Peace Research: The Cult of Power

The context in which nation-states are most commonly seen is an international hierarchy of status and power. "Power" is widely understood to mean "dominance" and "control," rather than "ability" or "energy" (which were formerly the primary meanings of the word). Peace research, in its preoccupation with nation-states and international relations, comes to be trapped in studies of the power system. But it may be, as Rousseau suggested long ago, that war is inherent in the power system itself, the system of dominance in human relations. Thus it appears that the current preoccupation with the powerful-with major powers and their elites, with nation-states and their techniques for making war and for imposing their will on others-is unlikely to bring us any closer to peace. For that, it seems necessary rather to turn our attention to the allegedly powerless and to restore to public consciousness, and to the consciousness of scholars, the idea of power as competence or autonomous action. For those who are without the power of dominance are not, as too often supposed, utterly impotent and helpless. On the contrary, they have extensive powers, which tend to be invisible in the short run, but which are fundamental to all major, long-term social change-such as a change from the war system to a "peace system" would certainly be. As a beginning, this paper suggests an inventory of the powers of the "powerless," with some remarks on the bearing they may have upon the prospects for peace.