“There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.” Florentine philosopher Niccolό Machiavelli had good cause to write this statement in the 15th century due to his personal life experiences, but limited insights into societies other than his own creates a clear short-sightedness and palpable cynicism in the statement. (Nederman, 2009)
Imbedded in his opinion is the concept that man, left to his own devices, will eventually wage war. This pessimistic, although arguably realistic, perspective can be countered by identifying the major causes of conflicts throughout history and then by applying those causes as a metric to a society that has remained peaceful throughout its existence.
By recognizing the traits of the peaceful society and the absence of said traits from the war-prone society, one can identify the characteristics a peaceful civilization must possess. These critical societal traits are as follows: resource independence, security, social homogeneity, and spiritual and social fulfillment.
Each characteristic will be viewed through the lens a peaceful society and that of a society that has participated in a violent altercation as a result of the lack of each critical trait. Human beings, and by proxy societies, will be peaceful when these criteria are met.
In order to apply this model the first challenge is to identify a peaceful society. A cynic, like Machiavelli, would likely dismiss this endeavor as a fool’s errand, and perhaps during his time that would be the correct course. However, several hundred years after his death there exists a society that has remained peaceful since their inception.
They emigrated in large numbers to the United States of America around 1730 in search of religious freedom. There organization became fractured among those who wished to practice traditional beliefs and those who began to take a more liberal stance toward their religion. The traditionalists that left followed a man named Jakob Ammann and initially settled near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. These devout religious expatriates became known as “Amish,” and they have survived within the United States for generations without violent conflict with their neighbors (Kraybill, 2003).
Resource Independence. The first critical trait that the Amish possess is resource independence. Relying on trade to maintain a functioning society places a civilization at the mercy of that society like a drug addict on a dealer and forces alliances that would otherwise be unnatural due to cultural differences.
Alliances between nations are typically born from cultural homogeneity and geographic proximity (Huntington, 1996). For example, The United States enjoys a harmonious trade relationship with Canada as do the nations of the European Union with one another. Of course, geography and cultural similarities do not guarantee a desirable trading partner, but it certainly helps. The converse of this ideal scenario is two countries geographically and culturally separated by, literally and figuratively, thousands of miles. The dependence of the United States on foreign oil is the most obvious example of the impact of this scenario. Of the oil imported by The United States only about 25 percent comes from the Middle East and only 14 percent from Saudi Arabia (The U.S. Department of Energy, 2011). While this number certainly does not represent a reliance of the United States on the oil of Saudi Arabia, it does illustrate how cultural differences can lead to conflict. The instability of that region has an avenue to propagate onto American soil. The ever increasing presence of American personnel in that region, Saudi Arabia specifically, and the perceived influence of American culture can be directly linked to religious Islamic fundamentalists attacking the United States on September 11, 2001 (The 9/11 Commission, 2004).
On the contrary, the Amish are able to exist completely within the confines of the natural resources available to them. The Amish economy consists of farming, raising animals, and selling home-made goods such as quilts and woodcraft. While many do conduct business with non-Amish customers they are discouraged from allowing their businesses to grow too large for fear of abandoning traditional values (Kraybill, 2003).
On an individual level, while the Amish person does pay state and federal income taxes they are exempt from paying social security tax because they do not accept the benefit. It is viewed as a form of insurance which is directly prohibited by their church. Instead, they believe, the bible directs church members to care for the elderly and those with special needs (Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, 2012). The self sufficiency of the Amish culture allows them to maintain autonomy. This trait would be useless, however, if a violent society attempted to subjugate the Amish.
Security. A society that does not have to protect themselves from outside forces will not field a military or train citizens to fight. Thereby depriving them of a key hardware component with which the society could potentially become violent. With this concept in mind the next critical trait of a peaceful society is security. A society concerned with the likelihood of attack will inevitably prepare to defend itself. This endeavor will divert many resources, namely, money and people. Also, included in this concept is the notion of an internal security police force.
Arguably national defense is the key responsibility of any state and it would, therefore, be impractical to meet this criterion unless protected by another nation that does field a military. This is the case with the Amish. The Amish faith strictly prohibits acts of violence even in self defense. In the event that an Amish person is physically attacked, he or she is taught that passivism is the only solution. They are to simply allow themselves to be beaten or escape. Additionally, if an outside force attempts to take Amish property they are to allow it, even if it means abandoning their farm and home (Kraybill, 2003).
In years past, these pacifist ideals have conflicted with the federal government, notably during World War II, when many pacifist viewed that conflict as a “good war,” the Amish largely took advantage of the conscientious objector provisions within the draft and, in fact, contributed to them at a national level. Largely due to their inability to avoid a draft during World War I, they successfully lobbied alongside other pacifist organizations to include an “alternative service clause” in the 1940 draft act that would allow conscientious objectors to perform duties “of national importance under civilian direction” (Kraybill, 2003).
