Peace is a state of harmony, the absence of hostility. This term is applied to describe a cessation of violent international conflict; in this international context, peace is the opposite of war. Peace can also describe a relationship between any parties characterized by respect, justice, and goodwill.


More generally, peace can pertain to an individual relative to her or his environment, as peaceful can describe calm, serenity, and silence. This latter understanding of peace can also pertain to an individual's sense of himself or herself, as to be "at peace" with one's self would indicate the same serenity, calm, and equilibrium within oneself.


The traditional political definition of peace and the very word itself originated among the ancient Romans who defined peace, pax, as absentia belli, the absence of war.


Today, peace is often understood as the absence of war between two or more state-organized armies. Nonetheless, the concept of peace also applies to the state of people within their respective geopolitical entities, as civil war, state-sponsored genocide, terrorism, and other violence are all threats to peace on an intranational level. Since World War II, wars among states have become less common, while violent internal conflicts have become a more central concern. Present day Sudan, for example, is the site of widespread suffering and violence, despite its not being engaged in war with another sovereign state. Peace, in this context, is understood as the absence of violence among groups, whether part of a state apparatus or not.


This conception of peace as a mere absence of overt violence, however, is still challenged by some as incomplete. Influential peace researcher Johan Galtung has described this former conception of peace as "negative peace", suggesting that underlying points of conflict must themselves be resolved in order for true peace to exist.


Mahatma Gandhi suggested that if an oppressive society lacks violence, the society is nonetheless not peaceful, because of the injustice of the oppression. Gandhi articulated a vision of peace in which justice is an inherent and necessary aspect; that peace requires not only the absence of violence but also the presence of justice. Galtung described this peace, peace with justice, as "positive peace," because hostility and further violence could no longer flourish in this environment.


During the 1950s and 60s, when Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement carried out various non-violent activities aimed at ending segregation and racial persecution in America, they understood peace as more than just the absence of violence. They observed that while there was not open combat between blacks and whites, there was an unjust system in place in which the government deprived African Americans of equal rights. While some opponents criticized the activists for "disturbing the peace", Martin Luther King observed that "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice."


Galtung coined the term structural violence to refer to such situations, which although not violent on the surface, harbor systematic oppression and injustice.


There is a wide spectrum of views about whether, or when, violence and war are necessary or justifiable. Mahatma Gandhi's conception of peace was not as an end, but as a means: "There is no way to peace; peace is the way." By envisioning peace as a process, and as self-fulfilling, Gandhi's moral philosophy circumvents some of the traditional issues of historical nonviolent moral doctrine. Judeo-Christian tradition, for instance, which bluntly declares "Thou shalt not kill", has nonetheless found itself amenable to compromise over the centuries.


An extreme form of nonviolence is that of Jainism, which goes to great lengths to avoid harming any living creatures, including insects. Pacifists, such as Christian anarchists, perceive any incarnation of violence as self-perpetuating. Other groups take a wide variety of stances, many maintaining a Just War theory.


War and violence seem to be organic, and perhaps inevitable, features of human society, although generosity and altruism are perhaps predominant. In this vein, a desire for peace can be seen as a product of the evolution of human interrelations; clearly, peace is the self-sustaining choice for humankind.


Nonetheless, peace and justice may be viewed as contradictions in practical terms. If one believes that the only way to prevent injustice and create justice is by force, then one believes that justice requires hostilities, which precludes peace. Similarly, the clash of political interests has often been identified as a justification of war. The desire for power and advantage puts groups in opposition. This opposition naturally escalates as one side, and then the other, tries to gain advantages, sometimes culminating in violence and war. This effect is also seen in religious and ethnic groups. These groups see themselves as being oppressed and violence and war have often been rationalized as justified in defense of a culture or religion.


This article is licensed under the the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Peace".




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