Beyond Violence 
close

Interview with the Founder of Modern Peace Studies, Johan Galtung


get involved forum email petition donate
blog image
picture via Wikimedia Commons

Generation C interviewed him on the theory and practice related to peace and violence.

GC: It is a common assumption that peace is the opposite of war, which can take form in, for instance, inter- and intra-state conflict. You distinguish between five different types of peace. Can you elaborate?

War is direct violence, organized violence. Usually we talk about war where at least one of the parties is a state. But not always, a civil war can also be between two parties within a state. As mentioned, I outline many types of violence, and different types of peace. To quote Archbishop Helder Kamera of North East Brazil, saying that “hunger is war against poor people”. Suddenly you get a different account of peace. Peace is no longer ceasefire. Peace is a more equitable and just society which gives a high priority to individual citizens and basic needs, something far different from what the concept of a military peace would imply. You can also talk about cultural peace, where countries examine their cultures and try to get rid of unfortunate qualities. Some years ago, the feminist movement pointed out that most languages are loaded with words favoring men. People talk about humanity. They say “mankind” and “man usually sleeps at night”, instead of saying people. So there you have loaded examples for the cultural favor of males. This assumption was very refreshing, and people started making a point of it. This is how it all works. You find flaws in society, point them out, and changes are made. This way, peace is cultivated.

GC: Can you give us an account of your terms cultural, structural and direct violence?

In direct violence, you intend to hurt someone. In structural violence, somebody is hurt and harmed, even though it might not have been the intention. When somebody is dying of hunger, nobody is really sitting there wanting him to suffer a slow death, but it is a result of a strategy commonly implemented by stronger nations. Cultural violence are those parts of the culture that justifies this, for instance saying that a person deserves to die because “he broke into my house, and it looked as if he would steal everything, so I just killed him”. Structural violence is legitimized by those saying that there are “high” and “low” structures to society, and sometimes this can lead to “rough” scenarios. In this sense, structural violence can also entail the way you as a person make sense of the other types of violence.

GC: In your book, a Theory of Peace, you discuss peace-building and violence. What makes a positive peace so difficult to facilitate?

It is not so terribly difficult. We are doing it all the time. You can say there are three stages. I give you something you want to have, and you give me something I want to have. This creates a market. Which leads to positive peace. But it should create equal benefit, not just mutual benefit. And this is where the problem arises. The next stage is harmony, where people are adjusted to each other through resonance. And the third stage is fusion, which in political science is called integration. The European Union is an example. And before the EU we had cooperation between countries, and you as a country had a feeling that it mattered to you what your neighbours felt. This is where the fusion is created, and also the European Union. This is rather well done, as states tend to have many differences and conflicting interests. So the EU expands. Again, the question arises – how does it relate to other unions of the world? It is through these relations that shadow-sides can emerge and where a positive peace will face challenges.

GC: As we know, religion can be a driving force in many conflicts. How do you see the role of belief and of human beings in future religious structures?

I have written a book with a Canadian friend of mine called “Globalizing God”, where we argue that with a globalized culture and an increasingly border-free economy, we will have to move to tear down the fences between religions too. The question is – how is this done? In the book we argue of picking the best aspects of all religions, so how do I know if something is the best? Well, if it satisfies basic need and promotes spiritual growth, it is good. For instance, catholic realities are very caught up in distances. The distance between sin and sinner. So if the sinner can say no to the sin and distance himself from it, then we can accept the sinner back again. Islam is very concerned with Sura 61, of reciprocity. If somebody leans towards peace, you should do the same. If somebody invites you to a dialogue, e.g. the Iranian president, the US president should accept it, and not just remain silent. Having said that, you can say that globalizing God would be to combine these little points in catholicism and Islam, along with all the other religions, like the significance of dialogue from Judaism and Buddhism’s non-violence, for then to create a lists of ideas – a very good guide to life. I think this is what will happen. A typical example of this would be how today, many different people eat food of different kinds, one day Italian, the other Turkish. 50 years ago, this would never happen. You would find your moral guidance not from either - or, but from both - and. We are heading in the right direction.

