All Commentary
Wednesday, May 1, 1974

Peace and Justice

Dr. Russell is Director, Graduate Program in Management, of The College of Racine in Wisconsin.

Plato sought peace and justice in the person of the “philosopher king” whose edicts would be enforced by the warrior class.

This search for the philosopher king is still with us today. He’s now called the “good man” — and when he gains the power of government, it’s presumed that he’ll enforce just laws justly, and will thereby bring peace.

For guidance on the use of power, and its effect on peace, I recommend the famous dictums of Acton and Emerson:

“All power [even the power of a teacher over his students] tends to corrupt; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

“… means and ends… cannot be severed; for… the end preexists in the means….”

For example, if force is used by one person against another, the objective of the user of the force is to use force, i.e., to compel the other person to do something he doesn’t want to do. And the means used to compel action by an unwilling person must necessarily involve the use of force in one form or another. Means and ends are here not merely similar; they are the same thing.

Likewise, if a person’s objective for another person is freedom of choice, the means to implement his objective can be nothing but voluntary action. Again, means and ends are the same thing. Or as Emerson phrased it, “the end preexists in the means.”

Of course, this correlation of means and ends has no bearing on the tendency of all of us to rationalize and justify our particular use of force. And most unfortunately, it’s this rationalization of the act (not the physical act itself) that the user of compulsion prefers to announce as his objective. For example, the robber claims that he’s only getting back what has been exploited from him by society; therefore, his objective isn’t robbery but justice. And the president of the United States seems sincerely convinced that he’s merely performing his duty to preserve freedom for everyone when he advocates and enforces conscription. But after all the rationalizations are advanced and tabulated, this undeniable fact remains: When one uses force, that’s precisely what he has in mind; else he wouldn’t use it.

The First Step

If means and ends are the same thing (as Emerson and I believe), and if all power of every kind tends to corrupt (as Acton and I are convinced), then the current efforts for peace and justice in the United States, and in the world in general, are not soundly based. Since these efforts mostly ignore the above postulates, they are no more likely to succeed today than they have succeeded in the past. While the actual fighting by various organized armies may cease temporarily for various reasons (e.g., Israel and Egypt in 1967-73), real peace is still not gained; and, of course, justice is a matter of opinion.

The first step toward peace is for each person to be peaceful. This is a decision that any person can make whenever he wants to. If all persons were peaceful, then peace would exist; and along with it, there would then also exist as much justice (an undefinable emotion) as we fallible human beings are capable of understanding. Since peace and justice must necessarily begin with a unilateral decision by one person alone, I have decided (without consulting anyone) to live as follows:

I will never use (or advocate the use of) force or violence or compulsion against any peaceful person. I won’t even advocate the passing of a law that will force any peaceful person to follow my concepts of how people should live and act.

Necessary Controls

Of course, I’ll still campaign for laws against murderers, polluters of the common water supply, and molesters of children. And I will also continue to advocate compulsory traffic regulations designed to help all of us equally to get to our destinations. Laws such as these, however, are not in any way violations of my pledge toward peaceful persons.

I will do unto others only what others want done unto them; and if what they want done isn’t what I want to do, then I’ll at least have the common decency to leave them alone. This philosophy of life grew out of my early experience as an evangelist to whom no one would listen, thus causing me to wish for a law to compel other people to live right, that is, the way I was living and wanted them to live —for their own good, of course.

In short, my contribution to peace is to be peaceful, and my contribution to justice is to stop advocating laws to make other people live as I do. If you care to join me in peace — and this concept of justice — welcome; that will make two of us who have decided to be peaceful.

There’s no organization to join, no armband to wear, no action programs of any kind. And the only immediate reward is the possibility of an internal peace that sometimes comes to a person when he stops using and advocating compulsion against any peaceful person, even for the latter’s own good.