The Peacefostering Principle

There is nothing permanent except change
—-Heraclitus. Fragment

[First published April 22, 2006] In its first decades, we all had much hope that the U.N. would foster peace. It has failed to do this, miserably and by its own admission. It failed mainly because of its membership of all the world’s thug regimes. They could never accept the idea of freedom, which is at the basis of peacefostering. I intend to show here how and why freedom is so important for peace.

We can make peace. And we can try to keep it. But to foster peace is our primary goal. As illustrated in Figure 29.1, this means treating not a specific conflict and its resolution, but the ecology of peace: the general causes and conditions that produce and aggravate conflict and inhibit peace, peacekeeping, and peacemaking. Peacefostering means nurturing a healthy environment within which a happy, pervasive, and durable peace can evolve and flourish. It is encouraging the conflict helix. The principle is this (if the figure is unclear or does not show, click here).

Change creates conflict, violence, and war. Specifically, change in our interests (goals, purposes, aims, wants, desires, means), capabilities (resources, abilities, skills, knowledge, qualifications), and will (resolution, determination, dedication, devotion, persistence, fortitude, courage) produces a gap between our structure of expectations involving others and our associated balance of powers (The Gap Principle). This gap is a measure of dissatisfaction with the prevailing understandings, rights, benefits, or obligations. It is a pressure towards change in expectations more in accord with what we, and the others whose expectations are involved, want, can, and will do.

The roots of peace lie in expectations, perceptions, interests, capabilities, and wills.

The more:

the growth and adjustments among these roots are facilitated through accepted procedures;
the more these adjustments can be institutionalized, and thus imbedded in a larger framework of agreements;
and the more lower level conflict can create incremental adjustments;
then the more likely that peace, especially nonviolent peace, will develop.

This understanding is formalized in the Peacefostering Principle and six subprinciples in Table 29.1. Each subprinciple will be considered in turn (If the Table is unclear or does not show, click here)

Peacefostering Subprinciple 1: EXPECT CONFLICT AS NORMAL

Essential to developing the conditions for more peace and harmony is the appreciation of conflict as a normal process of communication and adjustment among human beings. It will inevitably occur in some form. Avoiding all conflict, unless one is a hermit or totally submissive to others, eventually creates more severe conflict later. Rather, the aim is to minimize the intensity of conflict and to eliminate the unwanted side effects. The rules are:

1. Anticipate conflict. If we expect conflict, then we can prepare for it. And lay the conditions for an easier peace. Various means to this end are organized and focused by the other peacefostering subprinciples. Appropriate here, however, are two additional rules.

2. Develop a disposition to compromise. Compromise facilitates exchange and makes adjustments more acceptable. Both parties gain. But there is something more significant than just willingness to compromise, and thus the emphasis here is on a disposition, or an active leaning towards. Part of this disposition is the attitude “I want to find middle ground,” but a part also is a perspective on others. It is an appreciation that we are all individuals who are seeking, through a subjective fog, to understand the world, find dignity, enhance our esteem, and satisfy our needs. It is a realization of our fallibility and that truth, beauty, and justice are so often a matter of our personal perspective. It is an understanding of our Personal Principles as presented in Part I.

There is no inconsistency in believing ourselves right, defining our beliefs, and asserting our ethics, while realizing that we may be wrong. Belief in an absolute truth or justice that cannot be wrong has fueled the most violent upheavals in history, and now the Islamofascist enemies of freedom. The change from “You are wrong!” to “You may be right” reduces the intensity of many a conflict.

To be clear, this does not mean that we should compromise all the time, suffer exploitation, or appease aggression. Nor split unreasonable demands down the middle. A disposition to compromise is simply a willingness to find common ground and a mutually beneficial exchange if the situation warrants.

3. Seek realistic grounds. An increasingly sound and stable peace will grow out of our interactions and adjustments with others if we make mutually realistic accommodations. That is, our agreements, understandings, and the like, should not be artificial—forced. A realistic peace is one built on the true interests, capabilities, and wills of those involved. It represents the actual balance between the parties and will be kept so long as this balance is congruent with expectations. In contrast, an unrealistic peace is one forced from the outside, or constructed outside of a process of adjustment (as is a marriage contract establishing the obligation and rights of newlyweds yet to experience living together). Unrealistic peace is short lived. And its passing is often marked by intense conflict.


There are often disputes that will continually crop up, such as among children over television programs, among unions seeking new members, or among states concerning a common border. Since the disputes recur, rules that will aid deciding who gets or does what can be determined.

For example, as disputes between my two daughters grew in intensity and regularity (over whose turn to do the dishes and a variety of other chores, take a bath first, or select a television program), Grace and I devised a system that the girls accepted and which soon markedly reduced their conflicts. It was keyed to who took her daily bath first. We asked them to alternate who went first each week. Then we suggested a schedule: bath first then did the dishes, set the table, got first choice of television programs, etc; bath second fed the cats, got the newspaper, and so on. Moreover, whenever an unusual dispute arose between the girls, say over who could use the telephone first, we often settled it by asking who took her bath first.