GC: In your lectures, you address questions about inner peace. Is it possible to achieve outer peace without having inner peace?

We can. And vice versa. Inner peace without outer peace. They are not that strongly connected. But let us say you define peace not as a state of tranquility, but as a struggle to overcome conflict. Then a person who has had many inner conflicts, and is conscious of it, will have learnt something inside of himself that he can put into use for outer peace. This I would agree with. The same would apply if he is a good mediator of outer peace. One day he would say to himself – there are actually two persons inside of me, and the peace I have made outside myself between individuals, countries and groups can also be applied to the conflicting interests inside myself. But if inner peace means inner tranquility, sitting in a lotus position and looking at a white wall or growing carrots in a little commune, I am not so sure it will create outer peace. It is more about what you learn about outer conflicts than tranquility.

GC: States are losing more and more authority in the world system. We see the emergence of a global legal structure, maybe even a world state? What do you predict will be the future of international law, human rights and the role of the state in international relations?

The state system is not made to last forever, and is now decreasing in salience, and importance. I ask myself – what will we have instead? Well, four things, five maybe. The local level. The nations inside the state. The local level who wants to handle things themselves. The nations may want to handle things themselves and be more autonomous. Then we have regions, big groups of states like the European Union. The state system in Europe is much less important than it was. What is important, however, are the ministries within the EU and how they are organized. Transnational corporations. NGOs. And globalization. But the UN is lacking in importance because it is an organization of states. We live in a world of great change. When it comes to human rights and the monitoring of this field, which is supposed to be implemented by states, we will have to look for authority in other spheres. It will not be unnatural to say that this could fall on the European Union rather than the UN or individual states. It could be given to the African Union. To the SARC, with India as the biggest member. In other words – take old questions and find new answers, because the state is exiting out the back door. I see a big region or community with national differences. Old borders that could be crossed easily, but would exist for administrative reasons. We would come together, but the original distinctions would still be visible.

GC: What do you think will be the greater challenges of our future generations?

Not climate change, because I don’t think it is as critical as people say. Global warming means higher temperatures, which means that big areas of the world will become habitable, and solutions to overpopulation. If I could pick out a challenge, it would be capitalism and the efforts of arriving at a better economic system. Another would be the fact that we have 200 states and 2000 nations in today’s system. Only 20 of these are mono-national states, in the sense of being run essentially by one nation. The others are multi-national. And only four of them have achieved balance between the inner nation. Switzerland with German, Italian, French, Romanisch. The miracle of India with its linguistic federalism, Belgium with hesitation, and Malaysia. So we have an enormous amount of states with one dominant nation and the others wanting a place in the sun. That will be quite tough.

GC: What would you say is the key to a happy and fulfilling life?

Be able to handle the conflicts inside yourself and in your nearest environment. Have good relations to your family. Your friends. Have many of them. Life is complex, and friends will always be the dearest thing you have. Secondly, work for something you believe in and that inspires you. Agree with others that it is something worth working for, so that it doesn’t become your private concern. Inspiration is important. Make sure you make progress in some way, otherwise you will easily get frustrated. There are also minimal physical requirements, like eating well. I never liked the word exercise, it sounds so mechanical. Walking is fine. Enjoying a view. In other words, be a friend of your body. On top of this is also love. A good relation, usually between man and woman. Intimacy, union of bodies. Unions of minds. Union of spirit. You will be enhanced and lifted by all these aspects. And it will give you a long life. Which is the best gift we have.


Johan Galtung is Norwegian and considered one of the principal founders of the peace and conflict studies discipline. He holds PhDs in Sociology and Mathematics. Galtung has received seven Honorary Doctorates and held teaching positions in a wide range of academic institutions, including Columbia University, Princeton University and the United Nations University in Geneva.


Interviewed by Caroline Hargreaves in February, 2010.

Written by Generation C, Caroline Hargreaves and published on 03-April-2014




Login to leave a comment