The pulp author who gave the world Conan the Barbarian was a soul deeply troubled by the barbarism of modernity.
Two Concepts of Peace
At the beginning of the second century AD, the Roman emperor Trajan minted a series of silver coins that depicted the goddess Pax—Peace—in one version standing in victory over a fallen Dacian, in another sitting as the Dacian knelt before her in supplication. The nature of Trajan’s “peace” over the Kingdom of Dacia, which was located off the coast of the Black Sea in approximately modern Romania, was typical: its people were enslaved and sent to Rome, legions were stationed in the land, and a new Roman province was established.
Later a similar coin was minted with a Parthian taking the place of the Dacian. In these coins we see the representation of one conception of peace. Peace is the result of pacification. It occurs when the strong forces the inferior to submit and offer supplication. It is the peace of hierarchy and command.
Yet we know that there must be another conception of peace. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all greet others with some form of shalom aleichem—“peace to you.” Since New Testament times, Christians offered one another a kiss of peace. This kiss, St. Cyril of Jerusalem said, was the sign that “our souls are united and that we banish all remembrance of injury.” St. Augustine concurred, preaching that the joining of lips symbolized the joining of hearts. Peace, by this conception, is about mutual identification, mutual flourishing, mutual submission, and mutual supplication. It is the peace of equality and cooperation.
Apart from these two conceptions of peace, other meanings of the word can easily be suggested. The 1549 Book of Common Prayer speaks of a person holding his peace; Alexander Pope wrote of “peace of mind”; from Cicero, via Shakespeare, we have the phrase “peace with honor,” and later others would speak of “peace at any price.” People can “make” peace, “keep” peace, “breach” the peace, and “be” at peace. In the Bible, peace is treated as a conception of order (1 Cor. 14:33), as a deception foisted on people by the establishment (Jer. 6:14; Ezek. 13:10), and something to be achieved in the dispensation to come (Mic. 4).
The various meanings of peace make reflecting on the word, and its deeper meaning and importance, tricky. The task of this essay is to trace the two conceptions of peace suggested above—peace as hierarchy and peace as equality—throughout history, following them as a thread that connects, in variously brutal or noble ways, all peoples across time.
Two objections must be addressed at the outset. The first, often made by those who focus on peace as something to be realized in the eschaton, and especially by those who conceive of peace as being principally a gift from God to the righteous, is that the idea of a secular peace is essentially uninteresting. At best, such a “peace” would be a passing moment in a world of horrors along the circuitous route to the life to come.
Insofar as this objection reminds us of the fragility of human peace, it has worth. Yet this take on peace is better set aside as a vision of peace (see Augustine, De civitate Dei, XIX.11) that is distinct from the two concepts of peace traced here. Our interest is human history; in contrast, the vision of peace is essentially orientated toward transcending the human condition.
The second objection, often mounted by those who consider themselves worldly-wise “realists,” restates the objection of the eschatological thinker in secular terms. As Plato has one speaker in the Laws explain: “ ‘Peace,’ as the term is commonly employed, is nothing more than a name, the truth being that every State is, by a law of nature, engaged perpetually in an informal war with every other State.” The validity of this objection, however, depends on the facts and should not be established through philosophizing. Consequently, as this essay moves through history, following the ebb and flow of peace as command and peace as cooperation, it will linger at various periods of relative peace, evaluating the extent to which peace is—or at different times has been—more than only a name.
The Fall from Harmony
Mankind’s fall from grace is as good a place to begin as any. Genesis 3 offers an etiology of the human condition: the original harmony of creation, shattered in sin, is disordered through God’s curse. The serpent is cursed with enmity, Eve with pain in childbearing and the “rule” of her husband over her, and Adam with “sweat” and “pain” in the tillage of the ground, to which he shall return (in death). Adam’s “rule” over Eve breaks the pre-curse peace of equality and cooperation, replacing it with a peace of hierarchy and domination. As before the curse mankind was in harmony with nature, so Adam and Eve were with one another.
Augustine, for one, did not like the implication that woman was not subjected to man in her natural state (De Genesi ad litteram), but even he had to confess a fundamental change. As will become clear in the discussion of Aristotle below, this point is radically important: according to the biblical narrative, this “rule” was neither “natural” nor prescribed. Not natural because it was not God’s intended, original mode of relation between man and woman. And not prescribed because, as both common sense and philosophy attest, the effects of the Fall can be both mitigated and resisted.
