“Peace cannot be bought at any price”

A friend, Constantin Sigov, professor of philosophy in kyiv, told me not long ago that it is a question for us of “think war”. He is right: you have to think about war, to prevent it from separating peoples, isolating Ukraine, and erasing all that there may be in common between the Ukrainians and us, French, Europeans. Moreover, philosophy does not have to be silent when war begins. It is not an activity reserved only for periods of peace. Most philosophies were written only in the context of war: not only stoicism, but also the meditations of Descartes, the Leviathan of Hobbes, the writings of Arendt, and the more recent ones of Michael Walzer during the Vietnam War.

It is therefore right to speak of the war. But is a war just? What must be consented to in order to support a people? The question is not only that of our purchasing power. The question is about the world we want. Because we must now have the firm conviction that the world will be what we make it. The climatic apocalypse, which destroys the oceans and the mammals, the lungs and the hemispheres, must not overwhelm us, but persuade us of our freedom: there is still something possible to promote. And if fear is the certainty that everything is at stake, freedom is on the contrary the idea that everything is at stake now. It is ultimately, perhaps, heavier to bear.

War is a legal problem, not barbarism

We talk about “just war” since Antiquity. However, it is up to Grotius, a Dutch philosopher exiled in France, to have brought this idea into modernity. He is credited with having even anticipated, in his voluminous treatise on Law of war and peace, the possibility of an international law. War occurs, according to him, when the paths of justice have failed, but war must be waged according to the same requirements: it is not the other of justice, it is subordinate to it. A conflict is therefore the means of defending a right. Dedicated to Louis XIII, « very Christian king of the Franks and of Navarre », this book, published in 1625, went through numerous reissues. And one never ceases, in philosophy at least, to refer to it. As if the 17th century, the one we rightly call modern, had invented the possibility of judicializing war, a way of respecting justice by other means.

Because if war is governed according to systematic and universal rules, it allows peace, that is to say the mutual recognition of States, and of their legitimacy. There is therefore something like an inviolable justice that must govern the authority of States. War is a legal problem, not barbarism. Ultimately, law prevails over force, which means that, by preserving what is just within the very heart of warlike violence, we prepare for peace.

“What peace do we want? »

It will be objected that it is impossible to make law and war coexist, because the latter remains a form of violence, the organized dispensation of death. We will therefore affirm with Kant, great representative of the Enlightenment: “There must be no war. » Neither wishful thinking nor utopia, peace is a duty. This must be our only goal – political, international, national and individual. So what to do: free politics from moral injunctions or moralize international politics? Refuse war or try to prepare peace through arms?

An author radically upsets the deal, it’s Pascal. The problem, according to him, is not war but peace. What peace do we want? The one spared by cowardice? The one that reassures the wallet, clears consciences, lulls scruples? Pascal replies that it is not appropriate to wonder whether such and such a war is just, but to have the courage to denounce peace when it is unjust. Because peace is not a value in itself, it is not to be preserved at any price.

Morality is not necessarily on the side of peace

There are unjust peaces, which not only demand that we be indignant, but that demand that we do justice, even by force of arms. War is then a necessity, and silence or indifference a fault. Morality is not necessarily on the side of peace; it can encourage people to choose war. Any peace, just because it is peace, is not acceptable. This is why Pascal asserts that it is « going against the end of peace than letting foreigners enter a state to loot it, without opposing it » (Thoughtsfragment 771).

Are we talking about the need to preserve peace, to maintain the tranquility of prices and minds? Pascal’s answer is unambiguous: peace is unjust when it flouts the good of all. If one does not oppose such a peace, then one simply allows violence to reign on both sides: on that of the invader and on that which allows it. This is « a crime to remain in peace when one destroys the truth ». Peace can be a crime just as a war can be. We want justice here, elsewhere, over there? Then let us admit that there is no arrangement with the truth, and that the peace which is established on the compromise, selfishness or cowardice is an evil.

“Peace is just as deadly as war”

Will we reproach Pascal for being a warmonger? He is rather the philosopher – and some would like to add “Christian” – who comes to worry our good consciences, to remind us that if peace is equivalent to a quiet indifference, it is just as deadly as war, just as much violence. It is therefore, to follow it, » a crime « to forget, we who are at peace, those who suffer from war, in the East as in Europe, in Kabul as in kyiv. What there is to think about with the Ukrainians is precisely this: that peace cannot be bought at any price. And that it is an unjust peace that which leaves “enter foreigners into a State to pillage it, without opposing it”.


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