With regards to an internal police force, for the Amish, everything revolves around religion. Humility and obedience are the underlying virtues in every action and Amish person takes (Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, 2012). These concepts lend themselves to obedience to the laws that governs the society which reveals the third critical trait of a peaceful society: social homogeneity.
Social Homogeneity. This does not mean that for a society to be peaceful then everyone must be of the same ethnicity, but it does mean they must share a religion or at least their varied religions must have similar foundations. This trait, however, goes beyond the simplistic ideals defined by the word “religion” and reaches the core beliefs of the citizens with respect to the law, ethical standards, work standards, and overall fairness. If there are few differences among the population of a community, it would stand to reason that it would be much more difficult for one demographic group to subjugate another.
This was the case leading up to World War II in Germany when Hitler claimed the mantle of dictator and through a series of decrees enacted a boycott of Jewish businesses, discharged Jewish civil servants, excluded Jewish lawyers and physicians from their practices, and restricted the admission of Jewish pupils into schools (Lauren, 2003). A resource independent society with no immediate security concerns can still devolve into a civil war if fundamental values are not aligned as evidenced by the American Civil War or any number of others. Furthermore, social homogeneity allows for members of a society to enforce the legal code on each other when the social code is broken. This is how law enforcement is conducted in Amish communities.
The typical view of religion may include a core set of beliefs that guide ones’ daily activities and most likely involves visiting a Church, Temple, or Mosque once or multiple times a week. The Amish are largely viewed as an extremely religious group, but upon close inspection of Amish society, one will notice a distinct lack of religious symbols or even a religious building. The Amish practice their religion silently and in all actions they take. They feel as though isolating a day and time during the week, set aside specifically for practicing their religion, relegates the religion to only that day and time (Kraybill, 2003). The religious homogeneity that pervades Amish society ensures that every individual has shared values and a common moral code. This religious confidence also provides each individual with the fourth critical trait of a peaceful society.
Spiritual and Social Fulfillment. This moves away from characteristics applied to society as a whole and refers to that of each citizen. Human beings have many spiritual, social, and psychological needs that can be as many as the number of citizens (Stevenson & Haberman, 1998). While it is not reasonable for a nation to satisfy this need for every member of the population, provisions should exist to allow individuals the freedom to find satisfaction with their lives, even if it means leaving the community entirely. This ensures that restless members of society do not remain trapped and eventually break the law. In many societies it is common for people, particularly those with no hope for social advancement or personal resources, to join gangs or terrorist organizations in search of fulfillment (Hess & Orthmann, 2010). Of course, it should be noted, that the disenfranchisement that occurs that may inspire youth to join a criminal street gang is the same phenomenon that inspires one to join the military or the Peace Corps. The specific organization is dependent on the individuals’ level of sophistication.
To combat this detrimental effect on society the Amish offer the youth what is known as Rumspringa. This is a time when teens, usually older than 16 and younger than 18, are granted more freedom. Because Amish are not baptized into the church until they are 18 years old, they are not, technically, members of the church yet. Many youth, males more than females, explore the world outside Amish culture by buying cars, going to the movies, and wearing non-Amish clothing. The intent of this phase of life is to remind Amish youth that they have a choice regarding whether or not they will join the church. Allowing members to decide to join the church for themselves strengthens the sense of belonging and ones willingness to obey church standards (Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies, 2012).
While the Amish have been shown to be benefiting from the successful implementation of these four critical traits for a peaceful society, there certainly exists what most would view as limitations with them. Resource independence limits a society’s ability to advance technologically and culturally to those resources within their natural borders. Not fielding a military or having the ability to defend ones land could be detrimental for several reasons, but primary among them is the reliance on another for protection. Social homogeneity limits the cultural growth within a society. Spiritual and social fulfillment will inspire those with unique or original ideas, who do not have the ability within the cultural norms to see them to fruition, to leave the society all together. This lack of competition will inevitably lead to a lack of growth. However, within Amish society these impediments are certainly not viewed as such.
Through examination of these four critical traits for a peaceful society—resource independence, security, social homogeneity, and spiritual and social fulfillment—it becomes clear that it is not realistic in a global society for a nation to apply these criteria. Security specifically is extremely difficult for a sovereign nation to ensure without a military. The nations of the world simply do not have the luxury to disband their military in the interest of peace. The question then becomes: What can be learned from these four traits? While it is not practical for a nation to blindly follow them, it may be pragmatic to lean in their direction when able. None of these alone will ensure a peaceful society. They must exist together in harmony and if one is compromised, another is likely to follow. Similarly, if a country currently suffers from a deficit of one or more of the traits described, the only way to achieve them is little by little and one at a time.
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