Study Guide

A Strategy for Peace

by Sissela Bok

A Strategy for Peace Essay - Critical Essays

A Strategy for Peace

The reduction of the threat of war, the author asserts, demands cautious trust by both individuals and nations and the adoption of certain moral constraints first advanced by the eighteenth century Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant. Two of these constraints--on violence and on deceit--are common to every major religion, moral tradition, and society since they are the ways by which people deliberately injure one another. The third and fourth--on breach of trust and on state secrecy--are necessary to help people respect the first two commandments. Kant’s fellow Prussian, Carl von Clausewitz, the father of modern strategic concepts on warfare, looked with derision on Kant’s idealistic attempt to interject morality into the debate on war and peace. More cynical than Kant, Clausewitz believed that human nature and circumstances dictated the inevitability of war, and, unlike Kant, he rejected the notion of a final conflagration. Bok argues that elements of these rival positions can be accommodated, in the nuclear age, to produce a strategy for peace, rather than war, based on the aforementioned moral principles. The author devotes much of the remainder of the book to an elaboration on these moral constraints and their implementation and to challenging practical objections to her program.

The complexity of Bok’s argument does not lend itself to brief review. Although its subject matter and the author’s elevated philosophical approach will probably limit this book’s popular appeal, it is worthy of the attention of policy makers from all nations.