universality. But the European framework was truly breathtaking in its scope and single-minded in its application. By the end of the 19th Century almost the entire planet had been enfolded into the European system. Perversely, where the presumedly peaceful liberal institutions-those of market capitalism, representative democracy, and human rights--were not willingly accepted, the Europeans used force to impose them. There were some who pointed out the contradiction of using force to impose freedom, but, by and large, the Europeans cloaked their self-interest in the universalism of the Enlightenment mission.

That historical sweep is important to both Howard and Halliday, although Howard is quite clearly the master of that story. Both authors, however, are acutely aware that the European order underwent some dramatic changes in the 20th Century, and both have chapters that focus on how the European system responded to the internal and external demands for alternative world orders.

The liberal order was sorely tested in the 20th Century. The first challenge-World War I--was initially an ordinary war for simple control of the system, but its unanticipated consequences were decisive in undermining the premises of the liberal order. It shattered the easy complacency of the peaceful pretenses of the design and amplified the brooding questions about the Enlightenment raised by such subversive thinkers as Nietzsche, Freud, Darwin, Godel, Einstein, Joyce, Stravinsky, and Tzara. The war also spawned an institutional opposition to the liberal order in the form of the Soviet Union whose fundamental premises contradicted the centrality of the individual so critical to liberal thought.

The second challenge-World War II-was nothing less than a full-fledged assault on the system, led primarily by insiders to the system who believed quite firmly that the liberal design had failed. The rise of authoritarianism in the interwar period, as well as the general economic collapse of the Depression, made many believe that an alternative to the liberal system, quite different from that offered by the Soviet Union but still rooted in the idea of the collective, was both inevitable and desirable. The end of that war left the Europeans in search of a new identity, perhaps to be realized at some future point in the European Union, and in a weakened state sufficient to remove them, at least temporarily, from the role of maintaining the liberal order. The United States emerged in this vacuum as the primary defender of the European system and its institutions.

The third and fourth challenges-the Cold War and decolonization-occurred simultaneously and are difficult to disentangle. Both challenges would have occurred independently of each other-the fact that they unfolded concurrently complicated each process tremendously. In the case of the Cold War, one can say that it ended with a clear loser, but that the victor is still in doubt to many. Nonetheless, as both Howard and Halliday point out, the simple terms of that contest-whether economies will be organized collectively or along market principles--has been peremptorily determined: there are only a few societies at the beginning of the 21st century that are committed to command economies.

The fourth challenge-that of decolonization-is still incomplete as we witness the ambiguities of the meaning of the phrase self-Determination in places like southeastern Europe, central Africa, southern Mexico, northwestern China, and central and south Asia. Quite significantly, however, while the outcome of these contests is still in doubt, the ideational power of the principle of Self-Determination is not.

In other words, at the end of the Twentieth Century, the European system achieved its coveted and presumptive universality. Today, most peoples on the planet work within economies determined principally by market capitalism and most peoples accept the idea of democracy, if not in its electoral form, then certainly in its commitment to the idea of self-governance. Has the liberal order reached the end of its natural evolution? Is its current configuration stable? Have we reached the "End of History?"

Both Howard and Halliday reject this facile possibility. For them, the liberal system is not self-executing and even though the scope of the system is now fully global, there are no guarantees that it can be maintained. Indeed, now all the opponents of the system are "internal," and these opponents are well-versed in the "promissory notes" of the Enlightenment-life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness-and are acutely aware that they are far from being paid off.

International peace is the most dramatic claim of the liberal system and this objective is Howard's ultimate concern. The Invention of Peace is an extended version of the plenary lecture that Howard delivered to the Anglo-American Conference on War and Peace in July 2000. Howard achieves the essence of the essay in this brief book-those who wish a more detailed analysis of war in the modern era should consult his earlier works: War in European History (Oxford: Oxford University press, 1976) and War and the Liberal Conscience (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987). Howard's control and understanding of the evolution of the European system is magisterial, and his synopsis of modern history is elegant and convincing.

Howard's concern in this book, however, is architectonic. He argues that the idea of peace is a late invention of the liberal order. Peace is not a natural state of mankind (Howard admits to being "politically incorrect" for not using the term "humankind"), and so any future peace, like all peaces in the past, must be constructed. For Howard, the liberal construction manual was written by Immanuel Kant, the Enlightenment philosopher who thought deeply about the possibilities for peace.

Howard's treatment of Kant is far too brief to do the philosopher justice. The summary statement of the Kantian position is articulated in less than a paragraph:

"War would still continue, warned Kant. But gradually its growing horror and expense would disincline peoples from waging it, and ultimately compel them to abandon the anarchical condition that prevailed among states and enter instead a 'league of nations', which would provide collectively the security that at present each sought individually. Further, all states should provide 'hospitality' for each other's citizens, a measure that would gradually create a sense of cosmopolitan community. The process would be a long one, with many setbacks; but what Kant called 'a seed of enlightenment' would survive all disasters, and ensure that progress would continue to the desired end." (pp. 30-31)

The description is accurate, but incomplete. In the First Definitive Article for Perpetual Peace, Kant links private commercial interests and representative democracy. Only through the republican constitution would people be able to express effectively their disinclination to wage war, a disinclination based upon their understanding of war as a "poor game": "having to fight, having to pay the costs of war from their own resources, having painfully to repair the devastation war leaves behind, and, to fill up the measure of evils, load themselves with a heavy national debt that would embitter peace itself and that can never be liquidated on account of constant wars in the future." [Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace, Edited, with an Introduction by Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1957), p. 13.] In order to construct peace, therefore, citizens must have both an economic stake in peace and the political means to protect that economic stake from leaders who use war for their own personal or political benefit.