Mitigation can be most clearly seen in how medical knowledge can reduce the pain and danger of childbearing, or in how chemicals can kill the thorns and thistles of this earth and tractors reduce the sweat of the brow. Resistance, meanwhile, is philosophically necessary, lest we be tempted to conclude that man, acting in pursuit of domination, is guiltless as he acts out of “necessity.” To the contrary, St. Thomas replied, “though sin has a cause, it does not follow that this is a necessary cause, since its effect can be impeded” (Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 75, a. 1, arg. 2 & ad. 2). In short, the Genesis narrative tells us that as thorns are wont to grow, so men are wont to attempt to impose a peace of hierarchy and dominance over women. Both tendencies are disordered, causing the “groaning in labor pains” not only of women but of creation and, indeed, humanity itself (Rom. 8:19–23).
Nimrod, a “mighty hunter before Yahweh” (Gen. 10:9), is a useful bridge from etiology to myth and history. Linked to the founding of Babel, the evil “giants” of the earth (Gen. 6:1–4), and Assyria’s royal ideology, Nimrod represents the subjection of people in imperial state-building projects (“before Yahweh” has been traditionally read as “against Yahweh”).
Specialists in Assyrian history are keen to emphasize that in terms of ideology and conquest, the Assyrians were likely no worse than any other people of the ancient Near East, but let us set this aside and accept the image of Nimrod/Assyria as an ideal type of the peace of hierarchy/command. This was the preferred mode of operation for the great polities of the ancient Near East in the Late Bronze Age: Egypt, Hatti (the Hittites), Mitanni (the Hurrians), Babylon, and Assyria. Each of these empires was established through violence and conquest. Indeed, the image of Nimrod as a hunter is echoed in the way the great empires would pillage territories they did not control, “hunting” for glory, loot, slaves, and vassals in brutal razzias that could then be celebrated through imperial propaganda.
So far this sounds more or less like the world described in the passage from Plato’s Laws quoted above, with peace being just a word. Even so, our second, alternative conception of peace was not entirely absent. Indeed, in the late Bronze Age, the great kings of the Near East discovered the peace of equality on two notable occasions. The periods of peace that followed, obscure to virtually all but historians of the period, involve elements and processes that thereafter would be unknowingly rediscovered in diverse environments, from classical Greece to late antiquity to modern Europe.
The first period began in the years after ca. 1417 BC. The three great empires of the period, the Egyptian, Hittite, and Hurrian, had been locked into a pattern of regular war and conflict with one another for approximately a century. This would change as a result of a series of bilateral peace and friendship treaties made between the Hittites and Hurrians with Egypt. The Hittites seem to have signed a mutual defense treaty with Egypt, while the Hurrians gave a royal daughter to become the first foreign princess married to the Pharaoh even as they negotiated a mutually agreed territorial division. The Great Kings of the ancient Near East would thereafter live in peace with one another until ca. 1350, when the collapse of the balance of power between Hatti and Mitanni enabled an ambitious new Hittite king, Šuppiluliuma, to sack the Hurrian state and expand into Egypt’s sphere of influence.
The regular pattern of war and conflict that typified the period before 1417 then returned, lasting until ca. 1259, when the Egyptians and Hittites signed a treaty of “good brotherhood.” This was a parity treaty, meaning that, unlike in vassal treaties, the parties assumed equal responsibilities and made reciprocal commitments. About a decade later, a Hittite princess was married to the Pharaoh (Ramesses II). The two great kingdoms would never fight again, instead cooperating to oppose internal and external threats such as the Sea Peoples.
This historical summary is necessarily rather potted. The historiography of the ancient Near East is complex, and scholars have spent lifetimes surveying, explaining, and contesting the events summarized above. Even so, moving into the messy world of facts at least gets us out of the philosopher’s armchair. From this new vantage point, it is evident that peace is not only something that results from the strong pacifying the weak—though it is that—but also something that can be negotiated without the abject submission of either party. Takšul, the Hittite word for “peace,” indicated that an “accommodation” had been reached and thereby a friendship (or alliance) established.
The pattern of the ancient Near East was to seek an accommodation first through force. Only when Nimrod realized that the others were his equal in strength, making pacification highly costly or impossible, did he seek to negotiate an accommodation through the second method, that of negotiation and compromise. The conventions of the time—dynastic marriage, gift giving, territorial divisions, royal correspondence, and mutual identification—helped such accommodations to last, for a few generations at least. The result was certainly not peace on earth—peoples and individuals within the respective empires were still forced to submit or die—but it did allow the major powers to escape the permanent state of hostility with each other that otherwise characterized their relations.