Of course, there were issues we could not subject to this system (such as one reacting to a perceived insult from the other) and had to leave for them to work out. But those disputes and potential issues the system did cover were resolved quickly, and after several months   the girls followed the system automatically, with little conflict. It will be seen that the system exemplified five decision‑rules for easing recurring conflict.

1. Make fair rules. The rules should not be biased against any interest. Our “who takes a bath first?” system was completely fair, and seen as such by the girls. For every Sunday, without fail, the girls changed the bath schedule and the resulting allocation of duties and rights. Moreover, when we settled an odd dispute, it was not in the name of Dawn or Lei (unless one was clearly deserving or at fault and both knew it), but in terms of who bathed first, and each had the same chance to be first.

This is the virtue of settling minor issues by tossing a coin. Each has the same chance to win, so who gets what is seen as an unbiased decision rule.

2. Define the four-W’s. The W’s are who, what, when, and where. That is, the rules should be as specific as possible to avoid replacing one dispute with another, this time over what the rules themselves mean.

3. Follow the four-C’s. These are communication, consistency, credibility, and correction. To those affected by the rules, the rules should be clear and well-communicated. Whether the rules are comprehended can be determined by asking those to whom the rules apply to give their understanding of them. The rules should be consistently applied. Rules erratically used are worse than no rules, for they confuse, tend to aggravate a conflict situation, and themselves create conflicts over the rules (“Well, I had to do it and now he doesn’t want to!”).

The rules should be credible. That is, the rules should seem workable so that the parties involved will follow them. Moreover, if the rules are backed by sanctions these should be realistic ones that clearly will be applied if the rules are violated. Moreover, the correction (sanctions) should invariably and quickly follow violation of the rules. When Grace and I instituted our bath first system for our girls, we posted the duties and benefits associated with taking their bath first or second. We made sure they understood and then applied the system without fail. It was a credible system (to them, since it worked) and if one or the other tried to bypass the system, we immediately reasserted the rule.

4. Reward Adherence. While deviations from rules are often sanctioned, of even greater importance (and this is why it is brought out as a separate rule) is rewarding adherence. Rules obeyed only for fear of the consequences of disobedience create a coercive order, and a potentially violent one (The Trisocial Principle).

Rules should be positive: people follow them because they make sense (intellectual power), are right (authoritative power), or rewarding (bargaining power). One way to assure that rules are positive is to reward adherence. This does not necessarily mean giving candy or its adult equivalent, for rewards vary. It could be an occasional honest compliment, choice of rules that inherently confer benefits (obviously enjoyable harmony and useful cooperation), or some special award for, say, consistently following the rules for a month.

5. Assure social approval or disapproval. Peer groups and social groups are of special significance in maintaining rules. If rules are a part of a system of relations,  and important people approve the rules and wish to see them followed, then social approval or disapproval will follow their obedience or disobedience. How we look in the eyes of important people is of great concern to us all. How we look in the eyes of important others is of great concern to us all. Rules that utilize this social need have a special force behind them.


To institutionalize means more than just setting up an organization. It means developing norms (rules that are followed because they are felt to be right or proper, such as the norm of due process). It means establishing roles—authoritative positions with a responsibility for doing certain things (such as the role of mediator, conciliator, or lawyer). It means developing particular procedures to be followed in making adjustments, as in suing a person or in collective bargaining. And it means creating organizations that embody these norms and roles and have the task of applying these procedures, such as a court, labor relations board, family counseling service, or election commission. Four rules help guide this institutionalization.

1. Institutionalize consensus building. There should be some means of finding or establishing common denominators among the diversity of individuals. Consensus building is a means of binding people together in spite of their disagreements. It may be an institutionalized process of consultation among all interested parties to a decision, a neighborhood or town meeting held every first Thursday of each month, a regular family meeting to discuss problems, or a multilateral commission among allies. It is a way of keeping communication open, avoiding misperception and misunderstanding, and giving people a feeling of having at least participated in a decision in which they may have some stake.

A central institution for consensus building across the diversity of American national society is the two party political system. Both parties try to build consensus among their multiple factions and diverse state and local organizations, to formalize it in a national party platform and personalize it through their nominee for President of the United States. While there are two parties competitively opposing each other, each acts as a broker seeking through various compromises to smooth over internal disagreements and tap what it perceives as the national mood. In doing this, each also works toward the ideological center. While certainly the platform and nominees of each party represent different views on and solutions to current national problems, they nonetheless reflect a national consensus on the boundaries within which the views and solutions should fall.

