Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Concept of Peace

Legal scholars often write about law and war, including war’s impact on constitutional rights and powers.  But what about war’s assumed opposite: peace?  If war is exceptional – a rupture of normal time, as Jeh Johnson, then General Counsel of the Defense Department, suggested in a recent speech -- then peace is thought to be our normal time.  Peace seems to do a lot of work in American law and politics, since the arrival of peace (or the process of war’s ending and the transition to peace) is assumed to bring about a recalibration of the exceptional legal regime that war requires.   

UN Peacekeepers (Wikipedia creative commons photo)
But what is peace, and how does it work in contemporary law and politics?  Are there two sharp categories (war/peace), so that peace is the absence of military conflict, turning off the spigot of the war powers?  Or is peace, sometimes enforced by soldiers carrying arms and wearing blue UN Peacekeeping helmets, a form of military conflict?  Is peace a tactic or a rhetoric in a world of ongoing conflict?  Or is peace and idealized imaged state, a goal of human striving, that, like the concept of heaven, simply cannot exist in the material world?

An imaginative and interdisciplinary group of scholars took up these questions on an AALS panel in January on The Concept of Peace in Law, Culture and Society.  In a series of posts over the next week or two, I’ll share with you summaries or snippets from their presentations. The roundtable, organized by Matteo Taussig-Rubbo and me, included a historian of peace, Petra Goedde, Temple University Department of History; founder of the U.S. Institute of Peace, John N. Moore, University of Virginia School of Law; and interdisciplinary legal scholars Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University; Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, University at Buffalo Law School and Ruti G. Teitel, New York Law School(and me as Moderator).

Although not set up as a panel on my book on the concept of wartime, some speakers took the book as their starting point. Posts on the concept of wartime appeared on this blog. For more, see war reporter Peter Maass's take in The Nation.  More reviews and commentary are here.

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