essays

Mar 1, 1982

Economic Peace vs. People’s Peace

“The rise of the nation-state ushered in a new kind of peace and violence.”

Ivan Illich

“Peace vs. Development.” Democracy 2 (January 1982): 53–60.

Peace has a different meaning for each epoch and for each cultural area. Centralized political, economic, and military leaders emphasize “peacekeeping”; on the margin, people, however, hope to be “left in peace.” Illich’s thesis holds that under the cover of economic “development,” a “worldwide war has been waged against people’s peace.” The principal condition for people to recover their peace is to set limits to economic development.

Each ethnos (people or culture) has been symbolically mirrored by its own ethos—myth, law, goddess, ideal—of peace. The Jewish word for peace—shalom—connotes a benevolent grace flowing from a benevolent source; whereas Roman peace—pax—is an invasive, coercive ordering from an impersonal source. Other cultures have similarly distinct notions of peace which cannot be transferred without violence. In contrast to historians of power, the new historians of peace must appreciate how culturally, historically, and ethnologically distinct is each people’s need to be “left in peace.”

We have to contrast popular or “people’s peace” with the pax economica of development: the positivist assumption of economists that values are not worth protecting unless they are scarce, measurable, and exchangeable commodities. Development economics represents violence against subsistence-oriented cultures and compells their involuntary integration into an economic system that worships “scarcity,” or dependence on goods and services perceived as scarce. Economic development inevitably imposes pax economica at the cost of every form of popular peace in which people would have preferred to engage in subsistence activities outside the network of production and circulation of unwanted commodities.

The violent pax economica which displaced people’s peace assumed its shape at the end of the European Middle Ages. In the twelfth century, pax did not mean the absence of war between lords but rather security of the monk and the poor together with their means of subsistence from the violence of war (Gottesfrieden and Landfrieden). This primarily subsistence-oriented meaning of peace was lost with the Renaissance.

The rise of the nation-state ushered in a new kind of peace and violence. Now the people’s subsistence itself became the victim of a supposedly “peaceful” aggression. An abstraction—homo economicus—replaced real communities and a new pax economica served a universal man who lived on the consumption of commodities produced elsewhere. Pax economica first assumed that local people could not provide for themselves. This new peace empowered a new elite to make all peoples’ survival dependent on their access to education, police protection, and supermarkets. It exalted the producer and labelled the consumer or subsistent as asocial and unproductive. Next, pax economica assaulted the commons and the environment as a commodity for exploitation. Thirdly, pax economica through inter-changeable wage labor broke down the pre-industrial distinction between men and women—as ifhomo economicus were a genderless human.

Pax economica coerces all to become players in its game. “Those who refuse to fit the ruling model are either banished as enemies of the peace, or educated until they conform.” This monopoly game of economic development must be challenged by authentic peace research.