by Peter van den Dungen
Logo, Peace Museum, Bradford, UK; courtesy of www.peacemuseum.org.uk
In his essay Perpetual Peace (1795), Kant made it clear that we are called upon to make strenuous efforts for building a world without war. Neither the world in which we find ourselves, nor the human beings that are born into it, are inherently peaceful. However, Kant believed that rational and moral progress was possible, on the part of individuals as well as societies, and that – in the distant future – a global, cosmopolitan world order of peace and justice could emerge. In an earlier essay, Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784), he wrote that future generations ‘will naturally value the history of earlier times … only from the point of view of what interests them, i.e., in answer to the question of what the various nations and governments have contributed to the goal of world citizenship, and what they have done to damage it.’ In the eighth thesis of this essay he asserted that the Idea (for a universal history from a cosmopolitan point of view) ‘can help, though only from afar, to bring the millennium to pass.’ Almost two hundred years later, Kenneth E. Boulding, one of the pioneers of modern peace research, argued likewise the need for ‘universal history’, a new kind of history writing, teaching, and learning that should replace the traditional, narrow, nationalist approach – a main ingredient in the complex of factors leading to war. The narrow geographical perspective is only one aspect of traditional history which is also characterised by gender, race, and religious bias. New kinds of history, more inclusive and objective, emerged only in the last century as a consequence of the emancipation of increasing numbers and categories of people (women, black, gay, disabled). It is also in this context, and especially against the background of two world wars, the development and use of atomic weapons, the Cold War, and the protest movements that have sprung up against them, that a specialised field of history has emerged: peace history.
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