2. Institutionalize confrontation of perceptions, expectations, and interests. Conflict is a process of adjustment, which itself can be subject to procedures to contain and regularize conflict behavior and assure a fair outcome. A judicial system is such an institutionalization: the adversarial relationship between defense and prosecution lawyers, the systematic presentation and questioning of evidence and witnesses in court, the intermediary role of the judge, and the verdict of a jury, regulate confrontation and nonviolently resolve conflict that could otherwise lead to violence among neighbors, families, and groups.

The formal debate is a type of institutionalized conflict and settlement over beliefs or ideas. A duel is an institutionalized fight, often to the death, which protects friends and family from being involved, and serves to establish what conditions will lead to a duel (such as an insult to honor). Collective bargaining has become institutionalized, and the procedures union and management must go through to work out their conflict and a new contract are now defined by law and regulated.

3. Institutionalize a test of strength. Capability and will are difficult to measure and assert in the abstract. There is much room for ambiguity, and misjudgment. A function of conflict, seen clearly in violence, is to settle the question: “Whose capability is greater, and whose will stronger?”

When interests in society become polarized and the stakes involve the most fundamental values, there is no institutionalized replacement for revolution or war. War is and will remain the ultimate test of strength. However, even the process of fighting a war has through the ages developed rules and procedures, such as in declaring war, the protection of civilians, the role of neutrals, the immorality of certain weapons, and the treatment of prisoners. That these are often violated makes them rules no less, and even their violators will often show their recognition of the rules by trying to excuse their violation.

As long as the values involved are not critical and interests are unpolarized, however, tests of strength can be institutionalized. That is, the determination of who is more capable and resolute can be governed by procedures, overseen by those given that responsibility, and the winner certified in some manner. The conflict can be turned into a contest, like a football or baseball game, except that the outcome does not establish which team is better, but a new social contract.

Strikes by workers against their bosses and the bosses’ attempts to suppress such strikes used to cause much social violence, many injuries, and deaths. The strike as a test of strength is now institutionalized as a step within a process of collective bargaining governed by certain laws. The strike is still permitted, but only after certain conditions required by law have been satisfied (such as a vote among union members). As a result, the strike today is usually nonviolent, rarely upsets the community (except when major industries or services are involved), and is commonplace.

Perhaps the most widely used and valuable decision making procedure is the vote. It decides which alternative or candidate will win. But this should not obscure the test of strength involved. In social conflict, numbers of supporters are a critical index of capability, and their willingness to articulate their support, fight on one side or the other, man the barricades, and suffer injury or death, certainly measures their resolution. Voting simply enables social issues to be decided by counting supporters on each side to begin with, while bypassing the necessity to physically fight it out. It is an institutionalized test of strength: the ballot, and not the bullet, determines who is stronger or which idea is better.

Democracy is the institutionalization of free and fair voting, a nonviolent system for openly deciding who will govern and what conflicting policies will win. One way of institutionalizing adjustment procedures, therefore, is to democratize them.

4. Institutionalize settlement procedures. The outcome of a conflict is a decision, agreement, and contract. The final determination of this outcome, aside from the confrontation and tests of strength involved, can itself be subject to procedures and institutionalized. Thus, establishing the right to vote on issues or competing candidates not only formalizes confrontation, but also establishes a settlement procedure. Other institutionalized settlement procedures are mediation and conciliation. So is the jury system for deciding legal cases, and the Supreme Court for deciding disputes over the meaning and applicability of the law. And so are procedures for settling grievances in an organization. In sum, the various aspects and phases of conflict can be institutionalized in order to avoid excessive conflict, while facilitating the adjustments necessary to achieve a more satisfactory social contract.

In the process of growth, all societies naturally evolve institutions for peacefully rebalancing power. As the society becomes more complex in its division of labor, size, and diversity of groups, many different institutionalized adjustment procedures develop. The point here is not to review these, but to emphasize that peace can be furthered by being aware of such a capability, making use of what institutions exist, and adopting new institutions to recurring conflict situations. Peacefostering is partly a process of extending such institutions.

Peacefostering Subprinciple 4: PROMOTE CROSS-PRESSURES

The institutionalization of conflict works most effectively when interests are diverse, the issues nonvital. When a society is polarized, all the formal routes for managing and deciding conflicts may break down, and raw violence—the final arbiter—may take their place (The Polarity Principle). Promoting cross-pressures can prevent such dangerous polarization, which by encouraging the diversity of interests creates a plurality of overlapping and autonomous groups and crosscutting ties among groups and individuals. This is what encouraging civic society means.

Moreover, mobility must be possible; individuals should be free to change status, job, and residence. To move up, down, or sideways. High positions and great wealth, power (authority), or prestige should not be foreclosed by virtue of unchangeable characteristics (race, sex, family background, religion, or ethnic group).