At the beginning of the 21st Century, Howard concedes that the Kantian preconditions for peace are still incomplete. Howard identifies "a world community sharing the characteristics that make possible domestic order" (p. 105) as critically important, but one still unattained. He believes that there is an incipient "global transnational community with common values and a common language" (p. 108), but that it currently lacks the authority and legitimacy to regulate the system as a whole. His historical analysis, however, suggests that he believes, like Kant, that such a global community will emerge at some point.

Halliday is less optimistic about the eventual transmission of the seed of enlightenment, although the end of his book is a passionate plea for what he calls a radical universalism. In this intriguing book, he raises many questions about the internal consistency and integrity of the liberal system itself, but he does not abandon its commitment to rights. He does, however, make a powerful case that the definition of those rights should be more diverse and cosmopolitan.

Halliday is an insightful analyst, and has a remarkable ability to take the familiar and to turn it in curious and productive ways. In Chapter 3, Halliday outlines four current perspectives on the global future: Hegemonic optimism, which holds that globalization has ushered in a new age in which political liberalism will remain the dominant system; Liberal reform, which suggests that with proper changes, including bringing in NGOs in a more sustained manner, international institutions should be able to regulate the international system peacefully; A new anti-imperialism, which rejects the idea of global governance as merely another way to extend Western dominance; and, The 'New Middle Ages,' which suggests the fear that the world will plunge into the barbarism of political atavism and ethnic violence.

Unfortunately, the categories are not fruitfully mined after Chapter 3, although references to the proponents of each view occur throughout the book. The categories are provocative, not least of all because all four might be simultaneously true in different parts of the world. It may be the case that the world is too complex for a single perspective and that what is required is the ability to eschew the possibility of a universal perspective. In other words, the liberal perspective may be totally incapable of understanding the world today.

Halliday then critiques the major institutions of the global system: the structures of war, the challenges of capitalism, and the fragility of democracy. In each of these chapters, Halliday circumscribes the pretense of universality, pointing out example after example of groups that are not full participants in any of these institutions and suggesting that without reconceptualizations these institutions cannot make any serious claim to universality.

Of these three chapters, the one on market capitalism is the most interesting. Halliday quickly divests himself of the ability to define globalization, suggesting that the "world might be better off [if] it had not been used." (p. 61) Nonetheless, Halliday uses a simple definition of globalization: "a marked reduction in the barriers between societies and states, an increasing homogeneity of societies and states and an increase in the volume of interactions between societies." (p. 61) As a way of measuring the process of globalization, these criteria are pertinent and useful.

But it is the second criterion that undermines the liberal promises of globalization, although, interestingly, the convergence process is essential for Howard's analysis. Many are concerned that the process does in fact lead to an increasing homogeneity of societies, but a homogeneity of the least common denominator: the lowest wages and living standards, the weakest environmental regulations, and the blandest and most mediocre of cultures. That globalization has led to a phenomenal increase in global wealth is incontrovertible; that the wealth is unequally shared and that the process of inequality is clearly accelerating is similarly incontrovertible.

Ultimately, Halliday is agnostic about whether market capitalism can confront and resolve its distributional problems: "It remains an open question whether, five centuries on from its initial expansion, this system can achieve the potential which its advocates ascribe to it, and diffuse its opportunities across the world: until, and unless, it does, then globalization will be but another word for the hegemony of a minority of rich states over the rest." (p. 74). This conclusion is certainly true, but in the absence of a viable economic alternative it is virtually tautological.

Finally, Halliday wrestles with the question of the role of the United States in the preservation of the liberal system. Implicit in this discussion is the premise that the system needs a leader, whether that leader be imperial or hegemonic. After 1989 there was little question that the United States would hold that position, and Halliday is quite conscious of the tremendous disparity of power that currently exists between the US and other powers. But the US is a curious country: its desire to be a hegemonic power is not an overwhelming concern for most Americans. The central question for the US and the rest of the world is whether the US can figure out how to be a world leader while remaining true to its citizens' desire to remain somewhat distant from the rest of the world. Can the US be an aloof hegemon? Can the liberal system work with an arms-length leader?

Halliday points out that most Americans know little about the rest of the world, extending that observation to most members of Congress, and citing Khomeini's term of "world arrogance" as an apt phrase describing American attitudes toward the rest of the world. But he perhaps goes too far in characterizing American ignorance of the rest of the world as unique. He openly (and legitimately) derides US Senator Trent Lott for callous and unsophisticated statements about the world and encourages the reader to look to the Internet for conclusive proof: "If you go to the Senator's website, it does not say 'American First' but 'Tennessee First'.(p. 101) Senator Lott may be a yahoo, but he's a Mississippi yahoo.

Ultimately, Halliday's treatment of the US is the least satisfying chapter in the book. The liberal system that has now encompassed the entire planet is one that quite deliberately eschews centralized power and tries to maximize local centers of power as much as possible in as many hands as is possible. But hegemonic leadership demands that the rules and norms of that system be articulated and enforced. Halliday acknowledges this paradox: "The world of the twenty-first century cannot be fashioned without America, nor should it be fashioned on America's terms…" (p. 109) There obviously is a middle ground here somewhere, but, as of now, it remains undefined.

The Enlightenment lives on in these books: in the end, both Howard and Halliday remain true to liberal roots. Students with a good background in European history will profit tremendously from Howard's synthesis, and Halliday's analysis is highly stimulating and provocative, although ultimately mostly suggestive. That neither of them can be definitive about the future is not an issue; both raise intelligent questions about what we need to know about the incorporation of the past into the future, and how we ought to conduct our inquiries today.


Vincent Ferraro
Mount Holyoke College