Athens and Influence
Moving forward in time and some 1,000 miles to the West brings our narrative to the states-system of classical Greece. This period, long studied and admired by students of democracy, war, and literature alike, presents much grist for the mill of peace.
The Peloponnesian War interrupted Greece’s “Golden Age.” The Greeks themselves had a hard time understanding what caused the war, which began in 431 BC. Given the war’s devastation, not knowing seemed unacceptable, and so Thucydides (ca. 460–ca. 400 BC), a one-time Athenian general, undertook history’s first sustained inquiry into the origins and course of a single war. The present task is not to retell or critique his story (this has been admirably done by Donald Kagan, J. E. Lendon, and Lawrence A. Tritle), but to see what the story of the war indicates about concepts of peace. To do this requires exploring the nature of the Thirty Years’ Peace, the breakdown of which was the immediate cause of the war, as well as some of the contemporary commentary of Euripides, which radically challenged accepted paradigms.
The Peloponnesian War, it is easily forgotten, was the Second Peloponnesian War. After the final defeat of the Persians in 479, Sparta was happy to let Athens lead the mopping up efforts (Thucydides, 1.94–5), conceding to the second polity of the Greek world the leadership of the sea against the advice of the younger men of the Spartan assembly, who cautioned that “ ‘lame’ indeed their rule would be if, having two leaderships, they should lose one of them” (Diodorus Siculus, 11.42, 11.50). At the beginning, the Athenians seemed intent merely to advance to a position of equal status with Sparta (Thucydides, 1.91), with the explicit goal of securing such strength that the Spartans could no longer “give orders” to them (6.82–3).
Because the Spartans were “particularly friendly to Athens” in the years after the Persian Wars (1.92, 1.95), nothing was done to inhibit that city’s advances. This friendship was preserved by the wise leadership of the Athenian strategos Cimon, who was also Sparta’s proxenos in Athens. Cimon, who would name one of his sons Lacedaemonius (i.e., Spartan), focused the polity’s efforts on continuing the fight against the Persians and helped ostracize populist anti-Spartan figures (such as Themistocles). He conceived of Sparta as Athens’s “yoke-fellow” and believed that, without this partner, Greece as a whole would be “crippled” (Plutarch, Cimon, 16). Cimon’s vision was one of coexistence, equality, and dual hegemony. Sparta was supreme on land, Athens at sea. Together they shared the leadership of Hellas.
This arrangement began to break down toward the end of the 460s. Cimon was ostracized from Athens in 461 as a result of his humiliation in an attempt to aid Sparta in putting down a Helot revolt. The Athenians, highly sensitive to status signals, then set out on a policy of allying with the enemies of Sparta (Thucydides, 1.101–3). The yoke-fellows were now pulling in opposite directions; soon they would tear the yoke asunder altogether.
By and by, Athens—now led by Pericles (Plutarch, Pericles, 11.1)—intentionally interfered in a Corinthian border dispute, violating the two hegemons’ respective spheres of influence. The First Peloponnesian War followed. The desultory course of these events need not be reported here. After fifteen long years, the war finally ended in 446/5 with a Thirty Years’ Peace that essentially reestablished the two polities’ spheres of influence. Before the war, there had been de facto dual hegemony. The war was a contest for supremacy. It took more than a decade to convince both polities that this was not attainable. And so the peace essentially recognized the status quo ante bellum. The principal differences were that Athens’s league had now become an empire, and that the yoke-fellows, split by distrust and anger, were now committed to leadership apart rather than leadership together. It was a peace of equality, but one more imposed by reality than voluntarily chosen.
It was in this context that certain “causes of complaint” and clashing interests (Thucydides, 1.23) produced the Second Peloponnesian War. Thucydides wrote in a famous passage poorly translated in standard editions but rendered accurately by Raphael Sealey’s translation here: “Now the most genuine cause, though least spoken of, was this: it was the Athenians, in my opinion, as they were growing great and furnishing an occasion of fear to the Lacedaemonians, who compelled the latter to go to war” (1.23.5–6, translation from Classical Philology, 1975). What Sparta feared is that its “position” was “no longer tolerable” (1.118). Specifically, that Athens—as evidenced by its aggression in the disputes over Corcyra, Potidaea, and Megara—was no longer content with a peace of equality but was seeking a peace of dominance. For this reason, Sparta decided to accept war before the power balance tilted against it.