The two rules are:

1. Encourage a diversity of interests.

2. Enable mobility.


In all our uniqueness and subjectivity, we still are gregarious; we need human companionship and to be part of a group. We also need to be respected and admired by important people. In other words, the rule is:

1. Link self-esteem to a larger group. This is done be developing a feeling of group belonging, of a “we.” What the group loses, we then feel we have lost. A group achievement is our achievement and we are proud, as with our football or basketball team coming in number one. And we feel a special affinity for other group members. As a result, we will tend to avoid overt conflict that is scorned or disapproved by the group. And especially, we will tend to avoid conflict that can endanger or compromise the group.

Along these lines, another rule is helpful.

2. Develop a common superordinate goal. When people work towards an important common goal, they are less inclined to let conflict occur between them that might defeat their purpose. If this goal is also that of a group they identify with, then it is an even stronger inhibitor of conflict.

While group loyalty and group goals are potent forces towards peace within a group, this group “nationalism” can increase intergroup conflict. But so long as individuals are free to move among groups, groups are free to form and dissolve, and groups and individuals are free to form diverse relations, then group loyalty and group goals should, in fact, lead to an overall decrease in violence in the larger society (The Freedom Principle).

Peacefostering Subprinciple 6: INCREASE AND ASSURE FREEDOM

I have already said much about the importance, function, and role of individual and group freedom in conflict, violence, and peace (The Freedom Principle, Field, Exchange, and War Principles). What is most relevant here involves three rules.

1. Foster self-determination, sovereignty, and formal equality. Individuals and groups should be free to determine and seek their own interests. They should be sovereign over their own affairs and property and free from external regulation and intervention. And they should be equal in opportunity and before the law. That is, individuals and groups should have an equal right to follow their interests, express their beliefs, seek redress in court, and receive legal due process.

2. Decentralize power. Whatever coercive power needed by government to facilitate and service individual and group interests should be decentralized—that is, the locus of authoritative and coercive decision making by a government should be as close to those to be affected as possible—from the national government to the state or province, to the county, to the city or town, or to the district or neighborhood board.

2. Guarantee basic rights. The most fundamental limit on government is the guarantee of basic civil and human rights: freedom of speech, assembly, and religion, trial by jury, due process, and so on. These must be placed above government so that no voting majority, no perceived social problem, no government purpose, could override them. Only then is freedom and peace secured. But, how is the government itself limited so that it does not override basic rights. In terms of institutions, this is a matter of a fundamental constitution that states and protects these rights against government; of a horizontal division of government power into judiciary, executive, and legislative branches that check and balance each other; and of a vertical (federal) division of power between national, state or province, and local governments. In terms of the necessary political culture, it is a belief in freedom, in the rights of man, in the individual, and in the necessary limitation of government power.

While these rules appear to apply to national societies, they in fact apply to all groups. As groups decentralize authoritative and coercive power, guarantee certain rights of members above the government or administration of the group, and foster the independence, sovereignty, and equality of group members, so will such rules decrease group-wide violence and extreme conflict.

* * *

Such are the major subprinciples of peacefostering. These are listed along with their rules in Table 29.2.

The fundamental idea is to free adjustment to change. This means, first, to see conflict as normal and to develop an attitude of compromise, especially one seeking mutually beneficial, realistic grounds for accommodation.

Second, it means to determine fair decision rules to cover recurring issues. These should define who, when, what, and where; and these should be known, consistent, credible, and enforced. And adherence should be rewarded, especially through social approval.

Third, it means to institutionalize procedures for adjusting to change, if possible. This involves establishing (or evolving) a system of norms, roles, procedures and organizations that foster a nonviolent confrontation of perceptions, expectations, and interests; facilitate building a consensus; provide a definitive test of strength; and apply settlement—peacemaking—procedures.

But rule making and institutionalization treat more the occurrence of conflict than the cause. To develop a solid and stable peace at the most fundamental level of causes and conditions, then, we should follow three additional subprinciples. One is to promote cross-pressure and cross-cutting group membership and ties. This means to encourage a diversity of interests and to enable individuals to freely change jobs, status, group membership, residence, and country.

A second fundamental subprinciple is to develop overriding goals and loyalties, which means in particular to link the self-esteem of individuals to interests of a group and to encourage a common, superordinate goal.

Finally, the most important subprinciple for peacefostering, increase and assure individual and group freedom. This means to foster self-determination, sovereignty, and formal equality; decentralize power; and guarantee basic rights.

A peace that is flexible enough to absorb and adjust to change and absorb shocks to expectations is not made overnight. Nor is it constructed like a building, nor cut out of whole cloth. At most, we can provide the best conditions for individuals and groups themselves to work out their own adjustments, and the rules and institutions to facilitate peacefully this process of growth. A durable peace should then flower of its own accord.

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