A Global Forum Dedicated to the Prevention of Conflict: The Visionary Architects

  • Laurence Peters


Before such a far-fetched idea like the United Nations (UN) could exist, a body devoted to peaceful resolution of disputes first had to be imagined—a far more difficult task than it would seem because despite centuries of religious valorization of peace, no society had been able to avoid the endless repetition of war. Most people through the ages could be forgiven for thinking that war was, if not God-given, a natural fact of life. After all, it was supported by the key institutions of most ages, the crown and church, both of which were able to neuter any dissenting voice by either exile, excommunication, or worse. It was no wonder that the first thinkers to do the imagining of what a potential alternative to war was were intellectuals on the fringes of the society, obscure monks and clergymen, and one or two amateur philosophers. These small number of European intellectuals were eager to seek alternatives to constant war and busied themselves in designing imaginative “peace projects”— forums where the world’s rulers could sit down with each other and negotiate their way to resolving conflict peacefully. The designs they came up over roughly five hundred years constitute, as one writer suggests, “a largely undervalued intellectual tradition.”1


United Nations Global Forum Pyramidal Model Peaceful Resolution Characteristic Author 
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    D. Archibugi, “Models of International Organization in Perpetual Peace Projects,” Review of International Studies 18 (1992), 295–317, Scholar
  2. 3.
    To help make his point, Crucé draws the following analogy: “When one sees the house of his neighbor burning or tumbling down that one has as much cause for fear as compassion, because human society is a body all of whose members have a common sympathy, so that it is impossible that the sickness of one shall not be communicated to the others.” W. E. Darby, “Emeric Cruce on International Arbitration,” International Arbitration. International Tribunals: A Collection of the Various Schemes which Have Been Propounded; and of Instances in the Nineteenth Century (New York: J. M. Dent, 1904), pp. 23–24.Google Scholar
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    Crucé further writes, “The distance of places and the separation of domiciles does not lessen the relationship of blood. It can not either take away the similarity of natures, true basis of amity and human society.” See A. Hamilton, Fellowship, Self-Love, and Cultivation: Commercial Discourse in the Writings of Hugo Grotius, Jean Domat, and Nicholas Barbon (Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1994), p. 29.Google Scholar
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    Saint Pierre justified his peace proposal in the following way: “Having seen with my own eyes … all the evil that war causes … I resolved to investigate the original source of the evil … by ascertaining whether or not it was possible to find practical ways to end all their (viz. Europe’s) future disputes without declaring war and thereby establishing permanent peace between them.” Quoted in R. Louden, The World We Want: How and Why the Ideals of the Enlightenment Still Elude Us (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Penn writes that such regular meetings might “establish rules of justice for sovereign princes to observe one to another; and thus to meet yearly … before which sovereign assembly shall be brought all differences depending between one sovereign and another that cannot be made up of private embassies before the sessions begin.” W. Penn, “An Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe by the Establishment of an European Diet, Parliament or Estates,” in The Peace of Europe, the Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, ed. W. Penn (London & Toronto: J. M. Dent, 1915), pp. 7–8.Google Scholar
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    Rousseau wrote in the Judgment published posthumously in 1782 (a decade after his Abstract of Monsieur l’Abbe de Saint Pierre [1761]) the following more sober assessment of Saint Pierre’s plan: It is not said that if his system [Saint-Pierre’s] has not been adopted it is because it was not a good one; what should be said is that it was too good to be adopted. For evil and abuses in which so many people indulge are introduced by themselves; but what is useful for public can only be imposed by force since particular interests are almost always opposed to it. J. J. Rousseau, The Plan for Perpetual Peace, on the Government of Poland and Other Writings on History and Politics (Dartmouth, Trans from the French Edition, 2011). p. 389.Google Scholar

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© Laurence Peters 2015

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  • Laurence Peters

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