Euripides, the great Athenian tragedian, articulated the contrast between the competing conceptions of peace in the midst of the (second) Peloponnesian War. In The Phoenician Women, Eteocles, one of the sons of Oedipus, refuses to honor a previous arrangement and give up the rule of Thebes to his brother, Polyneices, who has approached the city in an alliance with the Argives to restore his rightful rule. Their mother, Jocasta, seeks to mediate between the brothers and stave off a final violent showdown. Eteocles refuses to make any compromise, asking, “Shall I become his slave when I can rule?”
Jocasta rejects the dichotomy: “It is better, my son, to honor Equality, who always joins friend to friend, city to city, allies to allies; for Equality is naturally lasting among men; but the less is always in opposition to the greater, and begins the dawn of hatred.” She essentially proposes a different paradigm for relations: not that of master and slave, but of friends; not hierarchy, but equality. Yet it was for naught: Eteocles was only willing to deal with his brother as a superior; Polyneices, meanwhile, was willing to fight for his rightful rule. The result, unsurprisingly, was tragic.
It takes little imagination to apply this paradigm to the war between Athens and Sparta. At root, its “most genuine cause” concerned conceptions of peace. Would Hellas be led by yoke-fellows in the peace of equality? Or would it be dominated by one master or another? Yoke-fellows might solve their disputes “by parley”; instead, the “foolish sons of men,” intent on the peace of hierarchy, “choose the sword instead of reason” (Euripides, The Suppliants, 748–50).
After Athens’s defeat in 404, Greek politics remained unstable throughout the fourth century. The King’s Peace of 387 inaugurated an institution of “common peace” (koine eirene), an innovative arrangement that upgraded treaties, traditionally conducted bilaterally, to multilateral agreements, guaranteed the autonomy of each Greek polity, and did away with strict time periods (like the Thirty Years’ Peace). Even so, history seemed to have reverted in practice back to a succession of hegemonies (Sparta, Athens, Thebes, and eventually Macedon), a trend denounced by the Athenian rhetorician Isocrates in his 355 oration, On the Peace.
Isocrates argued that, as it was “neither just nor expedient for one state to dominate the Hellenes” when the state in question was Sparta (after 404 BC), so it was unjust when it was Athens. He believed the quest to become the “masters” of others had led to “more and greater disasters in the time of the empire than have ever befallen Athens in all the rest of her history.” Isocrates’s message can be summarized as a cry to learn from history and to abandon the quest to rule the world.
This stood in contrast to the arguments of those such as Demosthenes, for whom coexistence with ideological rivals was not possible. “It would be better for you,” he would declare, “that all the Hellenic peoples should be democracies, and be at war with you, than that they should be governed by oligarchies, and be your friends. . . . For there can be no goodwill between the Few and the Many—between those who seek for mastery, and those who have chosen the life of political equality” (On the Liberty of the Rhodians). Demosthenes’s argument might be called the first version of the democratic peace theory.
This was the milieu within which Aristotle wrote his Politics, where he argued that “from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.” This applied not only to slaves, who were little different from “tame animals,” but also to women: “The male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled.” But in both cases, he fundamentally believed that the relationship of subordination he observed in society was natural, and therefore good. Peace, taken in the sense of harmoniously ordering society, required such relationships.
This conception—let us call it the Greek conception—stands in contrast with the etiology of the human condition given in Genesis 3 and implied in Genesis’s account of Nimrod. There, the element of domination was unnatural. Though Aristotle did not apply his hierarchical model to international relations, it is not difficult to see a man like his pupil, Alexander the Great, as simply extending the domestic logic of domination to the sphere of foreign affairs.
But it was Rome—taking Alexander’s model and adding a new element of institutional permanence—that most perfectly pursued and achieved the peace of dominance. Rome’s rise from city-state (mid-fourth century BC), to Italian imperial-state (mid-third century BC), to Mediterranean empire (second century BC) has been memorialized as one of the great stories of Western civilization. The Roman pax—represented in antiquity and remembered ever since for either its brutality or its splendor, depending on one’s perspective—was built on war, something considered natural and glorious to the Romans. A representative sample of this attitude can be found in Livy’s report that the Romans were confounded that in the year 303 BC there had not yet been any foreign wars fought. Rather than “pass a whole year without any military operations,” an expedition was dispatched to eliminate some supposed brigands.
