essays

Jun 1, 1982

The Medieval Peace Movement

“We ought to remember that peace cannot be pursued as an end-in-itself, but only as an adjunct of orderly and lawful societal change.”

Udo Heyn
Dept. of History, California State University, Los Angeles

“Pax et Justitia: “Arms Control, Disarmament and the Legal System in the Medieval Reich.” Peace and Change 8 (Spring 1982): 23–36.

The medieval German Landfrieden or Peace of Lands movement carries important lessons for a peace movement in our time. One lesson is that there seems to be no quick institutional “fix” to arms control and peace. A total ban on arms was not necessary in this medieval “peace movement,” which tried to suppress feuding, but allowed nobles to continue to bear arms. Nor was a centralized constraint on arms sufficient to establish peace, since stability at home allowed for the conduct of Crusades and war abroad. The medieval peace movement tried to rely on arms control rather than on disarmament or armed deterrence; it was successful to the extent to which conflicts came to be resolved through the use of the legal system.

Prior to the Peace of Lands, the resort to arms was employed for “extra-judicial” self-help, as when a litigant failed to receive what he considered was his legal due. Even after edicts prohibiting all violence at certain times, the Crusades and the Investiture Conflict (resolved by Concordat of Worms, 1122) managed to keep conflict alive. It was not until medieval society began to focus less on an ideal peace and more on maintaining internal law and order that Europe witnessed a reduction in societal conflicts. By phasing out the extra-judicial but legitimate acts of self-help, the Landfrieden tamed the feud and eventually proscribed it altogether. At the same time, this medieval peace movement restrained ordinary crime by making punishment fit the crime, regardless of the criminal’s social or kinship status.

For our own times, we ought to remember that peace cannot be pursued as an end-in-itself, but only as an adjunct of orderly and lawful societal change. The article contains copious historical and bibliographical citations.