Despite Rome’s positive attitude toward the use of collective violence, the Latin noun for peace, pax, was linked to the verb pacisci, which meant “to make a pact.” Conceptually, this seems closer to the peace of equality than the peace of hierarchy. Yet the Romans preferred the concept of peace expressed in the Aeneid by a prophecy from Aeneas’s father: that the Romans would “impose the custom of peace,” sparing the humbled and conquering the proud. As the Res Gestae of Augustus declared, he had in his lifetime “reduced” those “races not yet subject to our empire” to “a state of peace,” allowing the gates of Janus to be closed an unprecedented three times. Peace, by the Roman conception, was “a new state of affairs” “imposed” on the “haughty necks of the nations” (Florus, Epitome, II, XXI, IIII.12).
Reflecting on this history in the final days of the western Roman Empire, Augustine reasoned that everyone believed in “peace” and that the real question was whether one were willing to wage war in an attempt to impose on others one’s own laws. There was, Augustine believed, a wicked human desire to create a world in which “all men and things might serve but one head, and might, either through love or fear, yield themselves to peace with him.” This peace of hierarchy “abhors equality” and “seeks to impose a rule of its own upon its equals.” Extending the biblical tradition of Nimrod, Augustine considered this human drive for dominance—this libido dominandi—to be the vice of pride. He applied this critique both to the Roman Empire, which was created through “great wars . . . slaughter and bloodshed” out of a desire to impose its “yoke” on “subject nations,” and to slavery, which—contra Aristotle—he saw as an unnatural institution that violated mankind’s shared status as rational creatures.
Yet in Late Antiquity (third to seventh centuries AD), it was not the ideas of Augustine or even of Christianity that first tamed Rome’s hierarchical conception of peace, but instead the hard realities of power. With the rise of the Sassanian Persian Empire in the third century AD, Rome met, for the first time, a state whose power rivaled its own. Reversing what Edward Gibbon called “the long slumber of his predecessors,” the new Sassanian monarch worked to reconquer Mesopotamia and seemed to have his eyes set on all Asia Minor.
A series of humiliations followed for Rome, including the capture of Emperor Valerian in 260. Fortunes were reversed, however, in 298, when the Persians were forced to sign a mortifying treaty that extended Rome’s grasp as far as the Tigris. The Persians, in this context, were said by the pagan rhetor Libanius to have “loved peace so as to fight a proper war.” Aware of this revanchism, the emperor Julian the Apostate set out on a quest informed by that wholly Roman ideal: to eradicate anything that vexed the empire. Killed in a minor engagement outside the walls of Persia’s great city Ctesiphon, Julian met with disaster. What followed—the settlement of 363—established a new, and fair, territorial equilibrium between Rome and Persia that would last two hundred years.
In the 380s, new Roman and Persian emperors would accept a compromise over the last remaining thorn in their sides, the division of Armenia. For the next 120 years, with just two minor exceptions, there would be complete peace between the two great empires of late antiquity. As Gibbon would later lament, this peace was based on a new (for Rome) theory of international relations: compromise and coexistence rather than victory and domination; diplomacy rather than war. It was the peace of equality. When it finally fell apart in the sixth century, it led to fifty years of constant war between the two superpowers. They wound up stalemated and exhausted, a condition that facilitated the otherwise improbable successes of the advancing armies of Islam.
Getting Away with Peace
The threads of these two concepts of peace weave on throughout history. But at this point, a sufficient length has been unraveled for us to reflect on the dynamic interaction of the two conceptions and how they might relate to America’s position in the world today.
The first point to be understood is that history testifies to the truth of the classical conviction that men and states “abhor equality” and naturally seek to impose their rule on others, as Augustine said. All men desire peace, and they first of all desire to impose their own version of it. In one of the great speeches of his history, Thucydides has Hermocrates of Syracuse explain to the polities of Sicily that “it is an instinct of man’s nature always to rule those who yield.”
In his modern investigation of the history of power, the political philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenel comments, “Always and everywhere man takes possession of man to bend him to his will and adapt him to his designs.” This is language that Thucydides and Augustine would have understood. The peace of hierarchy, though according to Genesis 3 a result of the Fall, appears in this world as “natural.” It is the default objective of individuals and of states.
Yet this does not describe the totality of the human experience. Yes, the Dacians, and many others as well, were subdued by the Romans. But when Rome finally met an equal, Sassanian Persia, it was willing—after, that is, 150 years of futile fighting—to develop a relationship on the principle of equality. This same process occurred in the ancient Near East when, tiring of fights in which there was no victor, the Hurrians and Egyptians, and later the Hittites and the Egyptians, changed the nature of their relationship. For around a generation after the Persian Wars, Sparta and Athens agreed to coexist as “yoke-fellows,” an arrangement re-created, though on less intimate terms, in the Thirty Years’ Peace, which only broke down when Sparta became thoroughly convinced that Athens was unwilling to coexist as an equal and desired instead, like Eteocles in Euripides’s play, to be the master of Greece.
But this is all just ancient history, a good modern individual might object. To the contrary, the essentials of the peace of equality helped form the modern world: the Congress of Vienna and the Concert of Europe, in the long nineteenth century (1815–1914), established five Great Power equals as the keepers of the peace. This modern pentarchy eventually fell apart when its members inadequately feared what Thucydides long before called “the imponderable element of the future,” insisting instead on avoiding immediate supposed losses. Yet the point remains that, having seen what Napoleon’s peace of hierarchy offered, the states of Europe—like the polities of Sicily described by Thucydides—joined in opposition to universal empire and managed in the end to establish a peace of equality.
So far, following the thread of peace throughout history has suggested (1) people will try to get away with their own peace if they are able, and (2) if this can be made prohibitively costly, a compromise peace is possible. In the real world, however, the distinctions become messy. When people oppose the second type of peace, equality/compromise, they do so by framing it as a naive or craven capitulation to the adversary’s hierarchy/dominance. If compromise really just means accepting the other’s dominance, then the only realistic solution is to work to secure your own dominance. This is precisely the argument used by Pericles in his speech exhorting war against Sparta. Making even a single concession to Sparta, he claimed, would be to give in and surrender in principle Athens’s position as an equal.
The question, as he framed it, was whether Athens would coyly submit to the peace of hierarchy or whether it would assert its strength. Pericles’s argument has been repeated in various contexts throughout history. It is no stretch to replace his name with Churchill’s. The form of the argument gains strength from the truth that a person/state bent on dominance can only be met with force, as the appeasers of Hitler discovered in the 1930s.
Yet usually the situation is not so clear, as indeed was the case in the lead-up to the Peloponnesian War, when Sparta believed it was reacting to Athenian aggression, or during the twentieth century’s Cold War, when the USSR was ideologically committed to dominance but practically intent on avoiding a serious violent struggle to achieve it.
Cooperation or Coercion?
Today, as the United States continues to bask in the afterglow of the unipolar moment—when, for about two decades, the nation attempted to impose upon the world its version of the peace of hierarchy—the most basic question of international politics is whether America’s leaders are willing to move in the direction of the peace of equality and cooperation as other nations rise to positions of prominence, China first among them. America’s approach so far has been that of Pericles: to claim that the Chinese, though expanding under the banner of partnership and mutuality, are really undertaking a quest for supremacy, desirous to impose upon the nations of the world their own dominance. America’s continued dominance is then offered as the wise alternative to that of the Rising Dragon.
The trouble with this framing is that it leaves the world with only one option: the peace of hierarchy. This is the worldly condition seen by philosophers such as Hobbes as inevitable and by Aristotle (and for that matter, Nietzsche) as good. But to let the story end here is to understand the nature of power and peace only partially. Peace, though often imposed by the most powerful, can also be negotiated between equals, and in a world with nuclear weapons, the latter option in certain circumstances becomes imperative. This is what both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev realized in the days after October 25, 1962: the trial of strength was not going to be resolved by pulling the “knot” of war tighter—forcing the other to back down in good Periclean style, as advisers on both sides advocated—but through reciprocal concessions. Kennedy and Khrushchev had, as recommended by a Theban herald in Euripides’s The Suppliants, put death “before their eyes when they were giving their votes” and in consequence were thereafter disinclined to “rush” to their “doom in mad desire for battle.” In the end, as Hobbes himself understood, it is the face of death that can tame man’s desire for the peace of dominance, making possible the peace of equality—at least for a time. ♦
Jared Morgan McKinney is a PhD candidate in international relations at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University (Singapore).
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